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The Contender

Robert Lipsyte

Chapters 10–12

Chapters 7–9

Chapters 13–15

Summary

Chapter 10

The first week is "all pain." The second week of training is even harder, and Alfred falls asleep right after dinner. After a Sunday church service Aunt Pearl takes Alfred to Reverend Price, and the Reverend tells her that Alfred will most likely "grow tired of this meaningless pursuit." Halfway through the third week, the pain begins to subside, and Alfred's body begins to adjust to the rigorous training. Alfred begins to wake in the morning without an alarm, enjoying his run though wishing he had someone—particularly James—with whom to run. One afternoon at work business is slow, and Alfred practices boxing moves in the storage room. Mr. Epstein walks in and gives Alfred a pointer, and Alfred realizes that Mr. Epstein is "Lightning Lou Epp," an old boxer that Bud and some of the others talked about. Epstein tells Alfred to give it up and says that these days one cannot make a living being a boxer anymore—that in effect, the sport has been ruined. He attributes the sport's demise to television and to the fact that there are too many crooked boxers and managers.

Later that summer, Aunt Pearl goes to vacation at a summerhouse, and her daughters stay with Dorothy and Wilson in Queens. Coming home from the gym one night, Alfred runs into Major. Major apologizes for the "misunderstand" they had earlier, and he tells Alfred to come to the clubhouse sometime, mentioning that James still hangs out there. Alfred begins to get impatient with his training—after six weeks of brutally hard work he has punched only a bag and at his own face in the mirror. He gets discouraged, especially watching some of the other fighters preparing for bouts and some even preparing to box professionally. One day Major comes into the gym to invite Alfred to a party that James will be attending. Later Donatelli asks Alfred if something is wrong. Alfred says no, and Donatelli tells him he must work harder. Alfred leaves and decides to stop at the clubhouse.

Chapter 11

Major offers Alfred a drink, but Alfred refuses. Major's girlfriend introduces Alfred to her cousin, Arlene. Major tries again to get Alfred to take a drink, and finally Alfred agrees when Major gives him half an orange soaked in vodka. Alfred asks about James, and they tell him James will come later. A marijuana joint gets passed around the room, and Arlene convinces Alfred to take a drag. Alfred drinks and smokes until he is barely able to walk. He goes out into the alley for some fresh air then goes back down to the clubhouse where the party has started again. James arrives, looking sick. He calls Alfred a fool for forgetting about the alarm. Hollis shows James a packet of white powder. Alfred tries to get James to stop, but James ignores him.

Chapter 12

Alfred sleeps in past his alarm, waking only to answer the phone. Aunt Pearl gives him a message to relay to Dorothy, but Alfred forgets. He sleeps through an entire day and night, and then Major calls him, telling Alfred that he has a car and that they are all going out to Coney Island. Major picks Alfred up, and when they arrive at Coney Island they send some of the boys to get food. Only Alfred and Major are in the car when police officers start checking licenses and registrations. They jump out of the car and run, and Alfred realizes that Major stole the car. Away from the police, Alfred buys a load of food and a few minutes after eating it throws it up. He goes to see a movie and eventually gets back to Harlem.

Work drags and Alfred avoids everyone—Henry, the clubhouse, and the gym. A few days later, he decides to empty his locker. He apologizes to Mr. Donatelli for quitting and asks if he would have been any good had he continued. Donatelli says he does not know—the only way to know is the first time a boxer gets hurt.

Analysis

In Chapters 10 and 11, Alfred succumbs to the temptations around him. For six weeks he diligently fought them off and concentrated on his training, but in Chapter 10 he reaches a breaking point. Sick of working hard only to be told to work harder, and sick of punching bags and at his reflection, Alfred decides suddenly that training for a boxer seems to be more work and sacrifice than it is worth. Lipsyte demonstrates how easy it is to slip up, since temptations lurk all around. Major represents these temptations and when he comes to the gym to invite Alfred to the party, suddenly all the hard work and discipline becomes tainted. Major's appearance in the gym is symbolic; it represents the end of Alfred's commitment and the introduction of parties, alcohol, drugs, and crime back into Alfred's life.

Major picks a time when Alfred is particularly vulnerable, when he is already fed up with the training and does not seem to be making as much progress as he wants. He slides right back into the squalid world of the clubhouse and can only make a few half-hearted attempts at resisting alcohol and the other dangers around him. Soon the temptations are overwhelming, and Alfred loses himself in them. Instead of surrounding himself with boxing and training, Alfred chooses instead to surround himself with the party's iniquities. But, seeing James in his current state is like looking into a crystal ball. James has slipped down this path, but is farther down the road to complete moral desolation. When Alfred sees James, Alfred realizes that James's problems go further than parties, marijuana and alcohol. James's addictions have grown deadly, and Alfred realizes just how far gone his friend is. Alfred's sickness and near delirium in the twenty-four hours after the party is as much a reaction to his body's over- consumption of alcohol and marijuana as it is his mind's reaction to seeing James as a junkie. For a few hours, Alfred thinks he has found the place he truly belongs—in the clubhouse as opposed to the gym. Seeing James in his ghostly state, Alfred realizes that he does not want this lifestyle for himself. The experience the following day at Coney Island serves to cement that realization. The next few days Alfred is not himself. Tired and depressed, he is coping with the fact that he fits in nowhere has no one with whom to belong. He responds by withdrawing from the world and nearly everyone he knows.

When he decides to go back up to the gym to empty his locker, Alfred has a conversation with Mr. Donatelli that provides him a glimmer of hope, even though Mr. Donatelli's answer to the question of whether he thinks Alfred would ever be a contender is only "I don't know." Donatelli does not promise anything, but the potential in his statement is more than Alfred has in anything else. In every other aspect of his life, the answer to the question of whether Alfred will become something seems to be no. Compared to that, Donatelli's response offers Alfred something he realizes he lost in the last few days: hope.

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