Summary

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Last Updated May 9, 2024.

Introduction

Shoeless Joe is a magical realism novel written by Canadian novelist W. P. Kinsella and originally published in 1982. The story follows Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who hears a mysterious voice telling him to build a baseball field in his cornfield. Motivated by this supernatural message, Ray constructs the field. To his amazement, legendary baseball players like Shoeless Joe Jackson appear as ghosts to play baseball on it.

Kinsella was fascinated by the romance of baseball and American culture, often blending fantasy with sports fiction in his work. Shoeless Joe embodies the nostalgia and magic of baseball and, through the lens of an American classic, dives into themes such as dreams, regrets, and second chances.

Plot Summary

Ray Kinsella, a young boy from Montana, is passionate about baseball. His father, Johnny, teaches him everything about the game, sharing stories about iconic players. One of these players is Shoeless Joe Jackson, who—alongside seven other White Sox players—was accused of accepting a bribe to throw the 1919 World Series.

As Ray grows up and moves to Iowa for college, he meets Annie, his future wife. They marry and have a daughter named Karin. Ray gets a job as a life insurance agent, but then Annie suggests they buy a cornfield farm from Eddie Scissons, a 91-year-old former baseball player. Even though Ray lacks experience in crop farming, he agrees to the proposal, and they purchase the farm.

One day, Ray hears a strange voice resembling a ballpark announcer say: "If you build it, he will come." Ray believes the voice refers to Shoeless Joe and decides to build a baseball field in one of his cornfields.

After three seasons, Ray finishes building the field. Soon after, what seems like the ghosts of Shoeless Joe and his teammates, called the "Unlucky Eight," appear every night to play baseball. They vanish as soon as the game ends.

Then, the mysterious voice tells Ray to "ease the pain." Ray thinks the voice is instructing him to go to J. D. Salinger, an aloof author living in New Hampshire. Ray goes to Salinger's home and persuades the writer to accompany him to Fenway Park in Boston for a baseball game. At first, Salinger thinks Ray is odd but, after hearing his story, comes to appreciate Ray's love for baseball, and they become friends.

During the game, Ray hears the cryptic voice again, telling him to "go the distance." Salinger also hears a voice urging him to "fulfill the dream." Together, they notice Archie “Moonlight” Graham’s baseball stats on a scoreboard.

They decide the voice instructs them to find Graham, so they travel to Chisholm, Minnesota—Graham's last home. They discover Graham played for the New York Giants in 1905, only appearing in one major league game before becoming a respected doctor in the community.

That night, Ray meets old Doc Graham, who explains that he got the nickname"Moonlight" because he was fast on the field. However, he never got to bat in a major league game, which was his lifelong dream.

The next morning, as they drive to Iowa, they pick up a young hitchhiker in an old baseball uniform who introduces himself as Archie "Moonlight" Graham. When they arrive, Moonlight Graham joins Shoeless Joe and his teammates for a game.

Meanwhile, Annie's brother, Mark, becomes interested in Ray's farm. He wants to own several nearby farms and modernize them to expand his business. He manages to convince Eddie Scissons to sell him and his business partner, Bluestein, the mortgage loans. They arrive to inform Ray that they have come to take over the farm. Ray tries to get them to back off, even threatening them with a gun.

His daughter, Karin, walks onto the field to remove herself from the conflict and suddenly collapses. Everyone rushes to her and...

(This entire section contains 847 words.)

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sees that she is choking. They panic, but then Graham arrives, transforms into old Doc Graham, and applies his medical expertise to save Karin. After witnessing the incident with Karin, Mark, and Bluestein decide to give up on their plan to take Ray's farm from him.

Unfortunately, Doc Graham can no longer change back into Moonlight Graham and play again. But he reassures Ray not to feel bad, explaining that he has already fulfilled his dream to hold a bat by playing with the Unlucky Eight. He then quietly disappears while Shoeless Joe and his team play a baseball game.

After the game, the players invite Salinger to join them but not Ray, which upsets Ray. Salinger advises Ray not to be envious and tells him to focus on his family instead of the deceased baseball legends. He promises to write about Ray's story. Salinger walks into the field with Shoeless Joe, and Ray walks back to his home with Annie and Karin by his side.

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