The Natural | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Natural | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Set in New York in the 1950s, The Natural tells the story of an ego-driven baseball player who, alongside his trusty bat Wonderboy, sets out to be the best baseball player who ever lived. The story opens when a down-on-his-luck alcoholic scout named Sam Simpson plucks a teenaged baseball player, Roy Hobbs, from obscurity in the hope of reviving his own scouting career. The pair travel by train to Chicago, where Sam has secured Roy a tryout with the Cubs. The most famous baseball player alive, known as the Whammer, is also on the train. The Whammer treats Roy poorly aboard the train, annoyed to hear of his promising talent. During a stop, Sam bets the Whammer $10 that Roy can strike him out. The Whammer accepts. Roy, hoping to impress a beautiful passenger named Harriet Bird, successfully strikes out the Whammer, but badly injures Sam, who had been playing catcher. Sam dies from his injury. Harriet Bird, who turns out to be a sociopath intent on destroying "the best" sports players, invites Roy back to her hotel room that evening and shoots him. Roy fades back into obscurity.

Fifteen years later Roy returns as a 34-year-old rookie recently signed to the New York Knights. With the team at the bottom of the standings, their aging coach, Pop Fisher, feels they are jinxed. A disrespectful buffoon named Bump Baily runs the team as a star player who is regularly sidetracked by practical jokes and gags. Determined to prove himself on the new team and fulfill his destiny of becoming the greatest player who ever lived, Roy throws himself into the game. During his first at bat, Roy knocks the cover off the baseball, a nearly mythic accomplishment, and the sky unleashes a downfall of rain, instantly turning the dusty, cracked earth into a lush green field. Relying on the magical power of his trusty bat, Wonderboy, Roy proves himself as a strong player whose only bad habit is going after "bad balls." The rest of the team suddenly begins caring about the outcome of their games, and Bump must begin competing with Roy's natural talent to maintain his position at the top of the team. While recklessly chasing after a ball one game, Bump crashes into a wall and dies. With no one to compete with Roy's talent, he quickly makes a name for himself in the papers, breaking many longstanding baseball records.

Roy does not want to break a few records; he wants to break them all. His ego drives him on and off the field as he chases money and beautiful women to complete his image of the future he imagines for himself. He becomes infatuated with Pop's niece, Memo Paris, who also happens to be Bump's ex-girlfriend. After Bump dies, Memo becomes seriously depressed, swearing off any other man, but eventually she responds to Roy's persistent advances. Pop warns Roy that her aloof behavior brings bad luck to the men in her life. Despite Memo's clear disinterest in Roy, he continues to pursue her. After a botched date at a polluted stream, Roy falls into a slump, unable to hit or field. During this time, Memo wants nothing to do with Roy, and he finds himself entangled with a new woman, Iris Lemon.

Iris, described as nurturing and kind, contrasts with Memo in every way, but in his immaturity Roy cannot recognize her characteristics as positive. He dumps Iris after sleeping with her and continues pursuing Memo, but not before Iris breaks Roy's slump and he returns to his heroic form. Unfortunately for Roy, after Bump's death Memo's only interest is having money and securing the wealthiest future for herself. She spends time with Gus Sands, the "Supreme Bookie" with a glass eye who taunts Roy and makes a great fortune betting against him in games. It is unclear why Memo strings Roy along, especially because she has no interest in being physically romantic with him. Yet Roy becomes insatiable, obsessing over sex with Memo and eating massive amounts of food that never leave him feeling satisfied.

Memo's motivations become clear when, after the team rises in ranks and learns they will be playing for the pennant, she invites Roy to a lavish banquet funded by Gus. She loads Roy's plate with food over and over, which he dutifully eats. She promises that they can have sex after the banquet, but as he eats Roy begins to feel dizzy and drunk. Before he and Memo can sleep together, his stomach "erupts." Roy wakes in the hospital, where Memo informs him that if he ever wants to marry her, he'll have to be a very rich man. She tells him Judge Banner has arranged to pay Roy a large sum of money to throw the final pennant game, which he and Gus have bet against. Memo insinuates that agreeing to the judge's plan is the only way she'll marry him.

When the judge arrives, Roy haggles for a bigger payout—$35,000 for throwing the game and a $45,000 contract for the next season, even though doctors have told him that his health will not allow him to play baseball any longer. At the final game, Roy makes good on his promise and strikes out during his first at bat. The next time he's up, he walks a base rather than hitting. His final time at bat, Bump's biggest fan, Otto P. Zipp, heckles Roy for throwing the game. Infuriated, Roy fouls a series of balls toward Otto's head, with one accidentally knocking out Iris. When she rouses, she tells Roy that she is pregnant and he should win the game for his unborn son. Newly motivated, Roy decides against throwing the game, but it's too late. Wonderboy cracks in half from the stress Roy has put it under, and when he tries to hit with a new bat, he strikes out and the team loses. A sports journalist reveals to the press that Roy threw the game, and his career and reputation are ruined.

The Natural Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Roy is shot on the eve of his first professional tryout.

Rising Action

2 Roy is signed to the Knights 15 years later.

3 Bump Baily, the team's previous star, dies.

4 Roy leads his team toward the pennant.

5 Judge Banner and Memo convince Roy to throw the final game.

6 Roy changes his mind after Iris says she's pregnant.


7 Roy strikes out in his final at bat.

Falling Action

8 Enraged, Roy beats up the judge, Memo, and Gus.


9 Roy realizes his career is over.

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