Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Natural is the account of a talented athlete who wants to play major league baseball more than anything in the world. The story opens when Roy Hobbs is about nineteen and traveling from somewhere out west to Chicago for a tryout with the Cubs. After winning a pitching contest against a major leaguer named Whammer Whambold, he attracts the attention of a crazed young woman, Harriet Bird. She follows him to a hotel in the city and, after inviting him to her room, shoots him as he enters. The material in this section is entitled “Pre-game.”

The second and much longer part of the novel is entitled “Batter-Up!” Roy reappears at the age of thirty-four after signing to play for the New York Knights. The intervening years are a mystery. Well past his prime to start major league baseball, he surprises the manager, Pop Fisher, and the rest of the team with his skill. He is so good that he begins to give them hope of winning a pennant. Roy’s big chance for a starting position as well as for love begins when a player named Bump Bailey dies from an injury in the outfield, thereby vacating that position and leaving behind his beautiful girlfriend, Memo Paris, who is also Pop Fisher’s niece.

Roy’s relationship with Memo begins to interfere with his ability to play ball, so much so that Roy sees everything that he has a dreamed about for so long threaten to disappear. He falls into a midseason slump and becomes the object of fans’...

(The entire section is 558 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*New York City

*New York City. City in which Hobbs’s major league baseball team, the Knights, is based. Bernard Malamud’s mixture of affection for and displeasure with New York City is at the source of Hobbs’s experiences with the Knights. The energy, sophistication, variety, and ethnic diversity of the city form a fascinating background for the narrative, and Hobbs’s American heartland perspective makes him a somewhat daunted, but nonetheless fascinated, observer of the city’s allure and dangers.

Baseball stadium

Baseball stadium. Stadium in which the New York Knights play. Local landmarks, such as Grant’s Tomb, the Empire State Building, and the prominent Sardi’s supper club, project an aura of importance over the actions of the characters, but it is the Knights’ stadium—a simulacrum for society at large—that is the most significant setting in the book. There, Malamud presents the compelling diversity of urban life—casual spectators, rabid fans, gamblers, and bizarre and eccentric ticket-holders react to the games and the players with emotions running the gamut from adoration to contempt. The stadium is a kind of sacred ground, the rituals of the game akin to religious rites, the behavior of the crowd an expression of a shifting Zeitgeist that Malamud uses as a commentary on American life.

American heartland

American heartland. Broad, nonspecific region of the...

(The entire section is 602 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Presidential Campaign
Just as Roy Hobb's moral character undergoes a test in The Natural, so does the character of...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The allegorical framework of The Natural successfully links historical, mythical, and fictional elements....

(The entire section is 334 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1950s: Money poured into defense spending during the 1940s helped to create a successful military-industrial complex that bolstered...

(The entire section is 190 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the "Black Sox" scandal that involved eight Chicago White Sox players charged with bribery in the 1919 World Series. Compare the...

(The entire section is 101 words.)

Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

From all of the allusions and analogies Malamud has used in The Natural, it is clear that he deliberately constructed his novel to...

(The entire section is 360 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Malamud has written no sequel as such to The Natural, but in The Assistant (1957), it seems that Frank Alpine is another...

(The entire section is 102 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In 1984 The Natural was made into a major motion picture by Tri-Star Pictures, Mark Johnson produced and Barry Levinson directed;...

(The entire section is 204 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

The Natural was adapted as a film by Barry Levinson, starring Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, Robert Duvall as Max Mercy, Glenn Close as...

(The entire section is 34 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Nights, John Steinbeck's 1962 nonfiction work. Steinbeck re-tells the Arthurian legends and Grail...

(The entire section is 98 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Pirjo Ahodas, Forging a New Self: The Adamic Protagonist and the Emergence of a Jewish-American Author as Revealed...

(The entire section is 583 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Alter, Isaka. “The Good Man’s Dilemma: The Natural, The Assistant, and American Materialism.” In Critical Essays on Bernard Malamud. Edited by Joel Salzberg. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. Focuses on the social criticism in Malamud’s fiction and how in The Natural, Roy chooses materialism over love and morality.

Helterman, Jeffrey. Understanding Bernard Malamud. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1985. A highly readable guide for students and nonacademic readers about what Malamud expresses and the means by which it is conveyed. Chapter 2 discusses mythic dimensions, themes, and symbolism in...

(The entire section is 177 words.)