Introduction by Kevin Baker
The Natural, Bernard Malamud's first novel, published in 1952, is also the first—and some would say still the best—novel ever written about baseball. In it Malamud, usually appreciated for his unerring portrayals of postwar Jewish life, took on very different material—the story of a superbly gifted "natural" at play in the fields of the old daylight baseball era—and invested it with the hardscrabble poetry, at once grand and altogether believable, that runs through all his best work. Four decades later, Alfred Kazin's comment still holds true: "Malamud has done something which—now that he has done it!—looks as if we have been waiting for it all our lives. He has really raised the whole passion and craziness and fanaticism of baseball as a popular spectacle to its ordained place in mythology."
About the Author
Bernard Malamud is the author of The Natural.
Bernard Malamud (1914–86) wrote eight novels; he won the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for The Fixer, and the National Book Award for The Magic Barrel. Born in Brooklyn, he taught for many years at Bennington College in Vermont.
Date of Birth:April 28, 1914
Date of Death:March 18, 1986
Place of Birth:Brooklyn, New York
Place of Death:New York, New York
Education:B.A., City College of New York, 1936; M.A., Columbia University, 1942
Read an Excerpt
By Bernard Malamud
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2003 Kevin Baker
All rights reserved.
Roy Hobbs pawed at the glass before thinking to prick a match with his thumbnail and hold the spurting flame in his cupped palm close to the lower berth window, but by then he had figured it was a tunnel they were passing through and was no longer surprised at the bright sight of himself holding a yellow light over his head, peering back in. As the train yanked its long tail out of the thundering tunnel, the kneeling reflection dissolved and he felt a splurge of freedom at the view of the moon-hazed Western hills bulked against night broken by sprays of summer lightning, although the season was early spring. Lying back, elbowed up on his long side, sleepless still despite the lulling train, he watched the land flowing and waited with suppressed expectancy for a sight of the Mississippi, a thousand miles away.
Having no timepiece he appraised the night and decided it was moving toward dawn. As he was looking, there flowed along this bone-white farmhouse with sagging skeletal porch, alone in untold miles of moonlight, and before it this white-faced, long-boned boy whipped with train-whistle yowl a glowing ball to someone hidden under a dark oak, who shot it back without thought, and the kid once more wound and returned. Roy shut his eyes to the sight because if it wasn't real it was a way he sometimes had of observing himself, just as in this dream he could never shake off — that had hours ago waked him out of sound sleep — of him standing at night in a strange field with a golden baseball in his palm that all the time grew heavier as he sweated to settle whether to hold on or fling it away. But when he had made his decision it was too heavy to lift or let fall (who wanted a hole that deep?) so he changed his mind to keep it and the thing grew fluffy light, a white rose breaking out of its hide, and all but soared off by itself, but he had already sworn to hang on forever.
As dawn tilted the night, a gust of windblown rain blinded him — no, there was a window — but the sliding drops made him thirsty and from thirst sprang hunger. He reached into the hammock for his underwear to be first at breakfast in the dining car and make his blunders of ordering and eating more or less in private, since it was doubtful Sam would be up to tell him what to do. Roy peeled his gray sweatshirt and bunched down the white ducks he was wearing for pajamas in case there was a wreck and he didn't have time to dress. He acrobated into a shirt, pulled up the pants of his good suit, arching to draw them high, but he had crammed both feet into one leg and was trapped so tight wriggling got him nowhere. He worried because here he was straitjacketed in the berth without much room to twist around in and might bust his pants or have to buzz the porter, which he dreaded. Grunting, he contorted himself this way and that till he was at last able to grab and pull down the cuff and with a gasp loosened his feet and got the caught one where it belonged. Sitting up, he gartered his socks, tied laces, got on a necktie and even squirmed into a suit coat so that when he parted the curtains to step out he was fully dressed.
Dropping to all fours, he peered under the berth for his bassoon case. Though it was there he thought he had better open it and did but quickly snapped it shut as Eddie, the porter, came walking by.
"Morning, maestro, what's the tune today?"
"It ain't a musical instrument." Roy explained it was something he had made himself.
"Animal, vegetable, or mineral?"
"Just a practical thing."
"A pogo stick?"
"Lemme guess," Eddie said, covering his eyes with his long-fingered hand and pawing the air with the other. "I have it-combination fishing rod, gun, and shovel."
Roy laughed. "How far to Chicago, Eddie?"
"Chi? Oh, a long, long ways. I wouldn't walk."
"I don't intend to."
"Why Chi?" Eddie asked. "Why not New Orleans? That's a lush and Frenchy city."
"Never been there."
"Or that hot and hilly town, San Francisco?"
Roy shook his head.
"Why not New York, colossus of colossuses?"
"Some day I'll visit there."
"Where have you visited?"
Roy was embarrassed. "Boise."
"That dusty sandstone quarry."
"Portland too when I was small."
"No, Oregon — where they hold the Festival of Roses."
"Oregon — where the refugees from Minnesota and the Dakotas go?"
"I wouldn't know," Roy said. "I'm going to Chicago, where the Cubs are."
"Lions and tigers in the zoo?"
"No, the ballplayers."
"Oh, the ball —" Eddie clapped a hand to his mouth. "Are you one of them?"
"I hope to be."
The porter bowed low. "My hero. Let me kiss your hand."
Roy couldn't help but smile yet the porter annoyed and worried him a little. He had forgotten to ask Sam when to tip him, morning or night, and how much? Roy had made it a point, since their funds were so low, not to ask for anything at all but last night Eddie had insisted on fixing a pillow behind his back, and once when he was trying to locate the men's room Eddie practically took him by the hand and led him to it. Did you hand him a dime after that or grunt a foolish thanks as he had done? He'd personally be glad when the trip was over, though he certainly hated to be left alone in a place like Chicago. Without Sam he'd feel shaky-kneed and unable to say or do simple things like ask for directions or know where to go once you had dropped a nickel into the subway.
After a troublesome shave in which he twice drew blood he used one thin towel to dry his hands, face, and neck, clean his razor and wipe up the wet of his toothbrush so as not to have to ask for another and this way keep the bill down. From the flaring sky out the window it looked around half-past five, but he couldn't be sure because somewhere near they left Mountain Time and lost — no, picked up — yes, it was lost an hour, what Sam called the twenty-three hour day. He packed his razor, toothbrush, and pocket comb into a chamois drawstring bag, rolled it up small and kept it handy in his coat pocket. Passing through the long sleeper, he entered the diner and would gladly have sat down to breakfast, for his stomach had contracted into a bean at the smell of food, but the shirt-sleeved waiters in stocking caps were joshing around as they gobbled fried kippers and potatoes. Roy hurried through the large-windowed club car, empty for once, through several sleepers, coaches, a lounge and another long line of coaches, till he came to the last one, where amid the gloom of drawn shades and sleeping people tossed every which way, Sam Simpson also slept although Roy had last night begged him to take the berth but the soft-voiced Sam had insisted, "You take the bed, kiddo, you're the one that has to show what you have got on the ball when we pull into the city. It don't matter where I sleep."
Sam lay very still on his back, looking as if the breath of life had departed from him except that it was audible in the ripe snore that could be chased without waking him, Roy had discovered, if you hissed scat. His lean head was held up by a folded pillow and his scrawny legs, shoeless, hung limp over the arm of the double seat he had managed to acquire, for he had started out with a seat partner. He was an expert conniver where his comfort was concerned, and since that revolved mostly around the filled flat bottle his ability to raise them up was this side of amazing. He often said he would not die of thirst though he never failed to add, in Roy's presence, that he wished for nobody the drunkard's death. He seemed now to be dreaming, and his sharp nose was pointed in the direction of a scent that led perhaps to the perfumed presence of Dame Fortune, long past due in his bed. With dry lips puckered, he smiled in expectation of a spectacular kiss though he looked less like a lover than an old scarecrow with his comical, seamed face sprouting prickly stubble in the dark glow of the expiring bulb overhead. A trainman passed who, seeing Sam sniff in his sleep, pretended it was at his own reek and humorously held his nose. Roy frowned, but Sam, who had a moment before been getting in good licks against fate, saw in his sleep, and his expression changed. A tear broke from his eye and slowly slid down his cheek. Roy concluded not to wake Sam and left.
He returned to the vacant club car and sat there with a magazine on his knee, worrying whether the trip wasn't a mistake, when a puzzled Eddie came into the car and handed him a pair of red dice.
"Mate them," he said. "I can't believe my eyes."
Roy paired the dice. "They mate."
"Now roll them."
He rolled past his shoe. "Snake eyes."
"Try again," said Eddie, interested.
Roy rattled the red cubes. "Snake eyes once more."
"Amazing. Again, please."
Again he rolled on the rug. Roy whistled. "Holy cow, three in a row."
"Did they do the same for you?"
"No, for me they did sevens."
"Are they loaded?"
"Bewitched," Eddie muttered. "I found them in the washroom and I'm gonna get rid of them pronto."
"Why? — if you could win all the time?"
"I don't crave any outside assistance in games of chance."
The train had begun to slow down.
"Oh oh, duty." Eddie hurried out.
Watching through the double-paned glass, Roy saw the porter swing himself off the train and jog along with it a few paces as it pulled to a stop. The morning was high and bright but the desolate station — wherever they were — gave up a single passenger, a girl in a dressy black dress, who despite the morning chill waited with a coat over her arm, and two suitcases and a zippered golf bag at her feet. Hatless, too, her hair a froth of dark curls, she held by a loose cord a shiny black hat box which she wouldn't let Eddie touch when he gathered up her things. Her face was striking, a little drawn and pale, and when she stepped up into the train her nyloned legs made Roy's pulses dance. When he could no longer see her, he watched Eddie set down her bags, take the red dice out of his pocket, spit on them and fling them over the depot roof. He hurriedly grabbed the bags and hopped on the moving train.
The girl entered the club car and directed Eddie to carry her suitcases to her compartment and she would stay and have a cigarette. He mentioned the hat box again but she giggled nervously and said no.
"Never lost a female hat yet," Eddie muttered.
"Thank you but I'll carry it myself."
He shrugged and left.
She had dropped a flower. Roy thought it was a gardenia but it turned out to be a white rose she had worn pinned to her dress.
When he handed it to her, her eyes widened with fascination, as if she had recognized him from somewhere, but when she found she hadn't, to his horror her expression changed instantly to one of boredom. Sitting across the aisle from him she fished out of her purse a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. She lit up, and crossing her heartbreaking legs, began to flip through a copy of Life.
He figured she was his own age, maybe a year or so older. She looked to him like one of those high-class college girls, only with more zip than most of them, and dressed for 6 A.M. as the girls back home never would. He was marvelously interested in her, so much had her first glance into his eyes meant to him, and already felt a great longing in his life. Anxious to get acquainted, he was flabbergasted how to begin. If she hadn't yet eaten breakfast and he could work up the nerve, he could talk to her in the diner — only he didn't dare.
People were sitting around now and the steward came out and said first call for breakfast.
She snubbed out her cigarette with a wriggling motion of the wrist — her bracelets tinkled — picked up the hat box and went into the diner. Her crumpled white rose lay in the ashtray. He took it out and quickly stuck it in his pants pocket. Though his hunger bit sharp he waited till everyone was maybe served, and then he entered.
Although he had tried to avoid it, for fear she would see how unsure he was of these things, he was put at the same table with her and her black hat box, which now occupied a seat of its own. She glanced up furtively when he sat down but went wordlessly back to her coffee. When the waiter handed Roy the pad, he absently printed his name and date of birth but the waiter imperceptibly nudged him (hey, hayseed) and indicated it was for ordering. He pointed on the menu with his yellow pencil (this is the buck breakfast) but the blushing ballplayer, squinting through the blur, could only think he was sitting on the lone four-bit piece he had in his back pocket. He tried to squelch the impulse but something forced him to look up at her as he attempted to pour water into his ice-filled (this'll kill the fever) glass, spilling some on the tablecloth (whose diapers you wetting, boy?), then all thumbs and butter fingers, the pitcher thumped the pitcher down, fished the fifty cents out of his pants, and after scratching out the vital statistics on the pad, plunked the coin down on the table.
"That's for you," he told the (what did I do to deserve this?) waiter, and though the silver-eyed mermaid was about to speak, he did not stay to listen but beat it fast out of the accursed car.
Tramping highways and byways, wandering everywhere bird dogging the sandlots for months without spotting so much as a fifth-rater he could telegraph about to the head scout of the Cubs, and maybe pick up a hundred bucks in the mail as a token of their appreciation, with also a word of thanks for his good bird dogging and maybe they would sometime again employ him as a scout on the regular payroll — well, after a disheartening long time in which he was not able to roust up a single specimen worthy to be called by the name of ballplayer, Sam had one day lost his way along a dusty country road and when he finally found out where he was, too weary to turn back, he crossed over to an old, dry barn and sat against the haypile in front, to drown his sorrows with a swig. On the verge of dozing he heard these shouts and opened his eyes, shielding them from the hot sun, and as he lived, a game of ball was being played in a pasture by twelve blond-bearded players, six on each side, and even from where Sam sat he could tell they were terrific the way they smacked the pill — one blow banging it so far out the fielder had to run a mile before he could jump high and snag it smack in his bare hand. Sam's mouth popped open, he got up whoozy and watched, finding it hard to believe his eyes, as the teams changed sides and the first hitter that batted the ball did so for a far-reaching distance before it was caught, and the same with the second, a wicked clout, but then the third came up, the one who had made the bare-handed catch, and he really laid on and powdered the pellet a thundering crack so that even the one who ran for it, his beard parted in the wind, before long looked like a pygmy chasing it and quit running, seeing the thing was a speck on the horizon.
Sweating and shivering by turns, Sam muttered if I could ketch the whole twelve of them — and staggered out on the field to cry out the good news but when they saw him they gathered bats and balls and ran in a dozen directions, and though Sam was smart enough to hang on to the fellow who had banged the sphere out to the horizon, frantically shouting to him, "Whoa — whoa," his lungs bursting with the effort to call a giant — he wouldn't stop so Sam never caught him.
He woke with a sob in his throat but swallowed before he could sound it, for by then Roy had come to mind and he mumbled, "Got someone just as good," so that for once waking was better than dreaming.
He yawned. His mouth felt unholy dry and his underclothes were crawling. Reaching down his battered valise from the rack, he pulled out a used bath towel and cake of white soap, and to the surprise of those who saw him go out that way, went through the baggage cars to the car between them and the tender. Once inside there, he peeled to the skin and stepped into the shower stall, where he enjoyed himself for ten minutes, soaping and resoaping his bony body under warm water. But then a trainman happened to come through and after sniffing around Sam's clothes yelled in to him, "Hey, bud, come outa there."
Sam stopped off the shower and poked out his head.
"I said come outa there, that's only for the train crew."
Excerpted from The Natural by Bernard Malamud. Copyright © 2003 Kevin Baker. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
By Bernard Malamud,
What People are Saying About This
There seems to me no writer of his background who comes so close to the bone of human feelings, and makes one feel so keenly the enigmatic quality of love.
Reading Group Guide
The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Teacher's Guide
"Malamud has done something which -- now that he has done it! -- looks as if we have been waiting for it all our lives. He has really raised the whole passion and craziness and fanaticism of baseball as a popular spectacle to its ordained place in mythology."
-- Alfred Kazin
To the Teacher:
The Natural, Bernard Malamud's first novel, depicts the rise and fall of a heroic baseball player in post-WWII America -- a mythic persona with majestic gifts and massive appetites and abilities whose fictional feats come from the annals of baseball history. It is an exciting yet tragic tale of achievement and ambition, victory and loss, fame and anonymity, desire and deception, love and hate, strength and weakness, and other such grand themes -- all of them set amid the familiar fields of the national pastime.
Sharp, unsettling, provocative, and brilliantly written, The Natural is often identified -- even today, some fifty years after it originally appeared -- as the finest baseball novel ever published. Malamud tells the story of Roy Hobbs, the "natural" of the title, who is both our hero and anti-hero. We marvel at this sportsman's physical and athletic accomplishments even as his egotistical or thuggish deeds off the field (or, sometimes, on it) make him difficult if not impossible to sympathize with. But right or wrong, Hobbs himself is the story here -- the one player without whom there would be no game. So the narrative arc of the book closely follows his career in professional baseball; rarely (if at all) do we read a scene from which Hobbs is absent.
In an introductory encounter of random, decidedly modern violence, the young phenom Hobbs is shot -- during an indiscreet rendezvous en route to his major-league audition -- by a lunatic mistress. He is nearly killed; his life is put on hold for over fifteen years. Next we find Hobbs, age 35, signing on with the last-place-and-going-nowhere New York Knights. Suddenly he's a rookie in the major leagues, although at an age when most ballplayers retire. Many people just don't know what to make of Hobbs, but he hits anything the opposition can throw at him, and at one point knocks the cover off the ball -- literally. He turns the team around; for the first time in ages, the Knights have a shot at the pennant. Hobbs becomes a hero -- instantly and universally -- a living legend, a hero, a baseball icon. But with his reign at the top Hobbs also finds a king's ransom in difficulties -- crooked gamblers, a corrupt owner, jealous teammates, nosy journalists, a miserable slump, fierce fans, and a spellbinding woman of dangerous beauty and seductive command. Can Hobbs actually become "the best who ever played the game"? Will he exhibit the skill and the luck that it takes? Does he even have a chance?
It's only a game, some might say. However, a key point made by The Natural is that, where baseball is concerned, it is more than a game. All sports involve a contest, an array of talents, a battle of some kind, but baseball -- as Malamud's novel makes plain from page one -- is richly symbolic of the American character. Indeed, the sport has long been seen by many as a kind of mirror of the national psyche. Baseball is the game about which most Americans tend to have the fondest memories; much of our collective national daydream, going back over a hundred years, is about playing this sport or watching it being played. The game's rules, rituals, memories, and associations capture America's imagination in childhood just as they command America's attention in adulthood. So in Malamud's artful novel about baseball we find a well-told tale of the modern American experience. As John Cheever, writing in his journal in the 1960s, once noted: "I think that the task of an American writer is not to describe the misgivings of a woman taken in adultery as she looks out of a window at the rain but to describe four hundred people under the lights reaching for a foul ball." The Natural was the first work of literature to do precisely this, and is today considered a masterpiece.
Finally, it is worth noting that The Natural was the basis for a popular 1984 motion picture (with the same title) starring Robert Redford. Teachers are advised that this film is quite different from Malamud's novel in its plot, tone, and character details.
Praise for The Natural and Bernard Malamud
"An unusually fine novel . . . Malamud's interests go far beyond baseball. What he has done is to contrive a sustained and elaborate allegory in which the 'natural' player, who operates with ease and the greatest skill without having been taught, is equated with The Natural man who, left alone by, say, politicians and advertising agencies, might achieve real fulfillment . . . Malamud has made a brilliant and unusual book."
-- The New York Times
"What gives the novel its liveliness is Malamud's inspired mixture of everyday American vernacular (it's reminiscent of Ring Lardner) with suggestions of the magical and the mythic. He tucked a lot into that mixture, [including] a sense of mystery -- the kind that charms you and you don't need explained. And he makes it all seem easy. The novel is in the pink -- it's fresh."
-- Pauline Kael, The New Yorker
"A preposterously readable story about life."
"[Malamud is] one of our greatest prose writers -- and one of our keenest and most disturbing moralists."
-- Philadelphia Inquirer
Preparing to read
This Teacher's Guide is divided primarily into two sections, which appear below. The first, "Reading and Understanding the Novel," will help students with reading comprehension, conceptual appreciation, interpreting the narrative, grasping the book's contexts, and related matters. "Questions and Exercises for the Class," the second section, will enable students to think more broadly, creatively, or comparatively about The Natural -- both as a group and individually. A brief supplementary section, "Suggestions for Further Reading," is offered in conclusion.
Reading and Understanding the Novel
- Explain why The Natural is divided into two sections ("Pre-Game" and "Batter Up!"). What sets the two sections apart, and what has occurred between them?
- What do we learn about Roy Hobbs in the book's opening pages? What is he carrying in his bassoon case? What do learn about Hobbs' past -- his boyhood and background -- over the course of the narrative? And what aspects of Hobbs remain mysterious throughout the book?
- Why does Hobbs reject the locker-room lecture and accompanying hypnotism of Doc Knobb, the pop-psych guru who "pacifies" the New York Knights? How do the other Knights regard Doc Knobb? (p. 66)
- When Hobbs replaces Bump Baily as the premier hitter for the Knights -- if not in the entire league -- some of his teammates start wondering (and, behind his back, talking) about "whether [Hobbs is] for the team or for himself." (p. 85) Which is it, in your view? Is Hobbs ultimately playing for the Knights or himself? Or does his allegiance change over the course of the book? Defend your answers by citing key passages from throughout the text.
- Some time after Bump's accidental death while chasing a fly ball in the outfield, Memo tells Hobbs that Bump "made you think you had been waiting for a thing to happen for a long time and then he made it happen." (p. 112) Could the same be said of Hobbs himself? If so, who might say it? And where else in the book do we see ballplayers rendered in a majestic, larger-than-life, or deity-like manner?
- When Memo and Hobbs take a long night's drive out to Long Island in his new Mercedes-Benz, Hobbs is at one point certain that they have hit a boy or his dog. He wants to turn back and investigate. Memo, who is driving, refuses. But later Hobbs thinks differently, as we read: "It did not appear that there ever was any kid in those woods, except in his mind." (p. 123) Is this boy-and-his-dog image merely a figment of Hobbs' imagination? Or is it real? Explain.
- What link(s) do you recognize in Hobbs' disastrous hitting slump and his decision to visit Lola, the fortune teller in Jersey City? What does Lola predict for Hobbs? Is she accurate? Also, what other baseball-oriented superstitions are depicted in The Natural? How do such rites and practices get started? Why do they remain popular?
- On his first and only date with Iris, Hobbs tells her a secret. What is it? What does Iris mean when she says, shortly thereafter, that people have "two lives" to live? (p. 152) Identify the "two lives" at the core of this narrative. Finally, why does Hobbs eventually dismiss his affection for Iris? Do you think his dismissal is fair, given Hobbs' own age and background? Explain.
- When Hobbs eventually regains his hitting ability, winning games for the Knights anew and reviving their chances in the pennant race, we gain various insights into what Hobbs the slugger thinks and feels. We read, for example: "Sometimes as he watched the ball soar, it seemed to him all circles, and he was mystified at his devotion to hacking at it, for he had never really liked the sight of a circle. They got you nowhere but back to the place where you were to begin with." (p. 163) Looking at our protagonist in a more personal or philosophical way, explain why Hobbs dislikes circles. Also, who or what causes him to start hitting again in the first place? (And if possible, explain how and why this happens.)
- What is a "Rube Goldberg contraption"? (p. 170)
- Just before the big game to decide the pennant, Hobbs, while still in the hospital, consents to the Judge's crooked proposition -- he agrees to "sell out." Explain how Hobbs arrives at this decision. Who is he thinking of when he does so? What are his motives? Who, or what, is Hobbs ultimately selling out for? What are his reasons?
- Early in the big game, while running out to his position in left field, Hobbs thinks of his relationship with Pop. We read: "It seemed to Roy he had known the old man all his life long." (p. 216) Reflect on the relationship that exists between Roy Hobbs and his manager. What does each man need or want from the other? And what does each give -- or not give -- to the other?
- Later in the big game, the Pirates must send out a relief pitcher to finish off Hobbs. We read of this reliever: "Few in the stands had heard of him, but before his long trek to the mound was finished his life was common knowledge." (p. 226) What is implied by this exaggeration, especially the "common knowledge" claim? Point out specific descriptions or remarks from other parts of The Natural in which a man's talents for baseball and his very existence are blurred, deliberately confused, intentionally switched, and so on. What commentary might author Bernard Malamud be making here about the relationship existing between baseball and life itself?
- Immediately after Hobbs' climactic strikeout, we read: "Bump's form glowed red on the wall." (p. 227) Why does Hobbs see this particular apparition at this particular moment?
- What does Hobbs do with Wonderboy after the big game? And where does he do this? Explain his actions.
- Consider these remarks from Kevin Baker's Introduction to The Natural: "Hobbs is one of the most thoroughly unsympathetic heroes in the history of American literature . . . One can feel little real pity for any character who has so assiduously shaped his own doom." (p. xii) Would you agree? Can, or should, we pity Roy Hobbs? Also, earlier in his Introduction, Baker writes: "It is hard to find a truly likable character in the book." (p. ix) Do you agree with this assertion? Explain why or why not.
- Elsewhere Baker notes that baseball "has always been an American simulacrum." (p. ix) What is a "simulacrum"? Define and discuss this term -- both generally and in terms of The Natural specifically.
- Malamud's novel takes a sensitive and evocative approach to language in general and vernacular in particular. What did reading this book teach you about American jargon of the mid-20th century -- particularly baseball slang? Define the following baseball terms and phrases: bingle, fungo, pepper (re: practice), southpaw, pill, stuff (re: pitching), shagging flies, and, as used eponymously throughout, natural. What other ballpark-bred words can you name?
- Hobbs is drawn to three women over the course of the novel: Harriet Bird, Memo Paris, and Iris Lemon. Describe them. What does Hobbs find appealing about each of them? What, if anything, do these women have in common? Why is each attracted to him? What, in turn, does Hobbs see in them -- that is, individually and collectively?
- How are the fans depicted in this novel? Look especially at those scenes where their dress, manner, habits, and general behavior are depicted. (pp. 70, 86-7, 206, and elsewhere) And how does Hobbs regard the fans? Compare Hobbs' dealings with, say, Mike Barney to those he has with Otto Zipp. Finally, where does the word fan come from? What exactly does it mean to be a fan of something?
- Dreams play an important role in The Natural; we find many different dream descriptions throughout the book. Select a few of these passages, then discuss how each dream enhances, echoes, or otherwise enriches the book's larger narrative.
- Compare and contrast how this novel depicts the urban and the rural, the experience of the city and that of the country. Which environment is seen more favorably, romantically, nostalgically? Which is seen more critically, harshly, complexly? Refer to certain scenes or images to underscore your views.
- As a class, explore the novel's portrayal of the elusive yet all-consuming power of ambition. We are often reminded that Hobbs is obsessed with rewriting professional baseball's record book, with "doing what I came here to do," with being "the best who ever played the game" -- but why is Hobbs so driven? Why does his quest for greatness come off as aloof, greedy, cruel, or worse?
- Why does Hobbs eat so much? Discuss and try to explain his appetite.
- Daydreams about trains appear at many points in the novel, usually as the recurring reveries Hobbs keeps having. Even on the last page, the following locomotive imagery strikes Hobbs at the low conclusion of the narrative: "He felt the insides of him beginning to take off (chug chug choo choo . . .). Pretty soon they were in fast flight." (p.231) Identify other train-based visions had by Hobbs. What do they signify or suggest to him? Explain this train metaphor -- and what it means to Hobbs personally.
- The Natural not only offers a detailed rendering of the world of baseball; it also illustrates the business aspect of professional sports. How is the relationship between pro sports and business characterized in these pages? What about the relationship between pro sports and gambling? Do you think that either of these relationships would be characterized differently if Malamud were composing his novel today? Explain your views.
- Some critics have pointed out that The Natural reads like a modern-day morality play. (The morality play is a highly allegorical form of drama, created in medieval Europe, in which characters personifying good or evil struggle over possession of a person's soul.) Write a one-act morality play on a contemporary topic of your own devising, either by yourself or in collaboration with other students. Picking up on Malamud's example, try to frame issues of right and wrong, good and bad, and so forth within a current setting, popular arena, or familiar situation.
- Discuss Malamud's novel as a work of magical realism. Are there any key scenes, events, or actions in The Natural that must be deemed magical or supernatural? If so, identify them.
- The character of Roy Hobbs -- as well as, more broadly, The Natural itself -- can rightly be seen as a fictionalized composite of baseball history in the first half of the 20th century -- the lore, legends, and giants of the game, all refashioned or rolled into a single creation. Write a short story or long poem in which, like Malamud, you create a composite work based upon a historically fertile or legendary subject of your choosing. Upon completion, read your work aloud to your classmates.
- Returning to Baker's Introduction, we find Hobbs likened to Willy Loman, the protagonist of Arthur Miller's epochal Death of a Salesman. (p. xii) Write a brief essay comparing (or contrasting) Roy Hobbs to another literary hero (or villain) of your choosing.
The following fiction and non-fiction works are recommended as follow-up books for those students who have expressed interest in, curiosity about, or appreciation for baseball on the printed page. There are countless books reflecting baseball's sturdy links to history, biography, literature, society, and/or culture; this is a select list aimed at accessibility and readability. For reasons of inclusiveness, a few non-baseball books are also listed here; these can be likewise recommended with confidence to students who enjoyed The Natural.
Game Time: A Baseball Reader by Roger Angell; Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series by Eliot Asinof; The Heart of the Order by Thomas Boswell; A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo; Babe: The Legend Comes To Life by Robert W. Creamer; The Brothers K: A Novel by David James Duncan; Take Me Out: A Play by Richard Greenberg; Diz: The Story of Dizzy Dean and Baseball During the Great Depression by Robert Gregory; Summer of '49 and The Teammates by David Halberstam; The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn; Shoeless Joe: A Novel by W. P. Kinsella; You Know Me, Al: A Busher's Letters by Ring W. Lardner; Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy by Jane Leavy; A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League by Sue Macy; The Assistant, The Complete Stories, Dubin's Lives, The Fixer, God's Grace, The Magic Barrel, The People, and The Tenants by Bernard Malamud; Autumn Glory: Baseball's First World Series by Louis P. Masur; Stonewall's Gold: A Novel by Robert J. Mrazek; Betsey Brown: A Novel by Ntozake Shange; Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball by Scott Simon; and Hoopla: A Novel by Harry Stein.
About the Author
Bernard Malamud (1914-86) wrote eight novels, including The Fixer, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The Magic Barrel, a collection of stories, also won the National Book Award. Malamud was born in Brooklyn and for many years taught at Bennington College in Vermont.
Scott Pitcock wrote this Teacher's Guide. He lives in New York City and works in book publishing.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Struggling to pursue a professional baseball career, Rob Hobbs, a character in The Natural, overcomes many obstacles in his first year as the Rookie. Roy moves to the crowded and sleepless city of New York as he adapts to the celebrity lifestyle of parties and meeting new people, most of them being girls. Bernard Malamud, the author, is successful in creating a realistic setting through the use of hectic moods and a party-like atmosphere. As Roy takes on new responsibilities, his main struggle is trying to balance everything while still playing a spectacular game night after night, a stability that not everyone is able to achieve. Roy enters the baseball world with a great deal of early criticism but besides all that, he is an immediate success. After finally gaining support of the coaches, teammates, and local fans, he begins to grow older and more experienced yet still continuing to pile on the pressure to do well. In fact, they demand perfection. The media is after him wanting to know all about his history, as Roy does not want the public to know about his personal stories. As a leader of the team, he brings them up from last place to being in the World Series. Roy has a passion for the game that no one could ever change, as I respect that in an athlete. Throughout his injuries and slumps, he would still put on his glove and go out and play, which is very practical as that is the life of professional athletes. Memo, one of Roy¿s friends, make a comment to him that could be used as the theme of the book, which is, ¿Experience makes good people better¿. Especially through their suffering.¿ I believe The Natural is an entertaining book for audiences of different generations as it interweaves a love story with an intense sports tale. As stated earlier, Roy Hobbs is a fighter who wants to keep his past a mystery. Readers from all backgrounds can relate to the struggles of the everyday perfection others expect out of you, and as we can see, what doesn¿t kill you, makes you stronger.
This book is the definitive work in this genre. The baseball color is unmatched and the rigor and depth of the characters and conflict is wonderful. You will be captivated by Roy Hobbs and his baseball prowess, and cringe at his flaws that make his quest for baseball immortality impossible. Just fabulous.
I had this book for a summer reading assignment this year, and at first I didn't like it all that much and thought it was a hard read, but then I really got into it, which is wierd because I don't really like baseball all that much. The storyline is good and sad in most parts. I think that the main character, Roy Hobbs, is a little self centered because he thinks he is the best and fools around with women. But in the end, you have to feel sorry for the guy. So this story is really good and it was written extremely well.
This book is the best baseball there is.This bookjust pulls you into it and does not want to let you go. I this book Roy goes through many challenges but in the endhe comes out on top. THis bookis great for any kid who loves base ball and or fo ay adult who loves the game of baseball.
In the novel, The Natural by Bernard Malamud, you are taken back to the 1930¿s and 40¿s era and learn of a man named Roy Hobbs who is on a train to Chicago. Later in the story, the setting changes to New York where the Knights, a major league baseball team plays. This setting gives you a sense of 1940¿s baseball and is described to create a very realistic picture of that time and baseball during that period. The plot of The Natural starts with the young new pitcher Roy Hobbs, is on his way to Chicago to try out for the Cubs. On the train he meets the baseball legend, The Wammer, who Roy strikes out in three pitches at a carnival when the train had stopped. He also meets a very pretty woman named Harriet Bird, when in Chicago, invites Roy to her hotel room. When he arrives she shoots him. The story moves to 16 years later, Roy is now 34 years old and has a contract to play for the New York Knights. Manager Pop Fischer doesn¿t like the idea of having an old rookie and doesn¿t play Roy. But, after the Knights start outfielder Bump Bailey dies after crashing into the wall, Roy takes his spot. Using his bat he made from a tree struck by lightning called Wonderboy, Roy becomes the new fan favorite. He then falls in love with Memo Paris, Pop¿s niece who brings Roy bad luck and sends him into a horrible slump. But when in Chicago, he meets Iris Lemon who makes Roy begin to hit again. Once the team has the chance to play for the pennant against the Pirates, the Judge, who owns the Knights offers Roy a $35,000 dollar bonus to lose on purpose so he can take the team away from Pop Fischer. Roy strikes out to end the game and his deal with the Judge is later exposed to the public. The plot is a very fairy tale story in that Roy is able to come back at age 34 and dominate the game, and the type of deal he made with the Judge seems to be a very unlikely event to occur. Roy¿s main conflict during the book was his dilemma to accept the $35,000 or just live with his inadequate salary of $3,000. Roy wants the cash, but doesn¿t want to upset Pop Fisher. He is pressured by Memo to give into the Judge¿s plan. Roy did learn that he can become corrupt by money, because during his incredible season, he only wanted to play for the love of the game, but in the end took the money to lose the pennant. Some concepts that were present were to have courage as Roy displayed to come back after leaving baseball for 16 years. Others include heroism in capturing the attention of the fans, but also of betrayal when he took part in the Judge¿s plan. The concepts of courage and chasing your dreams are important to me because I have my own ideas for the future and I can¿t take shortcuts like Roy tried. I enjoyed The Natural, I learned it¿s never too late to chase dreams and do what you set out to do. Also, because I love baseball and enjoy reading sport novels. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes heroic stories followed with some tragedy.
The book, The Natural, is an excellent book because of the valuable lessons that the reader learns from reading the book. Bernard Malamud creates very realistic characters in a realistic plot to teach the reader that you need to step up to the plate in order to be successful in life. In the beginning of the story, Roy uses his inexperience to strike out the Whammer, who at the time was one of the greatest baseball players in the world. Unfortunately, Roy is shot by a woman, keeping him out of baseball for fifteen years. When he returns to baseball at the age of 34, he joins the struggling New York Knights and leads them to win the pennant. The conflict in the story that makes it a good read is that Roy is very susceptible to women and this causes him to go into a slump. At the end of the book, Roy is now faced with a phenomenal rookie, who symbolizes Roy when he was young. Roy is unable to step up to the plate, and the rookie pitcher ends up striking out Roy, showing that Roy had given up on baseball and on life. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to read it because it is not just about baseball, but it is about valuable lessons in life that Roy learns in order to be successful in the real world.
As a baseball lover I loved it i thought it was a very well-written book. It kept me interested right through to the end of the book. It was a very inspirational novel.
I read this book as a 9th grader and it was the best. The begining was slow, but in the end you felt better that finished a great book not just about the boring sport of baseball.
I had to read The Natural this summer to prep for an A.P. Lit. class. The way the book jumps around really confused me. It also left me asking myself ENDLESS amounts of questions that should have been evident in the book. I have to admit that there were definitely some interesting parts, but if I weren't required to read this book, I don't think I would. It's just not my kind of book!
The Natural was an exceptional book it great details and I love sports so it really interested me about how things use to work back in the 40's when baseball was life, I would recommend this book to people who like sports otherwise I dont think they would like it.
I've read several Malamud novels but had never quite gotten around to this one. And it is really astounding. From the first scene with the amateur Roy Hobbs striking out one the leading sluggers in a fairground bet to the tragic ending. It is an all-too-frequent cliche about baseball novels, but The Natural really expands into the mythic, with large timeless figures, all of them tragically flawed. Plus the baseball scenes themselves hold your attention with all of the suspense and interest of a good sports novel or movie.
Having read Malamud's "Magic Barrel" I knew to expect a degree of magic realism, so was not too surprised when Roy performed hits that literally ripped the cover off the ball, etc. Nevertheless, I was so caught up in the story, I didn't catch the mythic symbolism, until I read a few web sites after concluding the book. I figured there was symbolism, a foot, Pop Fisher being some kind of father figure, but Of course, he is the Fisher King! Roy's is the mythic quest, which, alas, fails because he longs for the skinny woman, rather than the plump one (yes!). I have read that the movie, in typical Hollywood fashion, tacks on a happy ending, and that is a shame. Perhaps now more than ever we need to be able to sit with our failure, and with how our gluttony is destroying us.
Finished reading The Natural and gave it four and one half stars. This is a better than average rating for me to give a book and I think I chose to do this because Malamud hooked me despite the fact that I am not a big baseball fan. I am a fan of American cultural history and found the period details fun, and the mood of the book seems to suit baseball's early relationship with the shady side of life.I recommend the book to baseball fans as it does include some wonderful game descriptions. I also think American history buffs will enjoy this book. I also recommend it to any one who enjoys reading fine writing and an interesting take on the "novel" as a form. Malamud has fallen a bit in popularity I think but he deserves to be rediscovered.
It's been a very very long time since I read this and I only did so after having watched the movie. One of those rare, very rare, instances where the movie could actually be better than the book it is based on.
The story is excellent, if somewhat darker than Barry Levinson's depiction of it in film. In many ways, I prefer this darker, more edged tale of loss, pain and morality to the triumph of spirit we are given on the silver screen. It has certainly earned its reputation as a modern classic.
I enjoyed this book for the story, but at the same time I wanted more. I never felt close to the characters, or even that they were real, so I was never really able to escape into what the author had given me. At the same time, while I also enjoyed the arthurian allusions, they were a bit heavy-handed at points, and I found myself thinking that Malamud was trying to hard as he wrote.
This tale of a 35-year-old baseball player with extremely gifted talent for the game paints a mostly dark picture of a flawed man. Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel about Roy Hobbs and his time playing for the New York Knights is considered to be a classic baseball fictional story and was also adapted onto film in the 1980’s, with Robert Redford starring as Hobbs. I will add a disclaimer that I have never seen the film, so this review and the opinions within are based only on this book. I found Malamud’s development of the main characters in the story very good, even though there wasn’t a single character in the story that I could say I felt was a protagonist or a “good” guy or lady. Hobbs has several character flaws which I believe portray him in a less-than-favorable light, such as always seeking out intimate relations with any woman with whom he is in contact. One of these women, Memo, was taking a fancy to a teammate of Hobbs who died on the baseball field, Bump Bailey. Bailey’s untimely demise is the reason Hobbs became a started on the Knights and he immediately tries to court Memo, whose own character flaws are revealed later. About the only character who seems be able to evoke sympathy from a reader is Iris, and the reason she is initially not Hobb’s type of lady is that she is a young grandmother. This doesn’t sound like the typical baseball hero in a fictional story – but Roy and all the other main characters are well developed by Malamud. Maybe the reader won’t like them, but the reader will believe that he or she knows them. The story moves along well both on and off the diamond. The baseball scenes are written well for the time depicted, which was when there was no night baseball and the game moved along at a quicker pace than today’s sport with many pitching changes. There is one big leap of logic, however – how does Roy become such a great pitcher at 19 to strike out the mighty Whammer in a duel, yet later becomes such a great hitter and outfielder at 35? I must also mention one other character that is baseball-centric, Wonderboy. That is the name Roy has given to his bat, and he treats Wonderboy better than he treats the ladies, with special polishing and storing. If there is any character who deserved pity - even though this character is an object – it is the ultimate demise of Wonderboy. The fact that Roy made sure to bury Wonderboy on a baseball field says a lot about Roy’s relationship with his favorite bat. The audio version of the book was narrated superbly by Christopher Hurt, who did his best to make the listener feel like he or she is on the field or in the hotel with Roy and company. While the ending is dark and leaves the reader feeling down, the book certainly does earn a place in the library of classic baseball novels.
Usually I have found the book version to be soperior to the movie version, often vastly so. I was disappointed with this book and cannot recommend it, especially if you liked the movie. I loved the movie. It's among my favorite movies.