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The Contender

Robert Lipsyte

Chapters 4–6

Chapters 1–3

Chapters 7–9

Summary

Chapter 4

The next morning on the way to church, Alfred passes a nationalist rally where people are getting riled up over the issue of black rights. The speaker tries to get Alfred involved, and when Alfred keeps going someone calls him a "[h]appy little darky." During the sermon at church, he notices that Major and Hollis are standing in the doorway of the church. By the time Alfred leaves, Major and Hollis are gone.

After church they ride the bus out to Jamaica, to Alfred's aunt and uncle, Dorothy and Wilson's house. During dinner, Wilson asks Alfred if there is much opportunity for advancement at the store, saying that the world is "opening up for colored people." Wilson continues to question him about education and trades, and Alfred tunes it out. Alfred's cousin, Jeff, is in college and is always winning prizes. Compared to Jeff, he had not accomplished much. That night Alfred thinks of what it means to advance and thinks of Mr. Donatelli and trying to become a contender.

Chapter 5

The next morning Alfred wakes up early to run in the park. He is stopped by two cops who want to know what he is doing, and he explains he is training to be a boxer. The cops eventually let him go but not before making fun of him. When he gets home, Pearl wants to know where he was. Despite her pressing, he only tells her that he took a walk.

At work Mr. Epstein asks about James and whether Alfred knew James was going to try and break into the store. Epstein presses Alfred for information about the identity of the other boys who broke into the store, but Alfred does not say anything. The Epsteins treat Alfred suspiciously, and he is no longer allowed to do errands such as taking money to the bank for deposit. As he is sweeping he sees the alarm wires, and it occurs to him that he could yank them out and come back next Friday to rob the store, though not entertaining the thought for long. Before Alfred leaves work, Henry comes by and reminds him to go to the gym.

Chapter 6

Alfred returns to the gym. It is full of people boxing each other and punching bags. He notices a sign on the wall that says it costs $2 for amateurs, but Dr. Corey, the dentist from downstairs who fits all the fighters with mouth guards, tells him that paying is not important. Dr. Corey starts Alfred on some sit-ups, and some boys in the gym show him how to do them right—painfully slowly, all the way up and back down. Alfred does push-ups too.

One of the fighters demands that Bud, Mr. Donatelli's assistant, tape his hands. Bud tells the boxer to do it himself, and the two launch into a nasty verbal confrontation with the boxer screaming at Bud, telling him that Bud must do whatever he says. Eventually, the boxer slugs at Bud, and Bud effortlessly blocks the punch and delivers one of his own. After the confrontation, Bud introduces himself to Alfred and says that Mr. Donatelli has a ticket for Alfred to see a real fight.

Analysis

These three chapters demonstrate that Alfred really does not have a niche in his life. Instead of simply telling the reader that Alfred's life is difficult, Lipsyte shows us the measure and extent of Alfred's struggle. On the way to church, black nationalists yell at Alfred because he is not joining their rally and is going inside a "white" church. Once inside the church, in a place where one should feel safe, he sees Major and Hollis. Then Alfred goes to his relatives' house in Queens, and his uncle interrogates him over his job choice and whether or not he is proceeding down a path that will yield much opportunity for the future. Even spending a Sunday dinner with family, Alfred feels as if he is not good enough, especially when compared with his cousin Jeff.

In the park, Alfred is questioned and teased by police officers as he tries to run. At work, his boss questions him about his involvement in the attempted robbery that took place the Friday before. Even though he was not crazy about his job before, at least he felt as if he could belong there. Now, the bosses watch him carefully and do not entrust him with anything important or valuable. When Alfred goes to the gym, some of the other boxers tease him about wearing his street clothes and about not knowing how to exercise or do sit-ups correctly. It seems that no matter where Alfred goes, someone is always giving him a hard time, cutting him down, and insisting that he does not belong.

Alfred even feels that he cannot be honest with his aunt after he returns from running in the park. Her barrage of questions indicates that she is slightly suspicious of Alfred as well and wants to make sure he has not gotten himself into trouble, especially now that his best friend is in jail.

These chapters show us why Alfred is intent on becoming something or someone. They illustrate the many reasons why Alfred feels like he is nothing special. Feeling as if he has nothing at all, Alfred turns toward the gym and Mr. Donatelli. Lipsyte sets this up as a critical juncture—Alfred is feeling like a failure, and what he chooses to do now is perhaps the single most important decision in his life. He could, as his best friend James does, succumb to the feeling of unimportance and failure and get involved in crime, or he could try even harder to make something of himself. We may sense that the opportunity to train at Donatelli's gym is Alfred's real chance to find something at which he excels.

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