(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

InThe Natural, Bernard Malamud indicates his artistic concern with personality development in an allegorical story utilizing baseball to present the challenges the hero must undergo. Roy Hobbs, the new player on the last-place Knights, has the opportunity to help gain the pennant and discover his own identity. Roy, however, cannot bring himself to make the right choices.

Structured in two parallel stories, the novel presents Roy Hobbs’s attempts to succeed. In both stories, Roy undergoes allegorical trials of initiation that test his strength and moral fiber. In both he fails by placing immediate, personal satisfaction ahead of larger goals. In the first story, Roy, a nineteen-year-old, has been discovered by the alcoholic, spent-out Sam Simpson, who hopes the presentation of Roy to Sam’s manager will redeem Sam. Roy can pitch and hit, armed with Wonderboy, a bat crafted for him from a lightning-felled oak tree. His first test comes when traveling to training camp. When the train mysteriously stops, a challenge match between Roy and the current superhero of baseball, the Whammer, takes place. Roy strikes out the Whammer, making it seem Roy may indeed replace him. After Roy passes the test of strength, his values are tested by a mysterious woman to whom he is attracted. When she asks him what he wants to be, his selfish response, “the best in the game,” is unworthy.

In the second story, a decade after the major setback that his...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

The Natural Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In section one, “Pre-Game,” nineteen-year-old pitcher Roy Hobbs journeys by train to Chicago for a tryout with the Cubs. He is accompanied by Sam Simpson, an alcoholic former major-league catcher and scout who hopes to use his discovery of Roy to resurrect his scouting career. Roy is naïve, self-centered, and unsophisticated. With his homemade bat, Wonderboy, fashioned from a tree that had been split by lightning and seems to possess an energy all its own, Roy is, however, a superbly gifted ballplayer.

Also on the train is Walter “the Whammer” Wambold, aging American League batting champion and three-time winner of the Most Valuable Player Award. When the train is mysteriously delayed, Roy and the others wander over to a nearby carnival, where the Whammer displays his prowess in a batting cage and Roy attracts a crowd by throwing baseballs at milk bottles. As the rivalry builds to its confrontation, Sam bets that Roy can strike out the Whammer with three pitches. After the third pitch, the Whammer drops the bat and returns to the train, “an old man.”

Roy’s triumph brings him to the attention of Harriet Bird, who guards a shiny black box as jealously as Roy guards Wonderboy. Excited by Roy’s victory in “the tourney,” she tells him he is like “David jawboning the Goliath-Whammer, or was it Sir Percy lancing Sir Maldemer, or the first son (with a rock in his paw) ranged against the primitive papa?” Roy responds, “I’ll be the best there ever was in the game.” “Is that all?” Harriet asks. Harriet turns out to be the mysterious woman Roy had heard about who shot promising young athletes with silver bullets. Soon after, in a Chicago hotel room, Roy reaffirms his determination to become the best player who ever lived. Harriet reaches into her mysterious hatbox, draws out a gun, and shoots Roy in the stomach with a silver bullet.

Section two, “Batter Up,” takes place fifteen years later. Ashamed of his nearly fatal “accident” in Chicago, Roy is determined to begin a new life after years of wandering and working at odd jobs. As an outfielder, Roy tries out with the New York Knights, a team...

(The entire section is 881 words.)

The Natural Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Natural, Malamud’s first novel, initially received mixed reviews but is now generally regarded as a superb piece of literature. The novel is both an anomaly for and an introduction to the author. The book differs from the typical Malamud novel: Its style is not as realistic; its central protagonist, Roy Hobbs, is not Jewish; it closes on a note of defeat; and it centers on a sport, professional baseball. As such, The Natural is generally viewed in the top echelon of sports novels, such as Robert Coover’s The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. (1968) and Mark Harris’s Bang the Drum Slowly (1956). The Natural is also one of the two Malamud books to have been made into a film (though in this case, to ensure the film’s popularity, the ending is more optimistic, with Hobbs’s hit winning the play-off). The book follows the traditional Malamud initiation story pattern, has a mythic structure, uses an Everyman figure as protagonist, and utilizes a mixed tone of comedy and tragedy.

The Natural has many levels. On the surface, it is a sports book about the rise and fall of Roy Hobbs, a young man with the potential to be a baseball superstar and hero. Malamud knows the diamond sport, and he has infused his tale with actual events from baseball lore. With his being an orphan, his tendency to overeat, and his hitting a homerun for a dying boy, Hobbs is obviously based on Babe Ruth. Hobbs’s being shot in a hotel room by a deranged woman echoes the fate of Eddie Waitkus, and his ultimate succumbing to the gamblers’ desire to throw a game is highly reminiscent of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Thus, Hobbs symbolizes the best and the worst baseball has to offer.

On another level The Natural is an initiation story. Roy Hobbs, whose name means “bumpkin king,” is a white-faced pitcher one year out of the Northwest High School League. After striking out the American League batting champion, he hubristically announces that he wishes to be “the best there ever was in the game.”...

(The entire section is 852 words.)

The Natural Summary

Part I: "Pre-game"
Bernard Malamud's novel, The Natural, follows the career of baseball player Roy Hobbs from his first...

(The entire section is 1161 words.)