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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Chapter Five

Chapter Four

Chapter Five, page 2

page 1 of 2

Business at the grocery keeps improving. Morris lets Helen keep more of her check and wants to pay Frank more sometime soon. Helen feels jealous of Frank's past travels, which she has never managed, and feels excited that he will attend college in the fall. To help him prepare, she insists that he read Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, and Madame Bovary. Frank reads them all, but feels confused as to why Helen enjoys reading about other people's misery. The books make Frank wonder if one error in a man's life can change his future forever, with no possibility of amending it.

One night, Helen is sneaking up to Frank Alpine's room to say something to him when Nat Pearl telephones. He asks her on a date, but she declines and will not even let him come over right then for a chat. He tries to find out why she is shunning him, but she says nothing. After she hangs up, her mother criticizes her treatment of Nat and warns her that she is not getting younger. Finally when Helen is able to leave, she goes to Frank's room. She has brought two presents that he gave her earlier in the day: a black scarf with gold in it and a red leather covered collected Shakespeare. She insists that she cannot accept them because they are too much for her. He reluctantly takes them back. Later, Helen reflects upon her need to give the presents back because men usually expect something for them.

The next day on her way to work, Helen sees the scarf and Shakespeare book in the garbage can on the street. Astonished by the waste, she takes them out and places them in the cellar. The next day, she asks Frank why he did not return the presents instead of throwing them out. He states that he lost the receipts and did not want them anymore, but she insists that she will return them on his behalf so that he shall not waste money, he will give her the receipts.

Helen visits Betty Pearl, Nat's sister, with whom she has been friends since high school. Betty asks why Helen never sees Nat anymore, but Helen declines to discuss it. Betty recently has got engaged to an accountant and they offer to take Helen out for a drive, but she refuses and heads home.

Helen is walking through the park and sees Frank Alpine feeding some birds. Helen approaches him and discusses the presents once more. Frank apologizes for giving her something that she did not want, but requests that she keep at least one of them and he will return the other. She decides to keep the Shakespeare. Frank then asks her to a movie and she accepts. As Frank and Helen's relationship continues, Ida senses something is happening, but can discover nothing. She complains to Morris, but Morris tells her not to worry.

The next day, Morris and Frank are peeling potatoes and Frank asks Morris what a Jew is anyhow. Morris says that a Jew is someone with a good heart who believes in the Torah, the Law. Morris thinks that things like eating kosher are not important, which is why he does not do it. What is important is for Jews to do what is right, honest and good. When Frank asks Morris why Jews suffer so much, Morris says that Jews suffer just as everyone does and if one does not suffer for the law, in order to be good to others when will one suffer. After the conversation, Morris feels worried that Frank's interest might have to do with Helen.

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