The Natural | Study Guide

Bernard Malamud

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The Natural | Symbols



Roy's prized possession is his bat Wonderboy, which he carved from the wood of a tree split in half by lightning. The bat's origin story is mythical, and it possesses a magical power that allows Roy to hit any ball pitched his way, even "bad balls" his coach warns him to avoid. The bat is an allegorical reference to King Arthur's magical sword, Excalibur, which gave Arthur superior strength in battle. Both Excalibur and Wonderboy lose their magical powers when misused—Arthur uses the sword to fight against an honorable knight, and Roy uses Wonderboy to abuse Otto P. Zipp—and are destroyed. Wonderboy is also a phallic symbol for Roy's masculinity. When he is doing well, the bat is described as a strong and powerful instrument, but when he is performing poorly, Wonderboy is described as "sagging baloney" in his hands.


After dumping Iris, Roy is starving, no matter how much food he eats. He shovels huge amounts of food into his body, engorging himself on more and more, yet he is never satisfied. He uses food to fill the emotional void around his unfulfilled, base desires of being rich, famous, and in bed with Memo. He literally eats until his stomach explodes, which is a message that chasing after unhealthy desires will lead to destruction.


Appearing in various forms throughout the novel, birds bring destruction to Hobbs's life. This is first seen with the introduction of Harriet Bird, who shoots Roy and prevents him from making his rookie tryout. Birds are referenced throughout the novel, from the escaped canary that ends up a bloody mess in Roy's glove, to the baseball case that falls from the sky like a "dead bird," to the piles of hamburgers on Roy's plate that also resemble "six dead birds." The references grow stronger and more common when Roy is faced with indecision or temptation. The references always remind readers that until Roy changes his outlook and puts aside his ego—the reason why Harriet shot him—he is doomed to repeat the same mistakes. During his last at bat, Roy faces a pitcher named Vogelman (vogel means "bird" in Dutch) and vows to use the opportunity to become the best player in the game. Given his refusal to play for the team, and the ominously named pitcher, the reader knows long before Roy does that he will fail.


Drawing from ancient myths and legend, water, the weather, and vegetation support the novel's focus on nature as either a life-giving or destructive force. Perhaps the strongest symbol is water, which represents feminine, life-giving power. This is seen in the strong rains that pour down after Roy's first at bat, nourishing the parched field. When Roy begins succumbing to Memo's destructive powers, the earth is once again scorched and dry. The contrast between life-giving and destructive water is clearly seen on Roy's dates with Memo and Iris. With Memo, the water in the stream is polluted and they cannot swim. Similarly, Roy has visions of Memo pulling him into dark, dirty water, through which light cannot penetrate. With Iris, on the other hand, the water is warm and calm. When he dives underwater he surfaces to Iris bathed in golden light. Memo and the water surrounding her are destructive, while Iris and the water surrounding her are life-giving.

Questions for Symbols

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What animals did the Sky Spirit create? How? Its the story “When Grizzlies Walked Upright” but did he create the bears for what they did?
What are the rules for changing /n/ to [m] and the rules for the bat-bet allomorphy in Bizcayan (Western Basque)?
For each of the following items, indicate in the space to the left whether it is a fused sentence (“FS”) or a comma splice (“CS”). Then, correct the error by adding a period or a semicolon. Capitalize
Question 1 The reason many students fail exams is because they do not study. incomplete comparison lack of parallelism faulty predication dangling modifier 1 points Question 2 Scuba diving is where yo
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