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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Chapter Six, Part two

Chapter Six, Part One

Chapter Seven

Summary

Julius Karp and Morris Bober have spoken infrequently since the robbery, because Morris decided, in his recovery, that he liked Karp less than he thought. As Morris ignores Karp, Karp decides to approach him. Karp likes Morris to like him, but he finds that Morris is unfortunate and inept. Karp sees the robbery as Morris's own fault, especially as Karp had warned him. Furthermore, Morris is just unlucky. Hiring Frank Alpine was a bad idea, for example, since Karp knows that Frank is a thief from the money Frank spends in the neighborhood. While all clerks steal slightly, Karp did once and knows his son does from him, Karp condemns Frank for doing so from Morris. Furthermore, he has seen Frank hanging around Helen and thinks that having a "goy" around a Jewish girl is a bad idea. Karp decides that it is his duty to warn Morris.

Karp also has his own motivations for speaking to Morris. He wants his son, Louis, to marry Helen. This would help Helen, because she is poor, and after the marriage, Karp and his son could help fix up Morris's store. Once it was improved and Karp stopped the lease of the other grocer, Karp could effectively be a silent partner in Morris's business. Karp only worries that Helen will not agree to the marriage. He knows that she was interested in Nat Pearl but that Nat pushed her away because she was too poor and although he will be a lawyer, he needs to find a girl with more money.

When Karp knows that Frank has left the store, he drops in on Morris. Karp is surprised to find that Morris's business is going pretty well. Morris tells Karp that Frank has brought customers to him, probably because he is a gentile. Karp feels distressed at Morris's affection for Frank and wants to set the record right. He explains quickly that Morris's success is not due to Frank, but to the fact that the other grocer, Schmitz, has been sick and keeping his store shut for part of the day. In fact, Schmitz just sold his business to two Norwegians, who were going to reopen it as a gourmet deli. Morris seems devastated at this news. When Karp tries to mention Louis and Helen and Frank, Morris roars and Karp runs from the store.

After a painfully contemplative night, Morris decides that he must try and sell the store, but until he does Frank needs to stay with him to help him fight the Norwegians. Frank himself had a guilty night considering all the money that he has stolen from Morris. He has kept careful track of it, one hundred and forty dollars, and decides to pay it all back. The next day, Frank slips six dollars back into the register. Soon after, Helen telephones and tells Frank that although she is going to see Nat tonight, she wants to meet him later in the park. Frank agrees, but realizes that he has no money to take Helen out. When a customer comes in, Morris steals a dollar from the sale and Morris catches him. Frank confesses and tries to explain, but Morris, brokenhearted, says that Frank has to go. Morris hands him fifteen dollars for the week and orders him to leave his building.

Helen feels happy and excited that night fully aware of being in love with Frank. As she rides with Nat, she is distracted thinking about Frank and talks coolly to Nat. When Nat asks her if it is because of the "dago" that she is seeing, she becomes icy and unsociable.

When Helen gets to the park, she cannot find Frank. As she waits, a drunk man approaches her and introduces himself as Ward Minogue. Helen feels afraid of Ward, due to his old reputation, but lingers for a moment. He tells her that he knows Frank. As she tries to step away, he grabs her, muffles her scream, and tries to push her down. Helen kicks him in the groin and gets away, even though her dress is ripped and her face has been struck. She then hears a groan from Ward and sees Frank hitting him. Frank picks her up and she feels overjoyed to be saved, but then Frank proceeds to feverishly kiss her despite her insistence that they wait. After he has sexual intercourse with her, she curses him as an uncircumcised dog.

Analysis

The final section of this chapter brings up the major climax of the book because it demonstrates Frank Alpine's failure to control his actions both professionally and sexually. Frank has struggled, but to no avail. His struggle ends in failure. Frank, the ever-conscientious thief, has kept careful track of the amount that he has stolen and wants to repay it. No sooner does he add money to the register though, than his actions once again defy his desires and he steals it back. Morris catches him. Frank's failure to control himself seems sad, especially after he just made a new commitment to be honest. But his behavior is not surprising. He has made multiple commitments to fix himself, but to no avail. Even as he is putting the money back into the register, his failure to truly understand the nature of his self and what he needs do to reform is obvious. When he considers the theft with Ward, for example, Frank portrays himself as almost as much as a victim as Morris. Frank reasons that he only was present because of Ward's lead, therefore it basically was not his fault. This reasoning shows how far Frank is from his desire of being truly good. The fact that Frank is caught is unfortunate and because Malamud has showed us the contrasting dynamics of his mind, we sympathize with him, but it only through falling down and being tossed out by his mentor that Frank will be able to reform.

Morris's character receives a full analysis in this chapter as well, this time from Julius Karp. In Karp's mind, Morris is a character who is always unlucky. Karp knows that Morris is a good man and wants to have Morris like him for that reason, but still Morris constantly is making bad decisions that bring on bad luck. The coldness of Karp's character is revealed as Karp explains that he has his own plan for Morris, Morris's daughter, and Morris's shop. Not surprisingly, these plans will allow for the expansion of Karp's business into Morris's, without Karp actually having to purchase the property. Just as Morris is generous and good, so is Karp self-serving. Karp's discussion of his son brings another father-son relationship into light. Karp's son is a foolish son who is lazy and cares nothing for the business. Karp, for example, knows that his son steals from him, but he does not think the thievery to be so serious. Karp himself admits that he stole as a clerk when he was young. While Karp might find his own and his son's thievery acceptable, Morris Bober never would, again suggesting the strong difference in his ethics from those of Morris Bober.

Karp's discussion of Morris as an unlucky character brings up Morris's possible designation as a schemiel which is an archetype common to Yiddish folklore. Ruth Wisse has traced the schemiel character back to its East European origins and characterizes the schemiel as a folkloristic, anti-intellectual figure who uses ironic humor in order the soften the brutality of a harsh world. The schemiel uses faith instead of reason in order to survive. With his unique perspective, the schemiel evades the harsh real world, while emerging as an ironic figure characterized by tragedy and comedy. Morris Bober appears to be a schemiel because he does exist in his own moral world and refuses to believe in blind reason. Even when Karp logically explains the reason for Morris's recent success, for example, Morris prefers to still locate Frank Alpine as a good luck charm delivered to him from the universe to reverse his woes. In part, it is Morris's allegiance to a mystical vision that makes Frank's betrayal so painful. Not only is Morris's opinion of Frank wrong, but it challenges Morris's moral vision. Morris's blend of ironic humor in a bleak world make him a schemiel character in the tradition of Yiddish folklore.

The final rape of Helen by Frank is vicious and a symbol of his complete lack of control. Helen has finally come to the determination that she can love Frank and make love to him, but Frank's lack of control leads to his physical molestation of her body. With Frank's action, Helen's disillusionment as to his character is blown apart. At the same time, Frank's disillusionment about the success of his personal transformation is shattered. Frank has reached the low point in this chapter having amply demonstrated to himself and Helen and Morris that he is not the person he pretended to be. This expose is harsh, but necessary. It is only from arriving at this low point in the novel, that Frank will truly be able to transform.

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