The Assistant

Summary

Chapter Five

Summary Chapter Five

Morris notices the next day that his hair has grown long, so he goes to the barber. As he is getting his hair cut, he sees three customers go into the store and come out with heavy looking bags. Morris feels happy thinking that he has made some good sales. When he returns, he finds that only three dollars has been rung up. Morris feels stunned and upset. With the next customer, Morris sees that the register is working and decides that Frank has been stealing from him. Although Morris feels sick about it, he says nothing to anyone. He watches Frank carefully for the next few days, but sees no sign of dishonesty. Morris feels unsure about his suspicions and then decides that if Frank has been stealing it was because they were not giving Frank enough money. He decides to start paying Frank fifteen dollars a week, without telling Ida. Frank seems surprised and argues against the raise, but Morris insists. Frank leaves the store looking down.

Analysis

Frank's relationship with Helen, Morris, and himself continue in this chapter. Helen continues to remain blinded to Frank's true identity. As she starts to spend more time with him, she insists of making him into the person whom she wants him to be. She imagines that if they do ever get married, her goal would be to make him into a person who really is someone. She envisions him, with his nose straightened, his hair shorter, and being well versed in literature. Helen is structuring her love for Frank upon her own images and expectations that shall not measure up to who Frank truly is. She is falling in love with an image.

Helen tries to create this image by giving Frank several novels to read. These novels are significant because all of them involve characters, like Frank, who commit "crimes" that affect their lives. Both Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary have romantic affairs that ruin them. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment may be the most like Frank as he commits a crime whose moral consequences he cannot outrun, a vicious murder. Raskolnikov ultimately will achieve redemption after a lengthy stay in a prison camp during which time he achieves a sense of peace. Frank is on a similar quest to find peace in himself, but even after reading the novels is not sure that redemption is possible. Ironically, Frank seems to understand the true essence of the novels better than Helen, who although book savvy, still is unlearned in the way of humanity.

The image of Frank in the park surrounded by birds again evokes Saint Francis of Assisi and his correlating goodness. In the scene that follows though, Frank's quest for goodness obviously falls short. After Helen refused his presents, Frank entertained less than charitable thoughts, wondering if Jewish girls were not just too much trouble— a thought revealing both callousness and racism. Next the exposition of his internal thoughts shows the insincere nature of his pursuit of her. While Helen longs for love, Frank longs for physical gratification, in part. After Helen keeps badgering Frank about the presents, Frank thinks that he may still "have a chance." This chance is for sex, not love, as his thoughts make clear. Thus, while Frank may be trying to change himself, his thoughts show coldness in his heart that is not characteristic of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Frank's relationship with Morris continues as well. When Frank asks Morris what a Jew is, Morris describes Judaism as a code of ethical behavior rather than a system of religious rules. Morris believes that a Jew is a Jew if he follows the true law, which requires compassion and honesty for all people. Strict dietary laws noted in the Torah as less important to him. Again, during this lecture Morris appears as an instructor of morals. Furthermore, although Morris is speaking about Judaism his philosophy also seems to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Like Christ, Morris suggests that he suffers for everyone in the world, including Frank. In Morris's world, people suffer for one another and in doing so provide the moral cushion that makes a harsh existence possible. Frank does not understand, but this lesson from Morris is one of the more valuable ones.

While Morris continues to teach Frank, his suspicions about Frank's honesty also arise in this chapter when Morris suspects that Frank might be stealing from him. Morris's reaction to the theft follows in his characteristically charitable vein—he blames himself for not paying Frank enough and he offers Frank more money. Morris's suspicions foreshadow his eventual exposure and confrontation of Frank's thievery in the chapter to come.