The Assistant: Chapter 6
Despite her doubts, Helen finds herself falling in love with Frank, but she’s still not sure if she’s ready to take a chance on him. She gives herself until summer to decide. Frank grows impatient waiting for their stolen kisses to develop into something more, and begins to pressure her for sex. She tells him she won’t do it until she’s sure of her love for him. At first Frank is hurt, but then he thinks again and admires her for her discipline. He wishes he could be the same.
One snowy afternoon, Detective Minogue comes to the store with a man in handcuffs. He asks Morris whether this is one of the men who robbed him. Morris says no, he doesn’t recognize him. Frank grows nervous that soon Morris will recognize him as the true criminal. That night, he receives a visit from Ward Minogue, who threatens to tell on him if he doesn’t pay him fifty dollars. Frank gives him the eight dollars in his wallet and Ward says he’ll be back for the rest.
Ida discovers Frank and Helen kissing and confronts Helen. Crying, she pleads with her daughter not to make a mistake and spoil her life by marrying a “goy” (a derisive term for a non-Jew) with no money. She wants Helen to at least give Nat Pearl one more chance. Helen argues with Ida, but finally agrees that she will call Nat. Ida tells Morris about the incident, again predicting “ten times a tragedy.”
Since the night of the holdup nearly four months earlier, Morris has not spoken to Julius Karp. Now Karp reappears with some terrible news. He reveals that the true reason for Morris’s increase in business is that the German grocer, Heinrich Schmitz, has been ill and has kept his store closed half the day. Now the German is selling his store to two Norwegians, Taast and Pederson, who plan to reopen the following week with a fancy grocery. Karp has a solution to the problem: kick Frank out and let Helen marry Louis. If Helen and Louis get together, Karp thinks, he would take over the grocery and make it profitable so that Morris and his family would be well provided for. An enraged Morris curses Karp out of his store.
The next day, Morris ponders what to do. He decides that no matter what, he will not dismiss Frank, as he still believes his assistant has something to do with the increase in business. Frank, meanwhile, is unaware of what is happening. Inspired by Helen’s example, he has decided to practice discipline and self-control. He will pay back all the money he has stolen from Morris—around $140. He even considers telling Morris about his part in the holdup, but decides against it. Instead he will change and live in a worthwhile way.
Frank decides to begin by putting six dollars back in the till. Moments later, Helen calls to ask him for a date, and he takes a dollar back out. Morris catches Frank at it, and fires him on the spot.
Later that night, Helen ends her date with Nat Pearl, anxious to see Frank and tell him at last that she loves only him. However, Frank isn’t there in the park where they have agreed to meet. Instead, she is confronted with the malicious Ward Minogue. He tells her he has a letter for her from Frank, and then drags her into the trees, ripping her dress and attempting to rape her. As Helen collapses, Frank appears and beats up Ward, driving him away. He grasps Helen tightly and they kiss; then, overcome with emotion and the whisky he’s been drinking, Frank rapes Helen. She curses him as an “uncircumcised dog.”
Analysis of Chapter 6
In this climactic chapter, all the conflicts of the novel come to a head. Just as Helen is about to offer her love to Frank, Frank is exposed as a thief and thrown out by Morris, and his secret criminal past rises up in the form of Ward Minogue, threatening his love with desecration. In his grief and emotional confusion, desperate that all has been lost, Frank loses his self-control in the most awful way possible by raping Helen.
Frank has now sunk to his lowest point. However, this low point is necessary if Frank is ever to be redeemed. Up until now, he has been making excuses for his stealing and lying. Now Frank can no longer lie to himself. He must accept the blame and atone for his sins.