The Assistant: Chapter 10
Frank now lives in the back of the store, sleeping on the couch. He tells those who ask that he’s keeping the business going for the widow. Ida allows him to stay because she’s worried she’ll starve. She lives on the twelve dollars a month rent he pays her, plus Nick’s rent, and Helen’s salary, and has gotten a sewing job besides.
Frank still hopes to be forgiven, telling Helen he’s no longer the same guy he was. When she says she wants to forget him, he asks: “Those books you once gave me to read…did you understand them yourself?”
Helen has a bad dream that Frank approaches her lasciviously, saying “I love you,” and wants to scream. She wants to be a virgin again, but also to be a mother. Thinking about her father, Helen decides that the only way to make his life meaningful would be to make something of herself, by earning her degree, even if it took her years to do it.
Frank watches Helen and thinks of what he can do that would be of some use to her, and decides he must help her get her college education. He gets the idea to make hot sandwiches and soups to go, using his short-order cooking skills. He has handbills printed and given out and gets some business with working men in the neighborhood. Once a week he makes ravioli and lasagna, and then he starts making small pizzas, which bring in even more customers.
The Norwegians start to fight and Taast buys Pederson out. Taast then starts closing his store early because he can’t work so many hours by himself. That brings in late-night customers for Frank.
Now Frank starts paying Ida ninety dollars a month in rent. When she asks why, he says that Helen can keep some of her wages. Although Ida reminds him sternly that Helen isn’t interested in him anymore, Frank continues to think of how he can put Helen through school. One night after he sees her come home from work in the company of Nat Pearl, he stops her and tells her of his plan. He thinks if she says no, he’ll shut the store and leave for good.
Helen is startled and moved by Frank’s offer. She wonders why he would do such a thing, and he tells her he wants to do it for Morris, but she still doesn’t understand. Finally he confesses that he was involved in the holdup of the store. Helen screams and runs away from him.
Frank works constantly and is always tired, still working both at the Coffee Pot and at the grocery. Helen has returned to night college and he cares only to get the money to her mother so she can continue to go. But Helen is still hanging around with Nat Pearl. Eaten by jealousy, he reverts to his old ways, spying on Helen and cheating customers. Then one day, for no reason, he stops spying on Helen and is honest in the store.
One night Helen happens to see Frank working at his night job. She realizes suddenly how hard he has been working to keep them alive, and that he really has changed. A week later, she goes into the grocery to thank him. He says it’s just his way, and suggests that she start going to day school instead. She says she’ll think about it. He wants to ask if he still has any chance with her, but decides to wait until a later time. The next night, he hears her having a fight with Nat.
One morning Frank is awakened by the pounding of the Polish woman wanting her three-cent roll. Frank is exhausted and considers ignoring her, but he gets up and lets her in. The same day, he sees Nick going to buy groceries at Taast’s and decides he will make the grocery into a restaurant.
Breitbart comes in, dragging his heavy boxes, and has a cup of tea. Asked how things are going, he says “Schwer” (hard). Frank reads from the Bible as he waits for customers, thinking that there are parts he could’ve written himself.
As he reads, Frank has a daydream that Saint Francis picked the wooden rose out of the garbage, transforming it into a real flower, and gave it to Helen.
Frank goes to the hospital and has himself circumcised. The pain between his legs enrages and inspires him, and after Passover he becomes a Jew.
Analysis of Chapter 10
In the final chapter of the book, Frank’s redemption becomes complete. For a while, faced with adversity, he reverts to his old ways of spying on Helen and cheating customers, but then inexplicably stops and becomes honest again. This shows that Frank has finally mastered self-control. He does what is right almost reflexively, without having to think about it.
Helen at first doesn’t believe that Frank could change. He asks if she’s understood the books she had him read. The books were about redemption, about sinners who paid the price for their sins and came to realize their own guilt. Helen was unable to absorb the messages in these books and to realize that redemption from sin is possible. Finally she does realize it when she sees Frank in the window of the Coffee Pot, and it dawns on her how much he has changed.
Frank’s transformation into Morris’s role has become complete, and the novel has gone full circle, when the Polish woman knocks on his door and he wakes to answer it. Like Morris, he does his duty, whether it helps him or not—this is what it means to be a good person, to do the job well. The rest of the day goes the same way the day went for Morris at the beginning of Chapter 1. Nick goes to the rival grocery. Breitbart comes in and has his cup of tea. Things are still bad, only Frank has dreams. He thinks of making the store into a restaurant. He thinks of his love for Helen becoming real.
The end of the novel comes as a surprise. We’ve seen Frank take on Morris’s role and we know that he is interested in Helen, but still, not many readers would predict that Frank would get circumcised and become a Jew. However, the fact that Frank is shown reading the Bible shortly beforehand and has a daydream about Saint Francis seems to indicate that the conversion is not actually a religious one so much as it is an acceptance of a heritage, a moral code, a way of life that has been passed down to Frank by his surrogate father, Morris, but which is not incompatible with Frank’s own childhood beliefs in Catholicism. Although unexpected, the choice comes as the final ritual in a process that has already taken place. In converting to Judaism, Frank takes the final step toward converting himself into a moral, compassionate human being.