The central character in Shoeless Joe is Ray Kinsella, the Iowa farmer who builds a baseball field on his land. Like Don Quixote, Ray envisions an impossible dream and then works to make it into reality for himself and those who believe in him. He responds to a voice that no one else has heard. He embarks on a quest to bring back to life the players who had been banished from baseball sixty years earlier.
Annie Kinsella, Ray’s wife, supports her husband’s quest without reservation. Although building the baseball field takes time and land away from farming, she accepts her husband’s need to carry out his crazy scheme. She sits in the bleachers beside Ray and sees the reincarnation of the players just as he does. Karin Kinsella, their young daughter, is another enthusiastic believer who watches the games with her parents, never doubting the reality of what she sees.
J. D. Salinger was a talented author who abruptly stopped writing in the 1960’s. Ray barges in on Salinger and insists on taking him to a baseball game. After some resistance, he becomes a willing companion for Ray. Together, they try to track down Moonlight Graham who had briefly played ball many years ago. Becoming involved in Ray’s quest to find out what happened to Graham renews Salinger’s spirit. Eventually, he accompanies Ray to his Iowa farm where he too becomes a believer in the magical reincarnation of Shoeless Joe and his teamates.
Annie’s brother Mark is a scheming businessman whose goal is to make money by buying farmland and reselling it to a corporation. Ray’s farm is significant to him only for its economic value. He cannot see the ballplayers that Ray and his family are watching. Mark sees only an empty field with good land going to waste. He is blind to the idea of a family living out a dream on their own land. Eventually, Mark learns that a dream can become reality when crowds of baseball fans arrive at the farm, providing the income needed for mortgage payments.
Archibald “Moonlight” Graham was a baseball player who had only one opportunity to play in a major-league game. Although he loved the game, he did not want to go back to the minor leagues, so he changed careers and became a doctor. In the novel, Graham is reincarnated twice, first as a young man who gets another chance to play on the magical Iowa farm field. Then, in a sudden twist of the plot, he has to assume his true role as an elderly doctor in an emergency to save Ray’s daughter Karin from choking.
Shoeless Joe has two protagonists, Ray Kinsella and J. D. Salinger, both of whom are devotees of baseball. Ray quits his lucrative insurance business and buys a small Iowa farm from Eddie Scissons who lies about being the "oldest living Chicago cub." Ray loves the natural beauty of his farm, or as he says, "Once you've been touched by the land, the wind never blows so cold again, because your love files the edges off it." Ray's being "touched by the land" is evident when he refuses to sell his debt-ridden farm to Martin, his brother-in-law, who needs the farm to complete a computer-farming conglomerate that would make the land "neat and clean and sterile and heartless."
Ray's devotion to and love for baseball is underscored when a mysterious voice says that if he builds a baseball field on his farm, the late Joseph Jefferson (Shoeless Joe) Jackson, a former 1919 White Sox player, will appear. In a labor of love and buoyed by Annie's love, Ray constructs the diamond where he, Annie, and Karin watch ghostly players including Shoeless Joe. Moreover, when Ray hears another voice exhorting him to "Ease his pain," he intuitively knows that his refers to the now reclusive Salinger whose childhood dream had been to play baseball at the now defunct Polo Grounds. After kidnapping Salinger and taking him to a Boston Red Sox game where both hear another voice — "Fulfill the dream" — they travel to Minnesota, meet the now deceased Moonlight Graham, an ex-New York Yankee who never caught...
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