Robert Lipsyte Susan O'Neal - Essay

Susan O'Neal

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Admirably, the author tries to portray Alfred's world [in The Contender] through the boy's own eyes, and like [Frank Bonham's] Durango Street, in his own language, but too often Mr. Lipsyte oversimplifies. For instance, white characters are paragons of interest and devotion; black nationalist ideas invariably come from the mouths of addicts and thugs, thus constituting a kind of guilt by association. Most important, only one way of responding to complicated problems is made to appear valid. Alfred's decision to compete by conventional methods is considered by the author to be the only proper action and is pitted against the attitude of Alfred's unsuccessful friends that, in any case, "Whitey" won't let you make it in his world. The implication whether intended or not, is that Alfred's friends are the chief cause of their own trouble. Such assignment of blame, however, makes the very real pressures that provoke these feelings in the ghetto teen-agers seem trivial. As a sports story, this is a superior, engrossing, insider's book; but as social commentary on problems in a Negro ghetto, it is a superficial, outsider's book which doesn't increase real understanding.

Susan O'Neal, "Junior High Up: 'The Contender'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the November 15, 1967 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1967), Vol. 92, No. 20, November 15, 1967, p. 78.