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Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In all the works that Bernard Malamud wrote, the theme of suffering and the necessity of learning from it is a major concern. He does not romanticize this theme, however, and restricts his characters’ advancements only to learning from their suffering. Rarely do his characters triumph, at least not in the usual American sense of that word. For Malamud, life is a perpetual struggle. Perhaps the best illustration of the difficulty that American readers experience in dealing with this concept can be seen in the happily-ever-after ending given to the story in the film version of The Natural (1984), which starred Robert Redford.

The Natural is the Malamud novel most likely to appeal to young adult readers, because most of his protagonists are much older and still going through the cycle in which Roy is found in his thirties. This novel was not written specifically for teenagers, but that may indeed be part of its attraction. Young people are given insights into the adult world to which they look for leaders and heroes, and they learn how confusing and difficult that world is even for adults.