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The Assistant by Bernard Malamud-Free Online Study Guide/Summary Notes
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IMPORTANT QUOTATIONS / QUOTES - THE ASSISTANT

The following page numbers are in the reprint of The Assistant by Dell Publishing in March of 1978. It was Dellís first Laurel printing.

1. He said with sarcasm, "What worries her?" Meaning: the store, his health, that most of her meager wages went to keep up payments on the house; that she had wanted a college education but had got instead a job she disliked. Her father's daughter, no wonder she didn't feel like eating. (p. 9)

The quote above is from Morris Bober and refers to his daughter. This "in a nutshell," tells us all of Helen Bober's problems, that is, all that her father knows about.

2. So she promised herself next time it would go the other way; first mutual love, then loving, harder maybe on the nerves, but easier in memory. (p.15)

Above refers to a concern of Helen that her father does not know about. Helen had been intimate with Nat Pearl earlier and felt bad because he was only interested in the moment, had no thought about the future.


3. She went quickly along the Parkway, glancing with envy into the lighted depths of private homes that were, for no reason she could give, except experience, not for her. She promised herself she would save every cent possible and register next fall for a full program at NYU, night. (p. 16)

Above we get a glimpse of what drives Helen. She wants more than she currently has and is willing to sacrifice to obtain it.

4. The grocer, on the other hand, had never altered his fortune, unless degrees of poverty meant alteration, for luck and he were, if not natural enemies, not good friends. He labored long hours, was the soul of honesty--he could not escape his honesty, it was bedrock; to cheat would cause an explosion in him, yet he trusted cheaters--coveted nobody's nothing, and always got poorer. The harder he worked--his toil was a form of time devouring time--the less he seemed to have. He was Morris Bober and could be nobody more fortunate. With that name you had no sure sense of property, as if it were in your blood and history not to possess, or if by some miracle, to do so on the verge of loss. At the end you were sixty and had less than at thirty. It was, she thought, surely a talent. (p. 17-18)

Above we read a description of Helen's view of her father and his prospects.

5. The one in the dirty handkerchief raised his gun. The other, staring into the mirror, waved frantically, his black eyes bulging, but Morris saw the blow descending and felt sick of himself, of soured expectations, endless frustration, the years gone up in smoke, he could not begin to count how many. He had hoped for much in America and got little. And, because of him Helen and Ida had less. He had defrauded them, he and the bloodsucking store.

He fell without a cry. The end fitted the day. It was his luck, others had better. (p. 29-30)

Above we see the difference between the two robbers. One is cruel. The other is not.

Also, Morris's thoughts, as he is hit and then falls, tell us about more than that moment. They tell us how he thinks about himself. He does not expect any good to come his way.

6. Morris went outside to pull in the two milk cases. He gripped the boxes but they were like rocks, so he let one go and tugged at the other. A storm cloud formed in his head and blew up to the size of a house. Morris reeled and almost fell into the gutter, but he was caught by Frank Alpine, in his long coat, steadied and led back into the store. Frank then hauled in the milk cases and refrigerated the bottles. He quickly swept up behind the counter and went into the back. Morris, recovered, warmly thanked him. (p. 36-37)

This is when Morris and Frank meet again after the robbery. Frank has been waiting near the store for the store to reopen after Morris was injured.

7. "rinsed the cup and placed it on a cupboard shelf. (p. 29)

...and , though Morris protested, he rinsed the cup and saucer at the sink, dried them and set them on top of the gas range, where the grocer had got them. (p. 37)

The first (p. 29) is regarding the robber. The second (p.37) is regarding Frank on the day he helped Morris recover after almost fainting as he tried to bring the bottles of milk into the store.

Before we are made aware that Frank is the robber we are shown a similarity between the robber and Frank.

8. "I've often tried to change the way things work out for me but I don't know how, even when I think I do. I have it in my heart to do more than I can remember." He paused, cleared his throat and said, "That makes me sound stupid but it's not as easy as that. What I mean to say is that when I need it most something is missing in me, in me or on account of me.

I always have this dream where I want to tell somebody something on the telephone so bad it hurts, but then when I am in the booth, instead of a phone being there, a bunch of bananas is hanging on a hook." (p. 41-42)

This gives us a snapshot of where Frank is coming from as he gets acquainted with Morris. This is his starting point on his journey toward becoming like Morris.

9. "I don't want to intrude here but your husband was nice to me, so I just thought maybe I could ask for one more small favor. I am looking for work and I want to try some kind of a grocery job just for size. Maybe I might like it, who knows? It happens I forgot some of the things about cutting and weighing and such, so I am wondering if you would mind me working around here for a couple-three weeks without wages just so I could learn again? It won't cost you a red cent. I know I am a stranger but I am an honest guy. Whoever keeps an eye on me will find that out in no time. That's fair enough, isn't it?" (p. 45-46)

Frank is presenting to Ida what he wants to do and the reason, at least, the surface reason. Frank has another reason that he does not realize himself yet. He wants to model himself after Morris.

10. If Nat Pearl was ambitious, Louis made a relaxed living letting the fruit of his father's investment fall into his lap. (p. 47)

This tells us how one of the two young men that Ida considers to be an acceptable choice for her daughter differs from the other one.

11. "How can you sleep in such a cold and drafty cellar?"

"I slept in worse."

"Are you hungry now?"

"I'm always hungry."

"Come upstairs."

Morris picked up his hatchet, and Frank, blowing his nose in his damp handkerchief, followed him up the stairs

Morris lit a light in the store and made two fat liverwurst sandwiches with mustard, and in the back heated up a can of bean soup. Frank sat at the table in his coat, his hat lying at his feet. He ate with great hunger, his hand trembling as he brought the spoon to his mouth. The grocer had to look away.

As the man was finishing his meal, with coffee and cupcakes, Ida came down in felt slippers and bathrobe.

"What happened?" she asked in fright, when she saw Frank Alpine.

"He's hungry." Morris said. She guessed at once, "He stole the milk."

"He was hungry," explained Morris. "He slept in the cellar." (p. 59-60)

The conversation above takes place between Morris and Frank. Ida is also included, at the end. Morris has just discovered who the thief is who has been taking rolls and milk from where they are delivered on the sidewalk in front of the store each morning.

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