Skip over navigation

The Natural

Bernard Malamud

Batter Up! Part III

Batter Up! Part II

Batter Up! Part IV

Summary

Bump Baily, after being treated in a maternity ward (a money-saving measure on the Judge's part), dies. Memo mourns for Bump, banging her fists on the wall and screaming his name. After a few weeks of mourning, she comes out of her hotel, dressed in black with her red hair showing on top; Roy wonders what she would look like if her dress were red and her hair black. Roy is still taken with Memo, even more so now that she is in mourning. He tries to forget her, but he has a "long memory for what he wants," so he simply accepts his desire for her. He believes her dislike for him begins to fade to a "neutrality" that he can eventually beat.

At Bump's funeral, Pop tells Roy not to blame himself for Bump's death. Roy responds that he never thought such a thing, but he is a bit uneasy when Pop tells him that Memo thinks otherwise; she believes Roy willed Bump into smashing himself on the wall. Roy does not believe it, but he does take Bump's place on the team.

The fans make little distinction between Roy and Bump, even going so far as to refer to Roy as Bump. Even Otto P. Zipp applauds Roy, though a bit half- heartedly. Newspapers, however, constantly compare Roy and Bump, revealing how absolutely similar they are in shape and ability. Over time, though, Roy begins to distinguish himself through his amazingly consistent hitting. He soon leads the league in hits, though he refuses to bunt, claiming bunting would do nothing for his record. Roy also refuses to use any bat aside from Wonderboy.

Roy alone wins many games for the Knights, but Pop is suspicious, believing it to be mere luck. The rest of the players wonder whether Roy, like Bump, plays solely for himself—wanting only to set records and gain fame—or for the team. The Knights begin to rise in the standings, reaching sixth place. New fans start coming in droves, snowing under the previous fans that had "come to watch [the Knights] suffer," but Zipp stops attending the games. Pop's hands heal, as does his heart, and he becomes a better manager and coach. The fans finally begin to forget Bump.

Despite his talent and contributions, Roy is still making no more than the $3,000 for which he was signed. He climbs the crooked tower overlooking the field to meet the Judge to ask for more money, but the incredibly stingy Judge refuses to give Roy another dime. The Judge tells Roy a story about a farmer, with the moral that "the love of money is the root of all evil." The Judge then presents Roy with a bill for a uniform that Bump destroyed. Roy angrily tears up the bill and throws it over the Judge's head. Roy has not won more money, but he has succeeded in making the Judge angry.

Outside, Max Mercy hounds Roy and tries to find out something about his past. Roy mentions only that the Judge has given him no money. Max takes Roy out to a club called the Pot of Fire, owned by Gus Sands, the "Supreme Bookie." There, Roy discovers that Memo is with Gus. Gus, who has a glass eye, claims he has an amazing ability to win bets. He quickly demonstrates this talent to Roy, winning $600 from Roy in the process. Gus tries to waive the debt, telling Roy that he will call in a favor someday, but Roy is not keen on that idea. Roy disappears and returns suddenly with a towel on his arm. Soon he is pulling tricks, drawing silver dollars from Gus's nose and a dead herring from Max's mouth. Gus and Max are humbled, while Memo laughs.

Analysis

In this section, the novel's parallels with mythology become fairly explicit. Roy, who can be loosely identified as Perceval, begins to fulfill his role as the savior of the Fisher King (Pop) by ending the drought (the Knights' long string of losses) and bringing life back to the Waste Land through the use of his abilities. The playing field turns green, Pop's hands heal, the fans begin to cheer, and everyone's spirits begin to rise. Roy is a force of life, giving hope and strength to the Waste Land and its inhabitants. Malamud's idea of the Waste Land is informed not only by the myth of the Fisher King, but also by the famous poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. The image of the Waste Land, therefore, not only refers to the physical playing field, but also extends to the crowds watching the game, all Knights fans, perhaps even American society itself. Malamud deliberately makes his allusions to myth vague and unclear, open to several interpretations. It is easy to identify the Fisher King with Pop Fisher and the Waste Land with the physical dried-up playing field; it is more difficult to pin down the various meanings behind these connections.

Unlike the myths about the Fisher King, The Natural is not a closed-ended story. In the myths, once the Holy Grail heals the Fisher King, the Waste Land disappears. In Malamud's novel, however, the Grail—the pennant—has not yet been achieved, and the healing Roy brings may only be fleeting. In Malamud's rather pessimistic worldview, even a romance, with all its mythic overtones, cannot survive a modern, realistic setting. Roy's strength is already being sapped by his distractions: fame, glory, wealth, and Memo. Roy himself does not even understand his own relationship to the Waste Land: he is indifferent to his fans and considers them little more than a measure of how famous he is. To him, the fans are not a part of the game, and he certainly does not believe he has an obligation to them. We see this attitude in Roy's disdain about revealing his past. He selfishly guards his shame at being shot by Harriet Bird, though he presumably has little or nothing to fear from the exposure of this incident. Nonetheless, Roy's talent remains, regardless of the events of his past.

The episode in the nightclub with the demonic Gus Sands and his "Pot of Fire" reveals how childish and inexperienced the thirty-four year-old Roy is. Gus wins $600 from Roy simply by playing on the ballplayer's obvious desire to impress Memo; Roy's series of magic tricks, meanwhile, only gives him a temporary victory over Gus and Mercy. Some critics have identified Gus Sands as a Merlin figure, able to predict the future through the modern magic of statistics. However, Merlin's role in Arthurian myth is primarily a positive one, an advisor to the King or the hero. Gus is more like a tempting devil, playing on Roy's love of money as Memo plays on his lust and Mercy his desire for glory. Indeed, these three individuals—Gus, Memo, and Mercy—embody all three of Roy's self-centered desires—wealth, sex, and glory, respectively. They each play off one another: Roy's desire for Memo leads him into losing money to Gus, then leads to the magic trick which gets Mercy scribbling furiously in his notebook.

Critics have also pointed out that the villains of The Natural all have problems with their eyesight. The Judge thrives in darkness, unable to sustain bright light, smoke curling around his head—a devil figure, if there ever was one, spouting terribly ironic platitudes about how money is the root of all evil. Gus has a glass eye, unable to see anything other than monetary gain, much like the Judge. Even Memo's vision is often obscured by her tears for Bump. These problems represent not only the narrow lack of vision afforded to most such villains, but also these villains' difficulty in correctly judging Roy's character. As we continue to see later Roy consistently surprises them, though his victories against them are hollow in the end.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us