READING MAKES WRITING PERFECT!
The Elements of Fiction
Fiction, fact and truth
Fiction is made up story. Even the most sacred books like Bible and the other holy books are fictions because they are made up story. It does not necessarily mean that these holy books lack the truth but it means that they are creations of the human beings.
Fiction and fact seem to be just opposite to each other but the fact is that they are inter related to each other. The word fact has been derived from the Latin word ‘facere’ which means to make or to do. And the word fiction has been derived from ‘fingere’ which means to make or to shape. Fact is connected with reality and truth whereas fiction is connected with unreality and falsehood. Despite the fact that they are connected with imagination and reality, both of them contain the truth with themselves. However its amount differs. The fact means the ‘thing one’ and surprisingly the ‘thing one’ has no existence when it is finished thus the fact must take the help of fiction in order to make its existence.
In order to know the strange relationship between fact and fiction we can take the example of history. Literally, history means what has happened but symbolically it also means what is supposed to have happened. Moreover the word “story” itself lurks in the word history. It clarifies that the most so called factual details called history itself is not factual because because it is written from one perspective.
Therefore fact and fiction are not opposite to each other but rather they are complementary to each other.
Fiction: Experiences and analysis
Although any book of fiction has its real existence the word created by the fictional work is unreal. The events and characters are imaginary they do not talk to us face to face. Thus the experience that we get out of fiction is unreal. While reading any work of fiction, we are involved in it just in passive form because we can affect neither the characters nor the events. However it is obvious that after reading any work of fiction we are moved mentally and intellectually. Just as an athletic do a lot of pre-game exercises or preparation to achieve his goal, it is necessary for us to read the fictional works in order to make a good analysis of our life and society.
Therefore the only significant act of fiction is to prepare us for understanding our life and society in a better way.
The spectrum of Fiction
The spectrum of fiction is an analogy which clarifies about the general modes of fiction. In the spectrum of the light there are seven colours which are distinctly visible but in the spectrum of fiction there are only four wings. As we have discussed earlier that the fact is connected with history and fiction is connected with fantasy. The surprising thing for the students of literature is that neither pure history nor pure fantasy is possible in human creation. All history recorded by men becomes fictional. A divine soul talking every note of human activity can be considered as pure history and deity creating the world in his own imagination can be considered as pure fantasy. The imaginary world created by human imagination has resemblance though far fetched with life. Therefore neither history is purely factual not fantasy is purely fictional.
IN between these two extremes, there are two other wings which connect them with each other. Some of the writers create the world on the basis of their perception and it is the mode which we called as ‘realism’. On the other hand some other writers create the world on the basis of their vision and this mode is known as Romance. A realist writer tries to depict the reality not in a specification but in a general way. Unlike a historian, a realistic writer creates the world on the basis of his perception but not on the basis of the fact. On the other hand the writer of romance creates the ideal world by distorting “what is” into “what ought to be”
On the first sight romance and realism seem just opposite to each other but the reality is that they are quite close to each other. Realism is far more romantic than history and romance is more realistic than fantasy. In fact romance and realism bridge gap between history and fantasy.
Fictional modes and pattern
In the spectrum of fiction, we have seen basically two modes of fiction: realism and romance. In the fictional modes and patterns, we have to keep realism off and see how a fiction can distort the reality. Basically, there are two fundamental ways through which reality is distorted; either creating more beautiful picture of the world that it actually is or showing the most devasted view than it actually is. The fictional mode that focuses on beautiful, orderly, ideal, etc. picture of the world is the mode that we called as romance. On the other hand, the fictional mode that focuses on chaotic, ugly, and disorderly mode of life is known as satire.
The fictional modes don’t only focus on human qualities but they rather focus also in human experiences. The protagonist who begins his quest in inhumanly but end in harmony is the mode that begins his quest with harmony but ends with inhumanly or separation or the death is known as tragedy. The victory of a hero in a comedy brings the comic rise whereas the defect of the protagonist in a tragedy brings the tragic fall. Similarly in a satire there is a satire rise and the pathetic fall of the devasted characters. There is a satire rise because his evilness or frailty is exposed to the audience and creates the irony between expectation and reality.
In a romance there is a heroic quest and the protagonist is able to get victory over his problems with the help of some super natural power. The adventure of the protagonist give him some knowledge on the other hand, the anti hero also goes on a voyage in a satire but the climax is not in his favour for it goes against his expectations. As a result his in vanity is exposed.
In this way there are 6 patterns, fictional modes- comic and satire rise, tragic and pathetic fall and the heroic and anti heroic quest.
Elements of Fiction
1) Note the beginnings and endings
2) Isolate the characters
3) Note the stages in all important changes
4) Note the thing working against the movement of the story
5) A long story or novel consider various lines of actions
6) Note the character and movements that does not contribute the plot or movements.
Plot is a single movement that gives the certain definition which has beginning, middle and end. It is possible because of the characters i.e. such characters have chain of events. There are some forces which is protagonist and anti protagonist movements (in the perspective view of thematic significance)
Point of view: Perspective and Language
Design: Juxtaposition and repetition in the structure of fiction
Three stories and Commentaries.
Guy De Maupasant
One morning, one of he women told the lover but he could not believe his ears. Perhaps the anxieties of parental affection hunt him or he was disappointed by the fact that his niece went against his expectation. Although he showed doubt on that human, she clarified if he went himself from ten to midnight, he could find the evidence. The Abbe Marignan was quite impatient the whole day and in the evening, after his dinner he becomes ready to go outside and find the reality.
The Abbe Marignan was startled when he stepped outside for the moonlight night and its beauty was unimaginable. He immediately questioned if the night was meant for sleeping why did the lord make it even more beautiful than the day? Similarly, he wondered for whom the birds were singing so beautifully. The landscape looked holy and divine. The deeper the priest walked, he was enchanted even more. It was perfectly like a Biblical scene or him. But he still found it incomplete. His “WHY” remains unanswered until his niece came there hugging her lover. Their arrival answered his “WHY” and he realized that the beautiful moonlight night was meant for the lovers. Besides, the priest was scared to live there for a long time because he did not like to disturb the lovers and he himself felt that he was outcaste from the temple of love.
In this way, this story shows how the so-called ideal priest realizes the value of love as well as the value of women. His attitude towards women was changed radically by the moonlight night.
This story is a realistic story in which Guy De Maupasant shows the transformation of the protagonanist. Even though Abbe Marignan was a priest, he was blind folded for the reality of the life. He stupidly thought that love and women were useless to live a life. In the name of so-called pure life, he discarded them without realizing the vanity his thought. His thought was that even the God did not like his own creation, i.e. woman. No doubt, he was attracted towards woman. And the evidence was that he felt new sensation when his niece kissed and hugged him. However, he deceived himself. Outwardly he always tried to react that the women were made just to tempt and taste the virtue of the man. In this opinion the so-called virtue came when a person kept himself away from love and woman.
Madame Julie Roubere was expecting her elder sister, Madame Henriette Letore, who had just returned from a trip to Switzerland.
The Letore household had left nearly five weeks before. Madame Henriette had allowed her husband to return alone to their estate in Calvados, where some business required his attention, and had come to spend a few days in Paris with her sister. Night came on. In the quiet parlor Madame Roubere was reading in the twilight in an absent-minded way, raising her, eyes whenever she heard a sound.
At last, she heard a ring at the door, and her sister appeared, wrapped in a travelling cloak. And without any formal greeting, they clasped each other in an affectionate embrace, only desisting for a moment to give each other another hug. Then they talked about their health, about their respective families, and a thousand other things, gossiping, jerking out hurried, broken sentences as they followed each other about, while Madame Henriette was removing her hat and veil.
It was now quite dark. Madame Roubere rang for a lamp, and as soon as it was brought in, she scanned her sister's face, and was on the point of embracing her once more. But she held back, scared and astonished at the other's appearance.
On her temples Madame Letore had two large locks of white hair. All the rest of her hair was of a glossy, raven-black hue; but there alone, at each side of her head, ran, as it were, two silvery streams which were immediately lost in the black mass surrounding them. She was, nevertheless, only twenty-four years old, and this change had come on suddenly since her departure for Switzerland.
Without moving, Madame Roubere gazed at her in amazement, tears rising to her eyes, as she thought that some mysterious and terrible calamity must have befallen her sister. She asked:
"What is the matter with you, Henriette?"
Smiling with a sad face, the smile of one who is heartsick, the other replied:
"Why, nothing, I assure you. Were you noticing my white hair?"
But Madame Roubere impetuously seized her by the shoulders, and with a searching glance at her, repeated:
"What is the matter with you? Tell me what is the matter with you. And if you tell me a falsehood, I'll soon find it out."
They remained face to face, and Madame Henriette, who looked as if she were about to faint, had two pearly tears in the corners of her drooping eyes.
Her sister continued:
"What has happened to you? What is the matter with you? Answer me!"
Then, in a subdued voice, the other murmured:
"I have--I have a lover."
And, hiding her forehead on the shoulder of her younger sister, she sobbed.
Then, when she had grown a little calmer, when the heaving of her breast had subsided, she commenced to unbosom herself, as if to cast forth this secret from herself, to empty this sorrow of hers into a sympathetic heart.
Thereupon, holding each other's hands tightly clasped, the two women went over to a sofa in a dark corner of the room, into which they sank, and the younger sister, passing her arm over the elder one's neck, and drawing her close to her heart, listened.
"Oh! I know that there was no excuse for me; I do not understand myself, and since that day I feel as if I were mad. Be careful, my child, about yourself--be careful! If you only knew how weak we are, how quickly we yield, and fall. It takes so little, so little, so little, a moment of tenderness, one of those sudden fits of melancholy which come over you, one of those longings to open, your arms, to love, to cherish something, which we all have at certain moments.
"You know my husband, and you know how fond I am of him; but he is mature and sensible, and cannot even comprehend the tender vibrations of a woman's heart. He is always the same, always good, always smiling, always kind, always perfect. Oh! how I sometimes have wished that he would clasp me roughly in his arms, that he would embrace me with those slow, sweet kisses which make two beings intermingle, which are like mute confidences! How I have wished that he were foolish, even weak, so that he should have need of me, of my caresses, of my tears!
"This all seems very silly; but we women are made like that. How can we help it?
"And yet the thought of deceiving him never entered my mind. Now it has happened, without love, without reason, without anything, simply because the moon shone one night on the Lake of Lucerne.
"During the month when we were travelling together, my husband, with his calm indifference, paralyzed my enthusiasm, extinguished my poetic ardor. When we were descending the mountain paths at sunrise, when as the four horses galloped along with the diligence, we saw, in the transparent morning haze, valleys, woods, streams, and villages, I clasped my hands with delight, and said to him: 'How beautiful it is, dear! Give me a kiss! Kiss me now!' He only answered, with a smile of chilling kindliness: 'There is no reason why we should kiss each other because you like the landscape.'
"And his words froze me to the heart. It seems to me that when people love each other, they ought to feel more moved by love than ever, in the presence of beautiful scenes.
"In fact, I was brimming over with poetry which he kept me from expressing. I was almost like a boiler filled with steam and hermetically sealed.
"One evening (we had for four days been staying in a hotel at Fluelen) Robert, having one of his sick headaches, went to bed immediately after dinner, and I went to take a walk all alone along the edge of the lake.
"It was a night such as one reads of in fairy tales. The full moon showed itself in the middle of the sky; the tall mountains, with their snowy crests, seemed to wear silver crowns; the waters of the lake glittered with tiny shining ripples. The air was mild, with that kind of penetrating warmth which enervates us till we are ready to faint, to be deeply affected without any apparent cause. But how sensitive, how vibrating the heart is at such moments! how quickly it beats, and how intense is its emotion!
"I sat down on the grass, and gazed at that vast, melancholy, and fascinating lake, and a strange feeling arose in me; I was seized with an insatiable need of love, a revolt against the gloomy dullness of my life. What! would it never be my fate to wander, arm in arm, with a man I loved, along a moon-kissed bank like this? Was I never to feel on my lips those kisses so deep, delicious, and intoxicating which lovers exchange on nights that seem to have been made by God for tenderness? Was I never to know ardent, feverish love in the moonlit shadows of a summer's night?
"And I burst out weeping like a crazy woman. I heard something stirring behind me. A man stood there, gazing at me. When I turned my head round, he recognized me, and, advancing, said:
"'You are weeping, madame?'
"It was a young barrister who was travelling with his mother, and whom we had often met. His eyes had frequently followed me.
"I was so confused that I did not know what answer to give or what to think of the situation. I told him I felt ill.
"He walked on by my side in a natural and respectful manner, and began talking to me about what we had seen during our trip. All that I had felt he translated into words; everything that made me thrill he understood perfectly, better than I did myself. And all of a sudden he repeated some verses of Alfred de Musset. I felt myself choking, seized with indescribable emotion. It seemed to me that the mountains themselves, the lake, the moonlight, were singing to me about things ineffably sweet.
"And it happened, I don't know how, I don't know why, in a sort of hallucination.
"As for him, I did not see him again till the morning of his departure.
"He gave me his card!"
And, sinking into her sister's arms, Madame Letore broke into groans-- almost into shrieks.
Then, Madame Roubere, with a self-contained and serious air, said very gently:
"You see, sister, very often it is not a man that we love, but love itself. And your real lover that night was the moonlight."
Summary and Analysis of Clay
Maria works at the Dublin by Lamplight laundry, a charitable institution run by protestants. The laundry is for fallen women and alcoholics, and busies them with useful work; Maria is not one of its charity cases, but is a regular worker who helps keep things together. She is known as a peacemaker and a thoroughly competent woman. She boards there, and she enjoys her work; she has even come to like the Protestants who work there. She got the work through the help of her friends, Joe and Alphy, two brothers whom she helped to raise.
Tonight is All Hallow's Eve, or Hallowe'en. She is going over to Joe's to enjoy an evening of fun and singing with Joe and his family. When work is finished, she's happy to go and get ready for the celebration. In her little bedroom, she gets dressed. She also remembers that tomorrow is a holy day of obligation, so she sets her alarm for six instead of seven. She notes to herself that her body is still trim and in shape despite her age, and sets off.
She looks forward to the evening, and reflects on the simple joy of her independence. She also reflects sadly on Joe and Alphy: though they are brothers and were once the best of friends, they are no longer speaking to each other. For the children, she buys some penny cakes at Downe's. Then she goes to a shop in Henry Street, where she fusses over getting a perfect slice of plum cake as a special treat. It costs two shillings and four pence, a princely sum for Maria. On the tram, she fears she is going to have to stand; the young men simply stare at her. But finally an older gentleman lets her have his seat. They chat about Hallow Eve and the treats.
At Joe's house she is greeted warmly, and she gives the children their cakes. But in a panic she realizes she cannot find the plum cake. She asks the children if they have taken it and eaten it by mistake, and the children resentfully reply that they haven't. Finally, she accepts that she must have left it on the tram. When she thinks of the expense and the surprise she wanted to give them, she nearly cries.
Joe and Maria sit by the fire. He is exceedingly nice to her, playing host and pressing her to drink. She tries to bring up the matter of Alphy, but Joe becomes very angry. Mrs. Donnelly also tries to put in a word in favor of reconciliation, but this nearly starts a fight until Joe calms himself and insists on dropping the subject.
They start to play the traditional Irish divination games of Hallowe'en, where one is led blindfolded to a table and made to pick out an object. The girls from next-door put out the objects. The chosen object predicts the future. When Maria takes her turn, she feels something wet and slippery. She hears some muffled words, and Mrs. Donnely says crossly that the object is not appropriate. She insists that it be thrown out. Maria chooses again, and gets a prayer book.
After that, the children move on to another game. Joe presses Maria to drink, and Mrs. Donnelly says lightly that Maria will enter a convent because she chose the prayer book. Soon, Joe and Mrs. Donnelly pressure Maria to sing. Maria shyly sings I Dreamt that I Dwelt. She sings the first verse twice, but no one corrects her. The song moves Joe to tears.
Joyce's portrait of Maria is one of his most skilful accomplishments in the collection. Certainly, she is one of the book's most appealing characters.
She is a hard-working, good-hearted old woman. She is tolerant, not unwilling to work among Protestants or social outcasts. She works hard at the shelter, helping fallen women to begin a new life. Her Protestants are tolerant of her religion, but will not make allowances for her religious obligations: we see her setting the alarm for six in the morning, so that she can attend mass before work the next day.
Poverty, as before, is a theme. Maria's loss of the cake is especially painful because the price was such an exorbitant one, considering her modest means. Here we see a character trying to treat her loved ones despite her limited funds. Her loss of the cake is especially sad in this light.
Subtle hints about previously higher socio-economic status are dropped. For one thing, these two brothers she nursed seem well off enough, though not wealthy. And the song that she sings, repeating the first verse twice, comes from a work about a woman who moves from riches to rags. When Joe cries, he may be weeping because Maria's own situation is mirrored by the song.
But there are other reasons to weep. The tone of much of the story is poignant, sweet and sad at once, which is somewhat rare in this collection. Most of the stories have a much harder edge. This story is yet another tale dealing with relationships between generations, and Joe may be weeping because his beloved Maria is not long for this world. She is an old woman, whose life has not been easy. And the object she chooses during the divination game is clay: traditionally, this object was the omen of approaching death.
Theme of the Traitor and the Hero
By Jorge Luis Borges.
"Theme of the Traitor and the Hero"
Jorge Luis Borges
"Tema del traidor y del héroe"
Fantasy, short story
"Theme of the Traitor and the Hero" (original Spanish title: "Tema del traidor y del héroe") is a short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges originally published in 1944 in number 112 of the review Sur.
Theme Of The Traitor And The Hero "That history should have imitated history was already sufficiently astonishing; that history should imitate literature is inconceivable. . . ." Plot Summary & Historical Background: Settings - The Narrative is set in Ireland in 1824. However Borges is only using this as an example. He says " The action takes place in a oppressed and tenacious country: Poland, Ireland, The Venetian Republic, some South American or Balkan state". This universalises the story of Kilpatrick and the experience of Ryan showing it has happened everywhere. It ends with Ryan deciding to keep silent the discovery that his great-grandfather was a traitor to the same cause to which history had deemed him a hero. The wants to preserve his heroic image and people's passion for the rebellious cause. Ryan decides to keep quiet and be part of Kilpatrick's story. Borges observed that his readers would find parallel between the story and that of Julius Caesar. Consequently, he is trying to show that it is not a coincidence, and that every event in history has its parallel in Literature and vice-versa. History is a combination of repeating themes. Nothing like free will. We are all just characters acting based on what has been predetermined.
A Collection of Modern Fiction
Fabulation is a term sometimes used interchangeably with metafiction and relates to pastiche and Magical Realism. It is a rejection of realism which embraces the notion that literature is a created work and not bound by notions of mimesis and verisimilitude. Thus, fabulation challenges some traditional notions of literature -- the traditional structure of a novel or role of the narrator, for example -- and integrates other traditional notions of storytelling, including fantastical elements, such as magic and myth, or elements from popular genres such as science fiction. By some accounts, the term was coined by Robert Scholes in his book The Fabulators. A good example of fabulation is Salman Rushdie´s Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
THE PURLOINED LETTER
by Edgar Allan Poe
Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio. - Seneca.
At Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18--, I was enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in company with my friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or book-closet, au troisieme, No. 33, Rue Dunot, Faubourg St. Germain. For one hour at least we had maintained a profound silence; while each, to any casual observer, might have seemed intently and exclusively occupied with the curling eddies of smoke that oppressed the atmosphere of the chamber. For myself, however, I was mentally discussing certain topics which had formed matter for conversation between us at an earlier period of the evening; I mean the affair of the Rue Morgue, and the mystery attending the murder of Marie Roget. I looked upon it, therefore, as something of a coincidence, when the door of our apartment was thrown open and admitted our old acquaintance, Monsieur G--, the Prefect of the Parisian police.
We gave him a hearty welcome; for there was nearly half as much of the entertaining as of the contemptible about the man, and we had not seen him for several years. We had been sitting in the dark, and Dupin now arose for the purpose of lighting a lamp, but sat down again, without doing so, upon G.'s saying that he had called to consult us, or rather to ask the opinion of my friend, about some official business which had occasioned a great deal of trouble.
"If it is any point requiring reflection," observed Dupin, as he forbore to enkindle the wick, "we shall examine it to better purpose in the dark."
"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who had a fashion of calling every thing "odd" that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of "oddities."
"Very true," said Dupin, as he supplied his visitor with a pipe, and rolled towards him a comfortable chair.
"And what is the difficulty now?" I asked. "Nothing more in the assassination way, I hope?"
"Oh no; nothing of that nature. The fact is, the business is very simple indeed, and I make no doubt that we can manage it sufficiently well ourselves; but then I thought Dupin would like to hear the details of it, because it is so excessively odd."
"Simple and odd," said Dupin.
"Why, yes; and not exactly that, either. The fact is, we have all been a good deal puzzled because the affair is so simple, and yet baffles us altogether."
"Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at fault," said my friend.
"What nonsense you do talk!" replied the Prefect, laughing heartily.
"Perhaps the mystery is a little too plain," said Dupin.
"Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?"
"A little too self-evident."
"Ha! ha! ha! --ha! ha! ha! --ho! ho! ho!" --roared our visitor, profoundly amused, "oh, Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!"
"And what, after all, is the matter on hand?" I asked.
"Why, I will tell you," replied the Prefect, as he gave a long, steady, and contemplative puff, and settled himself in his chair. "I will tell you in a few words; but, before I begin, let me caution you that this is an affair demanding the greatest secrecy, and that I should most probably lose the position I now hold, were it known that I confided it to any one.
"Proceed," said I.
"Or not," said Dupin.
"Well, then; I have received personal information, from a very high quarter, that a certain document of the last importance, has been purloined from the royal apartments. The individual who purloined it is known; this beyond a doubt; he was seen to take it. It is known, also, that it still remains in his possession."
"How is this known?" asked Dupin.
"It is clearly inferred," replied the Prefect, "from the nature of the document, and from the nonappearance of certain results which would at once arise from its passing out of the robber's possession; --that is to say, from his employing it as he must design in the end to employ it."
"Be a little more explicit," I said.
"Well, I may venture so far as to say that the paper gives its holder a certain power in a certain quarter where such power is immensely valuable." The Prefect was fond of the cant of diplomacy.
"Still I do not quite understand," said Dupin.
"No? Well; the disclosure of the document to a third person, who shall be nameless, would bring in question the honor of a personage of most exalted station; and this fact gives the holder of the document an ascendancy over the illustrious personage whose honor and peace are so jeopardized."
"But this ascendancy," I interposed, "would depend upon the robber's knowledge of the loser's knowledge of the robber. Who would dare--"
"The thief," said G., is the Minister D--, who dares all things, those unbecoming as well as those becoming a man. The method of the theft was not less ingenious than bold. The document in question --a letter, to be frank --had been received by the personage robbed while alone in the royal boudoir. During its perusal she was suddenly interrupted by the entrance of the other exalted personage from whom especially it was her wish to conceal it. After a hurried and vain endeavor to thrust it in a drawer, she was forced to place it, open as it was, upon a table. The address, however, was uppermost, and, the contents thus unexposed, the letter escaped notice. At this juncture enters the Minister D--. His lynx eye immediately perceives the paper, recognises the handwriting of the address, observes the confusion of the personage addressed, and fathoms her secret. After some business transactions, hurried through in his ordinary manner, he produces a letter somewhat similar to the one in question, opens it, pretends to read it, and then places it in close juxtaposition to the other. Again he converses, for some fifteen minutes, upon the public affairs. At length, in taking leave, he takes also from the table the letter to which he had no claim. Its rightful owner saw, but, of course, dared not call attention to the act, in the presence of the third personage who stood at her elbow. The minister decamped; leaving his own letter --one of no importance --upon the table."
"Here, then," said Dupin to me, "you have precisely what you demand to make the ascendancy complete --the robber's knowledge of the loser's knowledge of the robber."
"Yes," replied the Prefect; "and the power thus attained has, for some months past, been wielded, for political purposes, to a very dangerous extent. The personage robbed is more thoroughly convinced, every day, of the necessity of reclaiming her letter. But this, of course, cannot be done openly. In fine, driven to despair, she has committed the matter to me."
"Than whom," said Dupin, amid a perfect whirlwind of smoke, "no more sagacious agent could, I suppose, be desired, or even imagined."
"You flatter me," replied the Prefect; "but it is possible that some such opinion may have been entertained."
"It is clear," said I, "as you observe, that the letter is still in possession of the minister; since it is this possession, and not any employment of the letter, which bestows the power. With the employment the power departs."
"True," said G. "and upon this conviction I proceeded. My first care was to make thorough search of the minister's hotel; and here my chief embarrassment lay in the necessity of searching without his knowledge. Beyond all things, I have been warned of the danger which would result from giving him reason to suspect our design."
"But," said I, "you are quite au fait in these investigations. The Parisian police have done this thing often before."
"Oh yes; and for this reason I did not despair. The habits of the minister gave me, too, a great advantage. He is frequently absent from home all night. His servants are by no means numerous. They sleep at a distance from their master's apartment, and, being chiefly Neapolitans, are readily made drunk. I have keys, as you know, with which I can open any chamber or cabinet in Paris. For three months a night has not passed, during the greater part of which I have not been engaged, personally, in ransacking the D-- Hotel. My honor is interested, and, to mention a great secret, the reward is enormous. So I did not abandon the search until I had become fully satisfied that the thief is a more astute man than myself. I fancy that I have investigated every nook and corner of the premises in which it is possible that the paper can be concealed."
"But is it not possible," I suggested, "that although the letter may be in possession of the minister, as it unquestionably is, he may have concealed it elsewhere than upon his own premises?"
"This is barely possible," said Dupin. "The present peculiar condition of affairs at court, and especially of those intrigues in which D-- is known to be involved, would render the instant availability of the document --its susceptibility of being produced at a moment's notice --a point of nearly equal importance with its possession."
"Its susceptibility of being produced?" said I.
"That is to say, of being destroyed," said Dupin.
"True," I observed; "the paper is clearly then upon the premises. As for its being upon the person of the minister, we may consider that as out of the question."
"Entirely," said the Prefect. "He has been twice waylaid, as if by footpads, and his person rigorously searched under my own inspection.
"You might have spared yourself this trouble," said Dupin. "D--, I presume, is not altogether a fool, and, if not, must have anticipated these waylayings, as a matter of course."
"Not altogether a fool," said G., "but then he's a poet, which I take to be only one remove from a fool."
"True," said Dupin, after a long and thoughtful whiff from his meerschaum, "although I have been guilty of certain doggerel myself."
"Suppose you detail," said I, "the particulars of your search."
"Why the fact is, we took our time, and we searched every where. I have had long experience in these affairs. I took the entire building, room by room; devoting the nights of a whole week to each. We examined, first, the furniture of each apartment. We opened every possible drawer; and I presume you know that, to a properly trained police agent, such a thing as a secret drawer is impossible. Any man is a dolt who permits a 'secret' drawer to escape him in a search of this kind. The thing is so plain. There is a certain amount of bulk --of space --to be accounted for in every cabinet. Then we have accurate rules. The fiftieth part of a line could not escape us. After the cabinets we took the chairs. The cushions we probed with the fine long needles you have seen me employ. From the tables we removed the tops."
"Sometimes the top of a table, or other similarly arranged piece of furniture, is removed by the person wishing to conceal an article; then the leg is excavated, the article deposited within the cavity, and the top replaced. The bottoms and tops of bedposts are employed in the same way."
"But could not the cavity be detected by sounding?" I asked.
"By no means, if, when the article is deposited, a sufficient wadding of cotton be placed around it. Besides, in our case, we were obliged to proceed without noise."
"But you could not have removed --you could not have taken to pieces all articles of furniture in which it would have been possible to make a deposit in the manner you mention. A letter may be compressed into a thin spiral roll, not differing much in shape or bulk from a large knitting-needle, and in this form it might be inserted into the rung of a chair, for example. You did not take to pieces all the chairs?"
"Certainly not; but we did better --we examined the rungs of every chair in the hotel, and, indeed, the jointings of every description of furniture, by the aid of a most powerful microscope. Had there been any traces of recent disturbance we should not have failed to detect it instantly. A single grain of gimlet-dust, for example, would have been as obvious as an apple. Any disorder in the glueing --any unusual gaping in the joints --would have sufficed to insure detection."
"I presume you looked to the mirrors, between the boards and the plates, and you probed the beds and the bed-clothes, as well as the curtains and carpets."
"That of course; and when we had absolutely completed every particle of the furniture in this way, then we examined the house itself. We divided its entire surface into compartments, which we numbered, so that none might be missed; then we scrutinized each individual square inch throughout the premises, including the two houses immediately adjoining, with the microscope, as before."
"The two houses adjoining!" I exclaimed; "you must have had a great deal of trouble."
"We had; but the reward offered is prodigious.
"You include the grounds about the houses?"
"All the grounds are paved with brick. They gave us comparatively little trouble. We examined the moss between the bricks, and found it undisturbed."
"You looked among D--'s papers, of course, and into the books of the library?"
"Certainly; we opened every package and parcel; we not only opened every book, but we turned over every leaf in each volume, not contenting ourselves with a mere shake, according to the fashion of some of our police officers. We also measured the thickness of every book-cover, with the most accurate admeasurement, and applied to each the most jealous scrutiny of the microscope. Had any of the bindings been recently meddled with, it would have been utterly impossible that the fact should have escaped observation. Some five or six volumes, just from the hands of the binder, we carefully probed, longitudinally, with the needles."
"You explored the floors beneath the carpets?"
"Beyond doubt. We removed every carpet, and examined the boards with the microscope."
"And the paper on the walls?"
"You looked into the cellars?"
"Then," I said, "you have been making a miscalculation, and the letter is not upon the premises, as you suppose.
"I fear you are right there," said the Prefect. "And now, Dupin, what would you advise me to do?"
"To make a thorough re-search of the premises."
"That is absolutely needless," replied G--. "I am not more sure that I breathe than I am that the letter is not at the Hotel."
"I have no better advice to give you," said Dupin. "You have, of course, an accurate description of the letter?"
"Oh yes!" --And here the Prefect, producing a memorandum-book, proceeded to read aloud a minute account of the internal, and especially of the external appearance of the missing document. Soon after finishing the perusal of this description, he took his departure, more entirely depressed in spirits than I had ever known the good gentleman before.
In about a month afterwards he paid us another visit, and found us occupied very nearly as before. He took a pipe and a chair and entered into some ordinary conversation. At length I said,--
"Well, but G--, what of the purloined letter? I presume you have at last made up your mind that there is no such thing as overreaching the Minister?"
"Confound him, say I --yes; I made the reexamination, however, as Dupin suggested --but it was all labor lost, as I knew it would be."
"How much was the reward offered, did you say?" asked Dupin.
"Why, a very great deal --a very liberal reward --I don't like to say how much, precisely; but one thing I will say, that I wouldn't mind giving my individual check for fifty thousand francs to any one who could obtain me that letter. The fact is, it is becoming of more and more importance every day; and the reward has been lately doubled. If it were trebled, however, I could do no more than I have done."
"Why, yes," said Dupin, drawlingly, between the whiffs of his meerschaum, "I really --think, G--, you have not exerted yourself--to the utmost in this matter. You might --do a little more, I think, eh?"
"How? --In what way?"
"Why --puff, puff --you might --puff, puff --employ counsel in the matter, eh? --puff, puff, puff. Do you remember the story they tell of Abernethy?"
"No; hang Abernethy!"
"To be sure! hang him and welcome. But, once upon a time, a certain rich miser conceived the design of spunging upon this Abernethy for a medical opinion. Getting up, for this purpose, an ordinary conversation in a private company, he insinuated his case to the physician, as that of an imaginary individual.
"'We will suppose,' said the miser, 'that his symptoms are such and such; now, doctor, what would you have directed him to take?'
"'Take!' said Abernethy, 'why, take advice, to be sure.'"
"But," said the Prefect, a little discomposed, "I am perfectly willing to take advice, and to pay for it. I would really give fifty thousand francs to any one who would aid me in the matter."
"In that case," replied Dupin, opening a drawer, and producing a check-book, "you may as well fill me up a check for the amount mentioned. When you have signed it, I will hand you the letter."
I was astounded. The Prefect appeared absolutely thunderstricken. For some minutes he remained speechless and motionless, less, looking incredulously at my friend with open mouth, and eyes that seemed starting from their sockets; then, apparently in some measure, he seized a pen, and after several pauses and vacant stares, finally filled up and signed a check for fifty thousand francs, and handed it across the table to Dupin. The latter examined it carefully and deposited it in his pocket-book; then, unlocking an escritoire, took thence a letter and gave it to the Prefect. This functionary grasped it in a perfect agony of joy, opened it with a trembling hand, cast a rapid glance at its contents, and then, scrambling and struggling to the door, rushed at length unceremoniously from the room and from the house, without having uttered a syllable since Dupin had requested him to fill up the check.
When he had gone, my friend entered into some explanations.
"The Parisian police," he said, "are exceedingly able in their way. They are persevering, ingenious, cunning, and thoroughly versed in the knowledge which their duties seem chiefly to demand. Thus, when G-- detailed to us his mode of searching the premises at the Hotel D--, I felt entire confidence in his having made a satisfactory investigation --so far as his labors extended."
"So far as his labors extended?" said I.
"Yes," said Dupin. "The measures adopted were not only the best of their kind, but carried out to absolute perfection. Had the letter been deposited within the range of their search, these fellows would, beyond a question, have found it."
I merely laughed --but he seemed quite serious in all that he said.
"The measures, then," he continued, "were good in their kind, and well executed; their defect lay in their being inapplicable to the case, and to the man. A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his designs. But he perpetually errs by being too deep or too shallow, for the matter in hand; and many a schoolboy is a better reasoner than he. I knew one about eight years of age, whose success at guessing in the game of 'even and odd' attracted universal admiration. This game is simple, and is played with marbles. One player holds in his hand a number of these toys, and demands of another whether that number is even or odd. If the guess is right, the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses one. The boy to whom I allude won all the marbles of the school. Of course he had some principle of guessing; and this lay in mere observation and admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents. For example, an arrant simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed hand, asks, 'are they even or odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'odd,' and loses; but upon the second trial he wins, for he then says to himself, the simpleton had them even upon the first trial, and his amount of cunning is just sufficient to make him have them odd upon the second; I will therefore guess odd'; --he guesses odd, and wins. Now, with a simpleton a degree above the first, he would have reasoned thus: 'This fellow finds that in the first instance I guessed odd, and, in the second, he will propose to himself upon the first impulse, a simple variation from even to odd, as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought will suggest that this is too simple a variation, and finally he will decide upon putting it even as before. I will therefore guess even' guesses even, and wins. Now this mode of reasoning in the schoolboy, whom his fellows termed "lucky," --what, in its last analysis, is it?"
"It is merely," I said, "an identification of the reasoner's intellect with that of his opponent."
"It is," said Dupin;" and, upon inquiring of the boy by what means he effected the thorough identification in which his success consisted, I received answer as follows: 'When I wish to find out how wise, or how stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the expression.' This response of the schoolboy lies at the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has been attributed to Rochefoucauld, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campanella."
"And the identification," I said, "of the reasoner's intellect with that of his opponent, depends, if I understand you aright upon the accuracy with which the opponent's intellect is admeasured."
"For its practical value it depends upon this," replied Dupin; and the Prefect and his cohort fall so frequently, first, by default of this identification, and, secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather through non-admeasurement, of the intellect with which they are engaged. They consider only their own ideas of ingenuity; and, in searching for anything hidden, advert only to the modes in which they would have hidden it. They are right in this much --that their own ingenuity is a faithful representative of that of the mass; but when the cunning of the individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the felon foils them, of course. This always happens when it is above their own, and very usually when it is below. They have no variation of principle in their investigations; at best, when urged by some unusual emergency --by some extraordinary reward --they extend or exaggerate their old modes of practice, without touching their principles. What, for example, in this case of D--, has been done to vary the principle of action? What is all this boring, and probing, and sounding, and scrutinizing with the microscope, and dividing the surface of the building into registered square inches --what is it all but an exaggeration of the application of the one principle or set of principles of search, which are based upon the one set of notions regarding human ingenuity, to which the Prefect, in the long routine of his duty, has been accustomed? Do you not see he has taken it for granted that all men proceed to conceal a letter, --not exactly in a gimlet-hole bored in a chair-leg --but, at least, in some hole or corner suggested by the same tenor of thought which would urge a man to secrete a letter in a gimlet-hole bored in a chair-leg? And do you not see also, that such recherches nooks for concealment are adapted only for ordinary occasions, and would be adopted only by ordinary intellects; for, in all cases of concealment, a disposal of the article concealed --a disposal of it in this recherche manner, --is, in the very first instance, presumable and presumed; and thus its discovery depends, not at all upon the acumen, but altogether upon the mere care, patience, and determination of the seekers; and where the case is of importance --or, what amounts to the same thing in the policial eyes, when the reward is of magnitude, --the qualities in question have never been known to fall. You will now understand what I meant in suggesting that, had the purloined letter been hidden anywhere within the limits of the Prefect's examination --in other words, had the principle of its concealment been comprehended within the principles of the Prefect --its discovery would have been a matter altogether beyond question. This functionary, however, has been thoroughly mystified; and the remote source of his defeat lies in the supposition that the Minister is a fool, because he has acquired renown as a poet. All fools are poets; this the Prefect feels; and he is merely guilty of a non distributio medii in thence inferring that all poets are fools."
"But is this really the poet?" I asked. "There are two brothers, I know; and both have attained reputation in letters. The Minister I believe has written learnedly on the Differential Calculus. He is a mathematician, and no poet."
"You are mistaken; I know him well; he is both. As poet and mathematician, he would reason well; as mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of the Prefect."
"You surprise me," I said, "by these opinions, which have been contradicted by the voice of the world. You do not mean to set at naught the well-digested idea of centuries. The mathematical reason has long been regarded as the reason par excellence.
"'Il y a a parier,'" replied Dupin, quoting from Chamfort, "'que toute idee publique, toute convention recue, est une sottise, car elle a convenu au plus grand nombre.' The mathematicians, I grant you, have done their best to promulgate the popular error to which you allude, and which is none the less an error for its promulgation as truth. With an art worthy a better cause, for example, they have insinuated the term 'analysis' into application to algebra. The French are the originators of this particular deception; but if a term is of any importance --if words derive any value from applicability --then 'analysis' conveys 'algebra' about as much as, in Latin, 'ambitus' implies 'ambition,' 'religio' religion or 'homines honesti,' a set of honorable men."
"You have a quarrel on hand, I see," said I, "with some of the algebraists of Paris; but proceed."
"I dispute the availability, and thus the value, of that reason which is cultivated in any especial form other than the abstractly logical. I dispute, in particular, the reason educed by mathematical study. The mathematics are the science of form and quantity; mathematical reasoning is merely logic applied to observation upon form and quantity. The great error lies in supposing that even the truths of what is called pure algebra, are abstract or general truths. And this error is so egregious that I am confounded at the universality with which it has been received. Mathematical axioms are not axioms of general truth. What is true of relation --of form and quantity --is often grossly false in regard to morals, for example. In this latter science it is very usually untrue that the aggregated parts are equal to the whole. In chemistry also the axiom falls. In the consideration of motive it falls; for two motives, each of a given value, have not, necessarily, a value when united, equal to the sum of their values apart. There are numerous other mathematical truths which are only truths within the limits of relation. But the mathematician argues, from his finite truths, through habit, as if they were of an absolutely general applicability --as the world indeed imagines them to be. Bryant, in his very learned 'Mythology,' mentions an analogous source of error, when he says that 'although the Pagan fables are not believed, yet we forget ourselves continually, and make inferences from them as existing realities.' With the algebraists, however, who are Pagans themselves, the 'Pagan fables' are believed, and the inferences are made, not so much through lapse of memory, as through an unaccountable addling of the brains. In short, I never yet encountered the mere mathematician who could be trusted out of equal roots, or one who did not clandestinely hold it as a point of his faith that x squared + px was absolutely and unconditionally equal to q. Say to one of these gentlemen, by way of experiment, if you please, that you believe occasions may occur where x squared + px is not altogether equal to q, and, having made him understand what you mean, get out of his reach as speedily as convenient, for, beyond doubt, he will endeavor to knock you down.
I mean to say," continued Dupin, while I merely laughed at his last observations, "that if the Minister had been no more than a mathematician, the Prefect would have been under no necessity of giving me this check. I knew him, however, as both mathematician and poet, and my measures were adapted to his capacity, with reference to the circumstances by which he was surrounded. I knew him as a courtier, too, and as a bold intriguant. Such a man, I considered, could not fall to be aware of the ordinary policial modes of action. He could not have failed to anticipate --and events have proved that he did not fail to anticipate --the waylayings to which he was subjected. He must have foreseen, I reflected, the secret investigations of his premises. His frequent absences from home at night, which were hailed by the Prefect as certain aids to his success, I regarded only as ruses, to afford opportunity for thorough search to the police, and thus the sooner to impress them with the conviction to which G--, in fact, did finally arrive --the conviction that the letter was not upon the premises. I felt, also, that the whole train of thought, which I was at some pains in detailing to you just now, concerning the invariable principle of policial action in searches for articles concealed --I felt that this whole train of thought would necessarily pass through the mind of the Minister. It would imperatively lead him to despise all the ordinary nooks of concealment. He could not, I reflected, be so weak as not to see that the most intricate and remote recess of his hotel would be as open as his commonest closets to the eyes, to the probes, to the gimlets, and to the microscopes of the Prefect. I saw, in fine, that he would be driven, as a matter of course, to simplicity, if not deliberately induced to it as a matter of choice. You will remember, perhaps, how desperately the Prefect laughed when I suggested, upon our first interview, that it was just possible this mystery troubled him so much on account of its being so very self-evident."
"Yes," said I, "I remember his merriment well. I really thought he would have fallen into convulsions."
"The material world," continued Dupin, "abounds with very strict analogies to the immaterial; and thus some color of truth has been given to the rhetorical dogma, that metaphor, or simile, may be made to strengthen an argument, as well as to embellish a description. The principle of the vis inertiae, for example, seems to be identical in physics and metaphysics. It is not more true in the former, that a large body is with more difficulty set in motion than a smaller one, and that its subsequent momentum is commensurate with this difficulty, than it is, in the latter, that intellects of the vaster capacity, while more forcible, more constant, and more eventful in their movements than those of inferior grade, are yet the less readily moved, and more embarrassed and full of hesitation in the first few steps of their progress. Again: have you ever noticed which of the street signs, over the shop doors, are the most attractive of attention?"
"I have never given the matter a thought," I said.
"There is a game of puzzles," he resumed, "which is played upon a map. One party playing requires another to find a given word --the name of town, river, state or empire --any word, in short, upon the motley and perplexed surface of the chart. A novice in the game generally seeks to embarrass his opponents by giving them the most minutely lettered names; but the adept selects such words as stretch, in large characters, from one end of the chart to the other. These, like the over-largely lettered signs and placards of the street, escape observation by dint of being excessively obvious; and here the physical oversight is precisely analogous with the moral inapprehension by which the intellect suffers to pass unnoticed those considerations which are too obtrusively and too palpably self-evident. But this is a point, it appears, somewhat above or beneath the understanding of the Prefect. He never once thought it probable, or possible, that the Minister had deposited the letter immediately beneath the nose of the whole world, by way of best preventing any portion of that world from perceiving it.
"But the more I reflected upon the daring, dashing, and discriminating ingenuity of D--; upon the fact that the document must always have been at hand, if he intended to use it to good purpose; and upon the decisive evidence, obtained by the Prefect, that it was not hidden within the limits of that dignitary's ordinary search --the more satisfied I became that, to conceal this letter, the Minister had resorted to the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not attempting to conceal it at all.
"Full of these ideas, I prepared myself with a pair of green spectacles, and called one fine morning, quite by accident, at the Ministerial hotel. I found D-- at home, yawning, lounging, and dawdling, as usual, and pretending to be in the last extremity of ennui. He is, perhaps, the most really energetic human being now alive --but that is only when nobody sees him.
"To be even with him, I complained of my weak eyes, and lamented the necessity of the spectacles, under cover of which I cautiously and thoroughly surveyed the apartment, while seemingly intent only upon the conversation of my host.
"I paid special attention to a large writing-table near which he sat, and upon which lay confusedly, some miscellaneous letters and other papers, with one or two musical instruments and a few books. Here, however, after a long and very deliberate scrutiny, I saw nothing to excite particular suspicion.
"At length my eyes, in going the circuit of the room, fell upon a trumpery filigree card-rack of pasteboard, that hung dangling by a dirty blue ribbon, from a little brass knob just beneath the middle of the mantelpiece. In this rack, which had three or four compartments, were five or six visiting cards and a solitary letter. This last was much soiled and crumpled. It was torn nearly in two, across the middle --as if a design, in the first instance, to tear it entirely up as worthless, had been altered, or stayed, in the second. It had a large black seal, bearing the D-- cipher very conspicuously, and was addressed, in a diminutive female hand, to D--, the minister, himself. It was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed, contemptuously, into one of the upper divisions of the rack.
"No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be that of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance, radically different from the one of which the Prefect had read us so minute a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the D-- cipher; there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the S-- family. Here, the address, to the Minister, was diminutive and feminine; there the superscription, to a certain royal personage, was markedly bold and decided; the size alone formed a point of correspondence. But, then, the radicalness of these differences, which was excessive; the dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsistent with the true methodical habits of D--, and so suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea of the worthlessness of the document; these things, together with the hyperobtrusive situation of this document, full in the view of every visitor, and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I had previously arrived; these things, I say, were strongly corroborative of suspicion, in one who came with the intention to suspect.
"I protracted my visit as long as possible, and, while I maintained a most animated discussion with the Minister, on a topic which I knew well had never failed to interest and excite him, I kept my attention really riveted upon the letter. In this examination, I committed to memory its external appearance and arrangement in the rack; and also fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at rest whatever trivial doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges of the paper, I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary. They presented the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff paper, having been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in a reversed direction, in the same creases or edges which had formed the original fold. This discovery was sufficient. It was clear to me that the letter had been turned, as a glove, inside out, re-directed, and re-sealed. I bade the Minister good morning, and took my departure at once, leaving a gold snuff-box upon the table.
"The next morning I called for the snuff-box, when we resumed, quite eagerly, the conversation of the preceding day. While thus engaged, however, a loud report, as if of a pistol, was heard immediately beneath the windows of the hotel, and was succeeded by a series of fearful screams, and the shoutings of a mob. D-- rushed to a casement, threw it open, and looked out. In the meantime, I stepped to the card-rack, took the letter, put it in my pocket, and replaced it by a fac-simile, (so far as regards externals,) which I had carefully prepared at my lodgings; imitating the D-- cipher, very readily, by means of a seal formed of bread.
"The disturbance in the street had been occasioned by the frantic behavior of a man with a musket. He had fired it among a crowd of women and children. It proved, however, to have been without ball, and the fellow was suffered to go his way as a lunatic or a drunkard. When he had gone, D-came from the window, whither I had followed him immediately upon securing the object in view. Soon afterwards I bade him farewell. The pretended lunatic was a man in my own pay.
"But what purpose had you," I asked, in replacing the letter by a fac-simile? Would it not have been better, at the first visit, to have seized it openly, and departed?"
"D--," replied Dupin, "is a desperate man, and a man of nerve. His hotel, too, is not without attendants devoted to his interests. Had I made the wild attempt you suggest, I might never have left the Ministerial presence alive. The good people of Paris might have heard of me no more. But I had an object apart from these considerations. You know my political prepossessions. In this matter, I act as a partisan of the lady concerned. For eighteen months the Minister has had her in his power. She has now him in hers; since, being unaware that the letter is not in his possession, he will proceed with his exactions as if it was. Thus will he inevitably commit himself, at once, to his political destruction. His downfall, too, will not be more precipitate than awkward. It is all very well to talk about the facilis descensus Averni; but in all kinds of climbing, as Catalani said of singing, it is far more easy to get up than to come down. In the present instance I have no sympathy --at least no pity --for him who descends. He is the monstrum horrendum, an unprincipled man of genius. I confess, however, that I should like very well to know the precise character of his thoughts, when, being defied by her whom the Prefect terms 'a certain personage,' he is reduced to opening the letter which I left for him in the card-rack."
"How? did you put any thing particular in it?"
"Why --it did not seem altogether right to leave the interior blank --that would have been insulting. D--, at Vienna once, did me an evil turn, which I told him, quite good-humoredly, that I should remember. So, as I knew he would feel some curiosity in regard to the identity of the person who had outwitted him, I thought it a pity not to give him a clue. He is well acquainted with my MS., and I just copied into the middle of the blank sheet the words--
--Un dessein si funeste, S'il n'est digne d'Atree, est digne de Thyeste.
They are to be found in Crebillon's 'Atree.'"
Summary and Analysis of THE PURLOINED LETTER
"The Purloined Letter" is a short story by American author Edgar Allan Poe. It is the third of his three detective stories featuring the fictional C. Auguste Dupin, the other two being "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt". These stories are considered to be important early forerunners of the modern detective story. It first appeared in The Gift for 1845 (1844) and was soon reprinted in numeous journals and newspapers.
The letter stolen again
An unnamed narrator is discussing with the famous Parisian amateur detective C. Auguste Dupin some of his most celebrated cases when they are joined by the Prefect of the Police, a man known as G—. The Prefect has a case he would like to discuss with Dupin.
A letter has been stolen from the private sitting room of an unnamed female by the unscrupulous Minister D—. It is said to contain compromising information. D— was in the room, saw the letter, and switched it for a letter of no importance. He has been blackmailing his victim.
The Prefect makes two deductions with which Dupin does not disagree:
1.) The contents of the letter have not been revealed, as this would have led to certain circumstances that have not arisen. Therefore Minister D— still has the letter in his possession.
2.) The ability to produce the letter at a moment’s notice is almost as important as possession of the letter itself. Therefore he must have the letter close at hand.
The Prefect says that he and his police detectives have searched the Ministerial hotel where D— stays and have found nothing. They checked behind the wallpaper and under the carpets. His men have examined the tables and chairs with microscopes and then probed the cushions with needles but have found no sign of interference; the letter is not hidden in these places. Dupin asks the Prefect if he knows what he is looking for and the Prefect reads off a minute description of the letter, which Dupin memorizes. The Prefect then bids them good day.
A month later, the Prefect returns, still bewildered in his search for the missing letter. He is motivated to continue his fruitless search by the promise of a large reward, recently doubled, upon the letter's safe return, and he will pay 50,000 francs to anyone who can help him. Dupin asks him to write that check now and he will give him the letter. The Prefect is astonished but knows that Dupin is not joking. He writes the check and Dupin produces the letter. The Prefect determines that it is genuine and races off to deliver it to the victim.
Alone together, the narrator asks Dupin how he found the letter. Dupin explains the Paris police are competent within their limitations, but have underestimated who they are dealing with. The Prefect mistakes the Minister D— for a fool because he is a poet. For example, Dupin explains how an eight-year old boy made a small fortune from his friends at a game called "Odds and Evens." The boy was able to determine the intelligence of his opponents and play upon that to interpret their next move. He explains that D— knew the police detectives would have assumed that the blackmailer would have concealed the letter in an elaborate hiding place, and thus hid it in plain sight.
Dupin says he had visited the minister at his hotel. Complaining of weak eyes he wore a pair of green spectacles, the true purpose of which was to disguise his eyes as he searched for the letter. In a cheap card rack hanging from a dirty ribbon, he saw a half-torn letter and recognized it as the letter of the story's title. Striking up a conversation with D— about a subject in which the minister is interested, Dupin examined the letter more closely. It did not resemble the letter the Prefect described so minutely; the writing was different and it was sealed not with the "ducal arms" of the S— family, but with D—'s monogram. Dupin noticed that the paper was chafed as if the stiff paper was first rolled one way and then another. Dupin concluded that D— wrote a new address on the reverse of the stolen one, re-folded it the opposite way and sealed it with his own seal.
Dupin left a snuff box behind as an excuse to return the next day. Striking up the same conversation they had begun the previous day, D— was startled by a gunshot in the street. While he went to investigate, Dupin switched D—'s letter for a duplicate.
Dupin explains that he left a duplicate to ensure his ability to leave the hotel without D— suspecting his actions. As a political supporter of the Queen and old enemy of the Minister, Dupin also hopes that D— will try to use the power he no longer has, to his political downfall, and at the end be presented with an insulting note that implies Dupin was the thief: Un dessein si funeste, S'il n'est digne d'Atrée, est digne de Thyeste (If such a sinister design isn't worthy of Atreus, it is worthy of Thyestes).
The epigraph "Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio" (Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than excessive cleverness) given by Poe to Seneca was not found in his known work.
Dupin is not a professional detective. In "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Dupin takes up the case for amusement and refuses a financial reward. In "The Purloined Letter," however, Dupin undertakes the case for financial gain. He is not motivated by pursuing truth, emphasized by the lack of information about the contents of the purloined letter. Dupin's innovative method to solve the mystery is by trying to identify with the criminal. The Minister and Dupin have equally matched minds, combining skills of mathematician and poet, and their battle of wits is threatened to end in stalemate. Dupin wins because of his moral strength: the Minister is "unprincipled," a blackmailer who obtains power by exploiting the weakness of others.
Poe may have identified with both Dupin and D—. Like Poe, these two characters command both the power of analysis and a strong imagination.
"The Purloined Letter" completes Dupin's tour of different settings. In "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" he travels through city streets; in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" he is in the wide outdoors; in "The Purloined Letter" he is in an enclosed private space. French linguist Jean-Claude Milner offered in Détections fictives , Le Seuil, collection « Fictions & Cie », 1985, supporting evidence that Dupin and D— are brothers, based on the final reference to Atreus and his twin brother, Thyestes.
Literary significance and criticism
In May 1844 Poe wrote to James Russell Lowell that he considered it "perhaps the best of my tales of ratiocination" just before its first publication. Of Poe's three tales of ratiocination, "The Purloined Letter" is generally considered the best. When it was republished in the 1845 edition of The Gift, the editor called it "one of the aptest illustrations which could well be conceived of that curious play of two minds in one person."
The story was used by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the philosopher Jacques Derrida to present opposing interpretations: Lacan's at once structuralist, Derrida's mystical, depending on deconstructive chance. The two exchanged a series of letters concerning the nature of desire.
This story first appeared in The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1844. Poe earned $12 for its first printing. It was later included in the 1845 collection Tales By Edgar A. Poe.
The Magic Barrel
Not long ago there lived in uptown New York, in a small, almost meager(meager adj. (Brit. meagre) 1 scant in amount or quality. 2 lean, thin. [Anglo-French megre from Latin macer] ) room, though crowded with books, Leo Finkle, a rabbinical student in the Yeshivah University. Finkle, after six years of study, was to be ordained in June and had been advised by an acquaintance that he might find it easier to win himself a congregation(congregation n. 1 gathering of people, esp. for religious worship. 2 body of persons regularly attending a particular church etc. [Latin: related to *congregate]) if he were married. Since he had no present prospects of marriage, after two tormented days of turning it over in his mind, he called in Pinye Salzman, a marriage broker whose two-line advertisement he had read in the Forward.
The matchmaker appeared one night out of the dark fourth-floor hallway of the graystone rooming house where Finkle lived, grasping a black, strapped portfolio that had been worn thin with use. Salzman, who had been long in the business, was of slight but dignified build, wearing an old hat, and an overcoat too short and tight for him. He smelled frankly of fish, which he loved to eat, and although he was missing a few teeth, his presence was not displeasing, because of an amiable manner curiously contrasted with mournful eyes. His voice, his lips, his wisp of beard, his bony fingers were animated, but give him a moment of repose and his mild blue eyes revealed a depth of sadness, a characteristic that put Leo a little at ease although the situation, for him, was inherently tense.
He at once informed Salzman why he had asked him to come, explaining that his home was in Cleveland, and that but for his parents, who had married comparatively late in life, he was alone in the world. He had for six years devoted himself almost entirely to his studies, as a result of which, understandably, he had found himself without time for a social life and the company of young women. Therefore he thought it the better part of trial and error--of embarrassing fumbling--to call in an experienced person to advise him on these matters. He remarked in passing that the function of the marriage broker was ancient and honorable, highly approved in the Jewish community, because it made practical the necessary without hindering joy. Moreover, his own parents had been brought together by a matchmaker. They had made, if not a financially profitable marriage--since neither had possessed any worldly goods to speak of--at least a successful one in the sense of their everlasting devotion to each other. Salzman listened in embarrassed surprise, sensing a sort of apology. Later, however, he experienced a glow of pride in his work, an emotion that had left him years ago, and he heartily approved of Finkle.
The two went to their business. Leo had led Salzman to the only clear place in the room, a table near a window that overlooked the lamp-lit city. He seated himself at the matchmaker's side but facing him, attempting by an act of will to suppress the unpleasant tickle in his throat. Salzman eagerly unstrapped his portfolio and removed a loose rubber band from a thin packet of much-handled cards. As he flipped through them, a gesture and sound that physically hurt Leo, the student pretended not to see and gazed steadfastly out the window. Although it was still February, winter was on its last legs, signs of which he had for the first time in years begun to notice. He now observed the round white moon, moving high in the sky through a cloud menagerie, and watched with half-open mouth as it penetrated a huge hen, and dropped out of her like an egg laying itself. Salzman, though pretending through eye-glasses he had just slipped on, to be engaged in scanning the writing on the cards, stole occasional glances at the young man's distinguished face, noting with pleasure the long, severe scholar's nose, brown eyes heavy with learning, sensitive yet ascetic lips, and a certain, almost hollow quality of the dark cheeks. He gazed around at shelves upon shelves of books and let out a soft, contented sigh.
When Leo's eyes fell upon the cards, he counted six spread out in Salzman's hand.
"So few?" he asked in disappointment.
"You wouldn't believe me how much cards I got in my office," Salzman replied. "The drawers are already filled to the top, so I keep them now in a barrel, but is every girl good for a new rabbi?"
Leo blushed at this, regretting all he had revealed of himself in a curriculum vitae he had sent to Salzman. He had thought it best to acquaint him with his strict standards and specifications, but in having done so, felt he had told the marriage broker more than was absolutely necessary.
He hesitantly inquired, "Do you keep photographs of your clients on file?"
"First comes family, amount of dowry, also what kind of promises," Salzman replied, unbuttoning his tight coat and settling himself in the chair. "After comes pictures, rabbi."
"Call me Mr. Finkle. I'm not yet a rabbi."
Salzman said he would, but instead called him doctor, which he changed to rabbi when Leo was not listening too attentively.
Salzman adjusted his horn-rimmed spectacles, gently cleared his throat and read in an eager voice the contents of the top card:
"Sophie P. Twenty-four years. Widow one year. No children. Educated high school and two years college. Father promises eight thousand dollars. Has wonderful wholesale business. Also real estate. On the mother's side comes teachers, also one actor. Well known on Second Avenue."
Leo gazed up in surprise. "Did you say a widow?"
"A widow don't mean spoiled, rabbi. She lived with her husband maybe four months. He was a sick boy she made a mistake to marry him."
"Marrying a widow has never entered my mind."
"This is because you have no experience. A widow, especially if she is young and healthy like this girl, is a wonderful person to marry. She will be thankful to you the rest of her life. Believe me, if I was looking now for a bride, I would marry a widow."
Leo reflected, then shook his head.
Salzman hunched his shoulders in an almost imperceptible gesture of disappointment. He placed the card down on the wooden table and began to read another:
"Lily H. High school teacher. Regular. Not a substitute. Has savings and new Dodge car. Lived in Paris one year. Father is successful dentist thirty-five years. Interested in professional man. Well Americanized family. Wonderful opportunity."
"I knew her personally," said Salzman. "I wish you could see this girl. She is a doll. Also very intelligent. All day you could talk to her about books and theyater and what not. She also knows current events."
"I don't believe you mentioned her age?"
"Her age?" Salzman said, raising his brows. "Her age is thirty-two years."
"Leo said after a while, "I'm afraid that seems a little too old.
Salzman let out a laugh. "So how old are you, rabbi?"
"So what is the difference, tell me, between twenty-seven and thirty-two? My own wife is seven years older than me. So what did I suffer?--Nothing. If Rothschild's daughter wants to marry you, would you say on account her age, no?"
"Yes," Leo said dryly.
Salzman shook off the no in the eyes. "Five years don't mean a thing. I give you my word that when you will live with her for one week you will forget her age. What does it mean five years--that she lived more and knows more than somebody who is younger? On this girl, God bless her, years are not wasted. Each one that it comes makes better the bargain."
"What subject does she teach in high school?"
"Languages. If you heard the way she speaks French, you will think it is music. I am in the business twenty-five years, and I recommend her with my whole heart. Believe me, I know what I'm talking, rabbi."
"What's on the next card?" Leo said abruptly.
Salzman reluctantly turned up the third card:
"Ruth K. Nineteen years. Honor student. Father offers thirteen thousand cash to the right bridegroom. He is a medical doctor. Stomach specialist with marvelous practice. Brother in law owns garment business. Particular people."
Salzman looked as if he had read his trump card.
"Did you say nineteen?" Leo asked with interest.
"On the dot."
"Is she attractive?" He blushed. "Pretty?"
Salzman kissed his finger tips. "A little doll. On this I give you my word. Let me call the father tonight and you will see what means pretty."
But Leo was troubled. "You're sure she's that young?"
"This I am positive. The father will show you the birth certificate."
"Are you positive there isn't something wrong with her?" Leo insisted.
"Who says there is wrong?"
"I don't understand why an American girl her age should go to a marriage broker."
A smile spread over Salzman's face.
"So for the same reason you went, she comes."
Leo flushed. "I am passed for time."
Salzman, realizing he had been tactless, quickly explained. "The father came, not her. He wants she should have the best, so he looks around himself. When we will locate the right boy he will introduce him and encourage. This makes a better marriage than if a young girl without experience takes for herself. I don't have to tell you this."
"But don't you think this young girl believes in love?" Leo spoke uneasily.
Salzman was about was about to guffaw but caught himself and said soberly, "Love comes with the right person, not before."
Leo parted dry lips but did not speak. Noticing that Salzman had snatched a glance at the next card, he cleverly asked, "How is her health?"
"Perfect," Salzman said, breathing with difficulty. "Of course, she is a little lame on her right foot from an auto accident that it happened to her when she was twelve years, but nobody notices on account she is so brilliant and also beautiful."
Leo got up heavily and went to the window. He felt curiously bitter and upbraided himself for having called in the marriage broker. Finally, he shook his head.
"Why not?" Salzman persisted, the pitch of his voice rising.
"Because I detest stomach specialists."
"So what do you care what is his business? After you marry her do you need him? Who says he must come every Friday night in your house?"
Ashamed of the way the talk was going, Leo dismissed Salzman, who went home with heavy, melancholy eyes.
Though he had felt only relief at the marriage broker's departure, Leo was in low spirits the next day. He explained it as rising from Salzman's failure to produce a suitable bride for him. He did not care for his type of clientele. But when Leo found himself hesitating whether to seek out another matchmaker, one more polished than Pinye, he wondered if it could be--protestations to the contrary, and although he honored his father and mother--that he did not, in essence, care for the matchmaking institution? This thought he quickly put out of mind yet found himself still upset. All day he ran around the woods--missed an important appointment, forgot to give out his laundry, walked out of a Broadway cafeteria without paying and had to run back with the ticket in his hand; had even not recognized his landlady in the street when she passed with a friend and courteously called out, "A good evening to you, Doctor Finkle." By nightfall, however, he had regained sufficient calm to sink his nose into a book and there found peace from his thoughts.
Almost at once there came a knock on the door. Before Leo could say enter, Salzman, commercial cupid, was standing in the room. His face was gray and meager, his expression hungry, and he looked as if he would expire on his feet. Yet the marriage broker managed, by some trick of the muscles to display a broad smile.
"So good evening. I am invited?"
Leo nodded, disturbed to see him again, yet unwilling to ask the man to leave.
Beaming still, Salzman laid his portfolio on the table. "Rabbi, I got for you tonight good news."
"I've asked you not to call me rabbi. I'm still a student."
"Your worries are finished. I have for you a first-class bride."
"Leave me in peace concerning this subject." Leo pretended lack of interest.
"The world will dance at your wedding."
"Please, Mr. Salzman, no more."
"But first must come back my strength," Salzman said weakly. He fumbled with the portfolio straps and took out of the leather case an oily paper bag, from which he extracted a hard, seeded roll and a small, smoked white fish. With a quick emotion of his hand he stripped the fish out of its skin and began ravenously to chew. "All day in a rush," he muttered.
Leo watched him eat.
"A sliced tomato you have maybe?" Salzman hesitantly inquired.
The marriage broker shut his eyes and ate. When he had finished he carefully cleaned up the crumbs and rolled up the remains of the fish, in the paper bag. His spectacled eyes roamed the room until he discovered, amid some piles of books, a one-burner gas stove. Lifting his hat he humbly asked, "A glass of tea you got, rabbi?"
Conscience-stricken, Leo rose and brewed the tea. He served it with a chunk of lemon and two cubes of lump sugar, delighting Salzman.
After he had drunk his tea, Salzman's strength and good spirits were restored.
"So tell me rabbi," he said amiably, "you considered some more the three clients I mentioned yesterday?"
"There was no need to consider."
"None of them suits me."
"What then suits you?"
Leo let it pass because he could give only a confused answer.
Without waiting for a reply, Salzman asked, "You remember this girl I talked to you--the high school teacher?"
But surprisingly, Salzman's face lit in a smile. "Age twenty-nine."
Leo shot him a look. "Reduced from thirty-two?"
"A mistake," Salzman avowed. "I talked today with the dentist. He took me to his safety deposit box and showed me the birth certificate. She was twenty-nine years last August. They made her a party in the mountains where she went for her vacation. When her father spoke to me the first time I forgot to write the age and I told you thirty-two, but now I remember this was a different client, a widow."
"The same one you told me about? I thought she was twenty-four?"
"A different. Am I responsible that the world is filled with widows?"
"No, but I'm not interested in them, nor for that matter, in school teachers."
Salzman pulled his clasped hand to his breast. Looking at the ceiling he devoutly exclaimed, "Yiddishe kinder, what can I say to somebody that he is not interested in high school teachers? So what then you are interested?"
Leo flushed but controlled himself.
"In what else will you be interested," Salzman went on, "if you not interested in this fine girl that she speaks four languages and has personally in the bank ten thousand dollars? Also her father guarantees further twelve thousand. Also she has a new car, wonderful clothes, talks on all subjects, and she will give you a first-class home and children. How near do we come in our life to paradise?"
If she's so wonderful, why wasn't she married ten years ago?"
"Why?" said Salzman with a heavy laugh. "--Why? Because she is partikiler. This is why. She wants the best."
Leo was silent, amused at how he had entangled himself. But Salzman had arouse his interest in Lily H., and he began seriously to consider calling on her. When the marriage broker observed how intently Leo's mind was at work on the facts he had supplied, he felt certain they would soon come to an agreement.
Late Saturday afternoon, conscious of Salzman, Leo Finkle walked with Lily Hirschorn along Riverside Drive. He walked briskly and erectly, wearing with distinction the black fedora he had that morning taken with trepidation out of the dusty hat box on his closet shelf, and the heavy black Saturday coat he had throughly whisked clean. Leo also owned a walking stick, a present from a distant relative, but quickly put temptation aside and did not use it. Lily, petite and not unpretty, had on something signifying the approach of spring. She was au courant, animatedly, with all sorts of subjects, and he weighed her words and found her surprisingly sound--score another for Salzman, whom he uneasily sensed to be somewhere around, hiding perhaps high in a tree along the street, flashing the lady signals with a pocket mirror; or perhaps a cloven-hoofed Pan, piping nuptial ditties as he danced his invisible way before them, strewing wild buds on the walk and purple grapes in their path, symbolizing fruit of a union, though there was of course still none.
Lily startled Leo by remarking, "I was thinking of Mr. Salzman, a curious figure, wouldn't you say?"
Not certain what to answer, he nodded.
She bravely went on, blushing, "I for one am grateful for his introducing us. Aren't you?"
He courteously replied, "I am."
"I mean," she said with a little laugh--and it was all in good taste, to at least gave the effect of being not in bad--"do you mind that we came together so?"
He was not displeased with her honesty, recognizing that she meant to set the relationship aright, and understanding that it took a certain amount of experience in life, and courage, to want to do it quite that way. One had to have some sort of past to make that kind of beginning.
He said that he did not mind. Salzman's function was traditional and honorable--valuable for what it might achieve, which, he pointed out, was frequently nothing.
Lily agreed with a sigh. They walked on for a while and she said after a long silence, again with a nervous laugh, "Would you mind if I asked you something a little bit personal? Frankly, I find the subject fascinating." Although Leo shrugged, she went on half embarrassedly, "How was it that you came to your calling? I mean was it a sudden passionate inspiration?"
Leo, after a time, slowly replied, "I was always interested in the Law."
"You saw revealed in it the presence of the Highest?"
He nodded and changed the subject. "I understand that you spent a little time in Paris, Miss Hirschorn?"
"Oh, did Mr. Salzman tell you, Rabbi Finkle?" Leo winced but she went on, "It was ages ago and almost forgotten. I remember I had to return for my sister's wedding."
And Lily would not be put off. "When," she asked in a trembly voice, "did you become enamored of God?"
He stared at her. Then it came to him that she was talking not about Leo Finkle, but of a total stranger, some mystical figure, perhaps even passionate prophet that Salzman had dreamed up for her--no relation to the living or dead. Leo trembled with rage and weakness. The trickster had obviously sold her a bill of goods, just as he had him, who'd expected to become acquainted with a young lady of twenty-nine, only to behold, the moment he laid eyes upon her strained and anxious face, a woman past thirty-five and aging rapidly. Only his self control had kept him this long in her presence.
"I am not," he said gravely, "a talented religious person." and in seeking words to go on, found himself possessed by shame and fear. "I think," he said in a strained manner, "that I came to God not because I love Him, but because I did not."
This confession he spoke harshly because its unexpectedness shook him.
Lily wilted. Leo saw a profusion of loaves of bread go flying like ducks high over his head, not unlike the winged loaves by which he had counted himself to sleep last night. Mercifully, then, it snowed, which he would not put past Salzman's machinations.
He was infuriated with the marriage broker and swore he would throw him out of the room the minute he reappeared. But Salzman did not come that night, and when Leo's anger had subsided, an unaccountable despair grew in its place. At first he thought this was caused by his disappointment in Lily, but before long it became evident that he had involved himself with Salzman without a true knowledge of his own intent. He gradually realized--with an emptiness that seized him with six hands--that he had called in the broker to find him a bride because he was incapable of doing it himself. This terrifying insight he had derived as a result of his meeting and conversation with Lily Hirschorn. Her probing questions had somehow irritated him into revealing --to himself more than her--the true nature of his relationship to God, and from that it had come upon him, with shocking force, that apart from his parents, he had never loved anyone. Or perhaps it went the other way, that he did not love God so well as he might, because he had not loved man. It seemed to Leo that his whole life stood starkly revealed and he saw himself for the first time as he truly was--unloved and loveless. This bitter but somehow not fully unexpected revelation brought him to a point to panic, controlled only by extraordinary effort. He covered his face with his hands and cried.
The week that followed was the worst of his life. He did not eat and lost weight. His beard darkened and grew ragged. He stopped attending seminars and almost never opened a book. He seriously considered leaving the Yeshiva, although he was deeply troubled at the thought of the loss of all his years of study--saw them like pages torn from a book, strewn over the city--and at the devastating effect of this decision upon his parents. But he had lived without knowledge of himself, and never in the Five Books and all the Commentaries--mea culpa--had the truth been revealed to him. He did not know where to turn, and in all this desolating loneliness there was no to whom, although he often thought of Lily but not once could bring himself to go downstairs and make the call. He became touchy and irritable, especially with his landlady, who asked him all manner of personal questions; on the other hand sensing his own disagreeableness, he waylaid her on the stairs and apologized abjectly, until mortified, she ran from him. Out of this, however, he drew the consolation that he was a Jew and that a Jew suffered. But generally, as the long and terrible week drew to a close, he regained his composure and some idea of purpose in life to go on as planned. Although he was imperfect, the ideal was not. As for his quest of a bride, the thought of continuing afflicted him with anxiety and heartburn, yet perhaps with this new knowledge of himself he would be more successful than in the past. Perhaps love would now come to him and a bride to that love. And for this sanctified seeking who needed a Salzman?
The marriage broker, a skeleton with haunted eyes, returned that very night. He looked, withal, the picture of frustrated expectancy--as if he had steadfastly waited the week at Miss Lily Hirschorn's side for a telephone call that never came.
Casually coughing, Salzman came immediately to the point: "So how did you like her?"
Leo's anger rose and he could not refrain from chiding the matchmaker: "Why did you lie to me, Salzman?"
Salzman's pale face went dead white, the world had snowed on him.
"Did you not state that she was twenty-nine?' Leo insisted.
"I give you my word--"
"She was thirty-five, if a day. At least thirty-five."
"Of this don't be too sure. Her father told me--"
"Never mind. The worst of it was that you lied to her."
"How did I lie to her, tell me?"
"You told her things abut me that weren't true. You made out to be more, consequently less than I am. She had in mind a totally different person, a sort of semi-mystical Wonder Rabbi."
"All I said, you was a religious man."
"I can imagine."
Salzman sighed. "This is my weakness that I have," he confessed. "My wife says to me I shouldn't be a salesman, but when I have two fine people that they would be wonderful to be married, I am so happy that I talk too much." He smiled wanly. "This is why Salzman is a poor man."
Leo's anger left him. "Well, Salzman, I'm afraid that's all."
The marriage broker fastened hungry eyes on him.
"You don't want any more a bride?"
"I do," said Leo, "but I have decided to seek her in a different way. I am no longer interested in an arranged marriage. To be frank, I now admit the necessity of premarital love. That is, I want to be in love with the one I marry."
"Love?" said Salzman, astounded. After a moment he remarked "For us, our love is our life, not for the ladies. In the ghetto they--"
"I know, I know," said Leo. "I've thought of it often. Love, I have said to myself, should be a by-product of living and worship rather than its own end. Yet for myself I find it necessary to establish the level of my need and fulfill it."
Salzman shrugged but answered, "Listen, rabbi, if you want love, this I can find for you also. I have such beautiful clients that you will love them the minute your eyes will see them."
Leo smiled unhappily. "I'm afraid you don't understand."
But Salzman hastily unstrapped his portfolio and withdrew a manila packet from it.
"Pictures," he said, quickly laying the envelope on the table.
Leo called after him to take the pictures away, but as if on the wings of the wind, Salzman had disappeared.
March came. Leo had returned to his regular routine. Although he felt not quite himself yet--lacked energy--he was making plans for a more active social life. Of course it would cost something, but he was an expert in cutting corners; and when there were no corners left he would make circles rounder. All the while Salzman's pictures had lain on the table, gathering dust. Occasionally as Leo sat studying, or enjoying a cup of tea, his eyes fell on the manila envelope, but he never opened it.
The days went by and no social life to speak of developed with a member of the opposite sex--it was difficult, given the circumstances of his situation. One morning Leo toiled up the stairs to his room and stared out the window at the city. Although the day was bright his view of it was dark. For some time he watched the people in the street below hurrying along and then turned with a heavy heart to his little room. On the table was the packet. With a sudden relentless gesture he tore it open. For a half-hour he stood by the table in a state of excitement, examining the photographs of the ladies Salzman had included. Finally, with a deep sigh he put them down. There were six, of varying degree of attractiveness, but look at them along enough and they all became Lily Hirschorn: all past their prime, all starved behind bright smiles, not a true personality in the lot. Life, despite their frantic yoohooings, had passed them by; they were pictures in a brief case that stank of fish. After a while, however, as Leo attempted to return the photographs into the envelope, he found in it another, a snapshot of the type taken by a machine for a quarter. He gazed at it a moment and let out a cry.
Her face deeply moved him. Why, he could at first not say. It gave him the impression of youth--spring flowers, yet age--a sense of having been used to the bone, wasted; this came from the eyes, which were hauntingly familiar, yet absolutely strange. He had a vivid impression that he had met her before, but try as he might he could not place her although he could almost recall her name, as he had read it in her own handwriting. No, this couldn't be; he would have remembered her. It was not, he affirmed, that she had an extraordinary beauty--no, though her face was attractive enough; it was that something about her moved him. Feature for feature, even some of the ladies of the photographs could do better; but she lapsed forth to this heart--had lived, or wanted to--more than just wanted, perhaps regretted how she had lived--had somehow deeply suffered: it could be seen in the depths of those reluctant eyes, and from the way the light enclosed and shone from her, and within her, opening realms of possibility: this was her own. Her he desired. His head ached and eyes narrowed with the intensity of his gazing, then as if an obscure fog had blown up in the mind, he experienced fear of her and was aware that he had received an impression, somehow, of evil. He shuddered, saying softly, it is thus with us all. Leo brewed some tea in a small pot and sat sipping it without sugar, to calm himself. But before he had finished drinking, again with excitement he examined the face and found it good: good for Leo Finkle. Only such a one could understand him and help him seek whatever he was seeking. She might, perhaps, love him. How she had happened to be among the discards in Salzman's barrel he could never guess, but he knew he must urgently go find her.
Leo rushed downstairs, grabbed up the Bronx telephone book, and searched for Salzman's home address. He was not listed, nor was his office. Neither was he in the Manhattan book. But Leo remembered having written down the address on a slip of paper after he had read Salzman's advertisement in the "personals" column of the Forward. He ran up to his room and tore through his papers, without luck. It was exasperating. Just when he needed the matchmaker he was nowhere to be found. Fortunately Leo remembered to look in his wallet. There on a card he found his name written and a Bronx address. No phone number was listed, the reason--Leo now recalled--he had originally communicated with Salzman by letter. He got on his coat, put a hat on over his skull cap and hurried to the subway station. All the way to the far end of the Bronx he sat on the edge of his seat. He was more than once tempted to take out the picture and see if the girl's face was as he remembered it, but he refrained, allowing the snapshot to remain in his inside coat pocket, content to have her so close. When the train pulled into the station he was waiting at the door and bolted out. He quickly located the street Salzman had advertised.
The building he sought was less than a block from the subway, but it was not an office building, nor even a loft, nor a store in which one could rent office space. It was a very old tenement house. Leo found Salzman's name in pencil on a soiled tag under the bell and climbed three dark flights to his apartment. When he knocked, the door was opened by a think, asthmatic, gray-haired woman in felt slippers.
"Yes?" she said, expecting nothing. She listened without listening. He could have sworn he had seen her, too, before but knew it was an illusion.
"Salzman--does he live here? Pinye Salzman," he said, "the matchmaker?"
She stared at him a long minute. "Of course."
He felt embarrassed. "Is he in?"
"No." Her mouth, thought left open, offered nothing more.
"The matter is urgent. Can you tell me where his office is?"
"In the air." She pointed upward.
"You mean he has no office?" Leo asked.
"In his socks."
He peered into the apartment. It was sunless and dingy, one large room divided by a half-open curtain, beyond which he could see a sagging metal bed. The near side of the room was crowded with rickety chairs, old bureaus, a three-legged table, racks of cooking utensils, and all the apparatus of a kitchen. But there was no sign of Salzman or his magic barrel, probably also a figment of the imagination. An odor of frying fish made weak to the knees.
"Where is he?" he insisted. "I've got to see your husband."
At length she answered, "So who knows where he is? Every time he thinks a new thought he runs to a different place. Go home, he will find you."
"Tell him Leo Finkle."
She gave no sign she had heard.
He walked downstairs, depressed.
But Salzman, breathless, stood waiting at his door.
Leo was astounded and overjoyed. "How did you get here before me?"
They entered. Leo fixed tea, and a sardine sandwich for Salzman. As they were drinking he reached behind him for the packet of pictures and handed them to the marriage broker.
Salzman put down his glass and said expectantly, "You found somebody you like?"
"Not among these."
The marriage broker turned away.
"Here is the one I want." Leo held forth the snapshot.
Salzman slipped on his glasses and took the picture into his trembling hand. He turned ghastly and let out a groan.
"What's the matter?" cried Leo.
"Excuse me. Was an accident this picture. She isn't for you?"
Salzman frantically shoved the manila packet into his portfolio. He thrust the snapshot into his pocket and fled down the stairs.
Leo, after momentary paralysis, gave chase and cornered the marriage broker in the vestibule. The landlady made hysterical out cries but neither of them listened.
"Give me back the picture, Salzman."
"No." The pain in his eyes was terrible.
"Tell me who she is then."
"This I can't tell you. Excuse me."
He made to depart, but Leo, forgetting himself, seized the matchmaker by his tight coat and shook him frenziedly.
"Please," sighed Salzman. "Please."
Leo ashamedly let him go. "Tell me who she is," he begged. "It's very important to me to know."
"She is not for you. She is a wild one--wild, without shame. This is not a bride for a rabbi."
"What do you mean wild?"
"Like an animal. Like a dog. For her to be poor was a sin. This is why to me she is dead now."
"In God's name, what do you mean?"
"Her I can't introduce to you," Salzman cried.
"Why are you so excited?"
"Why, he asks," Salzman said, bursting into tear. "This is my baby, my Stella, she should burn in hell."
Leo hurried up to bed and hid under the covers. Under the covers he thought his life through. Although he soon fell asleep he could not sleep her out of his mind. He woke, beating his breast. Though he prayed to be rid of her, his prayers went unanswered. Through days of torment he endlessly struggled not to love her; fearing success, he escaped it. He then concluded to convert her to goodness, himself to God. The idea alternately nauseated and exalted him.
He perhaps did not know that he had come to a final decision until he encountered Salzman in a Broadway cafeteria. He was sitting alone at a rear table, sucking the bony remains of a fish. The marriage broker appeared haggard, and transparent to the point of vanishing.
Salzman looked up at first without recognizing him. Leo had grown a pointed beard and his eyes were weighted with wisdom.
"Salzman," he said, "love has at last come to my heart."
"Who can love from a picture?" mocked the marriage broker.
"It is not impossible."
"If you can love her, then you can love anybody. Let me show you some new clients that they just sent me their photographs. One is a little doll."
"Just her I want," Leo murmured.
"Don't be a fool, doctor Don't bother with her."
"Put me in touch with her, Salzman," Leo said humbly. "Perhaps I can be of service."
Salzman had stopped eating and Leo understood with emotion that it was now arranged.
Leaving the cafeteria, he was, however, afflicted by a tormenting suspicion that Salzman had planned it all to happen this way.
Leo was informed by better that she would meet him on a certain corner, and she was there one spring night, waiting under a street lamp. He appeared carrying a small bouquet of violets and rosebuds. Stella stood by the lamp post, smoking. She wore white with red shoes, which fitted his expectations, although in a troubled moment he had imagined the dress red, and only the shoes white. She waited uneasily and shyly. From afar he saw that her eyes--clearly her father's--were filled with desperate innocence. He pictured, in her, his own redemption. Violins and lit candles revolved in the sky. Leo ran forward with flowers out-thrust.
Around the corner, Salzman, leaning against a wall, chanted prayers for the dead.
Summary and Analysis of The Magic Barrel.
The Swimmer BY John Cheever
For the song "The Swimmer" by Sleater-Kinney, see All Hands on the Bad One
"The Swimmer" a short story by American author John Cheever, published in 1964 in the short story collection The Brigadier and the Golf Widow. Originally conceived as a novel and pared down from over 150 pages of notes, it is probably Cheever's most famous and frequently anthologized story. At one point Cheever wanted to parallel the tale of Narcissus, a character in Greek mythology who died while staring at his own reflection in a pool of water, which Cheever dismissed as too restrictive. As published, the story is highly praised for its blend of realism and surrealism, the thematic exploration of suburban America, especially the relationship between wealth and happiness, as well as his use of myth and symbolism.
The story takes place in the affluent suburbs of Westchester County, New York, and focuses on Neddy Merrill, who despite being middle-aged, wants to retain his youth and believes that he is a vibrant individual. He marvels at his trail-blazing idea of "swimming the county". At the beginning of the story, Neddy is at a cocktail party at the Westerhazys' and realizes that by following an imaginary chain of private and public pools in his affluent community he can literally swim home. Next we have a succession of similar scenes, as Neddy enters the backyard of his neighbors, sometimes bursting into a party, sometimes engaging in conversation, and most of the time having a drink - but always swimming the length of their pool. Soon it becomes clear to the reader that something has gone awry.
At first Neddy is well-received in the backyards and pools, but after finding a dried pool and waiting for a storm to pass in a gazebo, he starts to feel tired and disillusioned with his idea. Although he is still determined to go on, he can hardly remember the excitement he first had at the Westerhazys'. Neddy is terribly upset to find out that the Welchers' pool is dry and their house for sale. He recognizes that his memory must be failing him or he is repressing unpleasant facts for not remembering what had happened to the Welchers. At the Halloran residence, Mrs. Halloran tells Neddy she is sorry to hear of his misfortunes which, again his memory seeming to fail him, cannot remember, although Mrs. Halloran mentions Neddy selling his house and something about his children. At the Biswangers’ he is received as a gate-crasher and even their barman treats him with disrespect. He overhears Mrs. Biswanger saying that someone, possibly Neddy himself, showed up one day asking for money since he went bankrupt. Further on, Neddy's former mistress Shirley Adams, whom he cannot even clearly remember having an affair with, tells him that she won't "give him another cent".
Several signs indicate that time is passing more rapidly than Neddy realizes. He slowly observes that each pool is significantly colder and much more difficult to swim. He notices that some of the tree leaves are already yellow. Since it's midsummer, he tells himself, "they must be blighted". At one point he smells wood smoke in the wind, wondering who could be building a fire at that time of the year. At the Sachses', Neddy asks for a drink, but Helen Sachs tells him they don't have any alcohol in the house since her husband Eric had undergone a massive surgery three years before--something that Neddy has no memory of. By the end of the story, Neddy is unable to recognize the constellations of the midsummer sky, instead finding the northern constellations Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia, implying a change of season.
In the story's conclusion, Neddy reaches his own house. As he looks inside the locked and deserted home, he wonders why his family is not there anymore. They are gone.
Literary work marked by the use of still, sharply defined, smoothly painted images of figures and objects depicted in a surrealistic manner. The themes and subjects are often imaginary, somewhat outlandish and fantastic and with a certain dream-like quality. Some of the characteristic features of this kind of fiction are the mingling and juxtaposition of the realistic and the fantastic or bizarre, skillful time shifts, convoluted and even labyrinthine narratives and plots, miscellaneous use of dreams, myths and fairy stories, expressionistic and even surrealistic description, arcane erudition, the element of surprise or abrupt shock, the horrific and the inexplicable. It has been applied, for instance, to the work of Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentinian who in 1935 published his Historia universal de la infamia, regarded by many as the first work of magic realism. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Marquez is also regarded as a notable exponent of this kind of fiction – especially his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. The Cuban Alejo Carpentier is another described as a "magic realist". Postmodernists such as Salman Rushdie, Italo Calvino, and Gunter Grass commonly use Magical Realism in their work. A fusion of fabulism with magical realism is apparent in such early 21st century American short stories as Kevin Brockmeier's "The Ceiling," Dan Chaon's "Big Me," Jacob M. Appel's "Exposure," and Elizabeth Graver's "The Mourning Door".
Summary and Analysis of Counterparts
Farrington, a scrivener in a legal office, is called to see his tyrannical boss, Mr. Alleyne. After a few solid minutes of abuse, he is allowed to return to work with a strict deadline for copying a contract. Farrington returns to work, but as soon as he sits down the tedium of his job gets to him. He goes out for a drink. He goes down the street into dark, comfy O'Neill's shop. He takes a glass of plain porter. The respite is short, however, because Farrington has to return to work. On his way in he notices the smell of the perfume of one of the clients, Miss Delacour. The chief clerk tells him sharply that Mr. Alleyne has been looking for him. The copy of the correspondence for the Delacour case is needed. Farrington gets the correspondence, hoping that Mr. Alleyne won't notice that the last two letters are missing. Miss Delacour is a wealthy middle-aged woman, and Mr. Alleyne is said to be sweet "on her or her money."
Farrington drops off the correspondence and returns to work. Glumly, he realizes that he will not be able to meet his deadline for the contract he's currently copying. He begins to think longingly of a night of drink. His pleasant dreams are interrupted by a furious Mr. Alleyne. With Miss Delacour standing by, Mr. Alleyne abuses Farrington about the missing letters. Farrington plays dumb. Mr. Alleyne asks rhetorically, "Do you think me an utter fool?", to which Farrington replies, " I don't think, sir . . . that that's a fair question to put to me" (87). Miss Delacour smiles. Mr. Alleyne goes bezerk, demanding an apology.
Later, Farrington waits around a corner hoping to get the cashier alone, so that he can ask to borrow some money. But when the cashier exits the office, he's with the chief clerk. Now, there's no hope in getting a bit of cash. The situation is grim: he had to apologize abjectly in private to Mr. Alleyne, and now the office will be a treacherous place for him.
It dawns on Farrington that he can pawn his watch. He gets six shillings and goes out drinking with his friends. He tells them the story of his triumph over Mr. Allyene, leaving out his abject apology. He repeats the story to various friends as they come in. First Nosey Flynn, sitting in his usual corner of Davy Byrne's, and then O' Halloran and Paddy Leonard come in. The men are buying each other drink after drink. Higgins,one of Farrington's colleagues at work, comes in, and does his own rendition of the tale, making Farrington's feat seem even greater. The men leave the bar to go to another establishment called the Scotch House. Leonard introduces them to a young fellow named Weathers, who's an acrobat and an artiste. More drinks are shared. When the Scotch House closes, they go to Mulligan's. One of the women catches Farrington's eye, but when she leaves she does not look back. He curses his poverty and all the drinks he's bought. He particularly thinks that Weathers has been drinking more than he's been buying.
The men are talking about strength; Weathers is showing off his biceps. Farrington shows off his, and then the two men arm wrestle. Weathers beats Farrington. Farrington is angry, and accuses Weathers of having put the weight of his body behind it. They decide to go two out of three, and Weathers, after a struggle of respectable duration, beats him again. The curate, who was watching, expresses his admiration and Farrington snaps out of him. O'Halloran notices the anger in Farrington's face and wisely intercedes. He changes the subject and calls for another drink.
Waiting for his tram home, Farrington is full of fury. He's not even drunk, and he's spent almost all of the money from his pawned watch. He's lost his reputation as a strong man, having been beaten in arm wrestling by young Weathers. As he goes home, his anger mounts.
He comes home to find the kitchen empty with the fire nearly out. His small son Tom, one of five children, comes to greet him. His wife is out at church. Farrington orders the boy around, telling him to cook up the dinner his wife left for him. The boy obediently gets to work. Then Farrington sees that the fire has gone out. He chases the boy with a walking stick and begins to beat him brutally, despite the child's pleas for mercy.
This story, like "The Dead," is difficult to summarize because of Joyce's amazingly concise group scenes. Among authors, Joyce is among the best for conveying the atmosphere of boisterous social gatherings with clarity and charm.
The themes of imprisonment, powerlessness, and resentment are all weaved together in this well-wrought story. Farrington spends a good part of the tale simply trying to scrape together enough money for a night of drink. It becomes clear rather quickly that he is an alcoholic, and that each day must be spent seeking out a way to get drunk.
His powerlessness comes through in his great confrontation with Mr. Alleyne. Farrington is allowed his moment of triumph, but it is followed by a forced abject apology. He endures humiliation in the end, with the assurance that if life at work was already hell, it is bound to become even worse.
Farrington is not allowed to triumph anywhere. At work, his boss forces him into submission. At the bar, the woman who catches his eye ignores him. He is bested by the young Weathers in a contest of strength. Emasculated at work, he is further emasculated by the woman and among his friends. He excels in no arena of masculinity.
He does not even succeed in his original aim, which was to get drunk. After the considerable quantity of alcohol he has consumed, we can only see his increased tolerance as another sign of his alcoholism. He refers to his desire for alcohol as "thirst" throughout the whole story.
As Little Chandler does in the previous story, Farrington takes out his anger on the nearest helpless target: his son. The beating scene is awful, especially as the boy has been touchingly attentive to his father's needs. We are left with the impression that this day is unfortunately typical in Farrington's life
I Stand Here Ironing | Introduction
Tillie Olsen's story "I Stand Here Ironing" recounts a poor working woman's ambivalence about her parenting skills and her eldest daughter's future. Published in Olsen's first collection of stories, Tell Me a Riddle, in 1961, this first-person story contains many autobiographical elements. Central to the plot is the metaphor of a mother ironing her daughter's dress as she mentally attempts to ''iron'' out her uneasy relationship with her daughter through a stream-of-consciousness monologue. The narrator, a middle-aged mother of five, as Olsen was when she wrote the story, is the type of woman whose story was seldom heard at that time: that of a working-class mother who must hold down a job and care for children at the same time. ''Her father left me before she was a year old," the mother says, a circumstance that mirrored Olsen's predicament as a young mother. The story was heralded by the emerging women's movement of the early 1960s as an example of the difficulty of some women's lives and as a portrayal of the self-doubt many mothers suffer when they know their children are not receiving all the attention they deserve. Love or longing is not enough, Olsen says; everything must be weighed against forces that are beyond one's control. Though the story is not overtly political, it presents the type of economic condition that inspired Olsen to become active in left-wing labor causes at a young age. ''I Stand Here Ironing,'' an unromantic portrait of motherhood, is perhaps the most frequently anthologized of Olsen's stories.
I Stand Here Ironing Summary
Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" is a monologue, a speech delivered by a narrator with whom the reader comes to identify. In the first few lines the narrator explains what she is doing—ironing—and what she is responding to—a request that she meet with a school official about her daughter, now nineteen-years-old. The occasion prompts her to recall her daughter's childhood and the effect she had on the girl as her mother. All the while she continues to iron, drawing parallels for herself and the reader between telling the story and ironing the wrinkles from a dress.
At the outset the mother confesses her powerlessness over her daughter, asking "You think because I am her mother I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key?" She is worried that if she is asked to recall those early days of parenting she "will become engulfed with all I did or did not do, with what should have been and what cannot be helped." Despite these fears, the mother begins at the beginning: "She was a beautiful baby."
Gradually the mother reveals the details of her daughter Emily's childhood, and a pattern of poverty and abandonment emerges. She was only nineteen herself when Emily was born. Her husband abandoned her, and she had no access to welfare or other services. Eventually she was forced to "bring her to [the father's] family and leave her." Emily was two-years-old before her mother could. Olsen's "I Stand Here Ironing" is a monologue, a speech delivered by a narrator with whom the reader comes to identify. In the first few lines the narrator explains what she is doing—ironing—and what she is responding to—a request that she meet with a school official about her daughter, now nineteen-years-old. The occasion prompts her to recall her daughter's childhood and the effect she had on the girl as her mother. All the while she continues to iron, drawing parallels for herself and the reader between telling the story and ironing the wrinkles from a dress.
It goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!
And yet I am no freak of nature, nor of history. I was in the cards, other things having been equal (or unequal) eighty-five years ago. I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. About eighty-five years ago they were told they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate like the fingers of the hand. And they believed it. They exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard, and brought up my father to do the same. But my grandfather is the one. He was an odd old guy, my grandfather, and I am told I take after him. It was he who caused the trouble. On his deathbed he called my father to him and said, "Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I give up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion's mouth. I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let 'em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open." They thought the old man had gone out of his mind. He had been the meekest of men. The younger children were rushed from the room, the shades drawn and the flame of the lamp turned so low that it sputtered on the wick like the old man's breathing. "Learn it to the younguns," he whispered fiercely; then he died.
But my folks were more alarmed over his last words than over his dying. It was as though he had not died at all, his words caused so much anxiety. I was warned emphatically to forget what he had said and, indeed, this is the first time it has been mentioned outside the family circle. It had a tremendous effect upon me, however. I could never be sure of what he meant. Grandfather had been a quiet old man who never made any trouble, yet on his deathbed he had called himself a traitor and a spy, and he had spoken of his meekness as a dangerous activity. It became a constant puzzle which lay unanswered in the back of my mind. And whenever things went well for me I remembered my grandfather and felt guilty and uncomfortable. It was as though I was carrying out his advice in spite of myself. And to make it worse, everyone loved me for it. I was praised by the most lily-white men in town. I was considered an example of desirable con- duct-just as my grandfather had been. And what puzzled me was that the old man had defined it as treachery. When I was praised for my conduct I felt a guilt that in some way I was doing something that was really against the wishes of the white folks, that if they had understood they would have desired me to act just the opposite, that I should have been sulky and mean, and that that really would have been what they wanted, even though they were fooled and thought they wanted me to act as I did. It made me afraid that some day they would look upon me as a traitor and I would be lost. Still I was more afraid to act any other way because they didn't like that at all. The old man's words were like a curse. On my graduation day I delivered an oration in which I showed that humility was the secret, indeed, the very essence of progress. (Not that I believed this-how could I, remembering my grandfather?—I only believed that it worked.) It was a great success. Everyone praised me and I was invited to give the speech at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens. It was a triumph for the whole community.
It was in the main ballroom of the leading hotel. When I got there I discovered that it was on the occasion of a smoker, and I was told that since I was to be there anyway I might as well take part in the battle royal to be fought by some of my schoolmates as part of the entertainment. The battle royal came first.
All of the town's big shots were there in their tuxedoes, wolfing down the buffet foods, drinking beer and whiskey and smoking black cigars. It was a large room with a high ceiling. Chairs were arranged in neat rows around three sides of a portable boxing ring. The fourth side was clear, revealing a gleaming space of polished floor. I had some misgivings over the battle royal, by the way. Not from a distaste for fighting but because I didn't care too much for the other fellows who were to take part. They were tough guys who seemed to have no grandfather's curse worrying their minds. No one could mistake their toughness. And besides, I suspected that fighting a battle royal might detract from the dignity of my speech. In those pre-invisible days I visualized myself as a potential Booker T. Washington. But the other fellows didn't care too much for me either, and there were nine of them. I felt superior to them in my way, and I didn't like the manner in which we were all crowded together in the servants' elevator. Nor did they like my being there. In fact, as the warmly lighted floors flashed past the elevator we had words over the fact that I, by taking part in the fight, had knocked one of their friends out of a night's work.
We were led out of the elevator through a rococo hall into an anteroom and told to get into our fighting togs. Each of us was issued a pair of boxing gloves and ushered out into the big mirrored hall, which we entered looking cautiously about us and whispering, lest we might accidentally be heard above the noise of the room. It was foggy with cigar smoke. And already the whiskey was taking effect. I was shocked to see some of the most important men of the town quite tipsy. They were all there-bankers, lawyers, judges, doctors, fire chiefs, teachers, merchants. Even one of the more fashionable pastors. Something we could not see was going on up front. A clarinet was vibrating sensuously and the men were standing up and moving eagerly forward. We were a small tight group, clustered together, our bare upper bodies touching and shining with anticipatory sweat: while up front the big shots were becoming increasingly excited over something we still could not see. Suddenly I heard the school superintendent, who had told me to come, yell, "Bring up the shines, gentlemen! Bring up the little shines!"
We were rushed up to the front of the ballroom, where it smelled even more strongly of tobacco and whiskey. Then we were pushed into place. I almost wet my pants. A sea of faces, some hostile, some amused, ringed around us, and in the center, facing us, stood a magnificent blonde—stark naked. There was dead silence. I felt a blast of cold air chill me. I tried to back away, but they were behind me and around me. Some of the boys stood with lowered heads, trembling. I felt a wave of irrational guilt and fear. My teeth chattered, my skin turned to goose flesh, my knees knocked. Yet I was strongly attracted and looked in spite of myself. Had the price of looking been blindness, I would have looked. The hair was yellow like that of a circus kewpie doll, the face heavily powdered and rouged, as though to form an abstract mask, the eyes hollow and smeared a cool blue, the color of a baboon's butt. I felt a desire to spit upon her as my eyes brushed slowly over her body. Her breasts were firm and round as the domes of East Indian temples, and I stood so close as to see the fine skin texture and beads of pearly perspiration glistening like dew around the pink and erected buds of her nipples. I wanted at one and the same time to run from the room, to sink through the floor, or go to her and cover her from my eyes and the eyes of the others with my body; to feel the soft thighs, to caress her and destroy her, to love her and to murder her, to hide from her, and yet to stroke where below the small American flag tattooed upon her belly her thighs formed a capital V. I had a notion that of all in the room she saw only me with her impersonal eyes.
And then she began to dance, a slow sensuous movement; the smoke of a hundred cigars clinging to her like the thinnest of veils. She seemed like a fair bird-girl girdled in veils calling to me from the angry surface of some gray and threatening sea. I was transported. Then I became aware of the clarinet playing and the big shots yelling at us. Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not. On my right I saw one boy faint. And now a man grabbed a silver pitcher from a table and stepped close as he dashed ice water upon him and stood him up and forced two of us to support him as his head hung and moans issued from his thick bluish lips. Another boy began to plead to go home. He was the largest of the group, wearing dark red fighting trunks much too small to conceal the erection which projected from him as though in answer to the insinuating low-registered moaning of the clarinet. He tried to hide himself with his
And all the while the blonde continued dancing, smiling faintly at the big shots who watched her with fascination, and faintly smiling at our fear. I noticed a certain merchant who followed her hungrily, his lips loose and drooling. He was a large man who wore diamond studs in a shirtfront which swelled with the ample paunch underneath, and each time the blonde swayed her undulating hips he ran his hand through the thin hair of his bald head and, with his arms upheld, his posture clumsy like that of an intoxicated panda, wound his belly in a slow and obscene grind. This creature was completely hypnotized. The music had quickened. As the dancer flung herself about with a detached expression on her face, the men began reaching out to touch her. I could see their beefy fingers sink into her soft flesh. Some of the others tried to stop them and she began to move around the floor in graceful circles, as they gave chase, slipping and sliding over the polished floor. It was mad. Chairs went crashing, drinks were spilt, as they ran laughing and howling after her. They caught her just as she reached a door, raised her from the floor, and tossed her as college boys are tossed at a hazing, and above her red, fixed-smiling lips I saw the terror and disgust in her eyes, almost like my own terror and that which I saw in some of the other boys. As I watched, they tossed her twice and her soft breasts seemed to flatten against the air and her legs flung wildly as she spun. Some of the more sober ones helped her to escape. And I started off the floor, heading for the anteroom with the rest of the boys.
Some were still crying and in hysteria. But as we tried to leave we were stopped and ordered to get into the ring. There was nothing to do but what we were told. All ten of us climbed under the ropes and allowed ourselves to be blindfolded with broad bands of white cloth. One of the men seemed to feel a bit sympathetic and tried to cheer us up as we stood with our backs against the ropes. Some of us tried to grin. "See that boy over there?" one of the men said. "I want you to run across at the bell and give it to him right in the belly. If you don't get him, I'm going to get you. I don't like his looks." Each of us was told the same. The blindfolds were put on. Yet even then I had been going over my speech. In my mind each word was as bright as a flame. I felt the cloth pressed into place, and frowned so that it would be loosened when I relaxed.
But now I felt a sudden fit of blind terror. I was unused to darkness, it was as though I had suddenly found myself in a dark room filled with poisonous cottonmouths. I could hear the bleary voices yelling insistently for the battle royal to
"Get going in there!"
"Let me at that big nigger!"
I strained to pick up the school superintendent's voice, as though to squeeze some security out of that slightly more familiar sound.
"Let me at those black sonsabitches!" someone yelled.
"No, Jackson, no!" another voice yelled. "Here, somebody, help me hold Jack."
"I want to get at that ginger-colored nigger. Tear him limb from limb," the
first voice yelled.
I stood against the ropes trembling. For in those days I was what they called ginger-colored, and he sounded as though he might crunch me between his teeth like a crisp ginger cookie.
Quite a struggle was going on. Chairs were being kicked about and I could hear voices grunting as with terrific effort. I wanted to see, to see more desperately than ever before. But the blindfold was as tight as a thick skin, puckering scab and when I raised my gloved hands to push the layers of white aside a voice yelled, “Oh, no you don't, black bastard! Leave that alone!"
"Ring the bell before Jackson kills him a coon!" someone boomed in the sudden silence. And I heard the bell clang and the sound of the feet scuffling forward.
A glove smacked against my head. I pivoted, striking out stiffly as someone went past, and felt the jar ripple along the length of my arm to my shoulder. Then it seemed as though all nine of the boys had turned upon me at once. Blows pounded me from all sides while I struck out as best I could. So many blows landed upon me that I wondered if I were not the only blindfolded fighter in the ring, or if the man called Jackson hadn't succeeded in getting me after all.
Blindfolded, I could no longer control my motions. I had no dignity. I stumbled about like a baby or a drunken man. The smoke had become thicker and with each new blow it seemed to sear and further restrict my lungs. My saliva became like hot bitter glue. A glove connected with my head, filling my mouth with warm blood. It was everywhere. I could not tell if the moisture I felt upon my body was sweat or blood. A blow landed hard against the nape of my neck. I felt myself going over, my head hitting the floor. Streaks of blue light filled the black world behind the blindfold. I lay prone, pretending that I was knocked out, but felt myself seized by hands and yanked to my feet. "Get going, black boy! Mix it up!" My arms were like lead, my head smarting from blows. I managed to feel my way to the ropes and held on, trying to catch my breath. A glove landed in my midsection and I went over again, feeling as though the smoke had be- come a knife jabbed into my guts. Pushed this way and that by the legs milling around me, I finally pulled erect and discovered that I could see the black, sweat- washed forms weaving in the smoky, blue atmosphere like drunken dancers weaving to the rapid drum-like thuds of blows.
Everyone fought hysterically. It was complete anarchy. Everybody fought everybody else. No group fought together for long. Two, three, four, fought one, then turned to fight each other, were themselves attacked. Blows landed below the belt and in the kidney, with the gloves open as well as closed, and with my eye partly opened now there was not so much terror. I moved carefully, avoiding blows, although not too many to attract attention, fighting group to group. The boys groped about like blind, cautious crabs crouching to protect their midsections, their heads pulled in short against their shoulders, their arms stretched nervously before them, with their fists testing the smoke-filled air like the knobbed feelers of hypersensitive snails. In one comer I glimpsed a boy violently punching the air and heard him scream in pain as he smashed his hand against a ring post. For a second I saw him bent over holding his hand, then going down as a blow caught his unprotected head. I played one group against the other, slip- ping in and throwing a punch then stepping out of range while pushing the others into the melee to take the blows blindly aimed at me. The smoke was agonizing and there were no rounds, no bells at three minute intervals to relieve our exhaustion. The room spun round me, a swirl of lights, smoke, sweating bodies surrounded by tense white faces. I bled from both nose and mouth, the blood spattering upon my chest.
The men kept yelling, "Slug him, black boy! Knock his guts out!"
"Uppercut him! Kill him! Kill that big boy!"
Taking a fake fall, I saw a boy going down heavily beside me as though we were felled by a single blow, saw a sneaker-clad foot shoot into his groin as the two who had knocked him down stumbled upon him. I rolled out of range, feeling a twinge of nausea.
The harder we fought the more threatening the men became. And yet, I had begun to worry about my speech again. How would it go? Would they recognize my ability? What would they give me?
I was fighting automatically when suddenly I noticed that one after another of the boys was leaving the ring. I was surprised, filled with panic, as though I had been left alone with an unknown danger. Then I understood. The boys had arranged it among themselves. It was the custom for the two men left in the ring to slug it out for the winner's prize. I discovered this too late. When the bell sounded two men in tuxedoes leaped into the ring and removed the blindfold. I found myself facing Tatlock, the biggest of the gang. I felt sick at my stomach. Hardly had the bell stopped ringing in my ears than it clanged again and I saw him moving swiftly toward me. Thinking of nothing else to do I hit him smash on the nose. He kept coming, bringing the rank sharp violence of stale sweat. His face was a black blank of a face, only his eyes alive-with hate of me and aglow with a feverish terror from what had happened to us all. I became anxious. I wanted to deliver my speech and he came at me as though he meant to beat it out of me. I smashed him again and again, taking his blows as they came. Then on a sudden impulse I struck him lightly and we clinched. I whispered, "Fake like I knocked you out, you can have the prize."
"I'll break your behind," he whispered hoarsely.
"For me, sonafabitch!”
They were yelling for us to break it up and Tatlock spun me half around with a blow, and as a joggled camera sweeps in a reeling scene, I saw the howling red faces crouching tense beneath the cloud of blue-gray smoke. For a moment the world wavered, unraveled, flowed, then my head cleared and Tatlock bounced before me. That fluttering shadow before my eyes was his jabbing left hand. Then falling forward, my head against his damp shoulder, I whispered.
"I'll make it five dollars more."
"Go to hell!"
But his muscles relaxed a trifle beneath my pressure and I breathed, "Seven?"
"Give it to your ma," he said, ripping me beneath the heart.
And while I still held him I butted him and moved away. I felt myself bombarded with punches. I fought back with hopeless desperation. I wanted to de- liver my speech more than anything else in the world, because I felt that only these men could judge truly my ability, and now this stupid clown was ruining my chances. I began fighting carefully now, moving in to punch him and out again with my greater speed. A lucky blow to his chin and I had him going too—until I heard a loud voice yell, "I got my money on the big boy."
Hearing this, I almost dropped my guard. I was confused: Should I try to win against the voice out there? Would not this go against my speech, and was not this a moment for humility, for nonresistance? A blow to my head as I danced about sent my right eye popping like a jack-in-the-box and settled my dilemma. The room went red as I fell. It was a dream fall, my body languid and fastidious as to where to land, until the floor became impatient and smashed up to meet me. A moment later I came to. An hypnotic voice said FIVE emphatically. And I lay there, hazily watching a dark red spot of my own blood shaping itself into a butterfly, glistening and soaking into the soiled gray world of the canvas.
When the voice drawled TEN I was lifted up and dragged to a chair. I sat dazed. My eye pained and swelled with each throb of my pounding heart and I wondered if now I would be allowed to speak. I was wringing wet, my mouth still bleeding. We were grouped along the wall now. The other boys ignored me as they congratulated Tatlock and speculated as to how much they would be paid. One boy whimpered over his smashed hand. Looking up front, I saw attendants in white jackets rolling the Portable ring away and placing a small square rug in the vacant space surrounded by chain. Perhaps, I thought, I will stand on the mg to deliver my speech.
Then the M.C. called to us. "Come on up here boys and get your money."
We ran forward to where the men laughed and talked in their chairs,
waiting. Everyone seemed friendly now.
"There it is on the rug," the man said. I saw the mg covered with coins of all dimensions and a few crumpled bills. But what excited me, scattered here and there, were the gold pieces.
"Boys, it's all yours," the man said. "You get all you grab."
"That's right, Sambo," a blond man said, winking at me confidentially.
I trembled with excitement, forgetting my pain. I would get the gold and the bills. I thought. I would use both hands. I would throw my body against the boys nearest me to block them from the gold.
"Get down around the rug now," the man commanded, "and don't anyone touch it until I give the signal."
"This ought to be good," I heard.
As told, we got around the square rug on our knees. Slowly the man raised his freckled hand as we followed it upward with our eyes.
I heard, "These niggers look like they're about to pray!"
Then, "Ready", the man said. "Go!"
I lunged for a yellow coin lying on the blue design of the carpet, touching it and sending a surprised shriek to join those around me. I tried frantically to remove my hand but could not let go. A hot, violent force tore through my body, shaking me like a wet rat. The rug was electrified. The hair bristled up on my head as I shook myself free. My muscles jumped, my nerves jangled, writhed. But I saw that this was not stopping the other boys. Laughing in fear and embarrassment, some were holding back and scooping up the coins knocked off by the painful contortions of others. The men roared above us as we struggled.
"Pick it up, goddamnit, pick it up!" someone called like a bass-voiced parrot. "Go on, get it!"
I crawled rapidly around the floor, picking up the coins, trying to avoid the coppers and to get greenbacks and the gold. Ignoring the shock by laughing, as I brushed the coins off quickly, I discovered that I could contain the electricity—a contradiction but it works. Then the men began to push us onto the rug. Laughing embarrassedly, we struggled out of their hands and kept after the coins. We were all wet and slippery and hard to hold. Suddenly I saw a boy lifted into the air, glistening with sweat like a circus seat, and dropped, his wet back landing flush upon the charged rug, heard him yell and saw him literally dance upon his back, his elbows beating a frenzied tattoo upon the floor, his muscles twitching like the flesh of a horse stung by many flies. When be finally rolled off, his face was gray and no one stopped him when he ran from the floor amid booming laughter.
"Get the money," the M.C. called. "That's good hard American cash!"
And we snatched and grabbed, snatched and grabbed. I was careful not to come too close to the rug now, and when I felt the hot whiskey breath descend upon me like a cloud of foul air I reached out and grabbed the leg of a chair. It was occupied and I held on desperately.
"Leggo, nigger! Leggo!"
The huge face wavered down to mine as he tried to push me free. But my
body was slippery and he was too drunk. It was Mr. Colcord, who owned a chain of movie houses and "entertainment palaces." Each time he grabbed me I slipped out of his hands. It became a real struggle. I feared the rug more than I did the drunk, so I held on, surprising myself for a moment by trying to topple him upon the rug. It was such an enormous idea that I found myself actually carrying it out. I tried not to be obvious, yet when I grabbed his leg, trying to tumble him out of the chair, he raised up roaring with laughter, and, looking at me with soberness dead in the eye, kicked me viciously in the chest. The chair leg flew out of my hand and I felt myself going and rolled. It was as though I had rolled through a bed of hot coals. It seemed a whole century would pass before I would roll free, a century in which I was seared through the deepest levels of my body to the fearful breath within me and the breath seared and heated to the point of explosion. It'll all be over in a flash, I thought as I rolled clear. It'll all be over in a
But not yet, the men on the other side were waiting, red faces swollen as though from apoplexy as they bent forward in their chairs. Seeing their fingers coming toward me I rolled away as a fumbled football rolls off the receiver's finger, tips, back into the coals. That time I luckily sent the rug sliding out of place and heard the coins ringing against the floor and the boys scuffling to pick them up and the M.C. calling, "All right, boys, that's all. Go get dressed and get your money."
I was limp as a dish rag. My back felt as though it had been beaten with wires. When we had dressed the M.C. came in and gave us each five dollars, except Tatiock, who got ten for being the last in the ring. Then he told us to leave. I was not to get a chance to deliver my speech, I thought. I was going out into the dim alley in despair when I was stopped and told to go back. I returned to the ballroom, where the men were pushing back their chairs and gathering in small groups to talk.
The M.C. knocked on a table for quiet. "Gentlemen," he said, "we almost forgot an important part of the program. A most serious part, gentlemen. This boy was brought here to deliver a speech which he made at his graduation yesterday . . ."
"I'm told that he is the smartest boy we've got out there in Greenwood. I'm
told that he knows more big words than a pocket-sized dictionary."
Much applause and laughter.
"So now, gentlemen, I want you to give him your attention."
There was still laughter as I faced them, my mouth dry, my eyes throbbing. I began slowly, but evidently my throat was tense, because they began shouting.
"We of the younger generation extol the wisdom of that great leader and educator," I shouted, "who first spoke these flaming words of wisdom: 'A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: "Water, water; we die of thirst!" The answer from the friendly vessel came back: "Cast down your bucket where you are." The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.' And like him I say, and in his words, 'To those of my race who depend upon bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations with the Southern white man, who is his next-door neighbor, I would say: "Cast down your bucket where you are'!—cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded . . ."'
I spoke automatically and with such fervor that I did not realize that the men were still talking and laughing until my dry mouth, filling up with blood from the cut, almost strangled me. I coughed, wanting to stop and go to one of the tall brass, sand-filled spittoons to relieve myself, but a few of the men, especially the superintendent, were listening and I was afraid. So I gulped it down, blood, saliva and all, and continued. (What powers of endurance I had during those days! What enthusiasm! What a belief in the rightness of things!) I spoke even louder in spite of the pain. But still they talked and still they laughed, as though deaf with cotton in dirty ears. So I spoke with greater emotional emphasis. I closed my ears and swallowed blood until I was nauseated. The speech seemed a hundred times as long as before, but I could not leave out a single word. All had to be said, each memorized nuance considered, rendered. Nor was that all. Whenever I uttered a word of three or more syllables a group of voices would yell for me to repeat it. I used the phrase "social responsibility" and they yelled:
"What's the word you say, boy?"
"Social responsibility," I said.
"Social . . ."
". . . responsibility."
The room filled with the uproar of laughter until, no doubt, distracted by having to gulp down my blood, I made a mistake and yelled a phrase I had often seen denounced in newspaper editorials, heard debated in private.
"Social . . ."
"What?" they yelled.
". . . equality—.”
The laughter hung smokelike in the sudden stillness. I opened my eyes, puzzled. Sounds of displeasure filled the room. The M.C. rushed forward. They shouted hostile phrases at me. But I did not understand.
A small dry mustached man in the front row blared out, “Say that slowly, son!
"What you just said!"
"Social responsibility, sir,” I said.
"You weren't being smart, were you boy?" he said, not unkindly.
"You sure that about 'equality' was a mistake?"
"Oh, yes, Sir," I said. "I was swallowing blood."
"Well, you had better speak more slowly so we can understand. We mean to do right by you, but you've got to know your place at all times. All right, now, go on with your speech."
I was afraid. I wanted to leave but I wanted also to speak and I was afraid they'd snatch me down.
"T'hank you, Sir," I said, beginning where I had left off, and having them ignore me as before.
Yet when I finished there was a thunderous applause. I was surprised to see the superintendent come forth with a package wrapped in white tissue paper, and, gesturing for quiet, address the men.
"Gentlemen, you see that I did not overpraise the boy. He makes a good speech and some day he'll lead his people in the proper paths. And I don't have to tell you that this is important in these days and times. This is a good, smart boy, and so to encourage him in the right direction, in the name of the Board of Education I wish to present him a prize in the form of this . . ."
He paused, removing the tissue paper and revealing a gleaming calfskin briefcase.
". . . in the form of this first-class article from Shad Whitmore's shop."
"Boy," he said, addressing me, "take this prize and keep it well. Consider it a
badge of office. Prize it. Keep developing as you are and some day it will be filled with important papers that will help shape the destiny of your people."
I was so moved that I could hardly express my thanks. A rope of bloody saliva forming a shape like an undiscovered continent drooled upon the leather and I wiped it quickly away. I felt an importance that I had never dreamed.
"Open it and see what's inside," I was told.
My fingers a-tremble, I complied, smelling fresh leather and finding an official-looking document inside. It was a scholarship to the state college for Negroes. My eyes filled with tears and I ran awkwardly off the floor.
I was overjoyed; I did not even mind when I discovered the gold pieces I had scrambled for were brass pocket tokens advertising a certain make of automobile.
When I reached home everyone was excited. Next day the neighbors came to congratulate me. I even felt safe from grandfather, whose deathbed curse usually spoiled my triumphs. I stood beneath his photograph with my briefcase in hand and smiled triumphantly into his stolid black peasant's face. It was a face that fascinated me. The eyes seemed to follow everywhere I went.
That night I dreamed I was at a circus with him and that he refused to laugh at the clowns no matter what they did. Then later he told me to open my briefcase and read what was inside and I did, finding an official envelope stamped with the state seal: and inside the envelope I found another and another, endlessly, and I thought I would fall of weariness. "Them's years," he said. "Now open that one." And I did and in it I found an engraved stamp containing a short message in letters of gold. "Read it," my grandfather said. "Out loud."
"To Whom It May Concern," I intoned. "Keep This Nigger-Boy Running."
I awoke with the old man's laughter ringing in my ears.
Summary of Ellison's Short Story "Battle Royal"
The Opening Chapter to the Classic American Novel Invisible Man
Jul 27, 2009 Ryan Werner
Building off the segregation of blacks and whites in the mid-19th century, Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal" explores what it means to be black and humble and still be. ..
In Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royal,” (from the book Invisible Man, Random House, ISBN: 9780679601395, 1952) the narrator is thinking back to before he knew he was an “invisible man,” meaning the freed slaves of the past, his relatives who believed that they were separate but equal after the Civil War.
He recalls when his grandfather was on his deathbed; speaking with the narrator’s father about the guilt and shame he has from being a traitor to his race. He urged the narrator’s father to kill the white man with kindness, and the advice has followed the family all the way down to the meek narrator. This theme of identity and individuality in the black American runs deep throughout the entire Invisible Man novel, and is exemplified to perfection in “Battle Royal,” the opening chapter to the book.
After his grandfather died, the narrator was invited to give his graduation speech at a meeting of his small Southern town’s upper-class white people. The speech was similar to his grandfather’s advice, urging his race to advance through humility and submission. Such a suggestion gained him popularity with the white community, leading to his invitation to their meeting.
When he arrived, he was “persuaded” (he really had no choice) to take place in a fight for the entertainment of the drunk crowd. Before the fight, a naked, blonde, white woman dances around them with an American flag painted on her stomach. Some of the boys are hesitant to look, which raises the ire of the crowd. He was then blindfolded and forced to fight nine of his blindfolded classmates—all of them black—until there were only two standing.
The narrator makes it to the final two, but after trying to bribe the other guy in the fight just so he can give his speech, he loses. As payment, all the contestants are led to a rug with bills and coins. They jump on the rug, which is electrified, while trying to get their payment. After everything is all over, the narrator asks to give his speech.
Sonny’s Blues By James Baldwin
This article is about the short story. For the album, see Sonny's Blues (album).
"Sonny’s Blues" (1957) is a short story by James Baldwin. It later appeared in the 1965 short story collection, Going to Meet the Man.
The story opens with the narrator, who reads about his brother named Sonny who got caught in a heroin bust. The narrator then goes about his day; he is a teacher at a school in Harlem. However, he cannot get his mind off Sonny. He thinks about all the boys in his class, who don’t have bright futures and are most likely doing drugs, just like Sonny. After school, he meets a friend of Sonny’s, who tells him that they will lock him up and make him detox, but eventually he will be let out and be all alone.
Originally, the narrator doesn’t write to Sonny. After his daughter Gracie died of polio, he decided to write Sonny a letter. Then Sonny wrote back, so they got in contact again. At this point, we learn how Sonny is related to the narrator—they are brothers. They keep in contact, and after Sonny gets out of jail, he goes to live with the narrator and his family. They eat a family dinner, which then turns into a flashback about their parents.
The narrator describes his father, a drunken man, who died when Sonny was fifteen. Sonny and his father had the same privacy; however they did not get along. Sonny was withdrawn and quiet; while their father pretended to be big, tough, and loud-talking.
The narrator then thinks back to the last time he saw his mother alive, just before he went off to war (most likely fought in World War II). She told him the story of how his uncle died (was run over by some drunken white kids), how his father was never the same, and that the narrator has to watch over Sonny. The narrator was married to Isabel two days after this talk, and then he went off to war. The next time he came back to the states was for his mother’s funeral.
When he was back for the funeral, he had a talk with Sonny, trying to figure out who he is, because they are so distant from one another. He asks Sonny what he wants to do, and Sonny replies that he wants to be a jazz musician and play the piano. The narrator does not understand this dream and doesn’t think it is good enough for Sonny. They also try to figure out his living arrangement for the remainder of his high school career. Both of these subjects lead to an argument. Sonny calls his brother ignorant for not knowing who Charlie Parker is, and argues that he does not want to finish high school or live at Isabel’s parent’s house. Eventually, however, they find a compromise; Isabel’s parents have a piano, which Sonny can play whenever he wants, provided he goes to school. Sonny, begrudgingly (but somewhat excited about the piano) agrees.
Sonny stays at Isabel’s and supposedly is going to school. When he gets home, he constantly plays the piano. Sonny, however, is more like a ghost; he shows no emotion and doesn’t talk to anyone.
It is soon found out that Sonny is not going to school. Instead, he is going over to Greenwich Village, and hanging with his jazz friends (and most likely doing drugs). Once Isabel’s parents find this out, Sonny leaves their house, drops out of school, and joins the navy.
They both got back from the war and lived in New York for a while. They would see each other intermittently, and whenever they would they would fight. Because of these fights, they did not talk to each other for a very long time.
It then flashes forward, and he talks about Gracie and her polio affliction. It was then that the narrator decided to write to Sonny. It seems that the narrator could better understand his brother now. (“My trouble made his real.”)
It then flashes forward to what we would assume is the present. It’s a Sunday and Isabel is gone with the children to visit their grandparents. The narrator is contemplating searching Sonny’s room and begins to describe a revival meeting that both he and Sonny are watching. There is a woman singing, which seems to hypnotize them both.
Sonny comes into the house, and asks the narrator if he wants to come and watch him play in Greenwich Village, and the narrator, unsurely and somewhat begrudgingly, agrees to go.
Sonny then begins to talk about his heroin addiction in somewhat ambiguous terms. He says that when the lady was singing at the revival meeting, it reminded him what it feels like when heroin is coursing through your veins. Sonny says it makes you feel in control, and sometimes you just have to feel that way. The narrator asks if he has to feel like that to play. He answers that some people do. They talk about suffering. And the narrator asks Sonny if it’s worth killing yourself, just trying to escape suffering. Sonny says he is not going to die trying not to suffer faster than anyone else. Sonny divulges that the reason he wanted to leave Harlem was to escape the drugs.
They go to the jazz club in Greenwich Village. The narrator realizes how revered Sonny is there. He hears Sonny play. In the beginning, he falters, as he hasn’t played for seven months, but after a while, it becomes completely magical and enchants the narrator and everyone in the club. The narrator sends a cup of scotch and milk up to the piano for Sonny and the two share a brief connecting moment. This shows that the narrator decides to accept Sonny for who he is as his brother, even though he is a drug addict.
Sonny is the main character. The reader sees him through his brother’s eyes, as a quiet, introspective person who he could not reach. Sonny is also described by the narrator as wild and dreamy. He has a heroin addiction which led him to jail, but because of his passion for jazz he became a musician.
Sonny’s brother is the narrator; his name is never mentioned throughout the story. He is a high school algebra teacher and family man. Unlike Sonny who is constantly struggling with his feelings, he chooses to ignore his own pain.
Isabel is Sonny’s sister-in-law, she is open and talkative. After Sonny’s mother died he lived in her house with for a while, during the time his brother was in the army.
Creole is a bass player who leads the band that Sonny plays in at the end of the story. He functions as a kind of father figure for Sonny;
References to other works
Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker are mentioned during a conversation between Sonny and his brother.
In the final scene Creole, the band and Sonny play Am I Blue.
A reference to a passage in the Bible is made by the end of the story, when Baldwin compares the Scotch and milk placed in front of Sonny as the “cup of trembling.” This is an allusion to Isaiah 51:17.
Allusions to actual history
Throughout the short story there are several mentions to the war, although it is not stated which one. Considering the story occurs during the mid-20th century, critics argue it could be either Korean War or the Second World War. On that matter, Pancho Savery in an article about the short-story he concludes that it most likely takes place during the Korean War rather than during World War II.
One of the most important aspects of the short story is how Sonny and his brother endure suffering. This reveals how different they are and the reason why Sonny’s brother cannot understand him. While Sonny feels more intensely all the hardships in his life, his brother keeps his feelings locked in. Most importantly, the short story focuses on the sufferings of black people in America.
Baldwin believed in art as a powerful mean to ease or relieve one’s suffering. It is only through music, by playing jazz, that Sonny is able to externalize his pain and also help his brother to face his own issues.
Racism and Segregation
Racism is a recurrent theme is Baldwin’s work. In the sort story, much of Sonny’s blues result from the condition African Americans live in. Although Baldwin only presents one clear example of racism, the entire story reveals a separation made by society between blacks and whites. In spite of being an algebra teacher, Sonny’s brother has to continue living in Harlem and cope with the poverty and violence existent in the neighborhood. In this manner we can see that his efforts to have better lifestyle were not successful.
Snares By Louise Erdrich
Simulacra By Julio Cortazar
EXTRA READING FROM THE WRITER OF THE MAGIC BARREL
Bernard Malamud was born was born on April 28, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents Max and Bertha Fidelman Malamud had immigrated to Brooklyn from Russia and met in the States. They owned a grocery store in Brooklyn, which accounts for the primary role of a grocery store in The Assistant and other Malamud stories. Malamud graduated from Eramus Hall High School in 1932. He went on to graduate from City College of New York with a B.A. in 1936. Six years later he earned a Master's Degree in English literature from Columbia University. Malamud began writing stories after graduating from Columbia. He took a job with the Bureau of the Census in Washington, D.C. in 1940, but left to become an evening instructor in English at Eramus High School. In 1949, he joined the faculty of Oregon State University where he remained until 1961 when he began working at Bennington College. He married Ana de Chiara in 1945 and had two children, Paul and Janne.
Malamud's first novel, The Natural, was published in 1952 and many critics see it as a necessary reference text for Malamud's later work. In the novel, which was later popularized in a movie staring Robert Redford, Malamud uses a realistic, yet folkloristic technique to explore the idea of the American dream, as seen with through the career of a baseball player. By mixing allegory and realism, Malamud explores the motifs of character development, the American dream, and the transcendence of the self. Most of these motifs reappear in Malamud's second novel, The Assistant which was published in 1957.
Malamud uses the The Assistant to address some of the motifs from The Natural, but sets the novel in an immigrant setting with strong Jewish main characters. The novel manages to evoke the tradition of Yiddish folklore while maintaining Malamud's training in classic literature and philosophy. The main character of the novel, Morris Bober, for example can be interpreted from both traditions. Some critics have pointed to Morris Bober being a version of the schemiel, a traditional archetype from Yiddish folklore who acts as an ironic hero, using light humor and irony to soften an otherwise harsh world. At the same time other critics have suggested Morris Bober as the embodiment of the existential "I-THOU" philosophy described by Bober's close namesake, Martin Buber. Both of these interpretations seem fitting and they demonstrate that Malamud's novel reflects his ethnic familial background, while also maintaining the intellectual tradition in which he was trained. Malamud always objected to being called a "Jewish writer," because he has found the term too limiting. Malamud's main premise as a writer, as he explains, was "to keep civilization from destroying itself". As such, he worked for humanism—and against nihilism".
Malamud's other publications include The Magic Barrel, a collection of short stories, in 1952; A New Life in 1961; The Fixer in 1966; Pictures of Fidelman, a collection of short stories, in 1969; The Tenants in 1971, Dubin's Lives in 1979, and God's Grace in 1982. Malamud won the National Book Award twice for the The Magic Barrel and The Fixers in 1959 and 1967. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for The Fixers, as well. He died on March 18, 1986 in New York City. Plot Overview
The Assistant tells the story of an immigrant grocer, Morris Bober, who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Bober emigrated from Russia in his teenage years and met his wife Ida in New York. Their grocery recently has fallen on hard times because a new store has opened across the street and is taking their customers. To stay afloat, the Bobers also rely upon the wages of their daughter, Helen who works as a secretary.
On the opening day of the novel, two men rob Morris's grocery and knock him unconscious with a blow to the head. Following his injury, a man named Frank Alpine arrives in the neighborhood. Frank has come from a rough life in the West to start again. When Morris re-opens the store, Frank appears each morning to help him drag in the heavy milk crates. Eventually, Frank asks if Morris would let Frank work for free so that Frank could learn the trade. Morris says no and Frank disappears. Soon after Morris observes that a quart of milk and two rolls are stolen from his deliveries each morning. After a week, Morris alerts the police because he cannot find the culprit. On the next day, Morris finds Frank Alpine sleeping in his cellar. Frank admits to stealing the milk and bread out of hunger. Morris feeds Frank and lets him sleep in the grocery for the night. The next morning, Morris slips while dragging in the milk and passes out. Frank rescues him then puts on the grocer's apron and starts working in the store.
During the two weeks that Morris recovers, Frank manages to bring in much more money than Morris had done. When Morris returns, Frank moves upstairs to a small room off an apartment that an Italian couple, the Fusos, rent. Because business is so successful, Morris eventually wants to pay Frank. Frank feels guilty about being paid because unknown to the grocer, Frank has been stealing money. Furthermore, it was he and Ward Minogue, a boy whose father is a local detective, who had robbed the grocery.
Frank becomes interested in Helen Bober. Helen recently lost her virginity to Nat Pearl a local Jewish boy whose parents own a candy store and who is attending Law School, but she shunned him after learning that he only wanted sex. The other local Jewish boy on the street, Louis Karp, suggests that Helen marry him, but she is not interested. Frank courts Helen by meeting her at the library, which she visits twice a week. Eventually, they start spending a lot of time together and even kiss. When Frank suggests that they touch more, Helen tells him that she cannot have sex with someone unless she is sure that she loves him. Frank tries to control his urges.
Morris Bober enjoys working with Frank and the two men tell stories to each other during the day. One day, Morris starts to suspect Frank of stealing because revenues do not equal what Morris thinks that they should be. He starts watching Frank closely. Frank, at the same time, is overcome by his guilty conscience and decides to repay all the money he has stolen. He places six dollars back in the register one day, but when he realizes that he will need some money for that night, he steals a dollar back. Morris catches him and is heartbroken. Still, he orders Frank to leave.
The same night, Helen goes to meet Frank late in the park. She has decided that she loves him and will have sex with him. When she gets to the park, a drunk Ward Minogue, whom she knows from primary school, tries to rape her. Frank appears and rescues her, but proceeds to rape her himself.
The following day, Morris Bober falls asleep in his apartment with the radiator unlit, flooding his rooms with gas and almost killing himself. Frank and Nick Fuso save him. Morris contracts pneumonia and has to go to the hospital. Frank keeps the store open for the weeks when Morris is sick. Business is terrible because two Norwegians have just reopened the competing grocery and all the customers have gone there. Frank gives all of his personal savings to the grocery and works all night long at a different job to keep it afloat. Still, when Morris returns to the shop he makes Frank leave. Morris himself then tries to save the business by finding another job, but he cannot. A mysterious man appears one night offering to burn the store down so that Morris can collect the insurance money, but Morris turns him down. Later Morris tries to light such a fire himself, but nearly burns himself to death before Frank appears and rescues him. Morris again orders Frank out.
One night, Ward Minogue, who has been diagnosed with diabetes and who is acting desperately, sneaks into the Karp's liquor store through a broken back window. After getting drunk, Ward accidentally sets the store on fire. Karp's store and building are ruined. The next day, Karp, who has insurance, offers to buy Morris's store and grocery so that he can reopen. Morris feels happy and goes out to shovel snow for the pedestrians, although he fails to wear his coat. Later that night, he falls sick and dies three days later from pneumonia.
After Morris's death, Frank Alpine starts running the store. He works all night at a different job and tries everything to make the store work, but times are tough. Still, he decides that he wants to pay for Helen to attend college. At the end of the book, Helen has become friendlier to Frank and seems ready to accept his offer of tuition. Frank himself has changed utterly becoming completely honest and very much like Morris Bober, whose store and philosophies he now embraces. In his final act, Frank Alpine Character List
Morris Bober - The protagonist of the novel. Morris Bober runs the grocery that is central to the novel and is the character who represents the heart of the novel. Morris is an honest, thoughtful compassionate man who serves other people even though the world constantly delivers bad luck to him. His character is held up as the model of morality and it is what Frank Alpine attempts to emulate. In a community characterized by social and economic troubles, Morris stands as a bedrock of moral support. His store provides the milk and bread that nourishes the community, just as his ethics help to treat all people in a humane manner.
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Ida Bober - The wife of Morris Bober and the mother of Helen Bober. Ida is a slightly worrisome older Jewish woman, but she is a good person who appears to have a good soul. Ida worries most about Frank Alpine, a gentile, becoming involved with her daughter. Her bias toward her ethnicity is such that she weeps upon finding out that Helen actually kissed Frank. Still, although Ida views Frank suspiciously throughout the novel, she is not unkind to him. Like Morris, she does not consider Frank a bad man for taking milk and bread because he was starving. Additionally, although she would like him to leave, she also pays him more money because she feels that it is only fair given their increased profits. While Helen worries, she has a gentle character that is without malice. Her constant Yiddish style of debating and arguing with her husband provides a light comic touch to the novel.
Helen Bober - The daughter of Ida and Morris Bober. Helen bears a classical name and in many ways appears to be a classical character. She lacks the Yiddish dialect of her parents and speaks in educated English. She longs to read and become a great scholar and learn the classics, but her limited access to college makes her very frustrated. For this reason, Helen becomes a dreamer who does not always perceive people and situations correctly. For example, she initially fails to perceive that Nat Pearl is not seriously interested in her, which later crushes her after she has sex with him. Next, she places her own perceptions of Frank upon him, thereby not entirely reading his character correctly. Helen undergoes a character development of her own that mirrors Frank's in some ways, making her a more realized creature at the end of the novel.
Read an in-depth analysis of Helen Bober.
Frank Alpine - The stranger who appears in the Bobers' neighborhood and eventually takes over their grocery. Frank Alpine's struggle to control his self and his character is the driving conflict of the novel. Frank is torn between his tendency to do bad and his desire to do good. He idolizes Saint Francis of Assisi as a model of good, yet even while he fantasizes of being like the Saint he continues to steal from the grocery. Frank initially appears to be the assistant to Morris's techniques of running the grocery, but in truth becomes an assistant to his way of life. By the end of the novel, Frank will have fully come to embrace Morris's ethical system.
Read an in-depth analysis of Frank Alpine.
Julius Karp - The liquor storeowner down the street from the Bobers. Julius Karp is a Yiddish- speaking immigrant to Brooklyn like Morris Bober, but Karp is a far less compassionate character. Financial considerations almost always influence Karp's actions. Karp leases the tailor shop to a grocer, even though he realizes that the move will possibly ruin Morris Bober's business. Karp wants his son to marry Helen Bober, but only does so because he wants to expand his economic empire to include Morris's store. Karp is the most prosperous merchant on the block, but he is too cheap to buy a telephone and always uses Morris. Karp likes to be around Morris and likes Morris to like him, but Karp has little moral conscience of his own. Karp is an immigrant who managed to have initial success in America, but who does nothing to support his fellow immigrants around him.
Louis Karp - The lazy son of Julius Karp. Louis never has achieved anything on his own and makes his living running his father's store. Louis has no ambition for anything greater in life. Even as an employee in his father's store, Louis steals from his father. When Julius Karp has a heart attack at the end of the novel, Louis decides that the liquor store will be closed because he is too lazy to take care of it while his father recovers. Louis's actions stand in sharp contrast to those of Frank Alpine, who effectively is the foster son of Morris Bober and who works diligently to keep the store running.
Ward Minogue - The son of Detective Minogue and the true bad person in the novel. In the pairing of sons and fathers, Ward Minogue represents the wicked son. Although his father is a detective, Ward Minogue has long violated the law. His father takes Ward's failings as a son and a human seriously, beating him, and ejecting him from his household. Although the seriousness of Ward's father might seem slightly harsh and although Ward is a character who suffers, mostly from Diabetes toward the end of the book, he is not a very sympathetic person. He is racist and cruel. He tries to violently rape Helen and he hits Morris Bober out of spite and complete malice. Ward Minogue is an evildoer, with no redeeming qualities.
Detective Minogue - The father of Ward Minogue and the detective who investigates the crimes on the Bobers' block. Detective Minogue is portrayed as a sympathetic character, who treats the Bobers kindly and genuinely tries to help them with no discrimination. Detective Minogue is a strict father, but his desire to maintain the law seems appropriate. Although Detective Minogue beats his son after his son robs Karp's liquor store, if he did not, his son would be put in jail. Detective Minogue's troubled relationship with his son testifies to the theme of father-son relationships that Malamud explores in the novel.
Nat Pearl - Represents the most socially and educationally successful son in the novel. Nat Pearl has managed to become a college graduate and a law student as a first generation American, something that none of the other immigrant children have done. Despite his achievements, Nat is not a kind and compassionate man. Although he will study the law, he treats Helen without true fairness by using her for sexual favors, although he will not marry her due to her poverty. Nat, like Julius Karp, is another person who acts out of self-interest with little care and attention to the needs of others.
Betsy Pearl - Nat's sister and Sam and Goldie Pearl's daughter. Betsy is a minor character who serves as Helen's one friend. Compared to Helen, Betsy is unintelligent and uninteresting, but there is no evidence that she is unkind.
Al Marcus - The seller of paper bags who frequently visits the Bobers' grocery store. Al Marcus represents life and the unwillingness to suffer and yield in the face of difficult circumstances. Although he has a terminal form of cancer, he keeps working diligently as a paper bag salesman, not willing to simply give up and die. Because of his attitude, he is able to live much longer than the doctors believe that he shall. Frank thinks that Marcus represents suffering, but actually Marcus represents the desire for life and living that people in difficult circumstances manages to embody.
Breitbart - The seller of light bulbs. Breitbart rarely speaks in the book, but he too is a man who persists in the face of difficult times. Although Breitbart's partner defrauded him and ran away with his wife, Breitbart goes on. He does not seem happy and he suffers, but his life continues. Through his struggle, he embodies the possibilities of life. His sale of light bulbs carries a metaphorical connotation in that he is giving people the instruments that will light up their lives, symbolically suggesting the possibility that he is giving them the tools that will allow them to illuminate themselves.
Sam and Goldie Pearl - Nat and Betsy's parents who own the candy store on the block. They are relatively successful and Sam manages to make money betting on the horses. Little is known about them, but they help demonstrate the ways that immigrants in America have struggled.
Nick and Tessie Fuso - They rent the upstairs apartment from Morris Bober. Little is known about them. Nick and Tessie are Italian and poor immigrants. Their presence helps to show the diversity of the neighborhood and the way that people of all different ethnic backgrounds struggle in the city after they first arrive.
Ephraim - Morris and Ida Bober's deceased son. Ephraim died of an ear infection at an age that is not specified. Little is known about Ephraim's personality, but his death has created a void in Morris Bober's life that creates much of his sadness. The fact that Morris Bober has been left without a son is important in the plot, however, because Frank Alpine is able to fill the space that Ephraim one held and become a foster child.
Schmitz - German owner of the grocery store across the street. Schmitz never acts in the novel, but is a subtle presence because the presence of his store negatively affects the Bobers' store. Schmitz's German ethnicity is noteworthy because of the persecuting role that German's played on the Jews during the Holocaust. On an allegorical level, the way that Schmitz pushes Morris out of business and into deeper poverty can be compared to the way that Germans made Jews suffer in Europe.
goes to the hospital, has himself circumcised and after Passover becomes a Jew. Analysis of Major Characters
Morris Bober represents the moral center of the novel. Morris is a kind and generous figure who believes that people should treat each other compassionately and not cheat one another. Morris is an ironic hero because while he is the champion of the novel, he does not achieve anything significant or win any great battles. Morris's temperament is governed by quiet resignation to the hand that he has been dealt. It is a hand that is characterized by suffering, due to economic deprivation and the death of a loved son, but Morris accepts it without much complaint. For Morris, suffering is an unfortunate but necessary part of life. Through it, one is able to spiritually transcend the pain and see the meaningful beauty of life. Morris lives these values everyday. Although he is not happy being trapped in an unsuccessful grocery, he thanks God for the presence of Julius Karp because Karp's presence reminds Morris how much more valuable it is to be poor and realized, than rich and foolish.
Morris's behavior is also characterized by his kindness to other people. Morris wants to shovel the snow in front of the shop for the Christians going to church. Morris chases after a customer who leaves change in the store. Morris opens his shop at six am just to sell the Polish woman a three-cent roll. It is Morris's insistence that he always act well to others, in fact, that creates some of his suffering. While other merchants make money by cheating their customers, Morris remains poor but triumphs spiritually because he remains good. Morris may have died a modest man who felt like a failure, but his true success as a human being can be measured in the transformation of Frank Alpine. It is under Morris's influence that Frank turned from being a man of moral degeneration to a good man who has accepted another's burden of suffering out of a commitment to love, compassion, and responsibility. On the level of morals and ethics, Morris succeeds, even if others think that he failed in life.
Frank Alpine is perhaps the most important character in the novel since he is the assistant named in the novel's title. It is Frank's transformation from a dishonest character to one marked by goodness and grace that motivates the novel's movement. Having acted in a robbery against Morris Bober, Frank arrives at the Bober store in an effort to "make it up" to the grocer. At the same time, Frank's behavior has a slightly masochistic edge, where he is trying to punish himself for bad deeds done. Although Frank is trying to be good, his dishonesty cannot stop. His continual thievery from the store demonstrates the extraordinary difference between what he longs for and what he actually does. Although Frank occasionally feels guilty, his need to steal resembles a disease where he almost involuntarily keeps slipping change into his pocket while receiving a mild thrill from the theft. Frank's pursuit of Helen follows an equally ambiguous pattern. On the one hand, Frank wants to love someone purely, but on the other hand he simply lusts after Helen's body. Frank cloaks his desire for Helen under the guise of true love. To some extent, Frank believes that he is in love, but his eventual inability to control his lust slips out as he forces Helen to have sex despite her resistance. Frank initially tries to emulate Saint Francis of Assisi in his pursuit for goodness, but after working with Morris Bober begins to take up Morris's philosophy for his own. It is not until after Frank's exposure as the dishonest person that he is that he is able to truly patch his life together in the way that he wants it. He has become the assistant to Morris Bober and has learned from him a peaceful way of life that will not grant him riches, but will grant him the patience and goodness to survive. When his transformation is complete, Frank finally is able to fully love Helen.
Helen Bober has a classical name that does not reflect her Yiddish background. Helen's name evokes the idea of ancient Greece. Like Helen of Troy, Helen Bober is a figure that many men become interested it. Furthermore, Helen's name suggests her desire to study the classics herself, a desire that has been thwarted by her family's poverty. Helen is the character who links the owners of the grocery to the other people in the neighborhood. Helen leaves the grocery everyday and heads out to work as a secretary somewhere in New York. Helen has had relationships with Nat Pearl and Louis Karp. It is through her interaction with those men that their true natures become known and it is also through her interaction with their families that Malamud is able to explore their family dynamics. Despite her ability to leave the grocery each day, Helen is perpetually unsatisfied. She spends her hours dreaming of a better life. She clings to novels and visits the library several times a week, in an effort to use literature as a means to flee the mediocrity of her life. Because Helen is a dreamer, she does not always accurately understand people when she meets them. Her strong longing to flee poverty initiated her love of Nat Pearl. As a future lawyer, Nat represented someone with a possibility. Regardless that his character was not all charming, Helen fell in love with him for what he represented to her. When Helen realized his true desires—sex—she shunned him. Helen also initially loves Frank Alpine even though she is not able to see him for who he is. She believes that he really will attend college because it is what she wants and fails to imagine that the presents he gives her were stolen because she does not want them to be. It is only after Frank's vicious treatment of her and Morris's death that Helen slowly comes to a new realization about Frank and Nat. With her realization, she is finally able to love more than she an image that she has created.
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Father and Son Relationships
Four father-son relationships exist in The Assistant, three biological and one created. The created relationship exists between Morris Bober and Frank Alpine. Morris's biological son, Ephraim, died at a young age, but Frank arrives to learn Morris's trade and philosophy. Frank will be the one to inherit the grocery when Morris dies, which a son would normally do. The other sons and fathers demonstrate the difficult nature of passing on one's ethics and values to one's child. Jeffrey Helterman proposes that Malamud's presentation of four-father son relationships evokes the tradition of evoking four kinds of sons during the Passover Seder: the wise son (Nat Pearl), the wicked son (Ward Minogue), the foolish son (Louis Karp), and the son who has wits not to ask (Frank Alpine). Frank eventually does learn to ask the right questions and in doing so becomes more of a son to Morris Bober than the other sons are to their fathers. The way that these various relationships are explored in the novel touches on the relative difficulty of passing a historical legacy from father to son, as well as one's philosophy of system of laws.
Transcendence of One's Self
Frank Alpine spends the novel learning to transcend the ignoble desires of his self and learn to be a good person. Frank's general tendencies, as exhibited in the beginning of the novel, lean toward dishonesty and lust for Helen. He desires to become like Saint Francis, a model of goodness, but it is only through a fierce struggle that he is able to do so. Morris Bober is a person who has learned how to transcend his self and proceed with grace. Morris Bober fully accepts the idea of suffering. He sees that it is necessary to his self and the world. Through his acceptance, Morris is able to transcend the imprisoning effect of his suffering and liberate his self. Frank Alpine's eventual transformation in the novel allows his to achieve similar spiritual freedom.
Struggle for the American Dream
All of the characters in the novel are either immigrants or the children of immigrants. In the belly of New York City, they all struggle for the American Dream. Malamud suggests that this struggle is difficult, but also acknowledges its possibilities. Some immigrants, like Julius Karp, have managed to become rich. Although Julius is not an honorable person, his economic success came in part from his own hard work and his willingness to take advantage of the opportunities before his eyes. Nat Pearl represents another success story in the community. Although his parents still speak Yiddish, he managed to attend Columbia and now attends Law School. While there are these successes, there are also many difficulties. The Bobers barely subsist even though they own their own business. Carl, the Swedish painter, has children who appear to be constantly hungry. Even the tendency for customers to leave the Bobers' store for better prices seems reasonable given their economic struggle. Malamud exposes the possibility of realizing the American Dream as a new immigrant, but also its harsh reality by exposing the lives in an immigrant community in Brooklyn.
Saint Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi reappears throughout the novel mostly when Frank Alpine discusses him. When Frank was an orphan, the priest used to read portions of Saint Francis's book Saint Francis's Little Flowers to the boys. Frank always longed to achieve the goodness that Saint Francis embodied. The constant reappearance of Saint Francis in the text, or through the images of flowers and birds, constantly reminds Frank of his desire to be good, even though he continues to always do wrong. Saint Francis also was an eclectic monk who preached that poverty was the way to reach God and was Christ's true message. The Catholic Church of his time considered Saint Francis's ideas incorrect and dangerous, since their ability to collect funds from their parishes kept them rich. Morris Bober, however, shares Saint Francis's perspective and accepts his impoverishment as a way that he has remained spiritually afresh. Eventually, Frank Alpine will come to accept impoverishment as well and despite living in it, will be able to spiritually transform.
The idea that the grocery where the Bobers' work is a prison occurs often throughout the novel. Helen Bober always thinks of her home as a prison and once even dreams of it as such. The merchants who find Frank Alpine working in the shop warn him to leave or he will get stuck there too, in a prison-like death tomb. The idea of prison relates to Malamud's discussion of suffering and redemption. When asked about the prison motif in his work, Malamud once stated, "I use it as a metaphor for the dilemma of all men: necessity, whose bare we look through and try not to see. Social injustice, apathy, ignorance. The personal prison of entrapment in past experience, guilt, obsession—the somewhat blind or blinded self. A man has to construct, invent his freedom." Within The Assistant, the only character who does not think of the grocery as a prison is Morris Bober. Although he is not happy there, he has come to accept the grocery store and he also does not see it as the sole factor imprisoning him in his life. As Frank Alpine changes, he will willingly come to live in the prison of the grocery despite everyone's warnings. His doing so is possible because his changed self as altered the nature of his imprisonment, as his soul has been freed.
Phrases and words from the Yiddish Language dominate the way that Morris and Ida Bober speak. Malamud emphasizes their native language by placing Yiddish words directly in the text such as: "landsleit" (countrymen), "parnusseh" (livelihood), and "gesheft" (business). The use of Anglicized Yiddish terms also demonstrates their native language, such as the Polish woman being a "Poilisheh," the Italian tenant being an "Italyener," and the possible robbers being "holdupnicks." Most importantly, Malamud directly translates from the Yiddish into the English, with the parts of speech not appearing in their normal American locations. For example, Ida's inquiry of Morris, "You said to him something not nice," might normally be expressed in American English as, "You said something not nice to him?" The Yiddish phrasing helps to ground the characters' ethnic backgrounds. It also plays an important textual role in indicating Frank Alpine's evolution. Toward the end of the novel, Frank too occasionally thinks in Yiddish phrasings, indicating his full embrace of Morris Bober's philosophy.
Flowers reappear throughout the text as a symbol related to the motif of Saint Francis of Assisi. Helen's naked behind is compared to a flower; Frank dreams of Helen throwing him a flower; Frank carves Helen a wooden flower; and Helen tosses a flower into her father's grave. Real flowers represent the realization of pure love that characterized Saint Francis. For most of the book, Helen and Frank are not able to love one another. The symbol of the wooden flower shows Frank's desire to love Helen, but also his inability to transcend a concrete image of what this love would equal and fully embrace it. At the end of the novel when Saint Francis transforms Frank's wooden flower into a real one, his love has become fully realized and pure.
The Novels Frank reads
After learning that Frank wants to go to college, Helen makes Frank read Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, and Crime and Punishment. Helen's desire that Frank read these books highlights her desire to transform him into something that she wants him to be. Helen is beginning to fall in love with him, but not with who he truly is, but with the man she believes she can make him into. On one level, these books suggest Helen's inability to properly love. On the level of text, the books all contain plots that mirror Frank Alpine's own struggle. In all of the novels, the main characters commit a "crime" that changes their entire life: both Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary have affairs; and Raskolnikov commits a murder. Given Frank's guilty conscience, these books all make him consider whether or not he will be able to redeem himself in the future. Ironically, although Helen gave Frank the books, she barely understands them herself and as the novel continues she is not able to forgive Frank even though he committed a crime just like her revered heroes and heroines.
Milk and bread
Morris Bober receives crates of milk each morning from the deliverymen, which sit outside his door until he drags them in. He also receives two bags of rolls that he sells throughout the day. This milk and this bread symbolize Morris's importance as a sustainer of the community. These two products provide physical nourishment for the neighborhood. When Frank Alpine is starving and sleeping in the basement, he survives alone on milk and rolls. Morris's tendency to sell products that support his customers is consistent with his status as a moral supporter for the community. While Julius Karp makes much more money by trading in alcohol, Morris Bober is content to sell people health and nourishment through his marketing of these more wholesome goods.
Morris Bober opens his store on a cold November morning at 6 a.m., after dragging in crates of milk and bag of rolls left by delivery men. An old Polish woman is at the door and he sells her a roll for three cents. After she is gone, he heats up the store. A young girl whose mother is a drunk comes in and asks for food on credit and although Morris initially wants to say no, he gives the girl the food. He notes the drunk woman's debt on a piece of paper, reducing it slightly so that Morris's wife, Ida, will not be too upset. Morris thinks to himself that business is rough, as he awaits the arrival of his upstairs tenant, Nick Fuso, who usually buys ham and bread each morning.
Morris has owned the grocery for twenty-one years and it has basically remained the same during those years. As the morning passes, Nick does not arrive and Morris sees him returning home with a bag from a different grocery store. Morris feels depressed. A few customers enter, but buy little. Breitbart, a light bulb peddler, comes in for a cup of tea. After Breitbart leaves, Morris's wife Ida comes downstairs. At age fifty-one, she is nine years younger than Morris. Despite her younger age, her aching feet keep her from working frequently. Morris tells her that business has been slow. Together, they discuss their desire that someone will buy the store. Ida reminds Morris that Julius Karp, a man who owns a liquor store on the street, telephoned a man who might be interested. She hopes the buyer will come today. Ida chastises her husband for smoking and tells him to go upstairs to eat and rest.
Upstairs, Morris eats and reflects that business is so bad lately because a new grocery store owned by a German, Schmitz, opened across the street. A tailor used to work there, but after he left, Karp, who owns the property, leased it to Schmitz. Morris asked Karp why he could be so unkind to him, but Karp told him not to worry. Morris had worried for about a month and then after Schmitz's store opened, he found that it was as bad as he thought.
The narrative cuts to Helen Bober, Ida and Morris's daughter. She is on the subway coming home from work when Nat Pearl approaches and asks if she is mad at him. Helen tells him no. She reflects that during the summer she had felt in love with Nat, so she agreed to sleep with him, thus losing her virginity. Later she realized that Nat only wanted to have sex and not to form a meaningful relationship. Since then, she had shunned him. Nat and Helen grew upon the same block since Nat's parents, Sam and Goldie Pearl, owned a nearby candy store, but Nat had managed to graduate from Columbia University and now attends law school. Helen gets off the subway and heads home. She passes the Pearls' candy store and also Karp's liquor store, the two stores owned by Jews on an otherwise gentile block. Karp used to have a poor shoe store, but his liquor business made him very successful.
Morris wakes and heads downstairs just before Helen walks in. The buyer has not come. Ida sends Helen upstairs to eat. Helen hates their small dark apartment and reflects that her father has never really left their block since her brother, Ephraim, died. Morris comes up and offers to let Helen keep more of her paycheck, but she refuses. Morris feels shame that he cannot send her to college, which is her dream.
In the evening, business picks up. Karp comes in and asks if the buyer came. Morris has felt mildly annoyed with Karp since Karp rented his space to another grocer. Karp tells Morris that he has seen a car pass by several times and thinks that they want to rob him. Karp, although richer, is too cheap to have a phone and asks Morris to call the cops in a few minutes, after Karp hollers to him. Morris agrees and Karp leaves. Nick Fuso's wife, Tessie, enters and buys some food to make amends for her husband shopping elsewhere in the morning. Morris hears Karp call to him and he starts moving toward the phone. As he does so, he sees two men with handkerchiefs on their faces enter the store. One has a pistol. They take the money from the register and ask where the rest is. Morris insists that he is poor and has no more money. The man with the gun calls Morris a lying Jew and strikes him across the face. The other perpetrator protests his partner's movements and immediately offers Morris some water in a cup. The men search the store, but find no more money. The man with the gun again questions Morris for money, but when Morris offers none he strikes him again. As Morris passes out, he thinks that it is a fitting end to his unlucky day.
This opening chapter introduces the novel's characters, setting, as well as the plot event that sets the story moving. The book opens with Morris Bober unlocking his cold store at six am for a waiting Polish woman. This opening is significant. First, as Morris brings the Polish woman inside, so too does he bring the narrative gaze. The movement of the narration from outside to inside immediately locates the reader in the primary setting for the novel: the grocery. The view of the world that the reader shall become to learn will be that of the grocer, first Morris Bober and then Frank Alpine. The immediate movement into the grocery thus seems highly appropriate.
Morris Bober's opening act also is crucial to his personality because it shows his generous and self-sacrificing nature. Morris always opens the store at six am just to sell the polish woman a three-cent roll. Although Morris has economic need, he does not wake so early to help the polish woman simply because of it. He does so because he knows that someone needs to serve her, so it might as well be him. Morris's act suggests his moral order in which he compassionately supports the needs and desires of other people to the best of his ability. Morris's generous and kindly disposition can also be seen when he sells the drunk woman food that he knows she will never pay for. Morris's generous behavior in this chapter helps to depict his strong moral fiber and sincere character. In doing so, it helps to frame the plot and establish the themes of the book upon which Morris's character depends.
The idea that Morris suffers and has economic desperation also is established in this chapter and will be expanded upon throughout the book. The Bobers have owned the grocery for twenty-one years, a significant number that suggests the age of true maturing from child to adult, and their economic subservience to the success of the business places them in a difficult, almost imprisoned state. If the grocery does poorly, as it is doing now, the Bobers are stuck with no livelihood and can only pray for a buyer. The idea of the grocery being a prison reappears as a motif throughout the novel. It should also be noted that Malamud's own immigrant parents owned a grocery in which they were also trapped and the grocery setting and its subsequent signification is an on-going theme in his stories.
The Bober's suffering has not only been economic, as the chapter suggests with its reference to the death of their son, Ephraim. His name first is mentioned without context as Morris thinks about Ephraim in the store, which makes Morris's eyes grow wet. Later Helen's thoughts explain who Ephraim is as she remembers her childhood. How Ephraim died is not explained in this section, although it is an obviously poignant remembrance. The memory helps to suggest the pain that the Bobers have suffered and as the novel continues Ephraim will play an increasingly important symbolic role as a lost son while his father develops a new foster father relationship with Frank Alpine.
Helen's walk through the neighborhood after leaving the subway locates the grocery within its Brooklyn neighborhood. The neighborhood has only three Jewish families, but is an immigrant location where all of the characters are referred to their ethnicities. There is Carl the Swedish painter, Schmitz the German grocer, the Polish woman, and Nick Fuso the Italian mechanic. These ethnic references suggest that these people are true immigrants who left Europe to struggle in America for a better life. Everyone in this community lives in varying shades of poverty, which the exception it seems of Julius Karp, who has run a successful liquor business. All future events in the novel should be understood as taking place in this impoverished immigrant community. Nat Pearl's ability to attend Columbia and law school, for example, is truly noteworthy, given the fact that his parents recently arrived off a boat from somewhere in Yiddish speaking Europe.
The speech patterns of the character also highlight their ethnic backgrounds. Morris and Ida Bober along with the other older Jews, the Karps and the Pearls, all speak Yiddish. Malamud shows their language by placing Yiddish words directly in the text such as: "landsleit" (countrymen), "parnusseh" (livelihood), and "gesheft" (business). The use of Anglicized Yiddish terms also demonstrates their native language, such as the Polish woman being a "Poilisheh," the Italian tenant being an "Italyener," and the possible robbers being "holdupnicks." Finally, the way that Ida and Morris speak English uses Yiddish grammar translated, with the verbs and adjectives not in the normal American locations. For example, Ida's statement, "You should long ago sell the store" suggests her Yiddish speech patterns since it is not expressed in the normal American manner, which would be something like, "You should have sold the store long ago." The translated Yiddish style allows Malamud to preserve the mixture of comedy, irony, and tragedy in that language. The ironic language is important since Morris Bober will prove to be an ironic hero whose life is both comedic and tragic. His ironic style can be seen in the final sentence of the chapter, "The end fitted the day. It was his luck, others had better." The tone of the language will play an important part in character development and since the novel's plot concerns character, this use of language is crucial.
After Morris's injury, he stays in bed for a week. For one day during that week, the store is shut completely, but during the other days Ida and Helen manage to keep it open. During the same week, a skinny, sad eyed stranger appears on the block. He frequently sits in Sam Pearl's candy shop drinking coffee and tells them that his name is Frank Alpine and he has just moved to New York from the west. One day, Frank shows Sam Pearl a picture of Saint Francis of Assisi that Frank just found in a magazine. Saint Francis is Frank's hero, of whom Frank frequently heard when he was a child in an orphanage.
A week after the robbery, Morris opens his store. The Polish woman returns the next morning to buy a roll and Morris sells her one as he has for years, even though he knows she is slightly anti-Semitic. As Morris goes to bring in the milk, he almost swoons from dizziness but a man catches him. It is Frank Alpine. Frank unloads the milk. He drinks coffee with Morris. Frank explains that he wants to find a job working in a grocery somewhere and Morris gives him some suggestions on where to go.
For the next two mornings, Frank Alpine appears again to help with the milk. On the second day, the two men talk over cups of coffee. Frank grew up in an orphanage after his mother died and his father abandoned him. After some rough foster homes, he left the West to start again on the East Coast. Frank asks about Morris's bandages and Morris describes the robbery. Frank suggests that they should kill the robbers and then asks if Morris is a Jew. Morris says yes. Upon Frank's questioning, Morris explains that he has a daughter and had a son who died of an ear infection. Frank leaves but reappears a few hours later to wash the windows. When Morris confronts him, Frank explains that he wants no money but that he just wanted to pay Morris back. He proposes that Morris let him assist in the grocery, for free, so that Frank can learn the trade. Ida comes down during the discussion and does not like the idea, so Morris says no and Frank leaves.
The narrative cuts to Helen Bober and Louis Karp who are walking on the Coney Island boardwalk. Louis pestered Helen numerous times for a date, so she went to Coney Island with him. Louis is a lazy, young man who rides on the money from his father's liquor store. Upon being questioned, Helen explains that her life has not yet turned out as she wants it to since she is twenty-three and has not gone to college. Louis tells Helen that he would like to marry her, but Helen is not interested, even though they kiss momentarily. He drives her back to the grocery.
The next morning, Morris finds a bottle of milk and two rolls missing from his delivery. He does not tell Ida, but the theft of a quart of milk and two rolls continues for two more days. Morris then starts waking early before six to see if he can observe the robber, but he does not although the food keeps disappearing. The grocer questions some people who might be involved, but finds out nothing. After five days, he tells Ida and they call the police. Detective Minogue, who is investigating the holdup, comes to question them. Detective Minogue lives in the area and his son, Ward, went to Helen's school, but later got in trouble for molesting girls there and stealing from his job. In response to Ward's crimes, Detective Minogue had beaten his son and made him leave him. Morris feels sorry for Detective Minogue. After the detective asks them about the thefts, he asks if they have seen his son, but they have not. Later that night, Morris closes the store early and impulsively visits his cellar. He finds a dirty and tired Frank Alpine there, sleeping on the floor. Frank confesses to stealing the milk and rolls due to hunger. Morris takes Frank upstairs and feeds him. Ida comes down and, upon seeing Frank, guesses that he stole the milk and bread. Although Ida wants Frank to leave and fears he will steal, Morris insists that Frank sleep at the back of the store for that night. The next morning, Morris rises to sell the Polish woman her roll. When he grabs the milk crates, he slips on ice, hits the ground, and passes out. Frank rises, carries Morris inside, gets Helen to notify Ida, and places Morris's apron around his own neck.
This second chapter introduces one of the most important characters in the novel, Frank Alpine. Frank appears mysteriously just after Morris Bober's unfortunate robbery. He has come from the West and appears to be a poor man. The only things that are known about him are those that he shares: he has had a rough life and appears to be looking for a second chance. Frank is a sympathetic young man. He is skinny and rough shaven and these factors, along with his eventual theft of the milk and bread suggest that he is a man of need for whom one should have compassion. Both Morris and Ida Bober have compassion for Frank, even though Ida does not wish him to stay. Morris could turn Frank away or even have him arrested upon finding him, but in a typically humane move, Morris instead feeds him. As do Ida and Morris, the tendency is to sympathize with Frank at this point even though he has done something bad by being a thief. This tendency to feel for Frank will continue through the entire novel even as Frank's dishonest acts grow more egregious. Malamud maintains the sympathy by constantly demonstrating Frank's own belief in his culpability, just as he does here by having Frank immediately confess to his crime while begging forgiveness. Malamud also shows Frank's struggle for goodness by letting the reader see the contents of Frank's mind.
The image of Saint Francis of Assisi appears for the first time in this chapter and will reappear as one of the novel's main motifs. Frank Alpine admires Saint Francis because Saint Francis's innate goodness is so pure that it brings Frank to tears. Frank's own desire to attain such innate goodness in his self will drive the novel's plot. Furthermore, the image of Saint Francis provides an important commentary upon the possibilities of spiritual success amidst true impoverishment. Saint Francis, as Frank tells Sam Pearl, believed in poverty for spiritual purposes and maintained to bring freshness to impoverishment that most do not see. Saint Francis's ability to see through poverty and create a spiritual life within it will also be Frank's challenge in the novel. The neighborhood of the grocery, for example in Helen Bober's perspective, exists as a wasteland full of ruined dreams and difficult lives. Within such a difficult environment, Morris Bober manages to maintain a spiritual sense of goodness, and Frank Alpine's arrival will attempt to bring in an additional freshness in Saint Francis's style. The motif of Saint Francis will re-appear with references to birds and flowers, the creatures that the Saint once preached to, as well as by mentions of the Saint himself.
The interlude of Helen Bober and Louis Karp draws out their characters in more detail. Helen is one of the three most important characters, with her father and Frank Alpine. Helen bears a classical, non-Yiddish name that evokes images of Greek myth. Helen Bober, like Helen of Troy, is desired by many men and in the novel serves unifying role in her multiple relationships. This chapter shows Helen as a dreamer who yarns for something better that her financial situation cannot provide. While Helen is an intelligent dreamer, Louis Karp, is an uninteresting mope. With his father's money, Louis could do what Helen longs to do, attend college, but Louis has neither the interest nor the diligence. Louis is content simply to make do on his father's achievements. Speech patterns again are important in this chapter and demonstrate Louis and Helen's relative perspectives. Louis relies heavily on casual American slang—"Say, baby, let's drop this deep philosophy and go trap a hamburger. My stomach complains"—while Helen's articulate grammar exceeds that of the other characters. The exposition of both of these chapters is important, as Helen will play a crucial role in the text and Louis, although not a major character, fits into Malamud's important theme of father-son relations. Louis and his father, Julius, are one of the three biological father-son pairs that exist in the novel that will serve a comparative basis for the symbolic foster fathering that will take place between Morris Bober and Frank Alpine.
The ability for Morris to give people milk and bread symbolically suggests his position as a sustainer in the community. As the book continues, his ability to sustain others on a spiritual and moral level will become clear. The food that Morris gives others nourishes them and provides for them, as does his beneficent generosity. Ironically although he gives nourishment, he does not reap financial gain from his efforts while Karp, a seller of destructive alcohol, does. This irony testifies to another theme in Malamud's book, the struggle for the American dream.
Morris has reopened the old injury on his head from falling. The doctor insists that he rest in bed for a few weeks. Ida cares for Morris all day, but later remembers Frank Alpine and goes downstairs to tell him to leave.
Frank looks clean and fresh when Ida enters and he shows her fifteen dollars in the register, saying that they had a busy morning. Ida does not like the idea, but tentatively suggests that Frank stay during Morris's illness and continue to sleep on the couch in the back. The next morning, he has done eight dollars of business and also cleaned the store and fixed a broken sink and light. Ida thinks that the store looks better. Even though she distrusts him, she shows him how to cut the meat. Ida then spends most of her time upstairs resting, looking forward to the time that Frank, a non-Jew, will be gone.
Frank finds life in the store relatively pleasant. He sells the Polish woman her roll at six and spends the day trying to improve the store while selling goods. He eats whatever he likes whenever he is hungry. The customers like him and so do the deliverers, even though they all warn him not to work for a Jew and that the grocery is a prison-like death tomb. Ida feeds Frank his meals and gives him fifty cents a day spending money, which he uses to see the movies. Frank meets Nick Fuso in the grocery and Nick invites Frank over for dinner after learning that he is Italian.
Ida always keeps Helen away from Frank, but he occasionally catches a glimpse of her and thinks of her. He finds her quite attractive. Because he is lonely and never sees her, one night he conjures a plan and calls her to the telephone even though no one is there. After she finds the line dead, she looks perplexed and he explains that he did not know what happened to the caller.
While Ida dislikes having a non-Jew running their store, she has to admit that his presence has driven up their revenues. Although they are still poor, Frank is bringing in five to seven more dollars per day than Morris had been. He also makes the customers laugh and even gets them to buy more. At the end of the next week, Ida insists on giving Frank five dollars in wages because of all he has done, despite Frank's protests. Frank then feels bad, because while the store had been making money, Frank had also secretly been pocketing some of it—about ten dollars over the two weeks. Frank reasons that he deserved some of the money, but also feels bad about taking it. He tries to get himself to stop, but it becomes a bizarre compulsion.
One night, Frank feels terrible about all the wrong he has done and decides to set things right. He remembers that it was he and Ward Minogue that robbed the grocery store. It had been Ward's idea to rob Karp's liquor store, but when Karp fled, Ward insisted that they rob Bober, since he was just a Jew as well. At the time Frank had thought that a Jew is a Jew, so they might as well rob him, but now he is not so sure. In his contemplation, Frank goes to a nearby bar and finds Ward Minogue. Minogue is feeling sick and laughs when Frank asks for his gun back. Minogue still wants to stick up the liquor store and laughs at Frank for working at Bober's. Frank explains that he did it to quiet his conscience and that he placed the money from the robbery in the register on his first day back. Minogue laughs and tells Frank to seduce the Jew's daughter.
Back at the store, Ida counts the money and leaves some in the till for the morning. Helen goes to take a shower. Frank goes into the basement and hides himself in the dumbwaiter and pulls himself up to the bathroom and looks at Helen's naked body. Helen has a delicate, attractive body. After Frank lowers himself to the basement, he feels a surge of moving joy.
With this chapter, Malamud links the events of the previous two chapters while proposing the novel's conflict to come by shows that the sympathetic Frank Alpine is also a thief and one who even was involved in the robbery of Morris. Because of the way that Malamud has framed the exposition of Frank, her character appears to be a puzzle. This presentation is appropriate because Frank's character is a puzzle to Frank himself and it is Frank's attempt to unravel the puzzle and make sense of his character that drives the plot of the novel.
Frank appears to be a good soul at the beginning of this chapter as he did in the one before it. When Morris falls sick, Frank voluntarily runs the shop, with almost miraculous results. The first day he brings in fifteen dollars, much more than Morris had been earning. The rest of the week he does better as well. Frank's abilities astound Ida and she lets him stay, even though she does not approve of him because he is not Jewish. Frank's arrival from nowhere and his ability to improve the shop lends him an almost supernatural charm. For this reason, his figure evokes the tradition of Yiddish folklore. It is perhaps because Ida sees him as a good luck charm that arrived in their time of need, that Ida lets him stay.
While Frank starts the chapter as a miracle worker, he ends it by being exposed as a common criminal. First, we learn that he is stealing from the small revenues of a poor man, Morris Bober. Second, and perhaps worse, we learn that it was Frank who was involved in robbing Morris in the first place. Frank's deceitful deeds normally would make him appear as a purely evil character. However, because Malamud already exposed Frank as a sympathetic character who has had a rough life and who yearns to do good, his previous and current evil deeds simply seem curious. Frank explains his thefts from Morris's shop almost as a compulsion or a disease. Although he knows that it is wrong, he cannot stop slipping quarters into his pocket. Because Malamud exposes the war within Frank's conscience, it is difficult to think entirely poorly of him. Instead, one tends to want Frank to succeed in his quest to conquer his dark side. It is Frank's fluctuating struggle to be good and his tendency to do evil that is the driving force of the novel.
Toward the end of the chapter, the other weakness in Frank's character, his inability to control his fleshy desires, also becomes clear. Frank is physically and emotionally lonely, having no friends, and no girlfriend. Having seen the attractive, though hidden, Helen, he desires her. When he sneaks up the dumbwaiter to spy on her naked body, however, Frank exposes himself again as less than a sympathetic character. He wants to be good and love, like Saint Francis of Assisi, but actually his actions show that he does not really know how. Frank's quest to learn to love and to control his physical urges is a theme that will run concurrent to his desire to control his petty dishonesty. When Frank sees Helen's body, he admires its shape but also notices that her buttocks resemble a flower. Even the comparison of Helen's buttocks to a flower invokes the motif of Saint Francis of Assisi and the idea of freshness existing in the wasteland of the immigrant ghetto. The flower serves as an image to remind Frank of his true quest to learn to be a controlled individual. The flower also suggests the way that Frank will manage to bring light and joy to himself and the community. Through his dedication and love to Helen. At this point in the novel, however, Frank is unable to do so.
Business at the grocery keeps improving. Morris lets Helen keep more of her check and wants to pay Frank more sometime soon. Helen feels jealous of Frank's past travels, which she has never managed, and feels excited that he will attend college in the fall. To help him prepare, she insists that he read Anna Karenina, Crime and Punishment, and Madame Bovary. Frank reads them all, but feels confused as to why Helen enjoys reading about other people's misery. The books make Frank wonder if one error in a man's life can change his future forever, with no possibility of amending it.
One night, Helen is sneaking up to Frank Alpine's room to say something to him when Nat Pearl telephones. He asks her on a date, but she declines and will not even let him come over right then for a chat. He tries to find out why she is shunning him, but she says nothing. After she hangs up, her mother criticizes her treatment of Nat and warns her that she is not getting younger. Finally when Helen is able to leave, she goes to Frank's room. She has brought two presents that he gave her earlier in the day: a black scarf with gold in it and a red leather covered collected Shakespeare. She insists that she cannot accept them because they are too much for her. He reluctantly takes them back. Later, Helen reflects upon her need to give the presents back because men usually expect something for them.
The next day on her way to work, Helen sees the scarf and Shakespeare book in the garbage can on the street. Astonished by the waste, she takes them out and places them in the cellar. The next day, she asks Frank why he did not return the presents instead of throwing them out. He states that he lost the receipts and did not want them anymore, but she insists that she will return them on his behalf so that he shall not waste money, he will give her the receipts.
Helen visits Betty Pearl, Nat's sister, with whom she has been friends since high school. Betty asks why Helen never sees Nat anymore, but Helen declines to discuss it. Betty recently has got engaged to an accountant and they offer to take Helen out for a drive, but she refuses and heads home.
Helen is walking through the park and sees Frank Alpine feeding some birds. Helen approaches him and discusses the presents once more. Frank apologizes for giving her something that she did not want, but requests that she keep at least one of them and he will return the other. She decides to keep the Shakespeare. Frank then asks her to a movie and she accepts. As Frank and Helen's relationship continues, Ida senses something is happening, but can discover nothing. She complains to Morris, but Morris tells her not to worry.
The next day, Morris and Frank are peeling potatoes and Frank asks Morris what a Jew is anyhow. Morris says that a Jew is someone with a good heart who believes in the Torah, the Law. Morris thinks that things like eating kosher are not important, which is why he does not do it. What is important is for Jews to do what is right, honest and good. When Frank asks Morris why Jews suffer so much, Morris says that Jews suffer just as everyone does and if one does not suffer for the law, in order to be good to others when will one suffer. After the conversation, Morris feels worried that Frank's interest might have to do with Helen.
Morris notices the next day that his hair has grown long, so he goes to the barber. As he is getting his hair cut, he sees three customers go into the store and come out with heavy looking bags. Morris feels happy thinking that he has made some good sales. When he returns, he finds that only three dollars has been rung up. Morris feels stunned and upset. With the next customer, Morris sees that the register is working and decides that Frank has been stealing from him. Although Morris feels sick about it, he says nothing to anyone. He watches Frank carefully for the next few days, but sees no sign of dishonesty. Morris feels unsure about his suspicions and then decides that if Frank has been stealing it was because they were not giving Frank enough money. He decides to start paying Frank fifteen dollars a week, without telling Ida. Frank seems surprised and argues against the raise, but Morris insists. Frank leaves the store looking down.
Frank's relationship with Helen, Morris, and himself continue in this chapter. Helen continues to remain blinded to Frank's true identity. As she starts to spend more time with him, she insists of making him into the person whom she wants him to be. She imagines that if they do ever get married, her goal would be to make him into a person who really is someone. She envisions him, with his nose straightened, his hair shorter, and being well versed in literature. Helen is structuring her love for Frank upon her own images and expectations that shall not measure up to who Frank truly is. She is falling in love with an image.
Helen tries to create this image by giving Frank several novels to read. These novels are significant because all of them involve characters, like Frank, who commit "crimes" that affect their lives. Both Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary have romantic affairs that ruin them. Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment may be the most like Frank as he commits a crime whose moral consequences he cannot outrun, a vicious murder. Raskolnikov ultimately will achieve redemption after a lengthy stay in a prison camp during which time he achieves a sense of peace. Frank is on a similar quest to find peace in himself, but even after reading the novels is not sure that redemption is possible. Ironically, Frank seems to understand the true essence of the novels better than Helen, who although book savvy, still is unlearned in the way of humanity.
The image of Frank in the park surrounded by birds again evokes Saint Francis of Assisi and his correlating goodness. In the scene that follows though, Frank's quest for goodness obviously falls short. After Helen refused his presents, Frank entertained less than charitable thoughts, wondering if Jewish girls were not just too much trouble— a thought revealing both callousness and racism. Next the exposition of his internal thoughts shows the insincere nature of his pursuit of her. While Helen longs for love, Frank longs for physical gratification, in part. After Helen keeps badgering Frank about the presents, Frank thinks that he may still "have a chance." This chance is for sex, not love, as his thoughts make clear. Thus, while Frank may be trying to change himself, his thoughts show coldness in his heart that is not characteristic of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Frank's relationship with Morris continues as well. When Frank asks Morris what a Jew is, Morris describes Judaism as a code of ethical behavior rather than a system of religious rules. Morris believes that a Jew is a Jew if he follows the true law, which requires compassion and honesty for all people. Strict dietary laws noted in the Torah as less important to him. Again, during this lecture Morris appears as an instructor of morals. Furthermore, although Morris is speaking about Judaism his philosophy also seems to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Like Christ, Morris suggests that he suffers for everyone in the world, including Frank. In Morris's world, people suffer for one another and in doing so provide the moral cushion that makes a harsh existence possible. Frank does not understand, but this lesson from Morris is one of the more valuable ones.
While Morris continues to teach Frank, his suspicions about Frank's honesty also arise in this chapter when Morris suspects that Frank might be stealing from him. Morris's reaction to the theft follows in his characteristically charitable vein—he blames himself for not paying Frank enough and he offers Frank more money. Morris's suspicions foreshadow his eventual exposure and confrontation of Frank's thievery in the chapter to come.
Chapter Six, Part One
Helen decides that she is falling in love with Frank. One night she dreams that her house has burned down and she and her parents have no place to go. This dream makes Helen doubt Frank, but she cannot help but think of him with affection.
The gift of the book has subtly changed their relationship. Whenever she reads Shakespeare, she hears Frank saying the lines. She also starts to see him everywhere. They meet in the library and they walk home together. One night, they stop and kiss in the park. The kiss gives Helen overwhelming happiness, but still a sense of doubt lingers. She worries about Frank not being Jewish and dreads her parents' reaction to the relationship. She decides that if she marries Frank she would help him become somebody and hopefully that they could leave New York and possibly even move to California. Helen also decides to be patient because she does not want to commit to someone who will not lead her to the place where she wants to be. Meanwhile, she and Frank secretly meet in the library, the movies, or a pizzeria.
Frank enjoys spending more time with Helen, but increasingly longs for significant physical contact with her. Frank hints at his physical desires in several ways, but Helen does not respond. Finally, she tells him that she is not going to make love to him until she is really sure that she loves him, possibly not even until they are married.
Several days later during a heavy rainstorm, Helen leaves a note under Frank's door saying that if Tessie and Nick go to the movies, she will come to his room. When Helen finally arrives, Frank thinks that Helen will let him make love to her tonight. They kiss for a while, but when Frank tries to move further Helen makes him stop. For a brief moment Frank pulls Helen back to the bed after she has said no, but then he releases her. Helen explains that although she is not a virgin, she only wants to make love to people that she believes she loves. Frank considers Helen's statement and his near loss of control and decides that he can wait for her.
The next day, Detective Minogue brings a suspect into the grocery. He gets Frank, who is nervous, to tie a bandana around the young man's face. He asks Morris to decide if he was one of the robbers. Morris decides that he was not, because the one who hit Morris was fat and the other had big hands. Detective Minogue then asks Morris if he has seen his son, Ward Minogue around, and asks Frank if he knows Ward. Frank says no. Detective Minogue takes the suspect away and Frank think that it could be him going to jail, even though he is now a changed man.
Later that night, Ward Minogue raps on the door, waking Frank. He asks Frank for money because he wants alcohol. Ward insists that Frank help him rob a liquor store or he will frame Frank or write a letter to Morris and Helen Bober about Frank's role in the crime. Frank gives Ward all his money, eight dollars, and threatens Ward that his father, Detective Minogue, is looking for him and will beat Ward when he finds him. Ward calls Frank a "kike" and falls down the stairs upon leaving.
Ida follows Helen one night and sees Helen and Frank kissing in the park. When Helen gets home, she finds her mother weeping and knows why instantly. Helen tries to defend Frank, but Ida keeps calling him a "goy," a slightly derisive term for a non-Jewish person. She makes her promise to call Nat Pearl. Helen agrees and does the next day. She agrees to go for a drive with him on Friday. The next day, Ida tells Morris that Helen and Frank were kissing. Morris is not happy, but tells Ida that a kiss is not so significant. She warns him that it portends bad things to come.
This chapter is the longest of the novel and is the one in which the climax of the novel occurs. This first part of the chapter sets the stage for the second portion of the chapter primarily by establishing Frank's lust for Helen's body. While Helen feels like she is falling in love with Frank, Frank primarily remains interested in touching her. When Helen comes to visit Frank in his room, Frank almost loses control and attacks her even though she has asked him not to. Frank resolves then that he will be willing to wait until Helen is ready. This scene however foreshadows the one to follow at the end of the chapter when Frank will no longer be able to control his physical urges.
Both Detective Minogue and his son Ward appear in this chapter. They both are important characters for different reasons, but perhaps most importantly they make up one of the father-son pairings in the novel. Ward is the wicked son who does wrong. Detective Minogue's employment as an enforcer of the law emphasizes Ward's deviance. Detective Minogue's struggle to raise his son the way that he wants to testifies to the difficulties of father-son relations, one of the themes in the novel. Detective Minogue is a harsh father who responds with physical violence to his son's wrongs, but his desire for justice is honorable and the reader, like Morris Bober, tends to sympathize with him.
The scene in which Detective Minogue brings a robbery suspect to the grocery heightens the narrative tension by demonstrating Frank's nervousness. When Morris describes that one of the robbers had large hands, Frank finds himself looking at his own hands. After Detective Minogue takes the youth away, Frank considers how easily it could have been him in those handcuffs. As he did after reading Helen's novels, Frank considers whether one act in his life could change it so much that he would be placed in jail. Earlier Frank articulated his belief that a life of crime could bring him the glamour and money that he desired, but now seeing this life of crime embodied in a handcuffed youth, Frank wants no part of it. Detective Minogue's visit issues a wake up call to Frank, which he needs to change his behaviors. The later visit of the nasty Ward Minogue reminds Frank again. Ward leaves calling Frank a "kike," a derisive slur for Jewish people. Ward uses this label because Frank is staying in a Jewish home, but his use of it also foreshadows Frank's conversation to Judaism.
Ida's grief at Helen's kissing of a gentile provides a keen example of discrimination against gentiles by Jews. Bernard Malamud himself married an Italian who was not a Jew and his act caused much friction between himself and his family. Ida's sorrow for her daughter's act is treated with compassion, but it is based upon prejudices. Ironically, while Ida believes that the match between Helen and Frank will bring bad things, it is Frank's presence that shall ultimately help to save them all. Initially, Frank's deeds will cause pain and hardships for the Bober family, particularly Morris and Ida, but as his character changes, he will be their savior. It is only through Frank's true love for Helen that his character will completely evolve. Therefore, although Ida views their relationship as bad, the combination of their personalities will allow both of their characters to transform and will ultimately bring life and love to the grocery.
Chapter Six, Part two
Julius Karp and Morris Bober have spoken infrequently since the robbery, because Morris decided, in his recovery, that he liked Karp less than he thought. As Morris ignores Karp, Karp decides to approach him. Karp likes Morris to like him, but he finds that Morris is unfortunate and inept. Karp sees the robbery as Morris's own fault, especially as Karp had warned him. Furthermore, Morris is just unlucky. Hiring Frank Alpine was a bad idea, for example, since Karp knows that Frank is a thief from the money Frank spends in the neighborhood. While all clerks steal slightly, Karp did once and knows his son does from him, Karp condemns Frank for doing so from Morris. Furthermore, he has seen Frank hanging around Helen and thinks that having a "goy" around a Jewish girl is a bad idea. Karp decides that it is his duty to warn Morris.
Karp also has his own motivations for speaking to Morris. He wants his son, Louis, to marry Helen. This would help Helen, because she is poor, and after the marriage, Karp and his son could help fix up Morris's store. Once it was improved and Karp stopped the lease of the other grocer, Karp could effectively be a silent partner in Morris's business. Karp only worries that Helen will not agree to the marriage. He knows that she was interested in Nat Pearl but that Nat pushed her away because she was too poor and although he will be a lawyer, he needs to find a girl with more money.
When Karp knows that Frank has left the store, he drops in on Morris. Karp is surprised to find that Morris's business is going pretty well. Morris tells Karp that Frank has brought customers to him, probably because he is a gentile. Karp feels distressed at Morris's affection for Frank and wants to set the record right. He explains quickly that Morris's success is not due to Frank, but to the fact that the other grocer, Schmitz, has been sick and keeping his store shut for part of the day. In fact, Schmitz just sold his business to two Norwegians, who were going to reopen it as a gourmet deli. Morris seems devastated at this news. When Karp tries to mention Louis and Helen and Frank, Morris roars and Karp runs from the store.
After a painfully contemplative night, Morris decides that he must try and sell the store, but until he does Frank needs to stay with him to help him fight the Norwegians. Frank himself had a guilty night considering all the money that he has stolen from Morris. He has kept careful track of it, one hundred and forty dollars, and decides to pay it all back. The next day, Frank slips six dollars back into the register. Soon after, Helen telephones and tells Frank that although she is going to see Nat tonight, she wants to meet him later in the park. Frank agrees, but realizes that he has no money to take Helen out. When a customer comes in, Morris steals a dollar from the sale and Morris catches him. Frank confesses and tries to explain, but Morris, brokenhearted, says that Frank has to go. Morris hands him fifteen dollars for the week and orders him to leave his building.
Helen feels happy and excited that night fully aware of being in love with Frank. As she rides with Nat, she is distracted thinking about Frank and talks coolly to Nat. When Nat asks her if it is because of the "dago" that she is seeing, she becomes icy and unsociable.
When Helen gets to the park, she cannot find Frank. As she waits, a drunk man approaches her and introduces himself as Ward Minogue. Helen feels afraid of Ward, due to his old reputation, but lingers for a moment. He tells her that he knows Frank. As she tries to step away, he grabs her, muffles her scream, and tries to push her down. Helen kicks him in the groin and gets away, even though her dress is ripped and her face has been struck. She then hears a groan from Ward and sees Frank hitting him. Frank picks her up and she feels overjoyed to be saved, but then Frank proceeds to feverishly kiss her despite her insistence that they wait. After he has sexual intercourse with her, she curses him as an uncircumcised dog.
The final section of this chapter brings up the major climax of the book because it demonstrates Frank Alpine's failure to control his actions both professionally and sexually. Frank has struggled, but to no avail. His struggle ends in failure. Frank, the ever-conscientious thief, has kept careful track of the amount that he has stolen and wants to repay it. No sooner does he add money to the register though, than his actions once again defy his desires and he steals it back. Morris catches him. Frank's failure to control himself seems sad, especially after he just made a new commitment to be honest. But his behavior is not surprising. He has made multiple commitments to fix himself, but to no avail. Even as he is putting the money back into the register, his failure to truly understand the nature of his self and what he needs do to reform is obvious. When he considers the theft with Ward, for example, Frank portrays himself as almost as much as a victim as Morris. Frank reasons that he only was present because of Ward's lead, therefore it basically was not his fault. This reasoning shows how far Frank is from his desire of being truly good. The fact that Frank is caught is unfortunate and because Malamud has showed us the contrasting dynamics of his mind, we sympathize with him, but it only through falling down and being tossed out by his mentor that Frank will be able to reform.
Morris's character receives a full analysis in this chapter as well, this time from Julius Karp. In Karp's mind, Morris is a character who is always unlucky. Karp knows that Morris is a good man and wants to have Morris like him for that reason, but still Morris constantly is making bad decisions that bring on bad luck. The coldness of Karp's character is revealed as Karp explains that he has his own plan for Morris, Morris's daughter, and Morris's shop. Not surprisingly, these plans will allow for the expansion of Karp's business into Morris's, without Karp actually having to purchase the property. Just as Morris is generous and good, so is Karp self-serving. Karp's discussion of his son brings another father-son relationship into light. Karp's son is a foolish son who is lazy and cares nothing for the business. Karp, for example, knows that his son steals from him, but he does not think the thievery to be so serious. Karp himself admits that he stole as a clerk when he was young. While Karp might find his own and his son's thievery acceptable, Morris Bober never would, again suggesting the strong difference in his ethics from those of Morris Bober.
Karp's discussion of Morris as an unlucky character brings up Morris's possible designation as a schemiel which is an archetype common to Yiddish folklore. Ruth Wisse has traced the schemiel character back to its East European origins and characterizes the schemiel as a folkloristic, anti-intellectual figure who uses ironic humor in order the soften the brutality of a harsh world. The schemiel uses faith instead of reason in order to survive. With his unique perspective, the schemiel evades the harsh real world, while emerging as an ironic figure characterized by tragedy and comedy. Morris Bober appears to be a schemiel because he does exist in his own moral world and refuses to believe in blind reason. Even when Karp logically explains the reason for Morris's recent success, for example, Morris prefers to still locate Frank Alpine as a good luck charm delivered to him from the universe to reverse his woes. In part, it is Morris's allegiance to a mystical vision that makes Frank's betrayal so painful. Not only is Morris's opinion of Frank wrong, but it challenges Morris's moral vision. Morris's blend of ironic humor in a bleak world make him a schemiel character in the tradition of Yiddish folklore.
The final rape of Helen by Frank is vicious and a symbol of his complete lack of control. Helen has finally come to the determination that she can love Frank and make love to him, but Frank's lack of control leads to his physical molestation of her body. With Frank's action, Helen's disillusionment as to his character is blown apart. At the same time, Frank's disillusionment about the success of his personal transformation is shattered. Frank has reached the low point in this chapter having amply demonstrated to himself and Helen and Morris that he is not the person he pretended to be. This expose is harsh, but necessary. It is only from arriving at this low point in the novel, that Frank will truly be able to transform.
Morris feels unhappy the morning after the incident with Frank. Frank left his fifteen dollars pay in the grocery. When Ida comes to relieve Morris at midday, he tells her that their good business was due to Schmitz's illness. He also explains that the Norwegians will be coming and that he asked Frank to leave. Ida feels elated that Frank is going. She sends Morris upstairs to nap. When he gets upstairs, Morris turns on the radiator, but cannot find a match to light it. He naps and dreams that the Norwegians, speaking German, take over his store and then he and Frank start wrestling with each other on the floor while Helen screams.
Frank Alpine wakes feeling pained about what he did the night before. He remembers that he had left the park briefly before Helen came in order to grab some pizza. When he returned, he saw Ward attacking her. Frank saved Helen, but then felt overcome by his love for her and his fear that he would not see her again given his recent fight with her father. He felt that he needed to make love to her so he had.
Helen wakes traumatized and takes her third shower since the night before. Her dress and coat are ripped and she decides to get the latter sewn while she is at work. She feels dirty and disgusting and leaves early for work.
When Nick Fuso gets home from work, he smells gas in the hallway. Nick gets Frank, and the two rush into Morris's apartment. The gas from the unlit radiator has flooded the apartment. Frank pulls Morris out of bed, while Nick opens all the windows. Helen and Ida appear and start screaming, Helen screaming partially because Frank is there. After the situation calms, everyone leaves the Bobers. Frank runs the store for the rest of the day until Ida makes him stop. That night an ambulance brings Morris to the hospital because of a high fever.
The next morning, Frank runs the store all day even though Helen and Ida do not know since they are at the hospital. The day after, the Norwegians open their market and Frank works at the store. Ida comes downstairs and is surprised, and slightly angry, to find Frank there. After Frank shows her forty-one dollars that he earned the day before, she feels less resentful. Ida does not know why Morris had asked Frank to leave, believing that it was about Helen as Frank suggests. Ida lets Frank stay, although tells him directly that Helen is not for him.
The store is slow all week after the Norwegians open their grocery. By Saturday, the store has earned roughly one hundred dollars less than usual. Frank takes twenty-five dollars out of his personal savings account and adds it to the store total so that the losses do not seem so poor.
Morris comes home ten days after being in the hospital. Frank thinks of visiting him upstairs to talk, but does not. Frank rarely sees Helen, but they pass one day in the hall and she yells at him. He dreams that she tosses a white flower out of her icy window and he catches it, but as soon as he does he sees that the flower was never there and the window never actually opened.
Business in the store is getting much worse. The Norwegians keep having specials and Frank cannot match their prices. He gives all his savings to the store, keeps it open all night, and repaints the whole place, but still it makes no money. Helen still feels terrible about everything and decides to skip Betty Pearl's wedding as a result, claiming grief over her father's illness. Ida weeps daily in the kitchen over Morris's illness and their poverty.
One day, Frank decides that he could get money by collecting an old debt from Carl, the Swedish painter. Upon reaching Carl's house however, he finds the painter asleep. Carl's wife is dishing out a small quantity of food to very hungry children. Frank says nothing about the debt, but instead goes home, collects his last three dollars, and prepares to give it to Carl's wife. On his walk to Carl's however, he runs into Ward Minogue who says that he is sick. Frank gives Ward the three bucks for Frank's old gun, which Frank then promptly drops into the gutter.
Frank takes a book out about Judaism and reads all about the long struggle of the Jewish people. One night he stops in a restaurant and asks for a night job. He gets a job as a counterman working from ten pm to six am. He starts working all day and all night with small naps in between. At the end of each week, he adds his thirty-five dollars from the counterman job to the cash register. This money along with Helen's paycheck keeps the Bobers from going under.
One day, Frank decides to reach out to Helen. He carves a wooden flower and leaves it at Helen's door. She takes it to her room, but the next day he sees it in the garbage can on the street.
In this chapter, which follows the storm that exploded in the last, all of the characters recover. Morris feels overcome by sadness. Helen understands her previous affection for Frank as disillusionment and feels disgusted at his treatment of her body. Frank cannot leave his room because of his despair in having his evil tendencies so overcome his burning desire to be good. It is in the pit of their despair, however, that the characters begin to change.
Both Frank and Morris show signs of changed characters in this chapter. Frank's changes are for the better. Morris's changes are slightly for the worse. Up until this point, Morris has been the brave character who has always been willing to persist in the face of poverty. After his debacle with Frank, however, and with his failing business, Morris contemplates yielding to the pressures in the world by dying. With this possibility of death, Morris suggests that he is giving up the fight to live in the face of so much hardship. This giving up under tough circumstances is not consistent with the character he previously voiced.
It is impossible to know if Morris's near death due to the exposure to gas was a suicide attempt or an accident. He knows when he went to bed that he did not light the radiator, but no thoughts in his mind, that are shown to the reader, demonstrate his suicidal intentions. The dream that Morris has, however, suggests that Morris harbors a subconscious desire to give in to those trying to conquer him. The Norwegians that compete with his store have taken it over completely, clearly showing how threatening Morris finds their competition to be. Furthermore, these two Norwegians are speaking German. For a Jewish person in the post-Holocaust world, German is a threatening language that represents the past persecutions by the Germans against the Jews. The presence of German in the dream suggests the extent to which Morris sees the world conspiring against him. The Norwegians and Frank act against him, just as the Germans acted against his people. The use of gas in this scene again is symbolic because Morris has created his own gas chamber, which was the primary way that Germans killed the Jews in the Holocaust. Morris's creation of his own gas chamber coupled with his symbolic dream indicate that he has decided to give up fighting for life. Morris's willingness to yield is uncharacteristic of him and follows in his extreme dismay in find Frank was not the good luck charm that Morris believed him to be.
While Morris's personality may be cracking under the strain, Frank's is beginning to change for the better. In this chapter, Frank becomes able to give with a sense of goodness. Frank's first gift comes when he rushes into Morris's apartment and saves Morris's life. This act is notable because it is the first good act that Frank conducts with no consideration of its consequences. Previously Frank had done good deeds but always for some reward. He came to help at the grocery to relieve his guilt about the robbery; he helped Helen because he wanted sex. By saving Morris, Frank does something good on instinct. After saving Morris's life, Frank continues a trend of goodness by keeping the store open, putting his own money in the store, and even getting another job so that store will not fail. With these deeds, Frank is beginning to live up to what he has long wanted: to be good and giving like Saint Francis. Frank's new charity can most clearly be seen when he instinctively decides to give all of his money to Carl's impoverished family. Frank's action stems from his compassion for Carl's hungry children. It is an act worthy and characteristic of Morris Bober, who was a poor man always giving to those poorer than himself. With it, Frank shows the way in which he sincerely has started to change. He is becoming like his mentor, while his mentor, regrettably, is coming something like him.
Frank's relationship with Helen is in tatters primarily due to Frank's mistreatment of Helen's body. Now that Frank has committed a crime against her, however, he is able to start loving her afresh. The dream that Frank has about Helen throwing a flower to him demonstrates his realization that what existed between them before was not true love. Although Frank thinks that Helen has thrown him a flower, symbolizing her love, when he looks down he realizes that
she never did. Sincere love never existed between them. The flower motif continues when Frank carves a wooden flower for Helen. The wood that this flower is made of suggests that despite Frank's desire, his love for Helen still is not pure and real. He still is learning how to love, but until he can reach that pure emotion, the wooden flower belongs where Helen placed it—in the garbage. She will wait to receive a real flower of love when Frank finally is able to produce it.he never did. Sincere love never existed between them. The flower motif continues when Frank carves a wooden flow
After returning from the hospital, Morris wants to get up right away, but he fights the urge and remains in bed dreaming of his parents in Russia and his childhood. He listens to the quiet downstairs and knows that his store is like a graveyard. One day, Morris gets up quickly and decides to go down. Ida urges him to stay in bed, but Morris refuses. Ida tells Morris that Frank has been taking in seventy-five per week without pay, but Morris insists that Frank has to leave.
Frank hears Morris coming downstairs and feels worried. Frank greets Morris and offers to light the radiator, which he has been keeping off to save money. Morris tells Frank that Frank must leave. Frank explains that he has not stolen anything, but Morris says that is not the reason that Frank needs to go. Frank confesses his role in the robbery, but Morris says that he already figured it out. Despite Frank's arguments, Morris makes him leave. Frank packs his belongings and says good-bye to Tessie Fuso. He writes Helen a note describing his love and how great she is, which she weeps over but has no thought of replying to.
Morris likes the changes that Frank made to the store, but sees immediately that business is awful. Without Frank's extra money, it is worse than before. Ida, Helen and he discuss the situation as they crowd around the store's back radiator one night. Helen suggests that Morris find another job. Ida suggests that Helen marry Louis Karp. Ida visits Julius Karp in the liquor store and asks him if he can still find them a buyer. She also suggests that Helen is lonely and that Louis should not be bashful, Frank Alpine has gone away. Julius Karp becomes more interested and tells Louis later than night, although Louis greets the news coolly.
The next afternoon, Karp brings over Podolsky, the possible buyer. Podolsky eyes the store for most of the afternoon, even though business is slow. Morris basically tells Podolsky the truth about the store and Podolsky later slips out unnoticed.
Morris wakes up the next morning and puts on his suit. He decides to go get a job. He goes first to a supermarket run by his old business partner, Charlie. Charlie and Morris once bought a grocery together, but Charlie swindled Morris's four thousand dollars from the business and later used the money to open his own supermarket. Now he is very successful with a house in Florida. Morris still asks for a job and works at the supermarket as a cashier for a day, but comes up a dollar short in his till. When he leaves that afternoon, he leaves for good. The following day Morris looks all over Manhatttan for a job, but finds that he is old and too tired for the new places. On his way home, he stops to see Breitbart. Breitbart is not there, but Morris sits with Breitbart's slowwitted son, Hymie, and gives Hymie two quarters when he leaves. Next Morris goes to Al Marcus's house, but finds that Marcus has been taken to the hospital.
Later that night, Morris gets an urge for sweet hot cream and heats some up in the store. A bizarre skinny old man appears and offers to burn down Morris's building so that Morris can collect the insurance money. The man uses celluloid to start fires, which leaves no traces. Morris turns down the man, saying that he does not like to cheat people.
The next night, Ida and Helen go to a movie and Tessie and Nick Fuso go out. Morris finds an old celluloid collar and goes into the basement to light it on fire. The celluloid lights quickly and as it spreads, Morris tries to knock it out. Morris's sweater then catches on fire. Morris screams and begs for mercy and a large person—Frank Alpine—grabs him and throws him to the ground. After he is saved, Morris orders Frank out of the house.
This chapter primarily concerns Morris Bober's character and his ambiguous struggle between life and death, feistiness, and surrender. His ambiguous feelings toward either living or dying can be seen right at the start of the chapter, in response to his illness. At the beginning of the novel, Morris felt unable to sit idly by in bed when he was supposed to recover from being struck in the head. Morris got up long before he was supposed to, to run the store. Times have changed and now Morris lies depressed in bed, dreaming of his childhood and his parents. He has little desire to get up and face the world. Morris even compares the quietness of his grocery downstairs to that of a cemetery, highlighting again his preoccupation with the possibility of death. Morris has survived the ordeal with gas and pneumonia, but he psychologically still seems unprepared to once again embrace the possibilities of life.
Finally though Morris does rise with persistence. He heads to the store and he orders Frank out. This effort shows Morris acting like himself once again. By asking Frank to leave, he is demonstrating his true character. Morris cannot allow Frank, who violated the sacred trust of their relationship, to stay and work in his store. Morris tells Frank to leave and in doing so indicates his own willingness to live.
Evidence of Morris's returned zest for life continues when he decides to go out to get a new job. Unfortunately, this quest is not a success, and Morris returns home cowed by the toughness of the world once again. When looking for a job, Morris finds himself outdated and too slow. First, he works at the supermarket of a business partner who once cheated him. At the end of the day, Morris's register is a dollar short from what it should be, suggesting Morris's inability to keep up with larger store's pace. The newer stores that Morris visits in Manhattan also rely on a speed and formality that Morris cannot master at his age. His return home is melancholy. He stops to see two of his oldest friends, Breitbart, and Al Marcus. His procession to these houses seems almost funereal, as if Morris is paying homage to other old men who have failed and will soon die, or as if Morris is saying good-bye to his friends before going home and dying himself. Al Marcus already is on his way to death, Morris finds, having been taken to the hospital after a long struggle with terminal cancer. Breitbart is not home. Morris, with characteristic goodness, leaves Breitbart's son two quarters. But still the melancholy tone of Morris's return home suggests his death to come.
The sequence of the old man who wants to burn Morris's house down is one of the more surprising sections of the novel and one that evokes the tradition of Yiddish folklore rather than realistic American fiction. This arsonist fits in the realm of Yiddish folklore because it does not seem possible that he is real. He appears out of nowhere in Morris's grocery in the middle of the night when the store is shut. He has red hands and hair and a long dark coat, with black hat. His clothes and his means of arrival suggest that he arrived like an evil demon from a folkloric hell, rather than from the streets of Brooklyn. His presence evokes the tradition of Yiddish folklore that underscores Morris and Ida Bober's ethnic background. At the same time, the character is a humorous one. He speaks in a ridiculous accent that provides a comic effect. The entire episode evokes a fantastic element that lightens the otherwise serious mood that exists as Morris and his grocery fail. Malamud's tendency to place a comic figure in one of the bleakest scenes again highlights his reliance upon the Yiddish style of irony that places both comedy and tragedy side by side.
Morris's attempt to actually burn down his house seems inconsistent with his previous morality. Still, while Morris may want to burn his house down, his good conscience with not let him. As soon as the fire starts, he tries to put it out. Morris's inability to follow through with an evil act demonstrates the way the goodness has permeated throughout his soul. Ironically, while Morris may be trying to do evil, Frank Alpine is increasingly successful in doing good. To some extent, Frank and Morris seem to have changed places. The strong, good Morris longs for deceitful action, but the deceitful Frank does moral deeds. Frank's willingness to finally confess his role in the robbery is a good deed, rewarded by Frank's hearing the singing of birds, a clear sign of Saint Francis of Assisi. Frank's character is becoming more like Morris as he embraces the grocer's teachings. Morris, unfortunately, seems to be resigning his firm grip on life.
Late on Saturday afternoon, Ward Minogue steals a bottle of liquor from Karp's liquor store after getting in a fight with Louis Karp. Ward's father, Detective Minogue, searches for him and finds him later in a local bar. Detective Minogue severely beats his son and tells him to get out of town. Ward tells his father to have pity on him because he is sick with diabetes.
After waking from the beating, Ward observes that he is lying behind Karp's liquor store. When he sees a broken window in the back of the store, he decides to sneak inside the closed market. Once inside, Ward starts drinking copious portions of whisky. Then, out of malice, he starts breaking bottles of it on the floor. Ward next tries to smoke a cigarette, but accidentally drops his matches on the floor, which sends the spilt liquor up in flames. Since Ward cannot escape the store, he burns to death. The tenants that live above the store all flee and gather along the street along with the Bobers and the Pearls. The flames destroy the Karp store and building. When Julius Karp arrives to look at what is happening, he collapses. Later that night in bed, Morris feels a wave of anguish since he had wished such ruin on Karp and now it had happened.
The next morning Morris realizes that although Karp's building is destroyed, Karp will get the insurance money for it. Morris decides that the fire again proves Morris's own bad luck, since Morris himself longed for a fire for insurance purposes but Karp got it. As Morris considers the irony, Karp himself enters the grocery and asks to buy Morris's building and store. Karp wants to use Morris's store to re-open his liquor store until he can rebuild his old one. Morris asks for twenty-five hundred dollars for the store and nine thousand for the house. Karp agrees. Morris and Ida cannot believe their good fortune.
Although it is almost April, it has been snowing and Morris decides to shovel the snow so that people can use the sidewalk. Because he thinks that it is warm and spring-like out, he shovels without wearing his coat. It is not as warm as he thinks, but he continues shoveling with out his coat, despite Ida yelling at him. His exercise and the good news make him feel happy. When Helen gets home, they all happily discuss their future move. Later that night, Morris starts to worry about the future as he lies in bed, however. After sleeping for a while, he awakes drenched in sweat and worries that he may have caught a cold from shoveling. He falls back asleep and dreams of his dead son, Ephraim. Ephraim looks hungry and poor in the dreams and Morris cannot understand why since he always fed his son. When Morris asks Ephraim, Ephraim laughs at him. When Morris wakes up, he feels that he has failed and fatherhood and that he has given his life away for nothing. He wants to wake his wife and apologize to her. He feels increasingly sick.
Morris has contracted pneumonia and dies three days later in the hospital. He is buried the day after in Queens. At the funeral service, which everyone from the block and Frank attends, a rabbi who did not know Morris eulogizes him. The rabbi says that Morris was a hard working honest man who was a Jew not because he ate kosher and followed such rules, but because he lived with a full Jewish heart. For example, he shoveled snow to help other people, and he ran after customers who left change in his store. After the rabbi stops, Helen thinks to herself that the rabbi overstated it, because although her father was honest he also let himself be trapped in a prison of the grocery. Ida prays, but also thinks to herself that Morris never managed to make much money, so Helen should try to marry a professional. After the prayers are done, Frank Alpine thinks that suffering is like a piece of goods that the Jews could make clothing out of.
At the cemetery, it is springtime. As they lower Morris into the ground, Helen tosses in a rose with it and as Frank looks at the flower, he accidentally falls into the grave. Ida and Helen start to cry as Frank climbs out. Frank grimly thinks that he ruined the funeral. Helen leaves with Nat Pearl.
Back at the Bober's house, Louis Karp greets them. He tells them that his father did not come to the funeral because he had a heart attack on the night of the fire, although they did not realize it at first. Because the doctor wants his father to retire, they no longer want to buy the Bober's store and house. As Ida and Helen head upstairs, they hear the cling of the register in the store.
Morris Bober dies in this chapter bringing on the end to the majority of plot events in the store. His ending is both sad and happy. Initially Morris sees that destruction of the Karp business as another sign of Morris's own bad luck, since Morris really needs the insurance money not Karp. When Karp decides to buy the Bober's building, however, Morris is overjoyed. With the purchase of his business on fair financial terms, life seems to be looking up. He reclaims his happiness and desire to pursue life that characterized him in the beginning of the novel. His zest for life leads him to shovel the sidewalk. Ida protests, arguing that the snow will be gone by tomorrow when the store will open again, so it will not matter. Morris does not care. He wants to shovel the snow for the Christians going to church. His efforts are consistent with his usual charity. Morris's happiness leads him to shovel without wearing a winter coat, the act that will lead to his death. But in many ways, Morris is as happy as he could be during this fatal act. His business will not be a failure, his family will not starve, and he is doing good deeds for others as he is naturally inclined to do. To some extent, it appears that Morris dies happy because he will not live to find out that the Karps never will buy his business and that times will go on equally as tough as they have always been.
Still while Morris may die believing his store is being sold, he does not slip into his illness in a peaceful, blissful state. Morris feels overcome with anxiety and panic as he drifts into sleep the night before his illness. His dream about Ephraim suggests to him that he has failed his entire life, not even being able to give his children even food and clothing. Morris feels so bad about his failure that he wants to wake his wife and Helen to apologize to them. Given Morris's return to a sense of failure, it is not entirely surprising that he dies several days later. Still while Morris dies thinking that he gave his life away for nothing, the novel will show his belief to be wrong. Frank Alpine has absorbed Morris's devotion to an ethic of honesty, compassion, and responsibility that struggles precariously to survive in a modern competitive society. By passing down his ethics to Frank, his foster son, Morris's legacy has survived and his life has had an effect.
The rabbi's funeral service fairly eulogizes Morris and serves as a testimony to his humanity and person. Again it reinforces Malamud's broad view of Judaism that suggests that a person's behavior can make him be Jewish, even if he was not born into the faith. Malamud once said, "all men are Jews," a controversial statement, and his treatment of Morris Bober reinforces that idea. The thoughts of Helen, Ida, and Frank after the eulogy show own doubts with the quality of Morris's existence. Helen appears shallow and not understanding when she thinks that the rabbi overstated her father's goodness, because what he had really done is just trapped himself in a prison for his life. Ida thinks of her love for Morris but regrets his constant impoverishment. Frank just thinks that Jews love to suffer and that they could wear suffering like a piece of clothing. Each of these thoughts show the way that the Helen, Ida, and Frank do not entirely understand and achieve Morris's gentle living. Yes, the grocery was a prison, even in this prison like environment Morris Bober managed to live and maintain a certain spiritual grace. Likewise, Ida is right that Morris was poor, but she does not see that poverty can have its own blessings. Finally, Jews do suffer but so does everyone and in suffering there can be spiritual growth. Frank has not yet learned this truth, but he shall in the chapter to come.
The scene at the funeral brings back the flower motif. Helen holds a live flower in her hand, a symbol of true and fresh love that she has never given to Frank. When she throws it into the grave, Frank therefore wants to look at it. It is due to his effort to look at this rose, this symbol of love, that Frank falls into Morris's grave. The fall is both comic and tragic. Everyone wails and angrily order Frank out of the grave. Still, the image of Frank tumbling beside Morris's coffin is funny. Most importantly, the act is highly symbolic, signifying Frank's rebirth. When he crawls out of Morris's grave, Frank has been reborn and as the novel continues he will show the way he has changed and fully come to embrace Morris Bober's philosophy.
During the week of mourning following the funeral, Ida and Helen stay upstairs, while Frank keeps the business running. Business is bad and Frank uses his other salary to keep the store afloat.
After a week, Frank gives Ida twelve dollars of rent although she has not asked for it. Ida has gotten a job sewing military epaulettes from her house, which brings in some extra money. Frank sees Helen in the hallway and tries to talk to her, but she shuns him. He asks her if she understood the novels she lent him.
Helen dreams that she cannot leave her house because it has become like a prison. Outside under the front streetlight stands Frank, who says, "I love you." Helen promises to scream if he says those words. Upon waking, Helen remembers her father and decides that she must earn her college degree to be worthy of him. Frank leaves Helen alone but observes that she looks lonely when he sees her. One day, he decides that he will somehow manage to get the money to send her to college, although he is not sure how.
To make more money, Frank starts selling hot food at lunchtime. He then learns to make pizza and lasagna, which customers like. Fighting between the Norwegians also helps bring some old customers back. Frank stays open almost all hours to bring in business.
In July, Frank does well. Even the Norwegians start to copy him by making pizza, but their pizza is not so good. Frank starts paying Ida ninety-nine dollars for rent. One night, Frank sits down and tries to figure out how he can pay for Helen to go to college, although given the costs he knows that it is virtually impossible.
One August night, Frank tries to find Helen on one of her evening walks. When he goes outside of the library, she appears. When she sees him, she tries to turn away but he pursues her. He tells her that he wants to pay for her college. She refuses, but he insists that he owes it to her father. When she asks him why she owes her father anything, he explains that he helped Ward rob the store. Her face contorts angrily and she storms away.
The store does well until after Christmas when times get tough. Frank still gives Ida ninety bucks per month, because he knows Helen has started night school and needs the money. Frank is so poor his clothes have holes in them. Working all night and all day wearies him, as does his concerns about Nat Pearl and Helen. Sometimes when they get home from a date, he listens to them kissing in the hallway. Since he feels miserable, he starts cheating some customers and climbs up the dumbwaiter to spy on Helen. After an unknown amount of time, he stops his dishonest behavior completely and becomes totally honest again.
Coming home late one night, Helen passes by the restaurant where Frank works nights and sees him asleep on the counter. She suddenly realizes what he has been doing to support her mother and her, and that he has changed. Helen decides that since Frank's heart has changed, he owes her nothing even though he once did her wrong. Helen stops in the store the next day to thank him. He proposes that she attend day college next semester and that he pay for it. She agrees to think about it. That night when she comes in with Nat, he hears them scuffle slightly and then hears Helen slap Nat. Nat calls her a bitch and leaves.
One morning after hearing the Polish woman rap on the door, Frank wakes to sell her a roll. He sees Nick Fuso, a new father, coming back to the building with a shopping bag from a different grocery. Breitbart soon appears carrying his light bulb boxes and Frank makes him some tea. Frank only has six customers all morning. He takes out the Bible, which he has been reading, and starts thinking about Saint Francis. He pictures Saint Francis take the wooden rose he once had carved for Helen and turn it into a real rose before giving it back to her.
One day in the following April, Frank goes to the hospital and has himself circumcised. The pain enrages and inspires him. After Passover, he becomes a Jew.
This chapter brings the conclusion of the plot and in doing so brings about Frank Alpine's final evolution of character. Frank's final realization of character evokes his two mentors: Saint Francis of Assisi and Morris Bober. Like both of them, Frank has become truly poor and honest. Frank works his fingers to the bone trying to innovate new ways to make the grocery profitable. Frank stops spending money on himself and his clothes become threadbare. At one point in this chapter, Frank grows distressed and falls back into a pattern of spying on Helen and cheating people. But just as this wave of dishonesty came, so too does it stop. Frank suddenly is honest again, with little or no effort. The innate goodness that he has managed to draw up in his soul has overcome his darkness. He no longer cheats or spies. He is honest and poor, but good and spiritually satisfied.
In addition to becoming honest, Frank's character blossoms because he finally learns how to truly love. Frank's labor at the grocery is all undertaken because of his love for Helen. While only his physical desire for her flesh drove his loving activities in the beginning of the novel, only his pure desire for her soul drives his activities in the end. His momentary lapse into lust, as seen by his spying on her, disappears like his dishonesty because his sense of true love now thrives and overpowers the less noble physical needs. Frank now can control his amorous emotions. In his final vision of the novel, his previously unrealized fake love, as represented in his wooden flower, becomes true love as Saint Francis himself transforms the wood into a living rose. Frank's love has grown fresh and pure and he is now ready to have a sincere relationship with Helen.
Helen changes in this chapter as well, also growing in her ability to accurately perceive and to love another. In the beginning of the chapter, her opinion of her father starts to change when she awakes from a dream and decides that she must finish college for him. But it is not until the end of the chapter, when she sees Frank Alpine sleep at his night job, that Helen finally understands. When she sees Frank, she understands the extent of his efforts to sustain them. By truly by seeing Frank's dedication, what she is finally able to understand is her father and his related morality. Morris's goodness has touched Helen through Frank's expression of it and it transforms her. Helen's awakening can be seen in her almost immediate shift of behavior. While she had shunned Frank, she now thanks him for his efforts. While she had entertained Nat Pearl despite his dishonorable intentions, she suddenly turns against his advances resulting in him calling her a "bitch." While there is not a strict indication that she and Frank will get back together when the novel closes, the text leaves a strong suggestion of the possibility.
Finally, it should be noted that Malamud indicates Frank's transformation on the level of text as well as on the level of plot. The final section of the novel is almost a mirror image of the novel's opening. The identity of the grocer has changed from Morris Bober to Frank Alpine but the events are the same: the Polish woman buys a roll; Nick Fuso shops at the other store and the grocer feels bad; Breitbart drinks a cup of tea. Frank now reacts to all of these circumstances just as Morris once did. He has become Morris almost completely. To further indicate Frank's transformation, Malamud makes it so that Frank even occasionally thinks with the Yiddish phrasing that characterized Morris's speech. Frank also is now adept at using Yiddishisms with the visiting merchants. Frank now lives in the prison of the grocery, but he has grown spiritually. Frank, like Morris, now can live and suffer in life with both pain and pleasure. To complete his transformation, he converts to Judaism just after Passover, the Jewish New Year, and he begins again. His conversion opens the door for his future unification with Helen Bober, while fully conferring on him the status of Morris Bober's student and foster son.