The Assistant

by: Bernard Malamud

Chapter Six, Part One

Summary Chapter Six, Part One

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.