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The Natural

Bernard Malamud

Batter Up! Part VI

Batter Up! Part VI

Batter Up! Part VII

Summary

Roy, elated after his tryst with Iris, enjoys a rowdy trip on a train with his teammates. He sleeps restlessly, however, blaming it on all the food he has eaten. While Roy has been hitting fantastically, he has also started eating—a lot. He eats gigantic amounts of food, only to want more.

Roy carries a letter from Iris, but he has not yet read it. He now finds the idea that Iris is a grandmother "terrifying" because he feels "as young and frisky as a colt." Soon Roy is back to dreaming about Memo. Soon, Memo comes to visit him in Boston; though Roy is initially wary, remembering how she gave him no support during his slump, he feels sure that "once he got an armlock on her things would go better." Memo reads his mind and tells him not to be angry with her; she just cannot bear to be around people "who are blue." Roy makes a move on Memo, but she resists, implying that she is in her period—an implication that Roy completely misses, and has to be spelled out for him.

The Knights continue to climb in the rankings and soon are vying for a first- place spot. The fans love Roy but he does not appreciate them in return: "He hadn't forgotten the dirty treatment that had dished out during the time of his trouble…the more they cheered, the colder he got to them." But the fans continue to cheer Roy, as do most of the sportswriters, who see him as a "throwback to a time of true heroes."

Max Mercy, however, continues to dig for dirt, and the journalist is frustrated by the distinct lack of dirt on Roy. One day, Max discovers a picture of Roy as a clown—one of Roy's many odd jobs—and prints it, much to Roy's annoyance. Later, Roy gets back at Max by pretending to be a German waiter in a restaurant and spilling many different food items all over him.

Roy goes to Memo's apartment one night and discovers her in the company of Gus Sands. The two are playing cards, and soon Gus and Roy begin shooting craps. At first, Gus does very well, but by the end of the game he owes Roy $2,100. Gus writes Roy a check and then implies that he could get Roy a lot more money by sabotaging games. Roy angrily refuses the idea. In the kitchen, Roy makes a pass at Memo, to which she responds indifferently. This indifference leaves Roy unsatisfied and Gus suspicious.

The next day, to everyone's surprise, the Reds succeed in breaking the Knights' winning streak. Soon, several teams successfully beat the Knights, and they begin to fall in the rankings. The fans turn on the team, and Pops becomes ill again. Even Roy's hitting declines, though not yet into a severe slump. However, when the first-place Pirates come into town, the Knights manage to beat them all three games. From then on, the Knights play in a very touch-and-go manner, winning some, losing some. When it all dies down, the Knights have a three-game lead on the Pirates, so it would take a combination of three Knight losses and three Pirate wins in order for a tie to occur.

Roy continues to think about Memo, and he even dreams about marrying her and living in a house with a redheaded baby. He later realizes that this image does not really mesh with the kind of girl Memo is. But to Roy's surprise, Memo invites him up to her room and greets him with a fresh kiss. He pushes her for sex, but she tells him that they can do so later that night. Before that, she has prepared an immense buffet—on Gus's dime—for Roy and the other players. The buffet is a surprise, but Roy is happy to eat.

When Roy finds out that Gus ordered the food, he becomes suspicious that it might be poisoned, but he eats anyway. Memo reveals that Pop does not know about the banquet. Roy becomes increasingly uncomfortable and wants to leave, and some of the players ask him to because then they will feel like they can leave too. Roy, however, realizes he does not want to walk out on Memo. She asks about his family, particularly his mother, but he calls his mother a whore who spoiled his father's life. Roy eats an enormous amount of food and then goes for a brief walk. He finally makes his way to Memo's room, where she is waiting for him, naked on the bed. As Roy approaches her, his stomach erupts, and he becomes so sick he collapses.

Analysis

This section may be one of the most frustrating for us to read. After his cathartic, spiritual liaison with Iris, it is reasonable to suspect that Roy will now go with her and achieve the true fulfillment he has been seeking. Instead, however, Iris is reduced to a mere recollection in his mind, a "fling." Roy refuses her for the very reason he should accept her: she is a grandmother, a force of life and fertility. However, Roy chooses to continue lusting after Memo, and suddenly she begins to reciprocate, albeit in her typically cold manner. Her association with Gus reveals her true nature, dangerous to Roy, yet he continues to lust after her. Roy is aware that something about Memo is not quite right, that there is "something about her, like all the good he had lately been eating, that left him, after the having of it, unsatisfied, sometimes even with a greater hunger than before." Like his desire for Memo, Roy's eating is a symbol of his lack of fulfillment. It is significant that after Roy decides not to pursue Iris, he suddenly develops a great craving for food. He is attempting to fulfill himself in a way that Memo and his own self-centered playing cannot; only Iris has the ability to provide the true fulfillment that would end his desire for both food and Memo. Here, the mythological underpinnings of the story start to give way to Malamud's own reservations about the power and place of myth in the modern world. Malamud's skepticism begins to turn the story away from the original Arthurian myth, in which Sir Perceval overcomes his own selfish preoccupations with fame and the codes of chivalry to successfully heal the Fisher King and, therefore, the Waste Land. It is now moving more toward Greek tragedy, where Roy is unable to overcome his tragic flaw(s), in order to achieve his quest. He clings to a fear of mortality, seeing Iris and her grandmotherhood as a reminder of death rather than a sign of life and fulfillment. After the brief affair with Iris, Roy returns to his selfish, appetite-driven ways: he is an animal, lusting after food and women, rather than taking on the responsibility of being a husband to Iris, a grandfather, and a real hero to his fans. In fact, Roy hates the fans, believing them to be a mob to whom he owes nothing; he never seeks out the children in the crowd. Even Babe Ruth, who was notorious for his obnoxious behavior and rude pranks, loved children and did much for them. Roy, in contrast, moves through life thinking only of himself, refusing the brief glimpse of another life that she offers.

The episode with the bellyache is another story pulled from the life of Babe Ruth, though Malamud implies that Roy may have been poisoned. There is heavy symbolism as Roy approaches Memo at the end of the chapter: "The raft with the singing green-eyed siren guarding the forbidden flame gave off into the rotting flood a scuttering one-eyed rat. In the distance though quite near, a toilet flushed, and though the hero braced himself against it, a rush of dirty water got a good grip and sucked him under." Critic Earl Wasserman, who analyzed The Natural in terms of the psychological frameworks of Carl Jung, notes that water often represents femininity; Memo, therefore, the "green-eyed siren," is revealed in her harmful nature in a rush of "dirty water." Even though Memo has agreed to this liaison with Roy, she is guarding her "forbidden flame"—a sexual reference to the redheadeded Memo and the way she draws her naked legs up to herself when Roy enters the room. Roy will never have Memo, though he never grasps this fact until it is too late.

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