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Natural

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Biting, witty, provocative, and sardonic, Bernard Malamud's The Natural is widely considered to be the premier basebal novel of all time. It tells the story of Roy Hobbs--an athlete born with rare and wondrous gifts--who is robbed of his prime playing years by a youthful indiscretion that nearly consts him his life. But at an age when most players are considering retirement, Roy reenters the game, lifting the lowly New York Knights from last place into pennant contention and becoming an instant hero in the ...
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The Natural: A Novel

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Overview

Biting, witty, provocative, and sardonic, Bernard Malamud's The Natural is widely considered to be the premier basebal novel of all time. It tells the story of Roy Hobbs--an athlete born with rare and wondrous gifts--who is robbed of his prime playing years by a youthful indiscretion that nearly consts him his life. But at an age when most players are considering retirement, Roy reenters the game, lifting the lowly New York Knights from last place into pennant contention and becoming an instant hero in the process. Now all he has to worry about is the fixers, the boss, the slump, the jinx, the fans...and the dangerously seductive Memo Paris, the one woman Roy can't seem to get out of his mind.

"A brilliant and unusually fine novel."(— The New York Times)

"The finest novel about baseball since Ring Lardner left the scene."(— St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

"One of our greatest prose writer--and one of our keenest and most disturbing moralists."(— The Philadelphia Inquirer)

"Malamud [holds a] high and honored place among contemporary American writers."(— Washington Post Book World)

"A preposterously readable tale about life."(— Time)

"There seems to me no writer of his background who comes so close to the bone of human feeling, who makes one feel so keenly the enigmatic quality of life."(— Alfred Kazin)

"When I reread Malamud, it will recall to me the American literature I love."(— The New York Times Book Review)

The author's first novel, a story about the baseball hero Roy Hobbs. "He possesses a gift for characterization that is often breathtaking." -- The New York Times

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Editorial Reviews

Harry Sylvester
Back in the thirties the baseball writers making the swing through the West with the major league teams occasionally wondered whether one of their number would ever produce a serious novel about baseball. That novel has finally been written-- and if the author does not come from the ranks of baseball reporters, at least he hails from Brooklyn and there are those who feel that qualifies him ex officio. It's an unusually fine novel, too although I don't know how the professionals are going to take it. For Bernard 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 agencie, might achieve his real fulfillment...
From the Publisher
“A brilliant and unusually fine novel.” —The New York Times

“A preposterously readable story about life.” —Time

“Malamud [holds a] high and honored place among contemporary American writers.” —Washington Post Book World

“The finest novel about baseball since Ring Lardner left the scene.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060958299
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/1/2000
  • Pages: 240
  • Lexile: 1060L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernard Malamud (1914–1986) wrote eight novels; he won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Fixer, and the National Book Award for The Magic Barrel, a book of stories. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he taught for many years at Bennington College in Vermont.

Biography

Bernard Malamud (1914-1986), perhaps more than any Jewish-American author in the twentieth century, including Saul Bellow, translated the literature of the Eastern European shtetl to the streets of America. So carefully written, so diligently constructed, are his stories and novels that one could erringly view them as narratives that represent a certain current of "Jewish" writing, or as period pieces. Upon numerous re-readings of his many works, the exact opposite feeling is engendered. This is one of the most profound literati of our age, and his contributions will surely transcend the earthly time in which they were written.

Because of the reconstruction of The Natural (1952) as a movie with a happy ending, belying the bitter pill swallowed by slugger Roy Hobbs at the end of the book, Malamud's popularity has enjoyed a revival, particularly for elevating the game of baseball - already an American fantasy - to the realm of mythos. The truth was that true to his literary forebears, I.L. Peretz and Sholom Aleichem, Malamud's reliance upon myth, legend, and magic often helped convey the most intimate details of existence, and consequently, life's pathos and sadness as much as life's joy and fulfillment. Malamud explicated the tragic role of the Jew in many of his stories, including The Fixer (1966), which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and later was adapted into a motion picture. That novel was based on the true story of Mendel Beilis, victim of the Kiev Blood Libel of 1913.

The stories are marked by a faithfulness to accent and tone that lends an unmistakable reality to every sentence and idea Malamud chose to set forth. The Magic Barrel (1954) is the diadem of his many short pieces. The sufferings of a rabbinic student, Leo Finkle, and his heroic but ungainly attempt to turn his life inside out, as he grasps desperately with his forlorn search for a marriage partner, are wrenching and inexpressibly moving. Suffering is Malamud's focus, and no author probed the subject more intensely.

The crowning literary achievement for Malamud came with the publication of The Assistant (1957). Again, mixing myth with reality, a virtual monk, Morris Bober, a grocer, welcomes into his ÒcellÓ the itinerant ne'er-do-well, Frank Alpine, whose initials most surely stand for the wonder-worker, St. Francis of Assisi. In the strictness of his prose, Malamud reshapes the grocery into a kind of Jewish monastery, as Frank, the repentant, becomes Morris's disciple in training for a new vocation. At a certain point in his novitiate, Frank asks Morris: "Tell me why it is that Jews suffer so much? It seems to me that they like to suffer, don't they?" Morris answers: "Do you like to suffer? They suffer because they are Jews." Frank responds: "That's what I mean, they suffer more than they have to." Morris replies: "If you live, you suffer. Some people suffer more, but not because they want. But I think if a Jew don't suffer for the Law, he will suffer for nothing. What do you suffer for Morris?" said Frank. "I suffer for you," Morris said calmly. "What do you mean?" asked Frank. "I mean you suffer for me."

The aching reality. The underlying mythos. The seeming simplicity. All point to the immeasurable depth of a master artisan and artist whose literary bequest remains one of the Jewish community's most priceless possessions.

Author biography courtesy of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 28, 1914
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      March 18, 1986
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., City College of New York, 1936; M.A., Columbia University, 1942

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Pre-Game

Roy Hobbes 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 madehis 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 Bartered 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?"

"No."

"Foolproof lance?"

"No."

"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."

"In Maine?"

"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 anti 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 largewindowed 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 oven 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.

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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."

-- Time

"[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

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. 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.
  9. 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.)
  10. What is a "Rube Goldberg contraption"? (p. 170)
  11. 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?
  12. 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?
  13. 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?
  14. 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?
  15. What does Hobbs do with Wonderboy after the big game? And where does he do this? Explain his actions.
Questions and Exercises for the Class
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. Why does Hobbs eat so much? Discuss and try to explain his appetite.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 38 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2004

    Not Just A Baseball Story..

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2004

    The Natural

    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.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 4, 2012

    Don't buy

    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.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2008

    The Best in Baseball Fiction

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2006

    It was good for the most part

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2005

    Required Reading

    I had to read this book for a school assignment. I thought that it was a pretty good book considering that usually the books we read in school are not so good. However, I found that it was hard to get through and it took a while to read. I did good on the test for the book so I guess I liked it.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2004

    Best Baseball Book

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2004

    An Excellent Book

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2004

    Good baseball read

    I liked the imagery Malamud used during the baseball sequences. A good exciting fast paced read. I recommend it.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2004

    Classic

    Just a great underdog story.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2004

    Good Book

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2003

    The Natural was very disappointing

    I picked The Natural because I had saw the movie and enjoyed it very much,but I thought the book would go more in depth about the movie. It was like reading a totally different story, and was nothing at all like the movie.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2002

    Natural

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2002

    Not My Kind Of Book

    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!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2002

    Good 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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Love

    I love this book alot i hope everyone reads it i bet you will love it alot

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2009

    the natural

    The Natural by Bernard Malamud tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a man who is about 19 and trying to make it to the Majors. While on a train on his way to Chicago, he runs into a sports writer and a real ball player. He is challenged to a duel against the leagues leading hitter. Later on his way to Chicago, he runs into trouble and is sidelined for years. When he finally makes his return, Roy is in his 30's and signs with the team that is at the bottom of their division. When he goes out and practices, everyone notices how much of a natural he is, especially since he only learned how to play from his dad. After the death of the star player on the Knights, Roy has to fill in his big shoes. He helps raise the morale of the team and brings them within contention for the league lead. Near the end of the season, Roy is forced to make the toughest decision of his life; take a large sum of money and throw the game, or to take his small salary and not throw the game. The ending is one that you can kind of see coming with an unexpected twist, but it also leaves you hanging. It is a great book for sports fans because it portrays the struggle of someone trying to make it to the Majors while getting into their personal life and making you want to read more and more. In the novel, there is also a lot of foreshadowing that helps careful readers pick up on things that are going to happen and affect Roy. There are also many surprises that pop up along the way. It is a great story about following your dreams and never giving up on them no matter how old you are, because they can always come true if you keep working at them, much like they did for Roy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2002

    Quite Dissapointing

    I had to read this book for a high-scool english class, and thought it would be a baseball story. Instead I found it to just keep dragging on and on, which made me uninterested.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2001

    A Good Read, With Its Flaws

    I recently read the natural for a high school English class. I found it enjoyable and was saddened by the ending but pleased that it was not the same as the movie's cheesy, must-please-the-audience one. At times it seems soap opera-esque, but I liked it just the same. A book for the guy who likes the hero, always roots for the underdog.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2001

    Baseball's not just a spory; it's a way of life.

    BOOK REVIEW: Baseball¿s not just a sport; it¿s a way of life. By: Devon DeBlasio If I were to hive this book a rating on its plot, characters, interest, and storyline then I would have to hive it four stars! The famous author, Bernard Malamud, wrote the book, The Natural, brilliantly. He uses his knowledge of baseball and creative talent to write a book about a man¿s life long struggle to become a professional baseball player. There were only really two major things that I did not like about this great novel the first is that it was a little hard to follow with the characters frequent flashbacks and dreams. It made it hard for me to exactly know when it was describing present day and when it was talking about a dream or telling a flashback. The second problem I had was when the book was talking about one of the main characters girlfriends, and since he had so many it was hard to tell which one the book was explaining. These two minor problems were easily overcome, but still were noticeable to be mentioned from memory. This book was an excellent portrayal of a soap opera, which gave the reading that little edge and twist that always left you in shock. I have chosen to explain two positive points that this book had to offer out of many. The first is that this book, even though about baseball, still could hold the interest of someone like me who has no apparent interest for the topic of baseball. But because of the dramatic plot, and interesting characters, I didn¿t even think about the baseball side of the story. The second, and one of the most important traits that this book has is that it tells the classic tale of a hero, a hero who defies all odds and wins the hearts of everyone. With that immortal storyline, dramatic plot, and its detailed characters, anyone who picks this book up is sure to love it.

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