Helen Bober has a classical name that does not reflect her Yiddish background. Helen's name evokes the idea of ancient Greece. Like Helen of Troy, Helen Bober is a figure that many men become interested it. Furthermore, Helen's name suggests her desire to study the classics herself, a desire that has been thwarted by her family's poverty. Helen is the character who links the owners of the grocery to the other people in the neighborhood. Helen leaves the grocery everyday and heads out to work as a secretary somewhere in New York. Helen has had relationships with Nat Pearl and Louis Karp. It is through her interaction with those men that their true natures become known and it is also through her interaction with their families that Malamud is able to explore their family dynamics. Despite her ability to leave the grocery each day, Helen is perpetually unsatisfied. She spends her hours dreaming of a better life. She clings to novels and visits the library several times a week, in an effort to use literature as a means to flee the mediocrity of her life. Because Helen is a dreamer, she does not always accurately understand people when she meets them. Her strong longing to flee poverty initiated her love of Nat Pearl. As a future lawyer, Nat represented someone with a possibility. Regardless that his character was not all charming, Helen fell in love with him for what he represented to her. When Helen realized his true desires—sex—she shunned him. Helen also initially loves Frank Alpine even though she is not able to see him for who he is. She believes that he really will attend college because it is what she wants and fails to imagine that the presents he gives her were stolen because she does not want them to be. It is only after Frank's vicious treatment of her and Morris's death that Helen slowly comes to a new realization about Frank and Nat. With her realization, she is finally able to love more than she an image that she has created.
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