Literature Study GuidesThe NaturalBatter Up Part 9 Summary

The Natural | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Natural | Batter Up!, Part 9 | Summary



The morning of the game Roy still feels weak. There is an aggressive, hostile mood at the stadium as anxious fans descend to see history being made. Rumors have spread that someone poisoned Roy's food at the party, and Max Mercy is keen to get an inside scoop on the story, but everyone ignores him. Pop, looking incredibly old and unkempt, calls Roy into his office. He regrets many of his coaching decisions from the past season, including benching Roy for three weeks, but they've made it this far and Pop still thinks they can win. He admits that he doesn't want to win the World Series—"It ain't in the cards for me"—he just wants the pennant: "I will be satisfied, and win or lose in the Series, I will quit baseball forever." He makes Roy promise with his life to give the game everything he has. Roy promises.

The game begins and Roy feels torn between his two promises—his promise to the judge not to hit, and his promise to Pop to give it his all. He realizes his agreement with the judge said nothing about fielding, so he catches a few hits to make himself feel better. When he first comes up to bat, Wonderboy "itches" to slam a homer, but Roy restrains himself. He searches for Memo, whom he hasn't seen since he was in the hospital, and spots her in the tower with the judge. He recalls his mother drowning a black tomcat in his childhood. He closes his eyes and strikes out. The crowd gasps and Roy cannot look at them. He looks back up to the tower, but Memo has disappeared.

During his next at bat, the crowd begins booing, so Roy takes a hit and walks to first. The next batter strikes out, so his progress doesn't matter. During his next at bat, Roy fills with despair wondering whether he should call off the deal. The crowd, especially Otto P. Zipp, has turned against him, heckling and name calling as he approaches the plate. Otto's jests are loud and cruel, so Roy swings at a fast pitch and fouls it toward Otto's head. This only makes Otto madder and Roy more determined to knock him out. He sends the second hit Otto's way as well. The third foul ball flies over Otto's head and hits a dark-haired woman who had risen in the stands. Roy immediately recognizes the fallen woman as Iris and rushes to her side. She tells Roy that she's pregnant and he needs to win the game for their child. He returns to the pitch with a new resolve, but strikes out anyway, cracking Wonderboy in half in the process.

The game is close, but the Knights are playing poorly. Pop begins to panic. During his last at bat, Roy promises that he'll come through, despite his terrible performance early in the game. He promises Pop that he'll "murder the ball." Roy is desperate to prove himself to Pop, his team, his unborn child, and himself: "Only a homer, with himself scoring the winning run, would truly redeem him." The Pirates pitcher throws three balls and then passes out from his nerves. The relief pitcher, a relatively unknown young player, trots out to the field and quickly throws two strikes. The final throw is a bad one, but Roy lashes out anyway and strikes out.


The vegetative cycle is completed as Roy fades away, replaced by the new vegetative god, Youngberry, much in the same way Roy himself replaced the Whammer in Pre-Game. As Roy deliberately misses pitches his vegetative powers reverse. The life-giving force his talent created in Part 2 is replaced with the same death and aging that plagued the team before his arrival. As he swings and misses, the field is once again described as dry and "dusty." Pop, whose health had reinvigorated under Roy's talent, ages horrifically, being described as closer and closer to death. At the start of the game he is described as "unshaved, his face exuding gray stubble that made him look eighty years old." As the game goes poorly Pop's "false teeth felt like rocks in his mouth, so he plucked them out and dropped them into his shirt pocket," advancing his appearance as an old man near death. This continues with the description of him swaying "on the bench, drooling a little out of the corners of his puckered mouth." The name of the new hero, the relief pitcher Youngberry, conjures images of garden growth and new life. The symbol of bad omens, birds, return during Roy's demise. Before Youngberry takes to the pitcher's mound, the previous pitcher was Dutch Vogelman. In the Dutch language, vogel means "bird." When Vogelman faints, the reader feels momentary hope that Roy will overcome the bad omen and succeed, but his character has not matured enough to become a true hero. He has learned his lesson too late, and now it is Youngberry's turn to reign as the god.

Roy now transforms completely into a tragic hero. When he misuses Wonderboy to pop balls toward Otto P. Zipp, one ball fouls against Iris's head, injuring her. This moment gives Roy space in the midst of his immoral act to reassess his options. Iris tells Roy that she's pregnant, news that causes Roy to realize the value of legacy within a bloodline. He wants to be a hero for his son, yet he does not seem to remember Iris's words that "you [cannot] do anything for anyone without giving up something of your own." When Roy approaches the plate he wants exactly the same things as before, to be the best in the game. He wouldn't be satisfied with a base hit or a bunt, he wants to knock it out of the park: "Only a homer, with himself scoring the winning run, would truly redeem him." His inability to shed his ego leads to his destruction.

The destruction of Wonderboy further symbolizes Roy's fall. The seemingly magical bat gave Roy super powers to hit any ball that came his way, even bad balls. Similarly, the knight Arthur's magical sword Excalibur supplied its owner with magical fighting skills. Both Excalibur and Wonderboy are moral tools, however, and their power cannot be used for ill. When Roy misuses Wonderboy's power to knock pitches toward Otto P. Zipp, the bat cracks in half. Thematically, the story of Wonderboy parallels the destruction of Arthur's Excalibur, which breaks when Arthur uses it against an honorable knight. Without its help Roy must rely on natural skill alone, which he has never taken the time to cultivate. In life, as in the game, Roy fails because he goes after a "bad ball" more mature men would have left behind.

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