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The Natural

Bernard Malamud

Important Quotations Explained

Mythological References in The Natural

Key Facts

At thirty-three the Whammer still enjoyed exceptional eyesight. He saw the ball spin off Roy's fingertips and it reminded him of a white pigeon he had kept as a boy, that he would send into flight by flipping it into the air. The ball flew at him and he was conscious of its bird-form and white flapping wings he heard a noise like the bang of a firecracker at his feet and Sam had the ball in his mitt. Unable to believe his ears he heard Mercy intone a reluctant strike.

This quote is from the "Pre-Game" part of the novel, where the nineteen-year-old Roy strikes out the Whammer, an aging, Babe Ruth-like baseball star. This scene is significant for several reasons. First, it is the first example of Roy's raw talent. He is a "natural" who is able to strike out one of the game's best hitters. But in the novel's mythic scheme, this scene represents the vegetative cycle, a vague group of primeval myths that center around the seasons. Using this myth as a model, Roy symbolizes the new life that appears to replace the older god, last season's god, the Whammer, whose autumn has passed into winter and death. After he strikes out, the Whammer is an old man, rather than a star player at the height of his career.

The passage is also a good example of Malamud's unique writing style. The Whammer perceives Roy's pitch as if in dream: time slows down for the Whammer's last moments as a baseball hero. The moment itself is packed with symbolism, most significantly with birds, which in The Natural almost always represent negative things—loss or sadness, or anger and danger.

Wonderboy flashed in the sun. It caught the sphere it was biggest. A noise like a twenty-one gun salute cracked the sky. There was a straining, ripping sound and a few drops of rain spattered to the ground somebody then shouted it was raining cats and dogs. By the time of Roy got in from second he was wading in water ankle deep.

This quote is from Chapter II of "Batter Up!" It represents Roy's first hit, and again, there are several levels of symbolism and metaphor packed into a few sentences. When Roy hits the ball, he enters his role as Sir Perceval in the story of the Fisher King and the Waste Land. The Waste Land is symbolized (at the most superficial level) by the dry and parched playing field. Not only has the team been suffering a "drought" in terms of having no wins, but the field itself has suffered an actual dry spell. Roy ends both with his amazing hit, literally "ripping" the clouds open and bringing on an enormous downpour of rain that last for three full days, at the end of which the playing field is once again green.

But there is also a sexual element to the scene. The story of Perceval is based on much earlier legends, which in turn are tied up in very ancient myths of fertility gods and goddesses. Wonderboy is nothing if not a phallic symbol, and terms like "ripping" and "straining," as well as the spattered drops, are a kind of ejaculation. This itself is a metaphor for the life-giving force that Roy has within himself, capable of healing the Waste Land.

Noticing Toomey watching her, Roy stole a quick look. He caught the red dress and a white rose [he was] drawn by the feeling that her smile was for him she seemed to be wanting to say something, and then it flashed on him the reason she was standing was to show her confidence in him he became aware that the night had spread out in all directions and was filled with an unbelievable fragrance.

This quote is from "Batter Up!" Chapter V. If Roy is a vegetative god—a symbol of virility and masculinity—then his counterpart is Iris Lemon, a fertility goddess whose very presence causes one stranger near her to feel an inexplicable sexual urge. In this key passage, Iris provides strength to Roy when he needs it most. In a more metaphorical sense, Iris the fertility goddess reinvigorates Roy's metaphorical phallus, Wonderboy, which has been "sagging like a baloney." Roy escapes from his slump, and it is clear that his best bet is to be with Iris rather than Memo.

"Experience makes good people better." She was staring at the lake. "How does it do that?" "Through their suffering." "I had enough of that," he said in disgust. "We have two lives, Roy, the life we learn with and the life we live with after that. Suffering is what brings us toward happiness All it taught me was to stay aware from it. I am sick of all I have suffered." She shrank away a little.

This quote, from "Batter Up!" part VI, reveals just how little Roy has learned from his life, and what it will mean if he does not choose to be with Iris. Iris has a wisdom that Memo does not even come close to having. Iris's statements about the necessity of suffering as a way of truly appreciating happiness recall a constant theme in Malamud's novels. Roy will not come to understand these words until the very last pages of the novel, when he thinks, "I never did learn anything out of my past life, now I have to suffer again." The essential point is easy to grasp: only through suffering can one recognize happiness for what it is. Roy's dreams of wealth and fame, of breaking records and getting what life "owes" him, is only a mere childish fantasy of what happiness is supposed to be.

Roy caught the pitcher's eye. His own had blood in them. Youngberry shuddered. He threw—a bad ball—but the batter leaped at it. He struck out with a roar.

This passage is from the ninth chapter of "Batter Up!" The moment represents the fulfillment of the vegetative cycle: Roy has become the Whammer, and he is struck out by a young kid nearly the same age Roy was when he struck out the Whammer. This moment is probably the greatest change that the well known 1984 film adaptation of The Natural makes. It can be argued that Roy striking out is key to the story's mythological underpinnings: the vegetative cycle must continue. It is pure tragic irony to have Roy be struck out just as he struck out the Whammer. On the other hand, the film allows Roy to succeed, and thus fulfill the quest of the Holy Grail (the pennant), as Sir Perceval did. Finally, it can be argued that Roy got no less than he deserved for his thick-headedness throughout most of the novel. Whatever the outcome and its interpretation, when Roy swings that bat for the last time, a roar is inevitable.

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