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The Natural

Bernard Malamud

Batter Up! Part IV

Batter Up! Part III

Batter Up! Part V

Summary

The fans of the Knights hold "Roy's Day" in honor of Roy. As it has leaked out to the press that Roy's salary is meager and that the Judge has refused to give him a raise. The fans bring thousands of presents to Roy, some quite lavish, including televisions, lifetime passes to the Paramount Theater, and even a Mercedes-Benz. Roy addresses the crowd, thanking them and saying that he will do his best to be "the greatest there ever was in the game." He then drives the Benz triumphantly around the field, stopping at Memo's box and asking her for a date after the game.

The game goes well, and afterward Roy and Memo head toward the ocean. They eat in uncomfortable silence; Roy is troubled by Memo's continued indifference. They stop by a stream to go swimming, but they are unable to do so, as a sign tells them the water is polluted. As they stand looking at the water, Memo recalls Bump wistfully, and Roy demands to know what Bump had that he does not. Memo responds by listing a number of things, absentmindedly reminiscing about her times with Bump. Roy believes that Memo is glossing over her memories of Bump, and that Bump was not nearly as good a boyfriend as she remembers him.

Roy changes the subject to Gus. Memo tells Roy that Gus is like a father to her, but no more. She reveals that her father left her family at a young age, and that she then went to Hollywood, where she won a beauty contest. She was told, however, that she could not act, and she was sent home. Memo says that after Bump, she realized she could not be happy anymore. She asks Roy to talk about his past, but he refuses to, saying only that he has suffered. He now thinks only of becoming the champ and "having what goes with it."

He tries to kiss and grope Memo, but she resists him, saying that her breast is "sick." They get in the car and she drives, faster and faster in the night without the lights on. Roy thinks he sees a young boy coming out of the woods and he quickly tells Memo to turn on the lights, hearing a thump as she does so. Memo insists it was a log, but Roy is sure they hit the boy. Roy makes her pull over, but there is no blood on the bumper.

Roy then drives, but he accidentally drives the car off into a ditch. He and Memo are relatively unhurt; Memo's sick breast is bruised while Roy receives a black eye. Upon returning to the hotel, Pop yells at Roy for injuring himself and for getting no sleep before an important game. Pop also warns Roy to stay away from Memo; Pop says that she is unlucky and she can be a "whammy" to other people. Roy assures Pop that he will change Memo's luck as well as Pop's, and get him the pennant. Before Roy goes to bed, Max Mercy tries to get a picture of his black eye, but Roy escapes him.

Analysis

This section serves as a turning point in the novel, as Roy's infatuation with Memo begins to take a toll on him and his ability. By this point it is becoming clear that Memo is bad news for Roy. Despite his attempts to woo her, she has not warmed up to him at all, and she is still mourning Bump. Aside from Pop's overt warnings, there are also more metaphorical signs of the danger Memo presents. The swimming water Roy and Memo visit is poisoned (compare this to the lake which Roy and Iris Lemon visit later). Also, Memo's "sick breast" reveals that she is not a nurturer, a force for giving life; in mythological terms, Memo is not the vegetative goddess whom Roy's hero must marry in order to fulfill the seasonal cycle. All these symbols are part of the mythological format that Malamud has placed in his story: The Natural is not so much a realistic novel as a myth in a modern setting. However, Malamud does not stick to this formula at all times, and as the novel progresses, the reality of the modern world puts more and more pressure on Roy. Additionally, Malamud's own skepticism about such heroes eventually causes Roy to tragically—but fairly definitively—fail in the task that has been set before him: to revitalize the land by healing the Fisher King.

The Natural also contains aspects of the romantic genre, stories about knights and ladies and the deeds knights do to win their ladies' favor. We can see these romantic conventions at Roy's Day, when Roy drives his car around the ballpark—just as Perceval might parade his horse around the jousting field—before coming to Memo's box to ask for a date. Even prior to this, Roy has already brought a jinx upon himself by telling his fans that he will do his best "to be the greatest in the game." Such unabashed arrogance shocks even Roy's greatest fans, and it reveals that Roy has not changed at all since Harriet Bird asked the nineteen-year-old Roy whether fame and fortune were "all" he wanted in life. The fans are worried that Roy's declaration might "tempt the wrath of some mighty powerful ghosts"; indeed, so it does, as it raises the specter of Harriet Bird in the form of Memo. Roy's date with Memo is hardly one for the record books; he is left with a black eye, a fear that Memo may have killed a boy and, no more than a passionless kiss and a clumsy grope of Memo's "sick breast." Memo is already beginning to sap his strength, and many other characters, including Pop, can tell. Roy is becoming confused: "In a way he was tired of her—she was too complicated—but in a different way he desired her more than ever." We see childishness in Roy's inability to pull himself away from his pursuit of Memo, and it is frustrating for us to witness Roy's slow descent into failure. Memo, the "seductive enchantress," is a siren leading Roy to his peril, but Roy is no Odysseus; he is unable to withstand Memo's charms and the jinx that comes with it—the destructive obsession that Memo inspires in all men who pursue her. Bump dies just as he is imagining himself living in a pleasant house married to Memo; later, Roy's own spiritual death occurs during very similar thoughts.

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