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The Natural | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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What is the significance of the many references to bones in The Natural?

The Natural contains many references to bones and skeletons. The references are reminiscent of the biblical story of Ezekiel, who resurrected a valley of dry bones, giving them new life. In some ways Roy has been given new life, and Roy and his talent also breathe new life in the Knights. In both cases this is a story of rebirth and resurrection. For example, on the first page, the narrator says: "As he was looking there flowed along this bone-white farmhouse with sagging skeletal porch," while nearby, "this white faced, long-boned boy whipped with train-whistle yowl." In the opening chapter, the trees are described as having "bony branches," and once Roy reaches Chicago he feels as if "bolts in his knees, wrists, and neck had loosened." These opening scenes suggest a rebirth. Roy, who came from nothing, is suddenly reborn as a baseball prodigy.

How does Roy's childhood shape his character in The Natural?

The reader knows very little about Roy's past before joining the Knights in The Natural, aside from the tidbits of information he shares with the women in his life, and by interpreting the strange visions he has throughout the novel. The reader knows his childhood was unhappy—his mother made his father "miserable" and was a "whore." When he was a young boy Roy's mother once drowned a black cat and forced him to dispose of the body. This dysfunction appears to have taught Roy to value goals other than love or domestic happiness. Having grown up as a poor country bumpkin, base pleasures like money, food, sex, and celebrity hold great appeal for Roy.

How does Roy's outlook on life and baseball change after he's shot in The Natural?

Before being shot at the age of 19, Roy chases the ultimate sporting goal of being "the best" the game has ever seen. It is for this very reason that Harriet Bird selects Roy as her victim. She asks him whether fame is all he's interested in, and when he says yes, she shoots him. When Roy reemerges 15 years later, his priorities haven't changed. His message to the fans on Roy Hobbs Day echo his sentiments to Harriet when he says, "I will do my best ... to be the greatest there ever was in the game." He chases records and hates the fans, playing only for himself. He does not learn the lesson about pride from his shooting, ultimately dooming himself to continue suffering in this new life.

What draws Roy to Harriet in the Pre-Game section of The Natural?

As with all other women, Harriet's beauty draws Roy to her: "She looked to him like one of those high-class college girls, only with more zip." Harriet, who looks so much different than the girls back home, represents a higher class of woman Roy, as an athlete, now feels entitled to pursue. Roy becomes doubly interested in Harriet once the Whammer takes an interest in her, proving her "worthiness" as a star's company. Harriet, much like Memo, represents a social leap that would be unattainable to Roy outside of baseball success. Motivated by fame and money, Roy desires to live alongside a trophy wife to symbolize his success.

In what ways is Roy a static or dynamic character in The Natural?

Although Roy endures many dramatic and dynamic experiences (being shot, climbing up the ranks to the World Series, experiencing a crisis of conscience), he remains a static character, meaning he does not change over the course of the novel. Despite the various experiences of his life Roy fails to learn the lessons attached to them or to try to live as a better man, even, for example, when he learns about his impending fatherhood. Greed, money, and fame are his sole motivators at the beginning and end of the novel, showing how he gains little knowledge about himself or of his world by the end of the novel. Although he struggles with his decision to throw the game in Batter Up! (Part 9), his motivations remain the same at the last pitch: "Only a homer, with himself scoring the winning run, would truly redeem him."

In The Natural in what ways is the pennant that Pop and Roy seek an allegorical Holy Grail?

Traditionally, the Holy Grail refers to the cup used by Christ during the Last Supper before his crucifixion. Quests to find this cup are the basis of many Arthurian legends. The Natural draws a parallel to this quest with the pennant. Pop has dedicated 25 years of his life to winning a pennant and becomes desperate for Roy to help him achieve it. In the novel's mythic allegory, chasing the pennant becomes the Knights' quest, and particularly that of Roy. "I know [you'll wow them], son," Pop tells him; "You're the one I'm depending on to get us up there."

What does Bump's and Roy's differing treatments of Otto P. Zipp in The Natural reveal about their characters?

When Bump was the Knights' star he treated Otto like a mascot. Otto came to all of Bump's games armed with a "peevish loudspeaker" to heckle anyone who disapproves of Bump's plays. In gratitude Bump would "greet him with a loud kiss on the forehead, leaving Otto in a state of creamy bliss." After Bump dies Otto considers transferring his appreciation to Roy, but Roy isn't interested in praise from a dwarf. The sting turns Otto against Roy and he spends the rest of the season heckling Roy, sending him nasty notes, or ignoring him. Bump loved to please the fans but Roy's only interest is pleasing himself. Fans like Otto Zipp are merely a distraction and therefore a waste of time to him.

What is the impact of Roy's first show of talent in Batter Up!, Part 2 of The Natural?

Roy's first show of talent happens in Batter Up! (Part 2) when he literally knocks the skin of the baseball at Pop's request. Immediately, the skies open and it begins to pour down rain. Pop feels overjoyed at the thought of having a real hitter on the team, although since Roy refuses to bat with anything other than Wonderboy, it worries him that it might simply be luck. The rest of the players take notice of Roy's continually good performance and up their own performances to match. Although the team begins doing well, heated animosity and jealousy looms, particularly from Bump, who rightly fears Roy will steal his thunder: "Stay out of my way, busher, or you will get your head bashed in."

How does Roy's first at bat establish his role as a vegetative god in The Natural?

Before Roy's first at bat for the Knights in The Natural, Pop tells him to "knock the cover off it," which Roy literally does in Batter Up! (Part 2). As soon as he hits the ball, the rain begins, and "by the time Roy got in from second he was wading in water ankle deep." The Natural relies heavily on ancient myths, including vegetative myths, in which the god of fertility rises up each spring. In this moment Roy proves himself to Pop and the reader to be the fertility king, bringing rain to the parched field and filling Pop's heart with new hope for the pennant.

Why does Bump hate Roy in Bernard Malamud's The Natural?

Bump hates Roy because he recognizes Roy's talent and the fact that Roy is a better player than he. Memo summarizes it best when she says to Roy, "When you catch one ... everybody knows beforehand that it will land up in your glove," but by contrast, with Bump "nobody could ever tell what would happen next ... and that was the wonderful thing of it." When Bump sees Roy's natural talent he becomes terrified of losing his position as star player, so much so that he competes brutally, accidentally killing himself trying to prove his skill. Bump hates Roy because Roy has a natural ease in the game, and Bump must really work for each play and hit. He knows it will only be a matter of time before Roy steals his titles, his fans, and potentially, his woman.

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