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.