These vegetative myths, which are prominent in the mythologies of many early cultures, describe a cycle of birth and death based on the seasons. Birth occurs in spring, when plants come back to life and animals return from hibernation; summer is the height of this life, and then fall begins the process of dying. Winter, when the land is cold and dark and lifeless, represents death. Early cultures paid close attention to this cycle, and their myths were often based on the seasons. Thus, the gods (or more often goddesses, such as the earth-mother Gaia) were born in spring, then became old and perished by late fall, only to be reborn or replaced in the following spring. Malamud was familiar with these myths and their relationship to Arthurian legends, particularly the story of Perceval and the Fisher King. Several literary critics, such as Jessie Weston in From Ritual to Romance, have argued that vegetative myths serve as a basis for many mythological tales, even Arthurian ones. Malamud read Weston's book prior to writing The Natural. In this chapter, the Whammer is the "dying" hero. It is spring, and a new god must replace the Whammer. This hero- god is Roy, who not only strikes out the Whammer and renders him into an "old man," but also symbolically cuts himself free from his "father" by accidentally causing Sam's death.

Many other significant metaphors and themes arise in this first section of the novel. Harriet Bird's last name is significant; indeed, the entire novel is filled with bird imagery, which is common in all of Malamud's novels. For Roy, the word "bird" is synonymous with "woman" and perhaps even "whore," though he does not make this connection in the case of Harriet. Nonetheless, birds are often a foreshadowing of danger to Roy, but he never heeds this. He quickly falls for Harriet, the girl who seems interested in him only for his prowess and skill. Roy sees a pair of legs and breasts, a face that is "a little drawn and pale," and knows only that he wants her. He is completely out of his element when she tries to engage him in conversation, and it is here that Roy makes his greatest mistake. When Harriet asks him "Is that all?", Roy is undergoing the Hero's Test—the same test that Sir Percival fails when, in a slight reversal, he fails to ask the Fisher King the meaning of his Grail vision. Because Roy is unable to understand baseball and his role in the sport—beyond setting records and making money—he fails his test. Harriet tries to make Roy understand what she means, but she is unable; Roy, therefore, remains ignorant that his life could have any meaning beyond his own desires. He wants money, fame, and women, and to play baseball; but only this last one has any real relevance to his role as a "vegetative hero." If Roy simply played the game well and upheld the moral values required of a hero—and, more importantly, if he accepted suffering as a necessary aspect of life—then his success would be unmatched. However, mired as he is in his real-world dreams of ambition, wealth, and power, Roy has already set himself on a path to failure. Harriet is aware of this potential failure; by shooting Roy, she only hastens what she believes is inevitable. Some critics have said that Harriet and Memo are both examples of the "destructive seductress," but Harriet is not really so simple. Harriet displays aspects of both Memo and Iris Lemon; the implication is that, if Roy were able to answer Harriet's question properly, she would not shoot him. Even if Roy had simply answered "I don't know" when asked if he would be the best in the game, he might have had a chance. It is his arrogance and self-centeredness that causes his suffering—an idea that is common in Malamud's works.