The ballfield a highly simplified symbol for the Waste Land. In Eliot's poem of the same name, the Waste Land is a symbol for what Eliot saw as the decay of modern society. For Eliot, there is no Fisher King to heal (and thus heal the Waste Land), and there certainly are no heroes to do the healing. Malamud explores this idea in The Natural, seeing if what amounts to a modern-day hero—a baseball player—can indeed bring about the kind of healing for which Eliot hopes. With Roy's abject failure of strength and character at the end—the fulfillment of the cyclical vegetative myth, if not the story of Perceval—Malamud appears to come to the same conclusion as Eliot: there are no heroes to do any healing, nor a "quick fix" Fisher King to be healed. The decaying society is run by the Judge Banners and the Gus Sandses of the modern world, and even seeming heroes like Roy Hobbs are not immune to corruption.


Roy is loosely based on Chrétien de Troyes's character of Sir Perceval. In Chrétien's story, Perceval is introduced as a young man living with his mother. His father was once a great knight (much as Roy's father was a semi- pro ballplayer), but died while Perceval was young. Perceval's mother raises him, and she attempts to keep him away from knights so that he does not suffer the same fate as his father. Therefore, Perceval is quite ignorant of the codes of chivalry; like Roy, he is essentially a country bumpkin, uncouth and lacking in manners. One day, Perceval catches sight of several of King Arthur's knights, and he immediately goes to Arthur and demands to be made a knight. Arthur demands that Perceval prove his worth, and the young man sets out to do so. He has great natural talent, like Roy, but no manners or wisdom. Perceval meets a knight who teaches him the codes of chivalry, but the teaches these codes too well; ultimately, Perceval, in his quest to be the finest knight of all time, adheres too strongly to the codes of chivalry. When he meets the Fisher King, he does not ask the right questions for fear of offending the King. This silence prevents Perceval from healing the King and thus, the Waste Land.

Eventually, Perceval succeeds in his quest; this success is a marked difference from the story of Roy, who obviously fails to "heal" the Waste Land. The source of Roy's failure is his own greed and childish impulses, but more superficially, it is Memo, who distracts him from his duties. In the Perceval legend, the knight is distracted by his infatuation with a girl named Blancheflor in a way somewhat similar to that of Roy with Memo. However, Blancheflor is a good deal nicer than Memo, and appears to love Perceval; in some versions of the story Perceval actually marries Blancheflor and lives happily. Obviously, this romantic happiness is not the case in The Natural. There is an undercurrent of realistic pessimism in Malamud's novel, and by the end Roy has failed in his quest to heal the Fisher King and, by extension, heal the Waste Land.