Friday, July 9, 2010

The Natural

The Natural

Roy's failure to make moral decisions in the novel cause his downfall. His failure reveals his devotion to the American dream of success that blinds him to the needs of others. A monomaniacal focus on being "the best there ever was in the game" prevents him from becoming a team player and putting the success of the Knights before his own. This self involvement leads to loneliness and alienation. Another important part of the dream is money. Roy's growing materialism links him with the corrupt and greedy Memo and prompts him to accept a bribe from the Judge, which ultimately leads to his disgrace.

Growth and Development
During the course of the novel Roy does show some moral growth. His desire to win the pennant for Pop emerges alongside his own more selfish need to be the best. By the end of the novel, Roy accomplishes a self transcendence when he decides to forget about trying to fix the game and determines to take care of Iris and their child. However, this development comes too late to save him.

Good and Evil
Throughout the novel, Roy is caught between the forces of good and evil; these forces wage a battle for his soul. Pop Fisher and Iris Lemon represent the forces of good. Pop struggles to turn Roy into a team player and to focus on community rather than individual success. Iris teaches him that through suffering we learn the important things in life, like love and self−respect. Unfortunately, the symbolically evil characters outnumber the good. Memo, the Judge, Gus Sands, and Max Mercy all try to drag Roy down into the world of corruption. Swayed by the power and success they offer, Roy realizes too late the dangerous consequences of his association with them.

The allegorical framework of The Natural successfully links historical, mythical, and fictional elements. Malamud borrows historical elements from the "Black Sox" scandal in 1919, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team were charged with bribery during the World Series. He acquires mythological elements from the Holy Grail legend and the wasteland myth. New York City becomes a moral wasteland in the novel, and Roy Hobbs becomes Perceval the Knight as he searches, under the guidance of Pop Fisher (the Fisher King), for truth and redemption and to restore the team by leading it to a pennant win. In Leslie A. Field and Joyce W. Field's interview with Bernard Malamud in their Bernard Malamud: A Collection of Critical Essays, he explains, "I became interested in myth and tried to use it, among other things, to symbolize and explicate an ethical dilemma of American life."

Realism and Fantasy
The novel's dominant style mixes realism and fantasy. Malamud grounds Roy's experiences in the world of baseball, but at the same time, he also incorporates supernatural elements. On his first day as a Knight, Roy notices that the team seems to be hexed. After Pop tells Roy to knock the cover off the ball, he literally does just that. Gus Sands "knows" how much money Roy has in his pocket and later, Roy makes a rabbit pop out of Memo's dress. Setting details also become fantastic. The landscape Roy passes through on the train to Chicago becomes an "unreal forest" with "tormented trees." Chicago appears as a "shadow−infested, street lamped jungle."

Malamud employs foreshadowing as part of the symbolic structure of the novel. Roy's defeat of the Whammer foreshadows a similar end for Bump and highlights Roy' s ambition to be "the best there ever was" in the game. A street beggar, rebuffed by Roy, warns, "You'll get yours." When strip club dancers in devil costumes jab Roy, they forecast the evil "jabs" he will suffer in his dealings with the Judge and Memo.

Historical Context
The Presidential Campaign
Just as Roy Hobb's moral character undergoes a test in The Natural, so does the character of many other public figures in America during the 1950s. On September 23,1952, General Eisenhower's running mate, Senator Richard Nixon, appeared on television to defend himself against charges that he took a "slush fund" of $18,000 from California businessmen. Nixon began, "I come before you tonight as a candidate for the vice presidency and as a man whose honesty and integrity have been questioned." He then denied that any of $18,000 was spent for personal use and claimed that the only gift he accepted was a cocker spaniel, named "Checkers" by his daughter Tricia. He explained, "the kids, like all kids, love the dog. Regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it." More than one million approving letters and telegrams poured in after this speech. During the ensuing election, Eisenhower and Nixon won 55 percent of the popular vote and 442 electoral votes. Nixon's moral integrity, however, would be questioned continually throughout his political life.

Communist "Witchhunt"
While testifying in front of the Dies Committee on May 22, 1952, playwright Lillian Hellman insisted she was not presently a "Red," but refused to admit whether she had been associated with the Communist party in the past. Hellman claimed she would not answer further questions so as not to "hurt innocent people in order to save myself." She added, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions." Many Americans were forced to appear at government hearings and some, including movie stars and film producers, betrayed others or make unsubstantiated accusations about associations and/or involvement in the Communist party.

The Economy
Americans enjoyed a higher standard of living during the 1950s as a direct result of the United States's participation in World War II, which enabled the country to become the most prosperous economic power in the world. This new affluent age prompted an avid materialism in many Americans, as it did in Roy Hobbs. Goods like automobiles and suburban homes became powerful status symbols. Spending money became a popular American pastime for the rich as well as the burgeoning middle class.

The Media
The growing demand for information about famous Americans encouraged reporters, like the fictional Max Mercy, to ferret out personal details for newspapers and tabloids. In 1952, Generoso Pope, Jr. took over the The National Enquirer and promised to expand its emphasis on sensationalism by reporting lurid crimes, gossip about public figures, and sexual escapades. By 1975, Pope had increased his paper's circulation to over four−million copies per week.

The 1952 World Series
The New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers four games to two and won the World Series.

The "Black Sox" scandal
In 1919 eight members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team were charged with bribery during the World Series.

Compare and Contrast
1950s: Money poured into defense spending during the 1940s helped to create a successful military−industrial complex that bolstered the economy in the 1950s. Companies produced goods that enabled them to become prosperous and hire more workers who would in turn buy more goods.
Today: A healthy economic forecast causes the stock market to soar and pays huge dividends to investors.

1950s: Critics attack Senator Richard Nixon's moral character when rumors of illegal funds surface during the 1952 presidential campaign.
Today: Critics attack President Clinton's moral character when rumors of illegal funds, shady business dealings, and sexual improprieties surface.

1950s: Baseball is America's favorite pastime. Salaries for top athletes soar into the thousands.
Today: Frustrated by rising ticket prices, the 1994 strike, and players' salaries soaring into the millions, many fans become disillusioned with the game.

1950s: The public clamors for news about the personal lives of actors and athletes.
Today: The public clamors for news about the personal lives of actors, athletes, politicians, and royalty. Public figures hounded by the press lash out over their lack of privacy. "Average" Americans appear on nationally televised talk shows reporting sordid details of their lives.

Topics for Further Study
Research the "Black Sox" scandal that involved eight Chicago White Sox players charged with bribery in the 1919 World Series. Compare the events surrounding the scandal with Roy's experiences in the novel.

Research the mythological quest for the Holy Grail. What symbolic elements of this quest appear in the novel? What purpose do they serve?

How is the American love of baseball illustrated in the novel?

Focus on Malamud's development of Roy Hobbs as a character. Is he a static or a dynamic character? Does he gain any knowledge about himself and/or of his world by the end of the novel?