How Beautiful with Shoes

by Wilbur Daniel Steele

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In Shoeless Joe, why is Ray's relationship with his father significant in baseball literature?

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The Game of Catch in Baseball Literature

Catch is an important device in baseball literature that is often used to illustrate the importance of strong relationships between fathers and sons. This simple activity is a wholesome representation of America's favorite pastime, and it is a common bonding activity between fathers and sons throughout the genre. While Ray's relationship with his father ended painfully with his death, baseball was the one thing that had always united them. Although Ray is hesitant when he is first reunited with his father, a simple game of baseball at the end of the story serves as a metaphor for the restoration of their relationship to its former state. 

Ray's Relationship with His Father

The relationship between Ray and his father is a central dynamic in the novel. Ray developed his love of baseball because of his father, who was a catcher for the White Sox. Shoeless Joe was his father's hero, and his belief in the disgraced player's innocence serves as an interesting parallel to the family dynamics between Ray, his brother Richard, and their father. At the time Ray is first given instructions to build a baseball field, his father has been dead for twenty years. Building the field so Shoeless Joe will come to play on it is Ray's attempt to bring peace to his father's spirit and give them all a second chance at redemption.

After Ray meets Shoeless Joe, he longs for his father to have the chance to play alongside him. His father appears on the field as a twenty-five-year-old version of himself, and at first, Ray does not know what to do. The author uses this touching reunion to tie together the other major themes in the story, such as forgiveness, healing and the love of baseball that transcends time and circumstance. Ray's relationship with his father, which is finally brought to a resolution as they join the other players on the field, is the core of the story. It is this relationship that motivated him to build the field, seek out a missing Salinger, and reunite the White Sox team. As Ray is brought closer to his father, his brother also experiences an unlikely reconciliation with him. Baseball has transcended death itself to unite brothers, a father and his sons, and an entire team of ghostly players.

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