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The Contender

Robert Lipsyte

Chapters 7–9

Chapters 4–6

Chapters 10–12

Summary

Chapter 7

Alfred and Henry go to the Madison Square Garden to see a fight. One of Mr. Donatelli's most promising boxers, Willie Streeter, is fighting an important match. Alfred keeps expecting something to go wrong—for the people at the gates not to let him in, or for the tickets Mr. Donatelli left for them not to be at will-call—but to his surprise they get into the stadium smoothly. Another one of Donatelli's boxers, Jelly Belly, joins them, and they talk about Willie Streeter, speculating about his chances at being the next champion. Streeter's fight is last, and as they watch the ones prior, Alfred finds himself thinking about when he and James pretended they were boxers as youths, giving each other tough boxer names.

Willie Streeter's fight begins. During a bout of punches Streeter gets cut right above the eye. Jelly predicts trouble, and they watch as Streeter's opponent lands punch after punch on Streeter's cut eye. Mr. Donatelli stops the fight, and Streeter's opponent wins by TKO. They all go into the locker room where Jelly talks to Spoon, one of Donatelli's assistants. Spoon tells them that Streeter is not taking the TKO well at all and is angry with Donatelli. Streeter says that he would have won the fight, and Donatelli tells him that the risk of serious injury it was not worth it. Streeter threatens to get a new manager. Bud jumps in and tells Streeter that he better appreciate that he has a manager willing to save his hide.

Later, Jelly Belly says that Streeter cannot go all the way now, because he "showed some dog." Spoon agrees and explains that all Willie could concentrate on was his hurt eye and that he left himself open to get hurt elsewhere, which is why Donatelli stopped the fight. On the way home, Spoon explains that he quit fighting because he was getting hurt too often. Spoon says that Donatelli encouraged him to quit and go to school and that now Donatelli is the best friend he has. They drop Alfred off, and Alfred thanks Henry for bringing him home the night he was beat up. As he climbs the steps to his apartment, Alfred sees Hollis and Major waiting for him.

Chapter 8

Hollis and Major tell James that this Friday night they are going to try and rob the Epsteins' store again and that James is going to help them by disarming the alarm system. Alfred refuses, and Major pulls out a knife and threatens him. Alfred keeps saying no, and Major gets angry, saying he will wait a few days for Alfred's decision. Alfred, still refusing, goes inside.

Chapter 9

Alfred gets up and runs in the park for over an hour. Aunt Pearl questions him about where he has been, and he tells her he was running. Finally, he tells her he is training to be a boxer and that he was at Madison Square Garden the night before watching a fight. Aunt Pearl asks him if he is going to quit his job, and he assures her he will not—at least not yet. She says she is not crazy about the idea, but Alfred tries to persuade her that Donatelli is a great trainer. Aunt Pearl says that they will talk to the Reverend about it and tells Alfred that she is happy he is so excited, she just wishes "it was something else."

Analysis

Lipsyte defines what it means to be a real contender through the scene with Willie Streeter. Streeter is lauded to be the next champion and is Mr. Donatelli's most hopeful boxer. However, Streeter does more than lose the single fight—he also proves that he does not have what it takes to be a champion. He got hurt, and then he got scared and opened himself up to greater injury and defeat. His argument with Mr. Donatelli after the fight reveals that he does not have what it takes inside either. On the other hand, Mr. Donatelli is portrayed as a hero. Not only does he intentionally call off the fight and take a loss for his boxer, but he has only Streeter's well being in mind. Spoon's story about Donatelli's suggestion to finish go to school instead of pursuing a boxing career shows that Donatelli is not just interested in the sport, but in how to make his fighters into winners inside and outside the ring.

Loyalty is an important theme throughout these chapters. Donatelli already displays loyalty toward Alfred—he has secured a ticket to the fight for Alfred, knowing that Alfred has probably never been to Madison Square Garden nor has ever seen a real boxing match in person. Donatelli also makes sure that Alfred's transportation to and from the fight is secure.. Donatelli's decision to stop the fight is a gesture of loyalty toward Streeter, and Streeter does not reciprocate as he gets angry and threatens to find a new trainer. It is clear that Donatelli emphasizes trust in building a boxer, especially trust in the relationship between boxer and trainer.

When Major and Hollis wait for Alfred after the fight, Alfred is able to stand up to them with relative ease. Major even pulls out a knife, but still Alfred does not falter. Alfred refuses unyieldingly to help them attempt their robbery on the Epsteins. Instead of actually using the knife or beating up Alfred again, Major and Hollis get frustrated and eventually leave, saying that Alfred has a few days to decide. Even though they could injure him, especially with a knife, they decide not to fight. We wonder what makes them decide this time that they will not hurt Alfred. What gives Alfred an upper hand in the confrontation that he has never previously had? It is with little fanfare that Alfred walks away—he does not celebrate inside or meditate on what happened during the confrontation. Simply, he remains stoic. He does not express fear, doubt, or the chance that his opinion will waver in the slightest. Perhaps it is a simple, yet for Alfred unfamiliar, display of self confidence that gives Major and Hollis the impression that they are not going to win in that situation.

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