Bernard Malamud is an American writer whose father was a Russian Jew. Malamud achieved literary fame in America. His novel ‘The Assistant’ is a book that addresses the problems of America as seen through the eyes of Malamud. The writer in this book examines the American dream, as it appears to an outsider. The American dream of prosperity and what it holds for an emigrant is addressed by Malamud. The mountain looks blue from far and as one goes nearer the rocks and shrubs come into view. This is the theme of Malamud’s novel where he examines this dream and whether it can be achieved.
Malamud creates a Jewish community in America. Some from this community succeed, but the central character Morris Bober does not succeed. Morris is a man who has escaped from Tsarist Russia. In escaping he has risked his life. He is convinced that America is the El Dorado and he will earn money and live a comfortable life. But the reality is different as Malamud realises. The character Bober works hard, but the rewards are not commiserate with the hard work put in by him. He owns a store, which over a period of time makes losses and finally Bober ends up by having to sell the store. This is the time when Bober realizes that all that glitters is not gold. He never got what he had hoped for in America.
As Bober sells the store, he has to search for another job. But Bober finds that jobs are hard to come by and more important he has grown old. He feels all his years are wasted. But there is a silver lining to the dark cloud as his daughter Helen will go to the university and reach a position which her father never did. Malamud also creates a character Frank, who is not a Jew. He is helped by Bober with whom he has a father son relationship.
Malamud also addresses the issue of anti-Semitism in his novel. For him a Jew is one who must suffer. He is also the one who has compassion for others. He creates a Jew as the epitome of goodness and towards the end of the novel Frank converts to Judaism.
Malamud touches on the bases of human emotions. He brings out the lust of Frank for Helen. First he spies on her and then unable to control, he pressurise her for sex. He ends up by raping Helen and satisfying his carnal primordial urge.
Barnard Malamud now brings in redemption. At a time when the reader feels that Frank has reached the depth of despair, he rises like the proverbial phoenix. Helen also understands and finally when Frank converts to Judaism it is his final step to transformation to a compassionate human being.
Malamud in his book touches on a variety of themes and one can conclude that the twin driving forces in his book are the essence of goodness in Judaism and the American dream that has to be understood.