AssistantFrank wants to be good. But he keeps doing bad things - really bad things, like armed robbery and rape. Still, he tries to make up for it. Most of the harm he causes is to the Bober family, an immigrant family struggling to keep their Brooklyn grocery store going.

So, Frank volunteers to work in the store at slave wages to make up for his sins. Customers like him and business increases. The family is kept from destitution by Frank's hard work and the fact that he sneaks some of the money he stole back into the cash register.

But soon, he is stealing again from the cash register. And trying to redeem himself again.

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud focuses on 3 characters:

Morris Bober, the impoverished, long-suffering Jewish immigrant grocery store owner. He works 18-hour days, but sees his business and savings evaporating.

Helen Bober, Morris's bright daughter, who defers her dreams of college in order to help support her family.

Frank Alpine, an Italian-American orphan, struggling to survive and to regain his lost morality.

Frank and Helen fall in love, to the horror of their parents, who disapprove of the gentile Frank. And as Morris grows older and weaker and frailer, Frank works himself sick to help the family that he feels he owes.

Ultimately, Frank succeeds the overworked, suffering Morris as his ultimate atonement.

Through Frank's story, Malamud shows us that we are all capable of redemption - no matter how terrible our sins.