Bread and Milk
The bread and milk that Morris Bober brings into his store each morning are emblematic of his purpose in life: to provide good and wholesome things to the world. Bread and milk stand for Morris’s goodness and his moral character. They set him apart from Julius Karp, who profits by selling alcohol, or Sam Pearl, who profits through candy and gambling. St. Francis of Assisi
The image of the Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi recurs throughout the novel. Frank Alpine admires this saint, having heard stories about him during his childhood in the orphanage. There are many parallels between Frank and Saint Francis. They share a name (Frank being a nickname for Francis), the initials F.A., and an ethnicity, as Saint Francis was also from Italy. Saint Francis was an ascetic monk who led a life of poverty and self-denial, in search of a deeper spiritual understanding. Frank, too, leads a life of poverty, but far from being a saint, he is a liar and a thief. The novel follows Frank as he attempts to raise himself up and emulate Saint Francis. The humble grocery store becomes Frank’s cell, the grocer’s apron his monastic habit, as Frank learns the ways of self-denial that lead to spiritual enlightenment.
Birds and Flowers
Birds and flowers are associated with Saint Francis of Assisi, who is said to have preached to the birds during his lifetime and loved nature. Birds may be said to represent spirituality or spiritual freedom, while flowers represent pure and true love. When Frank views Helen Bober naked for the first time, he compares her breasts to flying birds and her ass to a flower. When Helen rejects Frank, he dreams that she has thrown a white flower from her window down to him, then realizes in the dream that she never did. The meaning is that he thought she had offered him true and pure love, but it was all an illusion. She never loved him for his true self because he hadn’t given her a chance to know him. Later, Frank carves a flying bird and a flower out of a plank of wood. He gives the flower to Helen, but she throws it away. Toward the end of the novel, Frank daydreams that the wooden flower is transformed to a real one and returned to Helen by Saint Francis of Assisi. Frank also hears birds breaking into song as he confesses to Morris his role in the robbery. This indicates that with time and painful experience, Frank’s crude wooden conceptions of spirituality and love became real. Tombs and Prisons
Throughout the novel, the store is often compared to a tomb or a prison that one cannot escape. Morris feels trapped by the burden of his dying store and reflects that “in a store you were entombed.” When Frank Alpine begins working in the store, he is warned that the store is a tomb, a prison, and that he should escape before it is too late—“This kind of a store is a death tomb, positive,” says Al Marcus—but Frank never does escape. Instead, he stays and works hard, and although he too sees the store as a prison at times, in the end he finds in it a way to support Helen in her dreams, and in doing so, to uplift himself, to become a better person. The message of the novel is that we should never allow our spirits to become entombed or imprisoned by the drudgery of life. We must always strive to find deeper meaning and purpose which transforms our seemingly worthless tasks into something great