The Assistant By Bernard Malamud Summary and Analysis Section 6

The sudden growth of Helen's love for Frank brings many already — established themes into new conjunctions. Helen's acceptance of Frank changes her as well as Frank, and a sense of healing permeates their relationship. Their dreams of college for Frank continue, and Helen's dream of a near-idyllic future for her family lights up her gloomy world. But Frank and Helen's affection is inhibited by internal and external circumstances. Helen's feeling that she made a mistake in giving herself to Nat Pearl without love makes her determined to take no chances on repeating the mistake with Frank. Frank's mixed response to this attitude creates sympathy for him. His physical longing for her is a torment, but he realizes that he must discipline and change himself in order to be worthy of Helen.

Frank, however, has other problems; he is haunted by his past. When Detective Minogue brings a holdup suspect for Morris to examine, Frank is once again confronted with his part in the crime and is frightened that Morris will suspect him. In addition, Ward's attempt to blackmail Frank by threatening to expose Frank adds to the potential damage which may now come from his past.

Ida's distress over Helen and Frank, and Morris' terror when he learns from Karp that his business has improved because of Schmitz' illness but will suffer once the two Norwegians re-open the delicatessen, provides a dramatic backdrop for the violence which concludes this section. Ironies now multiply. Morris' new apprehensions about his business put him in a bad mood; if discovered, Frank's dishonesty will seem intolerable. But at the same time that Morris' hopes are sinking, Helen's and Frank's hopes are soaring. Frank's determination to become honest so that he may be worthy of Helen convinces him to replace six dollars, almost all the money he is carrying, in the cash register. Helen's telephone call to Frank is motivated by her regret that she is dating Nat instead of Frank, and by her discovery that she loves Frank. Her mother's insistence that she see Nat and her new affection for Frank are gathering toward this section's climax.

Frank is elated by his hope that Helen will declare her love for him; as a consequence, he must have money for his late date. Thus he steals — one more time. But after Morris catches him stealing a dollar, Frank realizes that he has always stolen, never borrowed. His past with its residue of cynical selfishness has always kept him from developing the kind of trust and friendship which might have led him to borrow from Morris. Frank has learned and absorbed moral principles from Morris and Helen, but not sufficiently. Now circumstances seem to be doomed once more for him.

The concluding portion of Section Six brings many strands of action and many motifs together. Helen's unsatisfactory date with Nat shows his persistent urge to exploit her, and his remark about Frank being a dago reveals the kind of degrading ethnic judgment that Helen and Frank have been trying to overcome.

Then, when Ward Minogue accosts Helen in the park, he becomes a kind of degraded version of Nat's exploitativeness. Consumed by hatred, anesthetized by liquor, Ward tells Helen he wants only "what you give that wop." Ward's violence and attempted rape show once more that he reduces all other people to objects to be hated or used for his own satisfaction. His "I'm personally a fine guy — son of a cop" is the ultimate of cynicism, a mockery of ordinary decency, and his remark that his father once beat him up in the girls' yard at school reminds us of Ward's deep-seated rapist tendencies.

Frank arrives to rescue Helen, but his rescue, ironically, also becomes a rape. The fact that he has been drinking suggests a similarity to the sodden Ward Minogue, almost enough to make us disregard the fact that Frank has been drinking out of despair because Morris' firing him has destroyed his hope of Helen's continuing love. The circumstances seem almost impossibly difficult for him, and a few sentences reverberate with unbearable conflict and despair. Helen's "Please not now, darling" is anguished. This is not the time for abrupt sexuality. But Frank's despair, the cause of which Helen does not know, leads him to grab what he can get, a tendency in himself that he described in his early conversations with Morris. His feeling that Helen is beyond reach as she was in the bathroom when he spied on her reminds us that the bathroom spying was visual rape which became adoration. Now, however, adoration has given way to physical rape. The final sentence, in which Helen calls Frank an "uncircumcised dog," reminds us that Frank has thrown away his victory over Helen's ethnic apprehensions. His violation of her has made him seem an alien person rather than a fellow human.

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