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The Natural | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Natural | Batter Up!, Part 5 | Summary



Roy feels great the next day, despite the disastrous date with Memo. He plays well, and the Knights rise to second place in the standings behind the Pirates, to Pop's sheer delight. When Roy bumps into Memo in the hotel, he asks whether she's seen a doctor, and she brushes him off, hurrying to meet with Gus. After this, Roy falls into a slump. He can't seem to hit the ball: "He felt blunt and dull—all thumbs, muscles, and joints, Charley horse all over." He also obsesses over Memo and scours the papers for news of a hit-and-run. Rather than chastise him, a worried Pop simply gives Roy space to get over whatever troubles him.

After one game, Red tries to find out what's on Roy's mind, urging Roy to get over the issue as quickly as possible. The only advice Pop gives is to "stop climbing up after those bad balls." Roy tries everything—he increases his batting practice, tries batting cold, and even considers using another bat, although he decides against it. As long as he's in his slump, Roy rarely sees Memo. She has many excuses for why she is unavailable, yet Roy continues to pursue her. She suggests that Roy visit Bump's fortune-teller, Lola, in Jersey City. Willing to do anything Memo asks, Roy rushes to Jersey City. The only "fortune" Lola sees is that soon he will fall in love with a dark-haired woman, a prediction that deeply annoys Roy: "The trouble with what you said is that I am already in love with a swell-looking redhead." Roy eventually gives into the tradition of superstition after his meeting with Lola, still searching for anything to lift him from the slump. The rest of the team, too, has begun to fall apart and the team quickly slides back down in standing. After a particularly bad play Pop loses his temper completely and shouts that Roy will be benched until he agrees to use a bat other than Wonderboy. Roy refuses and sits scowling on the bench.

Later, Roy wakes on the bench in the clubhouse. He doesn't remember falling asleep. He is overcome with emotion, longing for "a friend, a father, a home to return to." He rushes home, unable to shake the feeling that he's being followed. Even as he opens his door he feels certain someone or something lays in wait for him: "Bracing himself to fight without strength he snapped on the light." He sees "an ancient hoary face," which he thinks is Bump, but when he realizes the reflection is his own, he sleeps badly.

While on the road Red notices a black Cadillac trailing the team's bus. Pop admits to having hired private detectives to keep Roy out of trouble. When they reach the stadium, a "wild-eyed man" begs to speak with Roy. He says his son was "hurt in an accident, playin' in the street" and is clinging to life. The boy adores Roy, so his father promised him Roy would hit him a homer in the game tonight. Aghast, Roy feels bad for the man and wants to help, "yet [he's] afraid what would happen if he couldn't. He didn't want the responsibility." The request is particularly difficult because Roy is still benched. Despite the request, Roy refuses to bat with anything other than Wonderboy and remains on the bench. Roy gazes at the crowd and sees a beautiful black-haired woman in a red dress in the stands with a white flower "pinned on her bosom." He glances at the woman throughout the game, feeling drawn to her. At the bottom of the ninth, a desperate Pop finally calls up Roy. The woman in the red dress rises, standing proudly as Roy approaches the plate. The pitcher whips two strikes past the plate. The third pitch comes and "with a sob Roy [falls] back and [swings]." It's a home run. The Knights win the game and the narrator notes, "everybody knew it was Roy alone who had saved the boy's life."


Roy's character begins changing under Memo's spell. His slump marks the most obvious change. Roy begins to second-guess everything about his ability, even Wonderboy's power. During the slump, Wonderboy is described as "resembling sagging baloney" in Roy's hands, an obvious reference to Roy's emasculation. Before breaking the slump Roy also becomes more anxious, suffering hallucinations and nightmares. He is haunted by Bump's ghost, perhaps a warning that if Roy does not lift himself from the slump he will be doomed to the same forgotten fate Bump suffered. Roy changes in other ways as well, such as his willingness to visit a fortune-teller. Readers may recall his emotional outburst to such "bunk" in Part 2. His willingness to go at Memo's request shows his morality faltering. To make Memo happy he's willing to twist or sacrifice his own values. Despite his failings Roy still cannot see how his shortcomings affect others. He continues to want to excel solely for his own glory. Not even the chance to bat for a sick boy, inferred to be the boy Memo ran over with the car, sufficiently motivates Roy despite his guilt over the accident.

The slump provides an opportunity to contrast two strong female characters: Memo and Iris. When Pop warned Roy to stay away from Memo he said, "I think that there is some kind of whammy in her that carries her luck to other people." This is certainly true of Roy, who can no longer field or hit. While Roy had briefly felt powerful after his date with Memo and thus played a good game, as soon as she starts to ignore him, his performance sinks. Iris, on the other hand, breaks Roy's slump, simply by believing in him. She is the opposite of Memo in every way. Iris is described as having black hair and a red dress, for example, while Memo is described as having red hair and a black dress. Iris is obviously the dark-haired woman Lola claimed Roy would fall in love with.

Iris's ability to lift Roy from his slump casts her as a vegetative goddess when considering the story as a vegetative myth. Before Iris enters the scene, Roy's reflection looks "ancient" and "hoary," far from the fresh-faced, promising athlete that opened the novel. He is no longer powerful and virile, able to unleash heavy rains with a swing of the bat, much to everyone's frustration. While most believe Roy's home run "saved the boy's life," it was Iris's presence, not guilt over the boy's accident, that motivated Roy's play. Iris's presence breaks Roy's slump in the same light as Roy with his first rain-giving hit. Even her name, Iris Lemon, conjures images of a lush garden.

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