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The Contender

Robert Lipsyte

Chapters 16–18

Chapters 13–15

Chapters 19–20

Summary

Chapter 16

Alfred's second bout is against Griffin, who is much faster than Alfred's last opponent and strikes Alfred over and over again. A few rounds later, Griffin is getting tired, and Alfred knows his only chance is to deliver a knock out punch. Alfred dodges a punch and then delivers one to Griffin's jaw, knocking Griffin unconscious and winning by KO. Alfred tries to go over to Griffin, but the referee tells him to leave the ring. Henry congratulates Alfred on the hook, but Alfred says, "He just lay there like a dead man." Donatelli replies, "It's happened, Alfred." Alfred is haunted by the sound of his fist hitting Griffin's jaw. At work Mr. Epstein congratulates him on the win but comments that Alfred does not look so good. Twice Alfred makes mistakes on the register, thinking about the fight and its aftermath, and Mr. Epstein tells him to take the rest of the day off. On the street he bumps into Harold and Lynn, who are passing out flyers for a new recreation program. They try to recruit Alfred to be a part of it, saying that kids will look up to a boxer. Alfred says he has only had two fights, and he drops the flyer into the garbage and heads to a movie.

Chapter 17

Alfred's family has dinner at Dorothy and Wilson's house on Thanksgiving. Wilson congratulates Alfred on his second win. Alfred's cousin Jeff is home from college and says he would like to learn to box. Jeff says that he has been thinking of going to Africa, but has decided that he could do something positive in America. Wilson argues with Jeff, telling Jeff to work in a big corporation, while Jeff says that he does not want to work at the kind of place that hires a negro just to "look good"; he actually wants to change something in the world. Alfred says that he wants to go to night school to finish up high school and indicates that Spoon influenced the decision. Jeff offers to drive Pearl and Alfred home so that he can keep talking with Alfred. Jeff tells Alfred that Alfred has changed a lot—that he used to seem negative and "seemed to just drift along." Alfred agrees and says that back then he did not know much about anything. Jeff talks about wanting to be involved in self-help or blacks' rights programs, and Alfred mentions the recreation center for kids. Jeff tells Alfred that the opportunity at the recreation center sounds ideal for him (Jeff). Jeff drops them off and says he would like to come up to the gym sometime. On his way into his home, Alfred sees a bum on the stoop. He stops to talk to the bum, and it turns out to be James. Alfred tries to bring James upstairs, but James wants money for drugs. James asks over and over, desperate, until Alfred gives him money. Later, Alfred is upset with himself for not bringing James upstairs.

Chapter 18

Alfred's third fight is against Barnes, who fights rough. Alfred is slow and hesitant, constantly remembering the punch he threw against Griffin. The fight ends in a draw. Donatelli takes Alfred to the gym and tells him that it is time to retire because Alfred does not have "the killer instinct" and that he can tell Alfred does not really enjoy fighting. Alfred says he knows Mr. Donatelli was referring to more than boxing when he talked about being a contender. Alfred begs Donatelli to let him "finish." Donatelli tells Alfred that he did finish, and it is time to move on, but Alfred insists on one last fight "so [he] can know, too."

Analysis

Alfred's evolution as a person is dramatic in Chapters 17 and 18. The gradual process of maturation is observable throughout the last few chapters, but here it is especially apparent. The conversations he has with his cousin Jeff over Thanksgiving mark just how far he has come. His attitude is better, and he is neither sullen nor surly, but interactive. He talks of returning to school and of helping out at the recreation center. Suddenly there are a host of opportunities in his life. These opportunities are not necessarily related to boxing, but they have emerged because of boxing and the resulting confidence and sense of self that Alfred has gained from it.

Alfred begins learning who he really is and what he really wants. It is interesting that this process is sped up by his is haunting of what happened in his bout with Griffin. In realizing that he is not cut out to be a fighter, he realizes what he really is cut out to be. This mirrors Spoon's experience, as Mr. Donatelli suggested that Spoon retire from boxing and go to night school. Mr. Donatelli and the experience have had a similar effect on Alfred, as Alfred realizes his true aspirations.

Even in realizing that he is not cut out for boxing, Alfred also realizes how much it bothers him to have to quit. He does not disagree with Mr. Donatelli's opinion that he does not have the thirst for blood required to be a fighter, and he does not disagree that he is better of following other pursuits. He simply wants to finish his last scheduled fight, so he knows that even though he is finished fighting, he fulfilled his commitments without complaint or fear.

Alfred's primary motivation in completing his schedule of fights are his desire to overcome his fear and his limitations and his desire to exceed what he had previously thought was his potential. He has learned that he is someone capable of much more than he previously thought, and knowing that has given him a greater sense of worth. He does not want to cut against that same sense of worth by quitting or giving up too soon, even if he knows that he retire eventually. Alfred's realization that Mr. Donatelli referred to more than boxing when he was telling Alfred about trying to become a contender shows the ways in which the lessons Alfred has learned in boxing have extended to other facets of his life. Lipsyte represents boxing as a microcosm of life, within which there are good guys with good hearts and bad guys with bad hearts, talented and untalented boxers, boxers who are afraid and some who are fearless, and some who are contenders and some who are not.

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