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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Chapter Nine

Chapter Eight

Chapter Ten

Summary

Late on Saturday afternoon, Ward Minogue steals a bottle of liquor from Karp's liquor store after getting in a fight with Louis Karp. Ward's father, Detective Minogue, searches for him and finds him later in a local bar. Detective Minogue severely beats his son and tells him to get out of town. Ward tells his father to have pity on him because he is sick with diabetes.

After waking from the beating, Ward observes that he is lying behind Karp's liquor store. When he sees a broken window in the back of the store, he decides to sneak inside the closed market. Once inside, Ward starts drinking copious portions of whisky. Then, out of malice, he starts breaking bottles of it on the floor. Ward next tries to smoke a cigarette, but accidentally drops his matches on the floor, which sends the spilt liquor up in flames. Since Ward cannot escape the store, he burns to death. The tenants that live above the store all flee and gather along the street along with the Bobers and the Pearls. The flames destroy the Karp store and building. When Julius Karp arrives to look at what is happening, he collapses. Later that night in bed, Morris feels a wave of anguish since he had wished such ruin on Karp and now it had happened.

The next morning Morris realizes that although Karp's building is destroyed, Karp will get the insurance money for it. Morris decides that the fire again proves Morris's own bad luck, since Morris himself longed for a fire for insurance purposes but Karp got it. As Morris considers the irony, Karp himself enters the grocery and asks to buy Morris's building and store. Karp wants to use Morris's store to re-open his liquor store until he can rebuild his old one. Morris asks for twenty-five hundred dollars for the store and nine thousand for the house. Karp agrees. Morris and Ida cannot believe their good fortune.

Although it is almost April, it has been snowing and Morris decides to shovel the snow so that people can use the sidewalk. Because he thinks that it is warm and spring-like out, he shovels without wearing his coat. It is not as warm as he thinks, but he continues shoveling with out his coat, despite Ida yelling at him. His exercise and the good news make him feel happy. When Helen gets home, they all happily discuss their future move. Later that night, Morris starts to worry about the future as he lies in bed, however. After sleeping for a while, he awakes drenched in sweat and worries that he may have caught a cold from shoveling. He falls back asleep and dreams of his dead son, Ephraim. Ephraim looks hungry and poor in the dreams and Morris cannot understand why since he always fed his son. When Morris asks Ephraim, Ephraim laughs at him. When Morris wakes up, he feels that he has failed and fatherhood and that he has given his life away for nothing. He wants to wake his wife and apologize to her. He feels increasingly sick.

Morris has contracted pneumonia and dies three days later in the hospital. He is buried the day after in Queens. At the funeral service, which everyone from the block and Frank attends, a rabbi who did not know Morris eulogizes him. The rabbi says that Morris was a hard working honest man who was a Jew not because he ate kosher and followed such rules, but because he lived with a full Jewish heart. For example, he shoveled snow to help other people, and he ran after customers who left change in his store. After the rabbi stops, Helen thinks to herself that the rabbi overstated it, because although her father was honest he also let himself be trapped in a prison of the grocery. Ida prays, but also thinks to herself that Morris never managed to make much money, so Helen should try to marry a professional. After the prayers are done, Frank Alpine thinks that suffering is like a piece of goods that the Jews could make clothing out of.

At the cemetery, it is springtime. As they lower Morris into the ground, Helen tosses in a rose with it and as Frank looks at the flower, he accidentally falls into the grave. Ida and Helen start to cry as Frank climbs out. Frank grimly thinks that he ruined the funeral. Helen leaves with Nat Pearl.

Back at the Bober's house, Louis Karp greets them. He tells them that his father did not come to the funeral because he had a heart attack on the night of the fire, although they did not realize it at first. Because the doctor wants his father to retire, they no longer want to buy the Bober's store and house. As Ida and Helen head upstairs, they hear the cling of the register in the store.

Analysis

Morris Bober dies in this chapter bringing on the end to the majority of plot events in the store. His ending is both sad and happy. Initially Morris sees that destruction of the Karp business as another sign of Morris's own bad luck, since Morris really needs the insurance money not Karp. When Karp decides to buy the Bober's building, however, Morris is overjoyed. With the purchase of his business on fair financial terms, life seems to be looking up. He reclaims his happiness and desire to pursue life that characterized him in the beginning of the novel. His zest for life leads him to shovel the sidewalk. Ida protests, arguing that the snow will be gone by tomorrow when the store will open again, so it will not matter. Morris does not care. He wants to shovel the snow for the Christians going to church. His efforts are consistent with his usual charity. Morris's happiness leads him to shovel without wearing a winter coat, the act that will lead to his death. But in many ways, Morris is as happy as he could be during this fatal act. His business will not be a failure, his family will not starve, and he is doing good deeds for others as he is naturally inclined to do. To some extent, it appears that Morris dies happy because he will not live to find out that the Karps never will buy his business and that times will go on equally as tough as they have always been.

Still while Morris may die believing his store is being sold, he does not slip into his illness in a peaceful, blissful state. Morris feels overcome with anxiety and panic as he drifts into sleep the night before his illness. His dream about Ephraim suggests to him that he has failed his entire life, not even being able to give his children even food and clothing. Morris feels so bad about his failure that he wants to wake his wife and Helen to apologize to them. Given Morris's return to a sense of failure, it is not entirely surprising that he dies several days later. Still while Morris dies thinking that he gave his life away for nothing, the novel will show his belief to be wrong. Frank Alpine has absorbed Morris's devotion to an ethic of honesty, compassion, and responsibility that struggles precariously to survive in a modern competitive society. By passing down his ethics to Frank, his foster son, Morris's legacy has survived and his life has had an effect.

The rabbi's funeral service fairly eulogizes Morris and serves as a testimony to his humanity and person. Again it reinforces Malamud's broad view of Judaism that suggests that a person's behavior can make him be Jewish, even if he was not born into the faith. Malamud once said, "all men are Jews," a controversial statement, and his treatment of Morris Bober reinforces that idea. The thoughts of Helen, Ida, and Frank after the eulogy show own doubts with the quality of Morris's existence. Helen appears shallow and not understanding when she thinks that the rabbi overstated her father's goodness, because what he had really done is just trapped himself in a prison for his life. Ida thinks of her love for Morris but regrets his constant impoverishment. Frank just thinks that Jews love to suffer and that they could wear suffering like a piece of clothing. Each of these thoughts show the way that the Helen, Ida, and Frank do not entirely understand and achieve Morris's gentle living. Yes, the grocery was a prison, even in this prison like environment Morris Bober managed to live and maintain a certain spiritual grace. Likewise, Ida is right that Morris was poor, but she does not see that poverty can have its own blessings. Finally, Jews do suffer but so does everyone and in suffering there can be spiritual growth. Frank has not yet learned this truth, but he shall in the chapter to come.

The scene at the funeral brings back the flower motif. Helen holds a live flower in her hand, a symbol of true and fresh love that she has never given to Frank. When she throws it into the grave, Frank therefore wants to look at it. It is due to his effort to look at this rose, this symbol of love, that Frank falls into Morris's grave. The fall is both comic and tragic. Everyone wails and angrily order Frank out of the grave. Still, the image of Frank tumbling beside Morris's coffin is funny. Most importantly, the act is highly symbolic, signifying Frank's rebirth. When he crawls out of Morris's grave, Frank has been reborn and as the novel continues he will show the way he has changed and fully come to embrace Morris Bober's philosophy.

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