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The Assistant | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Assistant | Section 2 : Morris's Recovery | Summary



While Morris recovers from the robbery, Helen and Ida manage the store. After a week, Morris is back to work, but he nearly collapses on his first day when he tries to bring in some milk. He is caught by Frank Alpine, a young man who asks for a job but starts showing up to help out for free. Morris eventually asks him to stop, but he then catches Frank living in the store's basement and stealing bread and milk from the store. Morris offers to let Frank stay there, but after Morris falls and passes out, Frank steps in to help run the store, despite Ida's hesitation to let someone who does not share their Jewish heritage work for them.


Frank tries to insinuate himself quickly into the Bober family by stepping in when Morris needs help. However, the question of ethnic identity becomes an issue quickly; despite the fact that Frank is able to help, Ida is concerned because he is not Jewish. The role of community and ethnic identity is a recurring one in the novel, particularly as Frank struggles to assimilate with the Bobers to fully become part of their business and family. But here, in the beginning of the novel, that tension is overshadowed by Morris's illness and Frank's availability, which speaks to the ways in which tribalism becomes secondary in times of need.

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