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The Assistant by Bernard Malamud-Free Online Study Guide/Summary Notes
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12. The stranger had changed, grown unstrange. That was the clue to what was happening to her. One day he seemed unknown, lurking at the far end of an unlit cellar; the next he was standing in sunlight, a smile on his face, as if all she knew of him and all she didn't, had fused into a healed and easily remembered whole. If he was hiding anything, she thought, it was his past pain, his orphanhood and consequent suffering. (p. 157)

Helen seems unable to lose interest in Frank. By meeting him and talking to him, she caused his strangeness to vanish. She allowed him to become a friend.

13. When Helen returned and saw her mother weeping at the kitchen table, she knew Ida knew, and Helen was both moved and frightened.

Out of pity she asked, Mama, why are you crying?"

Ida at last raised her tear-stained face and said in despair, "Why do I cry? I cry for the world. I cry for my life that it went away wasted. I cry for you."

"What have I done?"

"You have killed me in my heart." (p. 176)

Above is Ida at her overly dramatic best. She tries as hard as she can to keep her husband and daughter from harm. These attempts include exaggerated statements about what their actions do to her.

14. "This happened," Karp announced with excitement, "not because the goy came here. What did he know about the grocery business? Nothing. Your store improved because my tenant Schmitz got sick and had to close his store part of the day. Didn't you know that?" (p. 186)

In this quote, Karp is referring to why the grocery store's business improved.

With this information, Morris's world practically collapses.

This is the beginning of the climax of the story. From here one thing leads to another. This knowledge leads Morris to tell Frank to leave. Knowing that he will no longer be working for her father, and therefore most likely unable to enjoy their developing relationship in the future, causes Frank to over-react when Helen tries to stop his advances. Forcing himself on Helen leads to her desire to make him invisible.

15. Dimly she realized that a struggle was going on near her. She heard the noise of a blow, and Ward Minogue cried out in great pain and staggered away.

Frank, she thought with tremulous joy. Helen felt herself gently lifted and knew she was in his arms. She sobbed in relief. He kissed her eyes and lips and he kissed her half-naked breast. She held him tightly with both arms, weeping, laughing, murmuring she had come to tell him she loved him. (p. 202-3)

This tender moment came immediately prior to the rape.

16. The rooms were cold. Ida always shut off the radiators when she went down and lit them again in the late afternoon about an hour before Helen returned. Now the house was too cold. Morris turned on the stopcock of the bedroom radiator, then found he had no match in his pocket. He got one in the kitchen.

Under the covers he felt shivery. He lay under two blankets and a quilt yet shivered. He wondered if he was sick but soon fell asleep. He was glad when he felt sleep come over him, although it brought night too quickly. (p. 208)

This is where Morris turns on the gas, but doesn't light it. This is the place to look if you question whether Morris tried to commit suicide.

17. Her lips quivered. "Don't speak to me," she said, in a voice choked with contempt. "I don't want your apologies. I don't want to see you, and I don't want to know you. As soon as my father is better, please leave. You've helped him and my mother and I thank you for that, but you're no help to me. You make me sick."

The door banged behind her. (p. 223)

Above is Helen's response to Frank one of the times when he tries to apologize.

18. “What would you expect to get from this--virtue?”

“I already said why--I owe something to Morris.”

“For what? Taking you into his stinking store and making a prisoner out of you?” (p.289)

This quotation of Helen refers to both the motif of prison and the imagery of smells. See Symbolism, Motifs, Imagery for more.

19. Then one day, for no apparent reason he could give, though the reason felt familiar, he stopped climbing up the air shaft to peek at Helen, and he was honest in the store. (p. 292)

This is the turning point in Frank’s journey from being a wannabe gangster to being like Morris Bober.

20. Unlocking the door, he let her in. The Polish dame complained he had kept her waiting too long in the cold. He sliced a role for her, wrapped it, and rang up three cents.

At seven, standing by the window, he saw Nick, a new father, come out of the hall and run around the corner. Frank hid behind the paper and soon saw him return, carrying a bag of groceries he had bought in Taast's store. Nick ducked into the hallway and Frank felt bad.

"I think I will make this joint into a restaurant."

After he had mopped the kitchen floor and swept the store, Breitbart appeared, dragging his heavy boxes. Lowering the cartons of bulbs to the floor, the peddler took off his derby and wiped his brow with a yellowed handkerchief.

"How's it going?" Frank asked.


Breitbart drank the tea and lemon that Frank cooked up for him, meanwhile reading his Forward. (p. 295-6)

Compare the above to the first few pages of the novel and you will feel almost like you are reading about the same events twice. Frank's life is almost exactly like Morris's was.

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