The Natural | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Natural | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What role do the seasons play in Bernard Malamud's The Natural?

The role of the seasons is most clearly evident when analyzing The Natural as a vegetative myth. In vegetative myths, a hero rises up in spring, flourishes, and falls before being replaced at the end of the cycle. Roy rises up and defeats the currently reigning "king" of the Knights, Bump Baily, at the start of the season. Descriptions of the rainfall emitted after Roy's first big hit, which transforms the cracked dust into a lush, green field, evoke springtime imagery as the narrator compares Roy to "a happy calf in the pasture." Roy's rise continues throughout the summer months, and when he plays the final game in autumn, as the greenery dies around him, the new hero, Youngberry—the youthful pitcher with a name that evokes spring—replaces him as the vegetative god. The vegetative myth also parallels the baseball season in that Roy has one "season" in which to rise and fall as a hero.

What relationship does Roy have with his fans in The Natural, and why?

Generally speaking Roy is indifferent to his fans. This is especially true of Otto P. Zipp, with whom Bump had fostered a relationship, but whom Roy ignores completely. He is upset when the fans turn on him during his slump but feels no camaraderie with them when the team is playing well. If anything, Roy's numerous fans are simply a ruler against which he can measure his fame. He does not view himself as their hero and does not feel an obligation to perform for them, even after they lavish him with gifts on Roy Hobbs Day. Roy plays baseball solely for his own glory and does not factor a relationship with his fans into his goals.

For what purpose is The Natural divided into two sections?

The two sections of The Natural appear to reflect Roy's two lives, or his two chances at happiness. Pre-Game showcases the life of suffering Roy lives, in which he is meant to learn the lessons that will allow him to live happily in Batter Up! In Pre-Game, Roy's ego serves as his driving force, and his ambition stalls after Harriet's attack. On her date with Roy, Iris claims that each person lives twice: "We have two lives ... the life we learn with and the life we live with after that." Unfortunately, in the Pre-Game section Roy doesn't learn the lessons necessary for becoming a true sports hero, therefore dooming himself to relive the same mistakes—and same suffering—in the second section.

What role does Max Mercy play in Malamud's The Natural?

Newspaper reporter Max Mercy spends the entire novel resolute on uncovering the secrets of Roy's past. Within the novel Max serves as another obstacle to Roy's happiness. Roy feels deep shame over the events of his past: being shot by Harriet Bird and accidentally killing Sam Simpson. But Mercy simply won't let Roy off the hook. He stalks Roy, takes photographs without consent, and takes deep stabs in the dark at uncovering Roy's past—going so far as to send letters to hospitals and orphanages in Roy's home town. When he uncovers a photo of a man who resembles Roy in a clown costume, he runs it as front-page news. Mercy forces Roy to accept his public role. From a historical perspective, Mercy fills an important role because he represents the rise of tabloid journalism in the 1950s and the push for sensational headlines manipulated to sell more papers.

Why does Roy have such a violent reaction to Doc Knobb in Batter Up!, Part 2 of The Natural?

When Roy meets Doc Knobb in Batter Up! (Part 2) of The Natural, Roy storms out of the room and refuses to play as long as Pop pays the hypnotist to "monkey around in [his] mind." Roy has gone to great lengths to hide his past from the rest of the world, and he clearly fears that Doc Knobb's hypnotism will make him vulnerable to the exposure of those long-hidden secrets. Roy's volatile reaction also highlights his inability to give credit for his success to anyone other than himself: "I want to do it by myself, not with that kind of bunk." Roy's ego drives his success, which Doc Knobb's "medicine" threatens.

How does Roy's attitude toward his team help to drive the plot of The Natural?

On a baseball team players are expected to work together for the team's performance. Yet Roy says over and over again in The Natural that he plays the game only for himself. He doesn't like the fans, who are only a distraction to his record-breaking goal, and he doesn't really care for anyone on his team either; he seldom interacts with his teammates, and when he does it serves to advance the plot. For example, the banquet scene with Memo provides the only scene in which he socializes with his team, and none of the players actually wanted to attend: "Everybody was watching everybody else ... they were all waiting for a signal to get up and leave." Roy's selfish ambition is fully realized when he agrees to throw the final pennant game, which his entire team has worked hard to reach, in exchange for money. The conflict between his betrayal of the team and his change of heart leads to the climax of the novel.

What foreshadowing can be found in Roy and Memo's date in Batter Up!, Part 4 of The Natural?

The narrator fills Roy and Memo's first date with descriptions of ominous omens about their future. They cannot reach the ocean, for example, so they stop to swim at a nearby stream, although a sign warns of polluted water. Roy's awkward attempt to fondle Memo injures her "sick" breast and emotionally devastates her. While sobbing she speeds home and possibly hits a young boy and his dog, although she doesn't stop. Atmospherically, the narrator describes the night as dark, cloudy, and potentially blood-spattered. Each description lends itself to a negative, sickening description, yet Roy remains blinded by lust, unable to see that Memo will destroy him if he lets her.

What is the significance of Roy Hobbs Day with regard to Roy's character in Batter Up!, Part 4 of The Natural?

The fans are overjoyed with Roy's performance for the Knights and desperate to shower him with gifts to show their appreciation, including an abundant indulgence of food: "forty gallons of pistachio ice cream, six crates of lemons, a frozen side of hog," among other things. Roy welcomes the overflow of gifts but would rather sell them for cash than enjoy them as an expression of his fans' character. He tells the fans he will do his best to be the "best in the game," which spooks the superstitious fans who were "quickly crossing their fingers, some spitting over their left shoulders." The fans recognize that pride comes before the fall, and they hope Roy's arrogance won't anger sleeping ghosts. The ghosts of Roy's past do rise, however, with Harriet's spirit embodied in Memo's vengeance, Bump's ghost in Roy's hoary appearance, and Sam's ghost in Roy's dream.

In what ways are Lola's predictions in Batter Up!, Part 5 of The Natural accurate or inaccurate?

When Roy visits the fortune-teller Lola at Memo's request, the crone has only one prediction for Roy: that he would "soon meet and fall in love with a dark-haired lady." Of course she predicts Roy's meeting Iris, which Roy dismisses, claiming to already be in love with a redhead. When Roy does meet Iris, he simply sleeps with her and drops her. He does not fall in love with her, unless he falls in love with her after the novel closes, after finding out that she is pregnant with his child. The reader may be more interested in Lola's response when Roy asks if there is anything else: "She slowly shook her head. 'Funny ... there ain't a thing more.'" This realization of Roy's black future seems to reference his fall from baseball, in which his history will be "excluded from the game and all his records forever destroyed."

What parallels can be found between the events in The Natural and the 1918 Black Sox scandal?

Although Malamud peppers The Natural with references to real-life baseball players and events, the most prominent parallel is to the 1918 Black Sox scandal, in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team conspired to throw the final game of the World Series. The eight players bought off by gamblers, like the men Gus Sands and the Judge are based on, became known as the "Black Sox," including a player named Joe Jackson, to whom, upon reading the day's headline, a newspaper boy allegedly wept, "Say it ain't so, Joe,"—a line echoed in the newsboy's lament at the novel's closing. Upon being indicted, the eight Black Sox were banned for life from baseball, a fate similar to Roy being eradicated from the record books. Malamud's inclusion of this event fictionalizes and humanizes the motivations of these fallen Sox players.

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