The Assistant

by: Bernard Malamud

Chapter Seven

Both Frank and Morris show signs of changed characters in this chapter. Frank's changes are for the better. Morris's changes are slightly for the worse. Up until this point, Morris has been the brave character who has always been willing to persist in the face of poverty. After his debacle with Frank, however, and with his failing business, Morris contemplates yielding to the pressures in the world by dying. With this possibility of death, Morris suggests that he is giving up the fight to live in the face of so much hardship. This giving up under tough circumstances is not consistent with the character he previously voiced.

It is impossible to know if Morris's near death due to the exposure to gas was a suicide attempt or an accident. He knows when he went to bed that he did not light the radiator, but no thoughts in his mind, that are shown to the reader, demonstrate his suicidal intentions. The dream that Morris has, however, suggests that Morris harbors a subconscious desire to give in to those trying to conquer him. The Norwegians that compete with his store have taken it over completely, clearly showing how threatening Morris finds their competition to be. Furthermore, these two Norwegians are speaking German. For a Jewish person in the post-Holocaust world, German is a threatening language that represents the past persecutions by the Germans against the Jews. The presence of German in the dream suggests the extent to which Morris sees the world conspiring against him. The Norwegians and Frank act against him, just as the Germans acted against his people. The use of gas in this scene again is symbolic because Morris has created his own gas chamber, which was the primary way that Germans killed the Jews in the Holocaust. Morris's creation of his own gas chamber coupled with his symbolic dream indicate that he has decided to give up fighting for life. Morris's willingness to yield is uncharacteristic of him and follows in his extreme dismay in find Frank was not the good luck charm that Morris believed him to be.

While Morris's personality may be cracking under the strain, Frank's is beginning to change for the better. In this chapter, Frank becomes able to give with a sense of goodness. Frank's first gift comes when he rushes into Morris's apartment and saves Morris's life. This act is notable because it is the first good act that Frank conducts with no consideration of its consequences. Previously Frank had done good deeds but always for some reward. He came to help at the grocery to relieve his guilt about the robbery; he helped Helen because he wanted sex. By saving Morris, Frank does something good on instinct. After saving Morris's life, Frank continues a trend of goodness by keeping the store open, putting his own money in the store, and even getting another job so that store will not fail. With these deeds, Frank is beginning to live up to what he has long wanted: to be good and giving like Saint Francis. Frank's new charity can most clearly be seen when he instinctively decides to give all of his money to Carl's impoverished family. Frank's action stems from his compassion for Carl's hungry children. It is an act worthy and characteristic of Morris Bober, who was a poor man always giving to those poorer than himself. With it, Frank shows the way in which he sincerely has started to change. He is becoming like his mentor, while his mentor, regrettably, is coming something like him.

Frank's relationship with Helen is in tatters primarily due to Frank's mistreatment of Helen's body. Now that Frank has committed a crime against her, however, he is able to start loving her afresh. The dream that Frank has about Helen throwing a flower to him demonstrates his realization that what existed between them before was not true love. Although Frank thinks that Helen has thrown him a flower, symbolizing her love, when he looks down he realizes that she never did. Sincere love never existed between them. The flower motif continues when Frank carves a wooden flower for Helen. The wood that this flower is made of suggests that despite Frank's desire, his love for Helen still is not pure and real. He still is learning how to love, but until he can reach that pure emotion, the wooden flower belongs where Helen placed it—in the garbage. She will wait to receive a real flower of love when Frank finally is able to produce it.