Analysis

In this section, the novel's parallels with mythology become fairly explicit. Roy, who can be loosely identified as Perceval, begins to fulfill his role as the savior of the Fisher King (Pop) by ending the drought (the Knights' long string of losses) and bringing life back to the Waste Land through the use of his abilities. The playing field turns green, Pop's hands heal, the fans begin to cheer, and everyone's spirits begin to rise. Roy is a force of life, giving hope and strength to the Waste Land and its inhabitants. Malamud's idea of the Waste Land is informed not only by the myth of the Fisher King, but also by the famous poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. The image of the Waste Land, therefore, not only refers to the physical playing field, but also extends to the crowds watching the game, all Knights fans, perhaps even American society itself. Malamud deliberately makes his allusions to myth vague and unclear, open to several interpretations. It is easy to identify the Fisher King with Pop Fisher and the Waste Land with the physical dried-up playing field; it is more difficult to pin down the various meanings behind these connections.

Unlike the myths about the Fisher King, The Natural is not a closed-ended story. In the myths, once the Holy Grail heals the Fisher King, the Waste Land disappears. In Malamud's novel, however, the Grail—the pennant—has not yet been achieved, and the healing Roy brings may only be fleeting. In Malamud's rather pessimistic worldview, even a romance, with all its mythic overtones, cannot survive a modern, realistic setting. Roy's strength is already being sapped by his distractions: fame, glory, wealth, and Memo. Roy himself does not even understand his own relationship to the Waste Land: he is indifferent to his fans and considers them little more than a measure of how famous he is. To him, the fans are not a part of the game, and he certainly does not believe he has an obligation to them. We see this attitude in Roy's disdain about revealing his past. He selfishly guards his shame at being shot by Harriet Bird, though he presumably has little or nothing to fear from the exposure of this incident. Nonetheless, Roy's talent remains, regardless of the events of his past.

The episode in the nightclub with the demonic Gus Sands and his "Pot of Fire" reveals how childish and inexperienced the thirty-four year-old Roy is. Gus wins $600 from Roy simply by playing on the ballplayer's obvious desire to impress Memo; Roy's series of magic tricks, meanwhile, only gives him a temporary victory over Gus and Mercy. Some critics have identified Gus Sands as a Merlin figure, able to predict the future through the modern magic of statistics. However, Merlin's role in Arthurian myth is primarily a positive one, an advisor to the King or the hero. Gus is more like a tempting devil, playing on Roy's love of money as Memo plays on his lust and Mercy his desire for glory. Indeed, these three individuals—Gus, Memo, and Mercy—embody all three of Roy's self-centered desires—wealth, sex, and glory, respectively. They each play off one another: Roy's desire for Memo leads him into losing money to Gus, then leads to the magic trick which gets Mercy scribbling furiously in his notebook.

Critics have also pointed out that the villains of The Natural all have problems with their eyesight. The Judge thrives in darkness, unable to sustain bright light, smoke curling around his head—a devil figure, if there ever was one, spouting terribly ironic platitudes about how money is the root of all evil. Gus has a glass eye, unable to see anything other than monetary gain, much like the Judge. Even Memo's vision is often obscured by her tears for Bump. These problems represent not only the narrow lack of vision afforded to most such villains, but also these villains' difficulty in correctly judging Roy's character. As we continue to see later Roy consistently surprises them, though his victories against them are hollow in the end.