Literature Study GuidesThe NaturalBatter Up Part 2 Summary

The Natural | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Natural | Batter Up!, Part 2 | Summary

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Summary

Roy discovers his uniform soaking wet in his locker when he arrives at the clubhouse the next morning. He yanks down the wet pants and smacks Bump in the face with them. A series of further pranks against Roy ensues, but Roy begins to panic when he sees that his bassoon case has been stolen. Bump has the bat, of course, and threatens to destroy it with a hacksaw. Luckily, the coaches arrive and break things up. At batting practice the pitcher wants to make Roy look foolish in front of the coaches, so he throws a series of bad pitches. Roy swings wildly and knocks them out of the park. Pop is shocked and demands to know what type of bat Wonderboy is. Roy explains that he made the bat himself from a tree that had been struck by lightning. In the field Roy catches every ball that comes his way. The rest of the players take note of Roy's performance, and "practice pick[s] up. The men [work] faster and harder than they had in a long time." After practice Roy notes the many superstitions of the players, including the red string stitched into Bump's socks.

The players hang around nervously, as if waiting for something. After a while Doc Knobb, the resident hypnotist, arrives to help the players "get rid of the fears and personal inferiorities that tie [them] into knots and keep [them] from being aces in this game." All the players, including Bump, quickly begin to relax in Doc Knobb's presence. Only Roy resists the hypnotic words: "Roy ripped open his lids and sprang up. He shoved his way out from between the bleachers." He tells a furious Pop he'll give up his contract before letting "anybody monkey around in my mind." Red tries to convince Roy to rejoin the team in the clubhouse, but Roy refuses, saying, "I been a long time getting here and now that I am, I want to do it by myself, not with that kind of bunk." After the incident, he feels alone within the team.

The unofficial team mascot is a "pompous" dwarf named Otto P. Zipp who adores Bump and lambastes anyone in the crowds who criticizes his plays. In return Bump would "greet him with a loud kiss on the forehead, leaving Otto in a state of creamy bliss." Roy takes notice of Otto, but he also takes notice of Memo Paris, Pop's niece—Bump's ex-girlfriend and the woman Roy slept with while staying in Bump's room. Since that incident, however, Memo won't let Roy near her. Roy pines for her, desperately in love.

After an altercation about fees, Pop fires the hypnotist. Rather than falling apart, as Pop expected, the team performs better than they have in ages against the second-place Phils. When their performance improves, the players actually begin to care about the outcome of the game. For Bump's next at bat, Pop calls in Roy instead: "Knock the cover off of it," Pop says. Sick of waiting to show the team what he's made of, Roy does exactly what Pop asks and literally knocks the cover off the ball at the first pitch. When he hits the ball, the sky opens and a long drought suddenly breaks; a torrential downpour begins, and "by the time Roy got in from second he was wading in water ankle deep." The team is thrilled, except Bump, who warns Roy to stay out of his way unless he wants to get his "head bashed." Desperate to prove he is just as good a player as Roy, Bump fields every wild ball that comes his way. Chasing one wild hit, however, Bump crashes into the wall and dies. Otto P. Zipp mourns bitterly.

Analysis

Roy's first time at bat is spectacular. Not only does he literally knock the skin off the ball, he brings forth a downpour of rain that breaks the drought. The life-giving rain identifies the story as a vegetative myth in which the hero rises in spring, bringing with him new life. The "new life" is symbolized in the rain transforming the "dry, cracked" field, as well as the flood of new hope Pop feels after years of resigning himself to living in an emotional wasteland in his quest for the pennant.

Despite the positive images of a lush green field, however, there are still omens of bad luck, such as the description that the ball "plummeted like a dead bird into center field" and the horrific reminder of the dangers of unchecked ego through Bump's untimely death. Had Bump not been competing against Roy to be seen as the best on the team, he likely would still be alive. His warning to Roy, "Stay out of my way ... or you will get your head cracked" becomes an ominous foreshadowing of his own death. At the end of the part, Roy catches every ball that comes his way but mistakenly catches an escaped canary in his glove, which ends up a "bloody mess." This dead bird symbolizes the inability to be free. When the bird, a symbol for Roy later in the novel, thinks it is making an escape to freedom, it dies.

Roy's belief that he must achieve success solely on his own once again becomes an issue when he refuses to partake in the entire session of hypnosis. Under hypnosis, Roy has a vision of being trapped underwater unable to fight his way out, searching for a mermaid with a "reddish glint" on her scales until the water "became dense and dark green and then ... he lost all sight of where he was." Unable to escape, "when he tried to rise up into the light he couldn't find it." Much symbolism can be found in this vision: the red glint of the scales evokes Memo's red hair, and the description of the "pale green sea" is mimicked later in the novel in reference to Memo's eyes. Memo is a wholly negative force in Roy's life, and his lust for her drags him into an underworld of dishonesty and immorality from which he struggles to find his way out. At this time, however, Roy remains naively steadfast in his belief that he needs no outside help in his pursuit of becoming the best in the game, which explains his repulsion to the idea of hypnosis.

Finally, this part gives the clearest description of Roy's most prized possession—his bat, Wonderboy. The bat was created in a mythic situation, having been carved out of wood split by lightning; and like Arthur's sword Excalibur, the bat gives Roy special powers. With Wonderboy Roy can hit "bad balls" he likely would not be able to hit with another bat, although this is unproven because Roy refuses to train with any other bat. Pop worries about Roy's penchant for going after bad balls, saying that bad ball hitters "sometimes make some harmful mistakes"—foreshadowing Roy's "harmful mistake" of agreeing to fix the final pennant game.

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