Frank Alpine, a young Italian drifter. Tall and bearded, with eyes haunted by a profound loneliness and a deep spiritual sadness, Frank wants to escape a past full of mistakes and broken promises. Fascinated by the stories of Saint Francis that he heard in the orphanage where he was reared, he continually aspires to a life of good but finds himself unable to keep himself on the right track. After robbing the Bobers’ grocery store, his guilt is so strong that he returns to the store and helps the old shopkeeper without pay. When Morris Bober falls ill, he volunteers to work as the storekeeper’s assistant and stays on even after Morris’ health returns. He brings in more business and is responsible for saving the store from the brink of bankruptcy. He falls in love with Helen Bober, Morris and Ida’s daughter, and cautiously woos her. His struggle between doing right and doing wrong continues throughout the novel: He steals from the Bobers, lies, and rapes Helen just as she begins to warm to him; he also puts back the money he steals, saves Morris’ life, and confesses to his crimes. When Morris dies, Frank puts on the grocer’s apron and takes his place in the small grocery store.
Morris Bober, a sixty-year-old Russian Jewish immigrant who runs a small, failing grocery store. A heavyset man with sloping shoulders and bushy gray hair that needs trimming, Morris is the epitome of the long-suffering Jew. He is as unlucky as he is honest. Morris believes that it is his heritage to suffer. As the novel opens, he watches one of his former customers sneaking down the street with groceries bought somewhere else. He learns that a new delicatessen will soon be opening across from him; that night, he is attacked and robbed. Later, his generosity toward the drifter Frank is...
(The entire section is 754 words.)