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The Assistant

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The character of Frank Alpine and the changes that occur in his life dominates Bernard Malamud’s novel The Assistant.  In the story Alpine has an affect on several of the characters in the novel. The characters that Frank has the most impact on are the following:

  • Morris who is the owner of a store that Frank robs at the beginning of the novel;
  • Ida, who is Morris’s wife;
  • Helen, who is Morris’s daughter. 

The story is based around a little grocery store owned by Morris and is set in New York City.  After Frank robs the grocery store he feels guilty and returns to go to work for Morris. As the novel develops one gets the sense that the store owned by Morris is more of a prison than a business. However, throughout the novel one can sense the fondness that both Morris and Frank have for the store. Each member of the family seem to have their chance at freedom throughout the novel, but somehow find their way back to the store. Over the two years that the novel takes place Frank changes spiritually, ethically and intellectually and at the same time affecting each of the main characters in the novel.

The Assistant

The reader’s first exposure to Frank Alpine is that he is a thief, an idea that will change over the course of the novel. The novel shows a man that not only must deal with the guilt of his actions at the beginning of the novel, but also through his past. A past that is unveiled to the reader only in brief passages and pieces that show the want and failure that Frank feels about his past. An example of this is shown early in the novel as Frank thinks out what and how he will tell Morris about robbing the store and stealing out of the cash drawer.  As Frank thinks of a good time to tell Morris about the crime, the reader is given a glimpse of the regret felt by Frank about his past.

Well, after certain bad breaks through various causes, mostly his own mistakes he was piled high with regrets—after many such failures, though he tried every which way to free himself from them, usually he failed; so after a time he gave up and let himself be a bum. He lived in gutters, cellars if he was lucky, slept in lots, ate what the dogs wouldn’t, or couldn’t, and what he scrounged out of garbage cans. He wore what he found, slept where he flopped and guzzled anything.

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