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IMPORTANT / KEY FACTS SUMMARY
Title: The Assistant
Author: Bernard Malamud
Date Published: 1957
Meaning of the Title: Refers to Frank Alpine, who works in the grocery store as an assistant to Morris Bober
Setting: Brooklyn, NY, mostly in a small grocery store
Genre: novel, adult fiction
Protagonist: That part of Frank Alpine that wants to be good, and Morris Bober
Antagonist: The part of Frank Alpine that is not good
Point of View: Limited omniscient
Tense: Past tense
Rising Action: The rising action occurs between the first chapter and the sixth chapter. In these chapters Frank becomes close to Morris and to Helen. He helps run the store while Morris is laid up. He asks very little in return, although he does take a few dollars with the plan to repay it. Frank worries about telling Morris about his part in the robbery. He watches Helen, both through the store window and by spying on her as she disrobes for her bath. He gets to know her on walks from the library.
Morris suspects that Frank is stealing from him, but cannot be sure. Then he decides that, if Frank is stealing, it is because he doesn't pay him enough. He decides to pay Frank more.
Exposition: The exposition occurs in the first chapter, in which we enter the grocery store and taste life as it is lived there.
The exposition ends with the inciting moment, the robbery of Morris Bober by Frank Alpine and Ward Minogue.
Climax: The climax occurs in the sixth chapter in a series of connected events. The chain reaction starts when Julius Karp tells Morris that Frank is not the reason that his business has increased. Morris tells Frank to leave. Later that night, in a flood of emotion, Frank rapes Helen.
Outcome: After the death of Morris, Frank assumes the role of Morris, both in operating the grocery store and in watching over Ida and Helen.
Major Theme: The struggle toward realization of what one can be
Minor Themes: The variations in father-son relationships; Contrast between attainment of the American Dream and success
The author uses Yiddish words as well as Yiddish grammar to give conversations an authentic immigrant flavor.
Here is a sampling of some of the words that he uses, along with translations:
Gesheft - business
Gelt - money
Goy - a person who is not Jewish
Goyim - a group of people who are not Jewish
Landsman - countryman, neighbor from “the old country”
Landsleit - plural of landsman
Parnusseh - livelihood
Schnapps - whiskey
Shikse - non-Jewish girl
Trayfe - not kosher