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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

"God bless Julius Karp, the grocer thought. Without him I would have my life too easy. God made Karp so a poor grocery man will not forget his life is hard. For Karp, he thought, it was miraculously not so hard, but what was there to envy? He would allow the liquor dealer his bottles and gelt just not to be him. Life was bad enough."

Morris Bober thinks this quote in the first Chapter. Julius Karp, who owns the nearby liquor store, has been in his shop. Karp recently has hurt Morris Bober's business by leasing a shop he owns to another grocer. With the opening of the grocery in Karp's building, Morris's sales have plummeted. Despite his action, Karp still acts like he and Morris are good friends. In the first chapter, Karp visits Morris to ask Morris to call the police, because Karp suspects some people of wanting to rob him. Despite the fact that Morris feels angry toward Karp because of his actions, this quote demonstrates the capacity of Morris's large heart. Even against people who do wrong doing toward him, Morris has only compassion. In fact, Morris thanks God for placing Karp on earth so that Morris will be constantly reminded of the difficulties in life. Furthermore, although Karp is more financially successful than Morris, Morris would rather not be him because Morris sees no value in a meaningless life with profits made through selling alcohol. This quote helps to establish Morris Bober's strong moral character that plays an important role in the novel.

"If you live, you suffer. Some people suffer more, but not because they want. But I think if a Jew don't suffer for the Law, he will suffer for nothing." "What do you suffer for, Morris?" Frank said. "I suffer for you," Morris said calmly.

This quote comes toward the end of Chapter Four after Frank asks Morris some questions about what it means to be Jewish. Morris explains that being Jewish means adherence to the Law, the Torah, which for him means being honest and compassionate with other people. Some people interpret religion solely according to the specifics of its regulations, like its dietary laws, however for Morris Bober it is more important to live with a moral and religious heart. Morris's explanation is one of several lectures on ethics that he delivers to Frank Alpine. Morris's instruction is important because it is through hearing and absorbing Morris's lessons that Frank will begin to transform and his transformation is what drives the plot of the novel. This quote also helps to demonstrate Malamud's own opinions on Judaism. Malamud suggests that the key to being Jewish lies in acting in a humane way with a willingness to suffer for other people. By defining Judaism according to one's behavior and not one's racial ethnicity, Malamud opens the definitions of who is a Jew. In fact, in a much-debated quote Malamud once stated that "All men are Jews", an idea that seems consistent with Morris's philosophy quoted here.

"She pictured him in nice clothes, his hair cut shorter, maybe his nose straightened, speaking a more careful English, interested in music and literature, learning about politics, psychology, philosophy; wanting to know more the more he knew, in this way growing in value to himself and others."

This quote describes Helen's thoughts in chapter four. After the beginning of her courtship with Frank Alpine, she starts envisioning him and their future life together. This quote demonstrates Helen's inability to see Frank truly for who he is. Helen long has held to a certain image of whom she would want to marry and after meeting Frank she tries to push him into this image, rather than loving his own true nature. As such, Helen wants Frank to attend university and clean himself up, so as to be consistent with her desire for a professional husband. Helen's dreaming demonstrates her inability to truly love another such as Frank Alpine, because of her own intellectual agenda.

"Having said this, the clerk experienced a moment of extraordinary relief- a treeful of birds broke into song: but the song was silenced when Morris, his eyes heavy, said, "This I already know, you don't tell me nothing new."

This phrase is made in the middle of chapter eight, right after Frank Alpine confesses to Martin Bober his role in the robbery. For much of the book, Frank has been longing to confess his role in the robbery to Morris, but he has been afraid. Now when he does it, he hears a "treeful of birds" break into song. The imagery of the birds relates back to Frank's obsession with the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis often spoke to birds and preached to them. The sound of singing birds signifies the goodness in the act of confession that Frank has just undertaken. His ability to hear birds signifies is transformation into a figure that increasingly resembles Saint Francis.

Then one day, for no reason he could give, though the reason felt familiar, he stopped climbing up the airshaft to peek at Helen, and he was honest in the store."

The quote is made toward the end of the final chapter of the book, Chapter Ten. Frank has completely taken over Morris Bober's store. He works hard and all day long—first running the store and then acting as a counter—boy all night long in order to supplement the measly earnings of the shop. One day, in his fatigue, he becomes despondent. He has been working so hard because of his love of Helen, but when one no notices and she continues to see Nat Pearl, he feels distressed. In his distress, dishonest behaviors resurface. He starts cheating his customers slightly, and he starts sneaking into the dumbwaiter to spy on Helen. But then one day, for no clear reason he suddenly stops again and fully starts to be honest again, as this quote makes clear. Frank's return to honesty, as noted in this quote, shows his final conquest over his less honorable behaviors. While he had sought to control his innate dishonesty throughout the text, now his goodness seems innate and over his final attempts as dishonest actions it triumphs without Frank forcibly willing it to be so.

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