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The Natural

Bernard Malamud

Batter Up! Part VI

Batter Up! Part V

Batter Up! Part VI

Summary

Iris Lemon awaits Roy in the park. With much effort, he has tracked her down and asked her for a date. As Iris waits for Roy, she remembers another time in a park, when she was only sixteen, and a man she had just met had date-raped her.

Roy shows up, and Iris gets into the car with him. He has been hitting very well in his games, but he has been unable to get Iris out of his mind after seeing her in the stands. But upon seeing her now, Roy is somewhat disappointed; she is heavier than he had thought, and she does look as good in a brown dress as she did in the red one. However, Roy admits that she is attractive, though he usually prefers slim girls like Memo.

Iris is likewise disappointed; in street clothes, Roy does not look like the warrior that appears to be in uniform, but merely like "any big-muscled mechanic or bartender on his night off." Roy thinks about Memo, but he also realizes that Iris has done something for him that Memo never could or would. He feels very grateful toward Iris.

They drive to a lake, where Roy parks the car. Roy asks Iris why she stood up for him that day in the stands. Iris reveals that she is not a baseball fan, but that she likes to read about the different players. She stood up for Roy in the stands because she hated "to see a hero fail. There are so few of them." Without heroes, Iris says, "we're all plain people and don't know how far we can go."

Iris tells Roy that he has a great influence on many young boys, and that he has to give these admirers his best, both as a player and as a man. Iris says it was hard for her to give up her privacy when she stood to support him, but she knew it was impossible to "do anything for anyone without giving up something of your own." Iris then asks Roy about his own life, and she presses Roy about his ambition.

Roy finally tells her the story of Harriet Bird, which he has never revealed to anyone. His life, he says, has been one of constantly frustrated ambition. Iris tries to console him, telling him that "suffering is what brings us toward happiness," but Roy responds that he is sick of suffering—a statement that causes Iris to shrink away from him.

Roy decides to go for a swim, and as he does so, Iris tells him that she has a daughter. Roy persuades Iris to swim too, and Roy makes a clumsy pass at her. She refuses, and he dives underwater, holding himself down until Iris appears to pull him up. They go to the shore to dry off, and Roy notes that "above her hips she looked like a girl" and below her hips, a woman. He makes love to her. As he does so, she reveals that she is not only a mother, but a grandmother. Roy pauses, but continues to make love, stopping Iris from asking a question: "Roy, are you—?"

Analysis

Though a relatively short chapter, this section includes one of the three most pivotal episodes in the novel. The first is when Roy goes on a date with Memo, thus creating his initial crisis; the second is the chapter detailing Roy's slump and the fact that Iris rejuvenates Roy's power and allows him to hit again. This third important chapter presents Roy with the possibility of true happiness and success, the ability to truly bring about the restoration of the metaphorical Waste Land by joining Iris, thus repeating the cycle of marriage between the fertility god and goddess (these ideas stem from Malamud's reading of critic Jessie Weston's book From Ritual to Romance, which identified the story of Perceval and the Fisher King with primitive vegetative myths). Indeed, Iris is Memo's opposite in virtually all respects, bringing life and strength where Memo takes it away. Iris is full ("heavy" as Roy calls it), whereas Memo is slim and waiflike; Iris's breasts are firm and "beat like hearts," whereas Memo's breast is "sick". Perhaps most significant, Iris has already produced two generations of offspring, proving she is a powerful source of life.

Most significantly, Iris also understands what it is Roy needs to be. She tells him that he must give his best not only as a player, but as a man; while Roy nods at this assertion, we know that Roy has no idea what Iris truly means. Iris hints that Roy must be exemplary not only in playing, but in life; to be a true hero—which Iris knows the world lacks—Roy must be an outstanding man as well as a great player. Only when his moral character matches his talent will his talent be fully unleashed. Until then, Roy's insecurities—his fear of death and greed for immortality through record- setting, his self-destructive lust for Memo, and his desire for wealth—will only weaken his talent and make things worse. Iris comes closest to making this point when she asks him why he makes so much of breaking as many records as possible. "Are your values so—" she begins, but at that moment, as Iris says words almost identical to those of Harriet Bird, Roy goes cold and thinks he hears a train. He is remembering Harriet and his time on that first train, in the darkness of the tunnel—a symbol of the womb and Roy's childish desire to return to it. Iris represents maturity; she knows that Roy's desire for records comes from his fear of death, and that this is one obstacle among many that he must overcome. The revelation that Iris is a grandmother creates yet another obstacle for Roy: to marry her, and thus become a grandfather, he must be willing to take on such a responsibility. Though he is thirty-four, Roy has yet to move into adulthood; we see that he stalled out at the age of nineteen, and that he must catch up quickly or suffer the consequences of mediocrity.

One of the most important ideas that Iris introduces is the notion that one can find happiness only through suffering. One must walk a razor edge between happiness and suffering; usually happiness is only one step ahead, if that. This fine line is a common idea in Malamud's novels, but literary critics have pointed out that few of Malamud's protagonists have learned the lesson Iris is hinting. Roy certainly has not—and never really does, unless perhaps at the very end of the novel. Roy remains wrapped up in himself; in his ambition to break records (thus, in a way, defeating death and insuring his immortality) and to be happy with Memo (which is likely as impossible as immortality). Worst of all, Roy treats Iris just as he treats Memo, clumsily asking for a kiss and then making love to her without listening to her. He treats Iris as an object, just as he has treated Memo, refusing to accept her as a person just as he refuses to recognize anything in himself beyond the superhero he thinks he should be. These refusals ultimately combine to bring about Roy's tragic failure at the end of the novel.

Iris's question "Roy, are you—" could be finished in many ways, and over the years critics have offered a number of possible endings. One of the most likely, however, considering the fact that Iris just previously has mentioned that she is a grandmother and sits up "in fright," suggests that the question probably has something to do with birth control. Roy, of course, ignores Iris and her question, treating her as he would Memo, though he has "never been so relaxed in sex"; it may seem that Roy has finally changed, accepting Iris for the savior she is, but in reality, he is only acting in the childish manner that he always has.

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