The Assistant

by: Bernard Malamud

Frank Alpine

Frank Alpine is perhaps the most important character in the novel since he is the assistant named in the novel's title. It is Frank's transformation from a dishonest character to one marked by goodness and grace that motivates the novel's movement. Having acted in a robbery against Morris Bober, Frank arrives at the Bober store in an effort to "make it up" to the grocer. At the same time, Frank's behavior has a slightly masochistic edge, where he is trying to punish himself for bad deeds done. Although Frank is trying to be good, his dishonesty cannot stop. His continual thievery from the store demonstrates the extraordinary difference between what he longs for and what he actually does. Although Frank occasionally feels guilty, his need to steal resembles a disease where he almost involuntarily keeps slipping change into his pocket while receiving a mild thrill from the theft. Frank's pursuit of Helen follows an equally ambiguous pattern. On the one hand, Frank wants to love someone purely, but on the other hand he simply lusts after Helen's body. Frank cloaks his desire for Helen under the guise of true love. To some extent, Frank believes that he is in love, but his eventual inability to control his lust slips out as he forces Helen to have sex despite her resistance. Frank initially tries to emulate Saint Francis of Assisi in his pursuit for goodness, but after working with Morris Bober begins to take up Morris's philosophy for his own. It is not until after Frank's exposure as the dishonest person that he is that he is able to truly patch his life together in the way that he wants it. He has become the assistant to Morris Bober and has learned from him a peaceful way of life that will not grant him riches, but will grant him the patience and goodness to survive. When his transformation is complete, Frank finally is able to fully love Helen.


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