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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Chapter Six, Part One

Chapter Five

Chapter Six, Part two

Summary

Helen decides that she is falling in love with Frank. One night she dreams that her house has burned down and she and her parents have no place to go. This dream makes Helen doubt Frank, but she cannot help but think of him with affection.

The gift of the book has subtly changed their relationship. Whenever she reads Shakespeare, she hears Frank saying the lines. She also starts to see him everywhere. They meet in the library and they walk home together. One night, they stop and kiss in the park. The kiss gives Helen overwhelming happiness, but still a sense of doubt lingers. She worries about Frank not being Jewish and dreads her parents' reaction to the relationship. She decides that if she marries Frank she would help him become somebody and hopefully that they could leave New York and possibly even move to California. Helen also decides to be patient because she does not want to commit to someone who will not lead her to the place where she wants to be. Meanwhile, she and Frank secretly meet in the library, the movies, or a pizzeria.

Frank enjoys spending more time with Helen, but increasingly longs for significant physical contact with her. Frank hints at his physical desires in several ways, but Helen does not respond. Finally, she tells him that she is not going to make love to him until she is really sure that she loves him, possibly not even until they are married.

Several days later during a heavy rainstorm, Helen leaves a note under Frank's door saying that if Tessie and Nick go to the movies, she will come to his room. When Helen finally arrives, Frank thinks that Helen will let him make love to her tonight. They kiss for a while, but when Frank tries to move further Helen makes him stop. For a brief moment Frank pulls Helen back to the bed after she has said no, but then he releases her. Helen explains that although she is not a virgin, she only wants to make love to people that she believes she loves. Frank considers Helen's statement and his near loss of control and decides that he can wait for her.

The next day, Detective Minogue brings a suspect into the grocery. He gets Frank, who is nervous, to tie a bandana around the young man's face. He asks Morris to decide if he was one of the robbers. Morris decides that he was not, because the one who hit Morris was fat and the other had big hands. Detective Minogue then asks Morris if he has seen his son, Ward Minogue around, and asks Frank if he knows Ward. Frank says no. Detective Minogue takes the suspect away and Frank think that it could be him going to jail, even though he is now a changed man.

Later that night, Ward Minogue raps on the door, waking Frank. He asks Frank for money because he wants alcohol. Ward insists that Frank help him rob a liquor store or he will frame Frank or write a letter to Morris and Helen Bober about Frank's role in the crime. Frank gives Ward all his money, eight dollars, and threatens Ward that his father, Detective Minogue, is looking for him and will beat Ward when he finds him. Ward calls Frank a "kike" and falls down the stairs upon leaving.

Ida follows Helen one night and sees Helen and Frank kissing in the park. When Helen gets home, she finds her mother weeping and knows why instantly. Helen tries to defend Frank, but Ida keeps calling him a "goy," a slightly derisive term for a non-Jewish person. She makes her promise to call Nat Pearl. Helen agrees and does the next day. She agrees to go for a drive with him on Friday. The next day, Ida tells Morris that Helen and Frank were kissing. Morris is not happy, but tells Ida that a kiss is not so significant. She warns him that it portends bad things to come.

Analysis

This chapter is the longest of the novel and is the one in which the climax of the novel occurs. This first part of the chapter sets the stage for the second portion of the chapter primarily by establishing Frank's lust for Helen's body. While Helen feels like she is falling in love with Frank, Frank primarily remains interested in touching her. When Helen comes to visit Frank in his room, Frank almost loses control and attacks her even though she has asked him not to. Frank resolves then that he will be willing to wait until Helen is ready. This scene however foreshadows the one to follow at the end of the chapter when Frank will no longer be able to control his physical urges.

Both Detective Minogue and his son Ward appear in this chapter. They both are important characters for different reasons, but perhaps most importantly they make up one of the father-son pairings in the novel. Ward is the wicked son who does wrong. Detective Minogue's employment as an enforcer of the law emphasizes Ward's deviance. Detective Minogue's struggle to raise his son the way that he wants to testifies to the difficulties of father-son relations, one of the themes in the novel. Detective Minogue is a harsh father who responds with physical violence to his son's wrongs, but his desire for justice is honorable and the reader, like Morris Bober, tends to sympathize with him.

The scene in which Detective Minogue brings a robbery suspect to the grocery heightens the narrative tension by demonstrating Frank's nervousness. When Morris describes that one of the robbers had large hands, Frank finds himself looking at his own hands. After Detective Minogue takes the youth away, Frank considers how easily it could have been him in those handcuffs. As he did after reading Helen's novels, Frank considers whether one act in his life could change it so much that he would be placed in jail. Earlier Frank articulated his belief that a life of crime could bring him the glamour and money that he desired, but now seeing this life of crime embodied in a handcuffed youth, Frank wants no part of it. Detective Minogue's visit issues a wake up call to Frank, which he needs to change his behaviors. The later visit of the nasty Ward Minogue reminds Frank again. Ward leaves calling Frank a "kike," a derisive slur for Jewish people. Ward uses this label because Frank is staying in a Jewish home, but his use of it also foreshadows Frank's conversation to Judaism.

Ida's grief at Helen's kissing of a gentile provides a keen example of discrimination against gentiles by Jews. Bernard Malamud himself married an Italian who was not a Jew and his act caused much friction between himself and his family. Ida's sorrow for her daughter's act is treated with compassion, but it is based upon prejudices. Ironically, while Ida believes that the match between Helen and Frank will bring bad things, it is Frank's presence that shall ultimately help to save them all. Initially, Frank's deeds will cause pain and hardships for the Bober family, particularly Morris and Ida, but as his character changes, he will be their savior. It is only through Frank's true love for Helen that his character will completely evolve. Therefore, although Ida views their relationship as bad, the combination of their personalities will allow both of their characters to transform and will ultimately bring life and love to the grocery.

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