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The Natural

Bernard Malamud

Batter Up! Part II

Batter Up! Part I

Batter Up! Part III

Summary

On his first full day with the Knights, Roy arrives at the clubhouse, only to become the victim of a number of practical jokes, most played by Bump. Bump nearly saws up Roy's bat, Wonderboy, but Roy successfully saves it. Bump implies that he purposely tricked Memo into sleeping with Roy, even though Memo is Bump's own girlfriend. Roy tries to forget about it and goes to batting practice, where he blasts every ball the star pitcher gives him.

Pop is ecstatic to have found such a good hitter, but he orders Wonderboy to be weighed and checked to make sure it is a legal bat. Inspired by Roy, most of the players begin to play better, while Bump plays better because he feels threatened by Roy's presence. Shortly before game time, Pop brings in a hypnotist who is supposed to help the players feel better and improve their performance. Roy has a strange vision in which he is lost underwater, searching for a mermaid who spurns him. He rips himself awake and refuses to undergo any more hypnosis, causing an angry Pop to bench him until he agrees to the hypnotism.

The team begins to lapse back into mediocrity, each of the players following his own sort of superstition. Many of the players have fans who laud them; the most famous is Otto P. Zipp, a dwarf who roots for Bump and Bump alone. Roy, as he waits for Pop to break down and allow him to bat, dreams of Memo, who now hates him for what happened between them.

Finally, one game, Bump misses an important catch, and Pop orders Roy to bat for Bump, telling him to "knock the cover off it." Roy does just that, on the first pitch, smashing the cover off while the inside of the ball soars into the outfield. At the moment that he hits, a crack of thunder is heard, and within seconds there is a sudden rainfall that does stop for three days. The game is called off due to the rain, to be replayed later in the season. The drought is over, and soon the field becomes bright and green.

Bump, starting to feel the threat of Roy more intensely, starts hustling on the field. One day, however, Bump hustles a bit too hard and smashes himself up against the wall while trying to catch a ball, injuring himself seriously. Roy replaces Bump in the lineup, but there is more curiosity about how Roy manages to knock the cover off the ball.

Roy continues to bat well and field well, inspiring the Knights, who quickly start to win games. Pop is worried, however, as he notes that Roy tends to go for "bad balls"; Pop mistrusts a bad-ball hitter because they "sometimes make harmful mistakes." Roy, though, continues to break records, smashing hits and catching anything he sees—including a small bird that happens to fly over the outfield. The bird dies when Roy, thinking it a ball, snatches it out of the sky in his glove.

Analysis

This section recycles some of the events from "Pre-Game" in which Roy struggles against the Whammer. The Whammer, Bump Baily, and Roy are all cut from the same cloth—they are variations on the same basic hero, and each of them is eventually replaced. In the case of the Whammer, the younger man, Roy, defeats the older one. This pattern is altered, however, when young Roy is shot, preventing him from entering big-league baseball and taking his place as the next superstar. When Roy finally makes the Knights, he is already as old as the Whammer was when Roy displaced him. Furthermore, there is already a new Whammer on the team: Bump Baily. As both men are the same age, Roy does not replace or usurp Bump, but merely fills the space Bump leaves behind after he is incapacitated, and later dies. This replacement is emphasized by the physical similarities between the two men, though Roy has a bit more natural skill. Malamud does, however, use Bump's character to provide Memo with a convenient excuse for rebuffing Roy's advances. Were Roy to become the team's big star without Bump ever having played for the Knights, then Memo would cling to Roy as much as she did to Bump. As Memo has an attachment to the departed Bump, her callous behavior toward Roy is more plausible.

In terms of the novel's mythological structure, the most important event in this chapter is Roy's first at-bat. This event is the first time Roy exercises his abilities in the service of Pop Fisher, and the first time we see Roy's power of rejuvenation and life. These powers are part of Roy's role as a fertility hero- god in the mythological context of the novel. This at-bat brings the idea of the vegetative myth to the fore: Roy's hit coincides with an immediate downpour, and the rain continues unabated for three days. The drought ends, and soon the once- parched field is green and grassy once more. The hit ball "plummets like a dead bird" into center field, representing a metaphorical victory over the forces arrayed against Roy. But even as Roy's star begins to rise, particularly after he replaces Bump, his own tragic flaws begin to show: Roy goes after "bad balls," which Pop presciently realizes is a sign of someone who makes bad choices. Just as Roy goes after the wrong pitches, we see later that he also goes after the wrong women—Harriet Bird and Memo, rather than Iris Lemon. But in the case of bad pitches, Roy has a secret weapon—Wonderboy, which allows him to hit those bad pitches anyway. Wonderboy allows Roy, when hitting, to become a creature of pure talent, ignoring the many small decisions that most batters have to make. However, the fact that Roy never trains without Wonderboy is almost certainly naïve; it is not only possible, but likely, that Wonderboy will be gone someday. We sense that Roy needs to know how to hit well without his special bat; Roy, however, never seems to learn this lesson himself). But while Wonderboy can cover bad pitches, Roy has no secret weapon when it comes to women. As Pop suspects, Roy will make a "harmful mistake" by lusting after Memo, which ultimately saps him of his strength.

Aside from the story, it is also important to look at Malamud's language. When Roy hits the cover off the ball, Malamud writes that "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." The immense noise could be simply the crack of the bat or, more likely, the crack of both the bat and a roll of thunder. Much more suggestive is the "straining, ripping sound" and the drops of rain. Wonderboy is a phallic symbol, and language such as "straining" and "ripping" could be as simple as the sound of the cover coming off the ball, but also carries a sexual connotation. Roy's first hit with his weapon of manhood and fertility, Wonderboy, is a kind of ejaculation, an instance of life-giving force that rejuvenates the team and brings down three days of rain.

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