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The Natural

Bernard Malamud

Batter Up! Part V

Batter Up! Part IV

Batter Up! Part VI

Summary

The Knights do very well at the next game. Roy attempts to follow up on his date with Memo, but she refuses him, telling him she is going out with Gus Sands that night instead. Roy is annoyed, and though he is beginning to think he would be better off without Memo, she is more and more on his mind.

In the game the next day, Roy does not have a single hit. He goes hitless the next game as well, and people begin to talk of a slump. Roy ignores this talk, however, instead checking the newspapers for reports of a boy being hit by a car, as he is convinced that Memo struck a child on their date. But Roy continues to strike out, and the pitchers begin to feel confident pitching against him.

Roy begins to miss the sensation of making a good hit, but even more, he misses the gloating when they add a new tally to his record. Roy does not know what is causing the slump; he stops reading and going to movies in an attempt to protect his eyes, and he overanalyzes his batting posture until he is completely unsure of himself. He cannot decide whether to ask for help or to try and wait out the slump.

Roy asks Red Blow about it, and Red thinks that something is worrying Roy. Roy just has to figure out what it is. Pop's advice is to stop going after bad balls, but Roy does not think that is the problem. Pop is worried too, and his hands are beginning to break out again. Pop recommends that Roy try bunting, but Roy thinks he looks foolish bunting, so he stops. Pop suggests that Roy stop batting with Wonderboy, but Roy resists this suggestion.

Memo tells Roy that Bump Baily used to ease his nerves when in a slump by visiting a fortuneteller named Lola. Roy goes and visits Lola, but all she can tell him is that he will soon meet and fall in love with a dark-haired lady. She can tell him nothing else; his future his closed to her. After the meeting, Roy tries many superstitious behaviors, though he had never been particularly superstitious before.

Roy's superstition begins to affect the knights, who go back to their own superstitions while their talent continues to unravel. The entire team's performance sags along with Roy's, and the fans quickly begin to blame Roy, claiming that he jinxed himself on Roy's Day by promising to be "the greatest ever in the game." Sportswriters begin to claim that Roy has been playing on borrowed time all along. Finally, a furious Pop tells Roy that he will sit on the bench until he uses a bat other than Wonderboy.

In the locker room after a game, Roy sits and wishes he had a home to return to. He longs to be on a train speeding through the night, in which he would throw Wonderboy out the window at the first station. Roy returns to his hotel and faces himself in the mirror, seeing Bump Baily's face before realizing it is his own. Roy's youth is long gone.

A few days later, the Knights go to Chicago for several games. Pop reveals to Roy that he had hired a private detective to watch Roy and keep him out of a trouble, though such measures are "a waste of good money now." As they head to the hotel, a man appears before Roy, telling Roy that his son was hit by a car and is slowly dying. The man promised the boy that Roy would hit a home run for him; the man hopes this will reinvigorate his son's fighting spirit. Roy tells the man he will do what he can.

However, at the game, Roy refuses to use any bat other than Wonderboy, and Pop benches him. Roy notices a dark-haired woman in the stands, wearing a red dress with a white flower pinned to it. At a point late in the game, when the Knights desperately need a hit, Pop tells Roy to take a bat (other than Wonderboy) and go hit. Roy still refuses, but the dark-haired lady stands up in the stands and looks at him. But Pop sends in another hitter.

Finally, when another pinch hitter is needed, Roy decides he will do it without Wonderboy. Pop tells Roy to go ahead and use Wonderboy anyway. Roy gives up two strikes while Wonderboy resembles a "sagging baloney." In the stands, the dark- haired lady stands up again. Roy realizes she is doing so to show her confidence in him. On the last pitch, Roy connects, hitting a home run that wins the game for the Knights and fulfills the boy's wish.

Analysis

Roy here suffers his first and only slump, which seems to be more or less a direct result of his problems with Memo. He is briefly elated after their first date, as disastrous as it is, and he has a good game. But when Memo rebuffs Roy's advances, telling him she is going to see Gus Sands, Roy becomes troubled and his slump begins. Feverishly daydreaming in the locker room, Roy sees himself on a dark train once again, symbolizing his childish desire to return to the womb, to flee back to innocence before Harriet Bird first thwarted his ambition. Roy has no confidence in his abilities, and soon he is overanalyzing everything about his hitting—his stance, his timing, the power of Wonderboy. The super-bat itself becomes a "sagging baloney," is a fairly obvious reference to the bat's phallic symbolism. Roy has been weakened, so his bat does not carry the life-giving powers it did when he knocked the cover off the ball and brought on days of rain.

The episode of the sick boy is taken directly from the life of Babe Ruth. In the well-known story, a sick boy in the stands asked Ruth to hit a home run for him. Ruth pointed out into the stands, calling his hit, and proceeded to smash it in that very direction. Malamud incorporates this story, as well as several others from the life of Ruth and other real-life ballplayers, in the novel. In Roy's case, the home run not only rejuvenates the sick boy, but it also ends Roy's slump. The cause of Roy's own rejuvenation, however, comes from the strange dark-haired lady, later revealed to be a woman named Iris Lemon. In mythological terms, Iris is the vegetative goddess who is the proper mate of Roy's heroic god. She, like Roy, is a force of life and rejuvenation. When she stands up, the stranger next to her feels a "strong sexual urge" for no apparent reason. Roy, when he realizes she is standing to give him confidence, recognizes an "unbelievable fragrance" in the air. Iris Lemon, the flower and fruit, could not be more clearly a symbol of life and fertility; her presence turns Wonderboy from a "sagging baloney" back into a strong, firm weapon.

Malamud's love of metaphor and romantic, nearly flowery language is especially apparent in several paragraphs of this chapter. Take the scene in which Roy contemplates himself in his room, for instance: "Gasping for air, he stood at the open window and looked down at the dreary city till his legs and armed were drugged with heaviness. He shut the hall door and flopped into bed. In the dark he was lost in an overwhelming weakness I am finished, he muttered. The pages of the record book fell apart and fluttered away in the wind. He slept and woke, finished. All night long he waited for the bloody silver bullet." Malamud moves freely from narrating actual events—Roy flopping into bed, Roy speaking—to the details of a dream, in which the pages of a record book flutter away and a bloody silver bullet works its way toward Roy. Both are symbols: the record book represents Roy's misguided hopes of fame, which will lead to his failure; the silver bullet is that failure itself, the result of the limits of Roy's vision and ambition. As long as Roy fails to understand his role in terms of the Fisher King and the Waste Land, he is always vulnerable to the silver bullet of Harriet Bird.

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