The Natural is a fable in which the fortunes of its hero parallel those of Parzival, the medieval knight. Bernard Malamud uses myth and American culture’s heroic ritual to explore the psychology of American life. The novel is enriched by drawing on events out of baseball lore and legend, such as the 1949 hotel-room shooting of Philadelphia Phillies infielder Eddie Waitkus by a crazed woman sports fan, the infamous game-fixing scandal of 1919, the many achievements of Babe Ruth, and the fate of Casey at the bat.
Roy Hobbs is a knight and a fool. An aging rookie who comes to play for the hapless New York Knights, he is also a natural baseball player with outstanding talent. After he became a knight, Parzival was given the quest of finding and healing the Fisher King of the Wasteland. He failed because he did not ask, rather than answer, the right question. Like Parzival, Roy fails because of his inability to answer Harriet Bird’s question about what he hopes to accomplish in his career. His reply is limited and selfish: to be the best there ever was in the game. After Harriet gives him a second chance and he fails again, she discharges a silver bullet into him. It is not enough for the hero to have talent; he must have a purpose in life. Parzival and Roy are heroes who are too wrapped up in their self-image to recognize the responsibility that comes with their great talent.
After fifteen years, Roy returns to baseball, this time, like Babe Ruth, as a home-run hitter rather than a pitcher. He joins the Knights, a team so bad that even its field, like the Wasteland, suffers from drought. The team’s manager, Pop Fisher, the Fisher King, has spent a career without winning a pennant. In the medieval myth the Wasteland cannot become fertile until the Fisher King is replaced by the young, innocent hero. In The Natural, Roy is the mythic hero who can undo the bad luck of his spiritual father, Pop Fisher, and bring relief to the drought. When Roy starts hitting, the team begins winning, torrential rains come down, and the field turns green.
As fertility god, Roy has to choose the proper woman to be his companion. Like other Malamud heroes, he has a choice between a woman who represents life-giving fertility and one whose power lies in her seductive vanity. Iris Lemon, named for a fruit and a flower, is the woman Roy should choose. Roy, however, is attracted to Memo Paris, whose name suggests someone who uses memory rather than imagination and who uses her powers to destroy,...
(The entire section is 891 words.)