Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1113

Illustration of PDF document

Download Round by Round Study Guide

Subscribe Now

As the story opens, the narrator, a reporter, sits at his typewriter, composing an account of the title boxing match he has just watched, working from shorthand notes and drinking whiskey as he types. Cush, an entertainment reviewer for the newspaper, enters, drops his coat at his desk and asks the reporter how the fight went. The reporter replies that it was great but he “wasn’t looking,” and offers Cush a drink. Cush tells him that the new musical he attended that evening was exactly like all the others but adds that reviewers are not able to tell the truth about what the audience really goes to see anyway. He points out that both mayor and censor were there.

The reporter continues to read his notes and compose his story, remembering while doing so details that will not get into the account—such as the behavior of the fiancé of the champion, Zabriski. Cush, now working at his own typewriter, asks how the fight came out. The reporter tells him that there is a new champion, that the fight was a classic example of science over strength, but that he “wasn’t there.” Cush figures out that the reporter means that Ann, his girlfriend, has dropped him, not for the first time. He asks who she is now dating.

The reporter does not answer right away, turning instead to his notes, his copy, and his memories of the fight. Finally, he states that it was not only one man. Cush asks why he keeps after her and suggests that a chorus girl would be more faithful. The reporter answers that no one is faithful anymore; the psychologists have brainwashed everyone into believing that it is enough to be yourself. Ann is herself with everyone.

The reporter goes to the window to adjust the shade, but it flies out of his hand to the top of the roller. He looks down to a desolate alley forty feet below, only to conclude that jumping would do him no good. He does not want to die; he only wants Ann to be there with him to share this glimpse of modern life.

In the next section, the reporter returns to his whiskey and his story; again his account of the action mingles with his memories of the atmosphere. The story shows the challenger, Romero, to be taking command of the fight by outmaneuvering the champion. Meanwhile, the reporter sees again in his mind the hoodlums in the crowd, the actions of the seconds, the new warning buzzer, the forty-light canopy illuminating the ring, the two great overhead clocks. He wonders how much action he has missed while looking at the time. He sees that he has notes for every second of the fight, except for two rounds, for which he borrowed notes.

Cush complains again about the quality of current shows. The reporter offers to swap their next assignments and to throw Ann in for good measure. Cush asks where she is. The reporter replies that he does not know; the friend who was supposed to be covering for her missed the signals. He returns to his memory of the fight, especially of the byplay between the champion’s girlfriend and four tough kids who harass him.

Suddenly he stops typing and glances up at a small photograph of the James family—the writer Henry, the philosopher William, and their sister Alice—sitting in an English garden. The picture strikes him because of the extraordinary integrity, the “profound and simple honesty” of their faces. They seem to him to be contemplating the truth of things in perfect serenity as they peer into and beyond the camera.

He returns to his typewriter, again combining an objective account of the fight with his subjective responses to the behavior of the crowd. Cush complains that no one seems to care anymore about keeping things as they belong. He asks the reporter for a ride home but learns that he is walking.

In the third section, both men continue working in silence. The reporter once more calls to mind the fiancé, a hard-bitten woman who remains true to her man, cheering him on to the end. The fight is now in the eleventh round. The reporter senses a mesmerizing, snakelike quality in the challenger’s jab; he keeps fending off the clumsy rushes of the champion with the easy confidence of superior intelligence or planning. The fiancé’s enthusiasm wanes, and the crowd begins to back Romero. He only has to keep boxing.

Cush interrupts his memories by asking if he has heard of a mutual acquaintance, whose drinking has finally led to a breakdown. The two men sympathize with his wife, who stayed by him to the end.

The reporter returns to the fight, now in the final round. The boxers slug it out toe-to-toe. Romero continues to block and make Zabriski miss, while scoring himself. The final round, and the fight, are his. Two images remain: Romero doing a knock-kneed dance of victory around the ring; Zabriski lying on a training table laconically commenting that he waited too long to make weight, that it would not happen again. His fiancé is still with him. The reporter hands his copy to Cush as the latter prepares to leave, and says that he is staying to write a letter.

In the fourth section, instead of writing immediately, he gets up and looks at the photograph again. What he has to tell Ann has something to do with that. He begins by saying that he is not going to write an ordinary letter, or argue as he has so often that he cannot accept her habit of casual flirtation. He senses a wide gulf between them; neither seems to hear what the other is saying. The rift deepens every time he sees her yield to the caresses of simple acquaintances. His feeling is not jealousy or prudery, as she has suggested; it is rather that he cannot divorce body and spirit as she tries to wedge them apart. For him, body and soul are integrated like two dancers; when they part, something fragments, and that fragmentation affects both. Body and soul united make love—and life—possible; separating them can produce only sainthood or evil, but not love. The photograph in front of him illustrates that kind of union, that integrity.

He breaks off in despair, knowing that he cannot explain these things to her. Either one feels them or one does not. Lacking that shared feeling, they are doomed to continue quarreling as they have, as the fighters are doomed to combat, and there will never be an end.