In The Assistant, Bernard Malamud carefully structures his realistic second novel so that the story of the intertwined fates of Frank Alpine and the Bobers grows to symbolize self-discipline and suffering. The hero, Frank Alpine, unlike the hero of Malamud’s The Natural (1952), achieves self-integration and the subsequent identification with a group.
Frank enters the life of the Bobers when he comes with Ward Minoque, who represents his worst self, to the struggling neighborhood store of Morris Bober to steal. Unlike Ward, Frank immediately recognizes Morris as a suffering human being. Indeed, Morris is the suffering Jew, an Everyman. Now old, he has achieved none of his dreams and must deprive his daughter, Helen, of her dream of attending college.
To expiate his crime and to change his life, Frank returns to the store and, promising to work for nothing, persuades Morris to use him as an assistant. Unaware that Frank is the one who stole from him, Morris helps the hungry and homeless Frank with room and board and a small salary. Morris then becomes the moral guide Frank never had.
Frank begins to change, but his progress is fitful, and he steals small sums from the register. His moral growth is accelerated by his falling in love with Helen, an idealistic young woman who will give Frank her love if he earns it. Motivated by this hope and a memory of the beauty of the selfless life of Saint Francis of Assisi,...
(The entire section is 414 words.)