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The Assistant | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Assistant | Section 9 : The Fire | Summary



After being caught and beaten by his father for stealing a bottle of liquor, Ward Minogue breaks into Karp's liquor store, gets drunk, and sets the building on fire, dying in the blaze. Karp then approaches Morris to inquire about buying his building, and they are able to strike a deal. Shortly after, Morris contracts pneumonia and passes away. After the funeral, Ida and Helen learn that Julius Karp had a heart attack and needs to retire, so he will not be buying the store after all.


In this section, much of the action takes place away from the Bobers. The reader sees how abusive Detective Minogue is toward his son Ward, who in turn lashes out in destructive ways. The fire that kills Ward also threatens the livelihood of the Karps, but as Morris points out, their insurance money means they will not go bankrupt. Surprisingly, however, the Karps want to buy Morris's building, a change in fortune that could mean a new start for the family. That new start comes to a quick end when Morris becomes ill and passes away, soon after which Ida and Helen learn that Julius Karp is retiring due to health concerns. All at once, the little hope they had for a better life fades away.

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