The Assistant | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Assistant | Section 5 : Helen's Gifts | Summary



Frank is helping make the store a success, and he and Helen are becoming closer and closer. He has plans to go to college in the fall, and Helen brings him some of her books to help him get ready. However, when Frank gives her two gifts—a scarf and an edition of Shakespeare—she refuses to take them because they are too nice. She eventually agrees to take the Shakespeare, and Frank returns the scarf. Meanwhile, he talks to Morris about Judaism, and Morris starts to think Frank might be interested in Helen, a worry that Ida has been voicing for some time.


Frank is trying to make a new life and identity for himself. He makes plans to go to college, starts to learn about Judaism, and tries to woo Helen with gifts. Yet there is also tension. Helen refuses to take both of his gifts because they are too nice, while Morris starts to worry about Frank's interest in Helen. At the same time, Helen's interest in changing Frank begins to manifest as she offers him novels she has enjoyed. Although she is seemingly trying to support him, she is also trying to mold him into the man she wants him to be rather than the best version of himself he could be. This section suggests that Frank's efforts to make himself part of this community could be met with more difficulty than he expected, and that the Bobers are not fully open to him yet.

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