Places Discussed

Grocery store

Grocery store. Morris Bober’s family store in Manhattan. As an economic and social barrier, the store resembles a bit of European ghetto transported to New York, though it could be located in any large city in which European refugees gather. Having escaped Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, Morris has nevertheless contrived a prison of his own making, one which threatens to kill the spirit of his wife, Ida, and his daughter, Helen. Poverty ceaselessly grinds them down. Every morning at 5:30 a.m. Morris crawls out of bed to give the “Polish woman” her three-cent roll, even though she threatens to spit out anti-Semitic insults at him. For hours thereafter, no customer is likely to come into the store. Most of his customers have deserted him for “the German,” who has opened a fancy delicatessen around the corner. When the German becomes ill, his business is bought and refurbished by Norwegians—more Nordic types—and Morris’s misery continues. At the end of the day, the cash register seldom holds enough money to pay the day’s expenses. Only Helen’s paycheck as a secretary keeps the family going.

In this scene of suffering, the street person Frank Alpine makes his appearance. In an apparent example of gross black comedy, Morris’s store is the one that Frank and a companion choose to rob. After being bumped on the head, Morris fails to recognize Frank in the holdup. However, something about the store...

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Bober's grocery, where most of the action takes place, is in a section of the city (possibly Brooklyn though never specified) that is almost...

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Literary Qualities

Malamud sustains a tone of sadness throughout the novel. The critic Mark Shechner, in his essay "Sad Music," observes that this tone...

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Social Sensitivity

The Assistant demonstrates Malamud's deep compassion for suffering humanity and his conviction that good rather than evil is the basic...

(The entire section is 195 words.)

Topics for Discussion

1. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment was one of the books that influenced Malamud when he wrote The Assistant. Frank reads...

(The entire section is 306 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Research the Jewish culture and religion and write about your findings regarding the religious beliefs, rituals, diet, etc. of this...

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Related Titles / Adaptations

Most of Malamud's works focus on the problems of the Jews. A New Life, his third novel, also has a Jewish hero. The Fixer,...

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For Further Reference

Abramson, Edward A. Bernard Malamud Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993. This booklet evaluates Malamud's vision in relation...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Alter, Isaka. “The Good Man’s Dilemma: The Natural, The Assistant, and American Materialism.” In Critical Essays on Bernard Malamud, edited by Joel Salzberg. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. Focuses perceptively on the social criticism in Malamud’s fiction that most critics generally ignore.

Astro, Richard, and Jackson J. Benson, eds. The Fiction of Bernard Malamud. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1977.

Field, Leslie, and Joyce Field, eds. Bernard Malamud: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall,...

(The entire section is 280 words.)