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The Assistant

Bernard Malamud

Chapter Nine

Summary Chapter Nine

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.