The Assistant: Chapter 5

Chapter 5The grocery continues to earn well, especially around the holidays. Morris attributes their good fortune to Frank, and plans to give him a raise soon. He allows Helen to keep more of her paycheck.

Helen continues to see Frank at the library and respects him for spending his time there. Hearing Frank discuss all the places he’s been inspires Helen to travel, experience, and live life. She is excited when Frank announces that he will start college in the fall, and gives him classic novels to read in preparation: Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and Crime and Punishment. The books each deal with a character who has committed a crime or sin that ruined his or her life. In the first two novels, an unfaithful woman ruins her reputation, and in the last, a young student (Raskolnikov) commits a murder and is sent to a prison camp. Frank has a hard time understanding why Helen finds these stories of human misery so satisfying. Then he realizes that he can identify with the characters in the novels, a feeling that he finds at first uplifting, and then depressing.
Just as Helen and Frank are growing closer, Helen receives a call from Nat inviting her to go out. She turns him down, confused about her feelings for Frank, who has just surprised her with a gift of a volume of Shakespeare and a beautiful hand-woven scarf. Helen returns the gifts to Frank, who is hurt. Finally he convinces her to keep just the book. They agree to be friends. Helen realizes that Frank loves her, but she decides he is not the kind of man she wants to be in love with. Besides his other disadvantages, there is something hidden about him. She senses, correctly, that he is hiding his true self. Besides, she adds, “Don’t forget I’m Jewish.” “So what?” Frank responds, and Helen feels secretly elated.
Ida grows suspicious that a relationship is developing between Frank and Helen, but she is unable to catch the two together. She tells Morris that Frank will make trouble and ominously predicts, “a tragedy will happen.” Morris is annoyed, then worried.
Frank asks Morris to tell him more about what it means to be a Jew. Under pressure from Frank, Morris admits that he doesn’t worry about kosher or avoiding pork or going to synagogue, but insists that he is a “real Jew.” He explains that being a Jew simply means doing what is right and being honest and good. “Tell me why is it that the Jews suffer so damn much, Morris?…What do you suffer for, Morris?” Frank persists. “I suffer for you,” Morris replies. “What do you mean?” Frank asks. “I mean you suffer for me.”
One afternoon Morris strongly suspects that Frank has been stealing from the cash register, but is unable to find out for sure. He decides that if the clerk has been stealing, it’s his own fault for not paying him enough, so he raises Frank’s wages, without telling Ida.
Analysis of Chapter 5
In this chapter, Helen’s relationship with Frank continues to develop, despite the obstacles in Helen’s mind and heart. Frank grows intellectually and spiritually as he learns to identify with the characters in the novels shared by Helen.
Frank seems to have fallen in love with Helen and has given her beautiful and meaningful gifts, but he still has not revealed his true self to Helen, and she senses this. She attempts to end their relationship before it goes too far, but it seems that their feelings for one another are already too strong. There is the sense of potential danger to both young people, heartache or worse, if their relationship continues. Ida predicts that a tragedy will happen.
As Morris’s assistant in the shop, Frank becomes an assistant to Morris’s way of life. From the humble grocer, Frank learns what it means to be a good Jew and a good human being—and at the core of that is being able to feel the pain of others, to suffer for others. However, Frank is still far from taking the lesson to heart, as he continues to steal and is nearly found out by Morris. The reader wonders if Frank will be able to redeem himself before it is too late.