Symbolism in “The Natural”
The novel The Natural by Bernard Malamud is an excellent peace of sports literature. It follows the story of Roy Hobbs as he is reaching old age in the game of baseball. The plot follows his initial talent in a scene set years before the main plot. Sixteen years afterwards the man is playing for a losing team but can still wow the audience with his raw talents. As the story progresses Roy is characterized through his actions and through the way the supporting characters view him. One symbol that made this work more resounding is the cracking of Roy’s back in the climatic game.
This event has a lot of hidden meaning, and helps convey Malamud’s theme to the audience.
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The first scene in the story is where Malamud expresses the level of talent “wonderboy”, as he is affectionately called, possesses. He is squaring off against a big league allstar known as the Whammer; “At thirty-three the Whammer still enjoyed exceptional eyesight. He saw the ball spin off Roy’s fingertips and it reminded him of a white pigeon he had kept as a boy, that he would send into flight by flipping it into the air.
The ball flew at him and he was conscious of its bird-form and white flapping wings he heard a noise like the bang of a firecracker at his feet and Sam had the ball in his mitt. Unable to believe his ears he heard Mercy intone a reluctant strike. ” (Malamud). This quote is significant because it expresses the potential of the protagonist. It is through these great feats of athletic prowess that we the reader gets to respect him. It makes the plot more important to the reader, as well. This all leads up to the finale with Hobb’s putting it all on the line.
The aspect of love is a component to this novel. While Roy is everything to be admired in the athletic sphere, he shows a deeply human aspect to his personality in his dealings with his love interest; “Noticing Toomey watching her, Roy stole a quick look. He caught the red dress and a white rose [he was] drawn by the feeling that her smile was for him she seemed to be wanting to say something, and then it flashed on him the reason she was standing was to show her confidence in him he became aware that the night had spread out in all directions and was filled with an unbelievable fragrance. (Malamud) Malamud gives his character a truly human characteristic which makes him all the more enduring. As the novel’s rising action takes place, the “natural’s” intentions are called into question. During the climatic scene, Roy fouls a ball into the stands that injures Iris. During this at bat, Roy also splits his bat, named wonder boy, into two pieces. This is a multilayered piece of symbolism which helps express the author’s true intentions upon writing this novel. The fact that he injures Iris expresses how he is hurting the one’s he loves through his sports persona.
He must rectify the relationship between his athletic personality and his human one. It is also significant how it happened on a “foul” ball, which suggests a seedy side to the tone of this event. Finally, the fact that his bat is split into two pieces shows that he is finally ready to move on from the game he spent his life pursuing. In a conversation late in the novel Roy says this brilliant quote; “Experience makes good people better. ” She was staring at the lake. “How does it do that? ” “Through their suffering. ” “I had enough of that,” he said in disgust. We have two lives, Roy, the life we learn with and the life we live with after that. Suffering is what brings us toward happiness All it taught me was to stay aware from it. I am sick of all I have suffered. ” She shrank away a little. ” (Malamud) This is a fitting way to leave the reader of the noel, and let them know what Malamud was getting at. The characterization and symbolism of this book really make it a significant contribution to sports literature. He is a larger than life figure with wholly human emotions. He is an epic hero for a contemporary period, and Malamud communicates this beautifully.