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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
As one of the myths that form the foundation of The Natural is that of the vegetative cycle, it is no surprise that we see vegetation-related motifs in the story. Most of them relate to Roy's identification with the vegetative god whose powers are a force of life and healing. When Roy first arrives at the Knights' field, it is parched and dry. With his first hit, however, he unleashes a torrent of rain that lasts for three days. The field is soon green and bright. Even more obvious is Iris Lemon. Her very name evokes both a flower and a fruit; she is the very force of life and fertility, already a grandmother at the early age thirty-three. When she stands up for Roy, there is an "unbelievable fragrance" in the air. Even Wonderboy, Roy's bat, is made from a tree; there seems to be something special in the wood that gives Roy powers beyond even the best players.
Birds later became a very important motif in Malamud's novels. They are especially prominent in the Natural, and generally, they are not signs of good. When Roy is playing poorly, birds hurt him; when he is doing well, he hurts birds. The first bird, of course, is Harriet Bird, who guns Roy down and sets his career back fifteen years. Later, when Roy hits his first home run, the ball "plummets to the earth like a dead bird." Later, when fielding, Roy accidentally catches a bird in his glove, killing it. Referring to his hated mother, he calls her "that bird"; just before he gets sick, he eats a number of hamburgers that remind him of "dead birds." Roy thinks of Memo as a bird "flitting about in a cage." Unfortunately for Roy, he is unable to recognize the danger of these birds until it is too late.
Water, commonly used in literature to signify life or femininity, appears several times in The Natural. The silver bullet that strikes Roy "cuts through the water" from Roy's metaphorical perspective. Later, when hypnotized, Roy believes he is drowning, and he sees a flitting, red-haired mermaid escaping his grasp (an image of Memo). When Roy gets his first hit, he unleashes a torrent of rain. On Roy's date with Memo, the body of water they visit is polluted, and they cannot swim; this unclean water is also symbolic of the fact that Roy can never be with Memo. On the other hand, Roy can swim at the lake to which he and Iris go; when he dives under water at this lake, he does not get lost, but is rescued by a white-armed, darkhaired "mermaid"—Iris. Finally, when Roy's bellyache attacks him, he sees himself as drowning in a flood of dirty water with the siren, Memo, staring at him.