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Identify the elements of Arthurian tradition in The Natural.
Allusions to the legends of King Arthur abound in The Natural. Some of the symbols are easy to recognize: Wonderboy is Roy's version of Excalibur, while the team itself is called the "Knights," echoing the Knights of the Round Table. Some of the other symbols require a greater familiarity with the Arthurian legends to recognize, particularly the legend of Sir Perceval and the Fisher King. Based on this legend, Pop Fisher is a representation of the Fisher King, Roy is Sir Perceval, the Holy Grail is the league pennant, and the Waste Land is a number of things—the playing field, the fans, and the city of New York itself.
Compare the roles of Memo and Iris in Roy's life.
Several literary critics have noted that in Malamud's novels, women are either "saviors" or "destroyers." It would be difficult to find a better example of this than in The Natural. Memo and Iris are opposites from the start; at one point, seeing the red-haired Memo walk out in a black dress, he imagines what it might look like to see a black-haired woman in a red dress. This turns out to be exactly what Iris wears when she first stands up for Roy during his slump. But the differences between the two are much more significant than their clothing. Memo is young, slim, and beautiful; Iris is thirty-three, somewhat heavier, and attractive, if not quite as beautiful. Memo's advantage, however, ends at this attractiveness. Memo is brooding, given to melodrama, and has a childish father-fixation on the criminal Gus Sands. Memo sucks life away, even as she (perhaps unwittingly) seduces. Iris is a giver of life; she is so fertile that she is a grandmother at the age of thirty-three. Even the two women's names reveal some of their respective characters. "Memo Paris" speaks only of loss. It makes one think of memory, something forgotten, as well as Paris, the man who stole Helen from Agamemnon (thus giving rise to the Trojan War, as described in Homer's Iliad). Iris Lemon has the name of both a flower and a fruit; she is the vegetative goddess, almost bursting with life and strength. Unfortunately, Roy is blinded by his own childish desires, and he is unable to make the proper distinction between these two women.
Why does Roy strike out at his last at-bat?
There is no definitive answer to this question, but a number of possibilities. It is all the more important to consider this question in light of the fact that the outcome of the film of The Natural is very different from and much more optimistic than the novel. The easiest answer is that, at his last at-bat, Roy does not have Wonderboy. More important, perhaps, the last pitch Roy gets is a "bad ball," but he swings at it anyway. Throughout the novel, it is implied that Roy's tendency to swing at bad balls is because Wonderboy always helped him hit those balls; in this sense, Wonderboy is not only a weapon of power, but also a sort of crutch, hiding a weakness. Pop has already expressed reservations about Roy's tendency to swing at bad balls; without the supernatural aid of Wonderboy, Pop's warning comes true.
There is an alternate answer to the question, however. Roy may be destined or fated to strike out, much as he strikes out the Whammer fifteen years earlier. The idea of the vegetative myth, around which much of the legend of the Fisher King—and therefore The Natural—is based, a cycle repeats itself every year, as the flowers, insects, and other beings die in the fall, to be replaced by new life the next year. In being struck out, Roy may simply have been fulfilling the cycle he started when he struck out the Whammer so many years earlier.