The Assistant | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Assistant | Section 1 : The Robbery | Summary


Malamud does not use chapters to break up his novel, instead having the story run as one long narrative. Here, the novel is broken into 10 parts.


The novel opens on a normal day for the Bobers and their grocery store. Morris does what he can for the neighborhood by providing for the vulnerable. He and his wife Ida talk about the possibility of someday selling the store, and their daughter Helen has a confrontation with her sometimes-boyfriend Nat Pearl.

Later in the afternoon, two men rob the grocery store at gunpoint. One of them assaults Morris and uses anti-Semitic slurs, which the other robber protests as he tries to help Morris. After Morris tells them that he has no money, the first robber hits him again and knocks him unconscious.


The novel begins by establishing Morris's daily routine; although the shop is not busy, he sells the same products to the same people each day. When he can, he makes sure those who cannot pay are still cared for. This sets him up as a provider who sees his shop as more than just a means of making profit; it is a way to serve the community of which he is a part. The robbery acts as the catalyst for all the action that follows, although it also underscores Morris's financial struggle because he is unable to produce money to satisfy the robbers. However, while the reader is unaware that one of the robbers is Frank, the differences in how the robbers behave make clear that the two of them are not equally committed to the crime. Frank tries to stop the assault on Morris and offers him water, even though Ward Minogue, the other robber, is demanding cash. This suggests that Frank's later desire to help Morris is not entirely about regret, as he seems to show hesitation while the crime is taking place.

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