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Frank Alpine is "The Assistant." The story is about how Frank changes from a wannabe gangster to a good human being. The change takes time and is not smooth. Frank takes "two steps forward and one step back," but he finally reaches a worthy goal.
Frank does not achieve his goal by himself. He has help from Morris Bober, who is like a father to him. He also is guided by stories that he heard as a child, an orphan, about the life of Saint Francis.
Frank is not Jewish, a fact that causes Ida Bober to worry about the possibility that he might develop a relationship with her daughter, Helen.
Morris Bober is the proprietor of a small grocery store in Brooklyn. He was born in Russia and immigrated to America. He is a Jew. Although he does not follow all the rules, he does follow the most important part. He follows the Law.
Morris is a good, honest man who has difficulty understanding that everyone is not as honest as he is.
Morris lost his son years ago. He now develops a father-son relationship with Frank Alpine. It is through his talks with Frank that Frank changes.
Helen Bober is the twenty-three year old daughter of Morris and Ida Bober. She lives with them. She is not married. She works at Levenspiel's Louisville Panties & Bras. She gives her pay to her father, who gives a little of it back to her. She reads books, but yearns for a "real" education. Slowly, she becomes interested in Frank. At first, she likes the Frank that she imagines him becoming, not the person that he actually is at that time.