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The Natural | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Natural | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


What is the significance of the images that occur during Roy's feverish dream in Batter Up!, Part 5 of The Natural?

During his slump Roy slips into a feverish depression. Gazing out over the city he flops onto bed, gasping for air, and knocks a record book off the bed: "The pages of the record book fell apart and fluttered away in the wind," and he waits for a "silver bullet." Roy's struggle to breathe shows his fear of death, particularly as he whispers to himself, "I am finished." The disheveled record book emphasizes Roy's lost dreams of breaking every record, while the silver bullet foreshadows his fatal flaw: his ego, which was struck down by Harriet Bird and which threatens to ruin him once again. This fever dream underscores that until Roy learns the lessons from his previous life, he will always be vulnerable to the "silver bullet" of suffering.

In Malamud's The Natural, why is Iris Lemon attracted to Roy?

The reader knows that Iris's beauty attracts Roy to her, but the narrator gives readers less insight into Iris's attraction to Roy. On their date she tells Roy she is drawn to him, even though she dislikes baseball, because she "hate[s] to see heroes fail. There are so few of them." Iris mistakenly thinks of Roy as a hero, as someone who plays baseball for the betterment of others' lives. In reality Roy plays only for himself, is not a hero, and is fated to let Iris and the rest of his fans down. Iris accurately thinks Roy, in his street clothes, looked less like a warrior and more like "any big muscled mechanic or bartender on his night off." Still Iris believes that her faith in Roy will lift him from his slump. She also believes she can offer Roy happiness. In this way Iris recognizes Roy as a tragic hero and, as her name suggests, she hopes to make lemonade out of lemons. Unfortunately, Roy isn't yet ready to embrace the lessons she has already learned.

Why does Roy reject Iris in Batter Up!, Part 6 of The Natural?

On the surface Roy rejects Iris because her beauty pales in comparison to Memo's: "he was disappointed right off ... he didn't like them hefty." Roy decides to overlook Iris's weight because she is still pretty enough for him to sleep with, which he hopes he can do soon. As usual, Roy eagerly seeks to please and satisfy himself, although he does enjoy his conversation with Iris and feels comfortable enough to make himself emotionally vulnerable. At the end of their date Roy rejects Iris because she is a grandmother, a clear social sign of maturity Roy doesn't feel ready to embrace. He spends his entire career chasing records as a way of fighting against death—"If you leave all those records that nobody else can beat, they'll always remember you," he says, "You sorta never die." And in his mind becoming a grandfather would undo that work. Roy's belief that Iris's appearance is "beneath" what he deserves for his success—Iris wouldn't be the trophy wife he dreams of—also influences his decision to abandon Iris after taking what he wants from her.

In Batter Up!, Part 5 of The Natural what lesson does Iris reveal about suffering?

Like Roy, Iris suffers in her teenage and adult life, seeming to make the same "mistake" of becoming vulnerable to abusive men. As a teenager she was raped by an older man. This encounter resulted in a pregnancy that left her isolated from support, forcing her to raise a daughter alone in poverty. When she meets Roy, she feels "gooseflesh" from "another time" which rises up on her skin like a warning as Roy approaches. History repeats itself when Roy forces himself on Iris—"he shoved her back and went on from where he had left off"—which also results in pregnancy. At the end of the novel, Roy hits Iris with a foul ball, yet she continues to stand up for him without the promise of returned support. After the game, Iris isn't mentioned, leaving unanswered whether Roy will care for her and the child or if she will once again be abandoned.

In Batter Up!, Part 6 of The Natural how does Roy's character change after his date with Iris?

After his date with Iris, Roy becomes insatiably hungry. He fills himself full of more food than would be possible for any human to eat, literally stuffing himself until he explodes. Roy clearly tries to fill a void in his life, perhaps resulting from the emotional void left behind after rejecting Iris, his one true shot at happiness. Roy changes in other ways as well. He becomes more selfish, more determined to win, and more calloused to his team. He agrees to throw the final pennant game, not caring about how it will affect Pop or his teammates. With Iris he had a glimpse of happiness, but rather than focusing on it, he becomes determined to recreate it with Memo regardless of the cost.

In what ways does Pop Fisher in The Natural compare and contrast with the Fisher King?

In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is an ailing king in a long line of kings charged with caring for the Holy Grail. The injured king cannot father a child and must therefore find a worthy youth to carry on his mission. He spends years searching, his land transformed into a barren wasteland, losing hope. Similarities between Pop Fisher and Fisher King extend far past name alone. Pop also has a strange medical condition—athlete's foot of the hands—and has been searching aimlessly for a pennant for 25 years. He has no family or children, putting all his energy in the team, aptly called the Knights. When Roy joins the team Pop thinks he has found his savior, especially when Roy's tremendous homer transforms Pop's own barren wasteland into a lush, green field. At the end of the novel, however, Pop continues to suffer, while it seems the Fisher King will find relief.

How does Roy treat women in The Natural, and why is this treatment significant?

Roy's treatment of women is consistent with his treatment of everyone else, including his teammates. He does not consider their desires or emotions, looking only to see how they can serve his entertainment or status. Romantically, he treats women like objects. He awkwardly, and occasionally forcibly, fondles, touches, and kisses women. He becomes upset when they don't want to have sex when he asks for it. He takes women on dates only to see what he can "get" from them after. He discards Iris after sleeping with her, for example, despite their deep and fulfilling conversations. He never asks any of the women—Harriet, Iris, or Memo—what they want from their lives. He only cares what he wants and how these women can support it. He pressures Memo into a relationship even when she clearly grieves for Bump. He imagines a domestic life with her despite the dream being the complete opposite of what she wants. Because Roy only thinks of himself in relationships, he is doomed to unhappiness and failure.

In The Natural is Roy capable or incapable of being a hero?

Iris believes Roy is capable of becoming a sports hero, claiming that she reached out to him during his slump because she "hates to see heroes fail. There are so few of them." Yet despite having natural talent, drive, appeal, strength, and boldness, like Bump, Roy is incapable of becoming a true hero because he has no sympathy for others. He hates his fans, even going so far as to rebuff the supposed father of the boy he injured in a hit-and-run accident. The only time Roy feels remorse comes after he kills Sam Simpson. His involvement with Bump's death, treatment of Iris, and decision to throw the pennant game elicit no emotion in him. Iris says of heroes, "I don't think you can do anything for anyone without giving up something of your own," but Roy remains incapable of giving up anything for the sake of others. Even when he experiences a change of heart at the end of the novel, he makes his decision for himself. Roy's incapability of embracing heroic traits explains why, unlike the mythical Perceval, he fails in his quest.

In what ways might The Natural be seen as a critique of the American Dream?

The American Dream is the belief that regardless of one's background, with hard work and perseverance, one can achieve success. When conveyed in a positive light, the theme of the American Dream drives rags-to-riches stories as an individual from an impoverished background overcomes the odds to find remarkable success. Roy is certainly a country bumpkin who escapes his small town to make it in the big leagues. He overcomes obstacles through hard work and natural talent, eventually becoming the best in the game. At the end of the novel, however, his happiness is ruined by greed. He is no longer content with success alone, wanting power, fame, and materialism, three qualities that corrupt American values. The novel portrays a more cynical view of the dream, much as did the play Death of a Salesman by Malamud's contemporary, Arthur Miller.

In The Natural what similarities can be drawn between Roy Hobbs and Sam Simpson?

Both Roy and his mentor, Sam, are characters with great potential. Although Sam was generally a failure as a baseball player, he clearly has an eye for scouting promising players. He might have had a successful career were he not perpetually sidelined by his vice, alcohol. Max Mercy says of Sam, "I had occasion to look up his record ... his catching was terrific—not one error listed." Roy's failure parallels Sam's. He has a fantastic natural talent but remains constantly distracted by his ego. This ultimately leads to his downfall, just as Sam's alcoholism contributes to his death after the catching accident.

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