Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Shoeless Joe is a baseball story with a large admixture of fantasy. “Shoeless” was the nickname of Joe Jackson, a player on the infamous Chicago White Sox team of 1919 that lost the World Series in the biggest scandal in the history of professional baseball. Eight players, including Jackson, admitted to taking bribes from gamblers who paid them to lose the series. They were suspended for life from organized baseball.
Sixty years later, an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella, while sitting on his front porch, hears a baseball announcer’s voice that tells him to “build it” and “he will come.” What is “it,” and who will come? Ray had grown up hearing baseball stories from his father, including how Joe Jackson was punished unfairly because he tried to give back the bribe he had taken and had played his best to win, leading both teams in hitting. Ray instinctively senses how to interpret the mysterious message: He is to build a baseball field, and then the legendary Jackson will come to play on it. He pursues this wild dream by plowing up some of his farm, seeding it with grass, laying out the infield and outfield, and putting up bleachers for spectators. Then he waits, and waits some more, and hopes. Eventually, the incarnation of Jackson as a young man in a baseball uniform appears on the field, soon to be joined by the other players from the 1919 White Sox team. Ray, his wife, and daughter sit in the bleachers to watch the games and...
(The entire section is 775 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Young Ray Kinsella gains a lifelong love for baseball from tales told by his father, including the story of disgraced former star “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Ray leaves his native Montana to attend college in Iowa. One day, he overhears the daughter of his landlady vow that she will marry him when she grows up. Years later, that vow comes to pass. Suddenly a husband to Annie and a father to Karin, Ray begins selling life insurance, a job he detests. When local former ballplayer Eddie Scissons grows too elderly to maintain his farm, Annie talks Ray into buying it. Ray knows little about farming, but he is able to keep the farm afloat.
One evening, while sitting on his front porch, Ray hears a disembodied voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray somehow understands from this terse message that he is to plow away several acres of corn and build a baseball field, complete with outfield fences and lights. He also knows that, once complete, his field will be visited by the specter of Shoeless Joe. With Annie’s blessing, Ray complies. It takes three seasons, but, finally, Annie spots a man dressed in old-fashioned baseball flannels standing in the outfield. It is indeed Shoeless Joe. He and several phantom teammates materialize regularly and play baseball on Ray’s field. After each game, they vanish into the corn beyond the left-field fence.
Ray believes that he has accomplished his mission, until the voice revisits him and implores,...
(The entire section is 1050 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
A novel-length baseball fable that details the adventures of an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield in the hope of bringing disgraced baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson back to life, Shoeless Joe is based on the title story from Kinsella’s 1980 story collection Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa and is the author’s first novel. If some critics accuse the book of sentimentality, it is because Shoeless Joe has none of the elements—sex, violence, and obscenity—that have become so commonplace in contemporary literature and popular culture. Instead, to paraphrase Kinsella, the book is intended to make an affirmative statement about life.
The book begins as Ray sits out on the veranda of his farm home in eastern Iowa and hears the voice of a baseball announcer say, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray immediately has a vision of the ballpark that he is being asked to conceive and sets out to realize it. Ray completes the park, and Shoeless Joe Jackson, the Chicago White Sox (later nicknamed the Black Sox) star player who was banned from baseball when it was revealed that his team threw the 1919 World Series, appears to Ray. They talk, and, soon after, Jackson brings back other ghost players.
As the story continues, Ray hears the voice of the baseball announcer again. This time the voice says, “Ease his pain,” and Ray somehow understands that he must kidnap...
(The entire section is 433 words.)
Chapter 1: Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa
Shoeless Joe begins with the narrator, Ray Kinsella, a young farmer in Iowa, describing how one day when sitting on the verandah of his home, he heard the voice of a ballpark announcer saying, "If you build it, he will come." Ray, who is a highly imaginative man and great lover of baseball, takes this as an instruction to build a baseball field in one of the cornfields at his farm. At first, he builds only a left field. Ray believes that the "he" that the voice refers to is Shoeless Joe Jackson, who gained notoriety for his part in a bribery scandal that marred the 1919 World Series.
One night, baseball players appear on the field, including Shoeless Joe in left field, and Ray settles down to watch him play. In Ray's eyes, the scene is as complete as at any major-league park he has visited. But he notices that Shoeless Joe is the only player who appears to have any substance; the others are shadowy, ghost-like. Ray talks to Shoeless Joe, who tells him about his love of baseball, and Ray promises that he will finish the whole field.
Chapter 2: They Tore Down the Polo Grounds in 1964
Ray finishes building the entire field; it takes him three baseball seasons. One by one, the so-called Unlucky Eight, the Black Sox baseball players who were banned for life in 1920, appear. Now only the right fielder and the catcher are still shadowy. Ray's daughter...
(The entire section is 1268 words.)