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The Contender

Robert Lipsyte

Chapters 19–20

Chapters 16–18

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Chapter 19

Alfred is especially nervous before the fight. Henry can sense it—Alfred is looking at a book upside down and asking what time it is every two minutes. Henry says it is too bad that it's Alfred's last fight, but that maybe if he wins big Mr. Donatelli will let him continue. Alfred says there is no chance. Henry tells Alfred how much he enjoyed training him, and Henry mentions that he is the one who bought Alfred his boxing robe. Alfred is touched and sad that he and Henry will not be training together anymore. Spoon comes home and mentions that a kid pulled a knife on him that day. Spoon told the kid that if he's scared to walk around without a knife he should see Alfred and Henry about learning to box. Spoon also tells Alfred that he knows of a narcotics clinic where James can go. Alfred says that he will tell Spoon if he sees James again.

When they arrive at the ring, Alfred finds out that he is matched against Elston Hubbard. Donatelli says to untape Alfred's hands because Alfred is not fighting. Hubbard is older, more experienced, and heavier than Alfred, and Donatelli is worried Alfred will get hurt. Alfred insists on fighting. Donatelli even threatens to leave, but Alfred tells him that he needs Donatelli in his corner. Finally, Donatelli relents.

Within five seconds Hubbard lays Alfred out on the mat. Alfred gets up and keeps fighting. Hubbard continues to beat on Alfred, sending him to the mat again, and, still, sends him to the floor a third time in the next round. Donatelli comes close to stopping the fight, but Henry persuades him not to. Alfred lasts till the end, and Hubbard wins by majority decision. After the round Alfred and Hubbard hug each other, and Hubbard congratulates Alfred on being so tough. In the locker room, Donatelli says, "Now you know, Alfred. Now you know, too."

Chapter 20

Alfred comes home and apologizes to Aunt Pearl for being so late. He also says that he looks worse than he feels. She tells him that the police were there looking for James. James had broken into Epstein's again, through the front window and had gotten away. Alfred says he hopes James does not get caught, and Pearl says that James cut himself badly on the window and probably will not get too far. Alfred takes off like a shot. He goes to Central Park, to a thicket of bushes where he and James used to play as children. James is there, and Alfred crawls inside. Alfred tries to convince James to go to the hospital, but James wants to be left alone. James asks Alfred for money for a fix, but Alfred refuses and says he wants to help James beat the addiction. Alfred tells James that he is going to stick by him, and that they are going to go back to school and that James is going to get a job. Alfred says he will help with everything. James refuses, and Alfred gets up to leave, which makes James relent. The book ends as Alfred walks James to the hospital.

Analysis

The final two chapters represent the ending of Alfred's boxing career and his advancement to a new station in his life. Alfred's nervousness before this last match does not surface because he thinks he will be outmatched. Rather, he is nervous because this is more than a match—it is a test to see if he "knows." It is a test to see if he has something in him that Willie Streeter did not—something that might not make him a champion boxer but will ensure that he is someone special. For Alfred, this is what it all really comes down too—his own knowledge of what and who he is, which he knows will be tested and demonstrated in this final match. As Donatelli predicted, Alfred is hopelessly outmatched in his last fight. However, he is not outclassed, and there is an important distinction. Hubbard actually sends him to the mat three times, but Alfred keeps getting up. Even Hubbard is impressed by Alfred's resiliency.

Alfred finally and fully reconciles quitting boxing with possessing a special drive and trait in chapter 19. He reconciles many aspects about himself that he had been unsure or unhappy about for a long time. In chapter 20, Alfred is able to complete the final reconciliation—that with James. James is up to the exact same thing he was up to the in first chapter of the book. Not only has he failed to stop engaging in criminal activity, but he is so stagnant that he is attempting to engage in the exact same criminal activity in the exact same place as he did before. In so doing, James has to realize that his chances of getting caught are incredibly high, especially because he knows the Epsteins have an alarm. It does not matter, however, because James has a one-track mind that focuses only on how he can get money to get drugs.

Alfred finds James back in their old hideout, symbolizing James's regression and fear. James asks for help in returning there, but he outwardly rejects Alfred's help until Alfred threatens to leave. Alfred is not conned by James this time, and he succeeds in getting James to agree to go to the hospital first and then deal with the rest of his life. Alfred, knowing just how hard it is to get through a tough time alone, tells James he will be there for him all the way. The book comes full circle as Alfred loses James's friendship, becomes alone and disillusioned, discovers boxing and truths about himself, then uses what he has gained to be a real friend to James.

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