New Leaf July 2019 Discussion • The Natural by Bernard Malamud
#81  CRussel 07-18-2019, 10:43 PM
And yes, why a Mercedes-Benz? Totally not what I would think right for New York in 1952. Though they did make a name for themselves with the gull-wing 300-SL, but that wasn't until 1954 at the earliest. A Cadillac or Lincoln would have been more fitting.

#82  Victoria 07-18-2019, 10:51 PM
Quote Catlady
This. It's all ultimately meaningless in Malamud's view.

Iris ends up hit by a foul ball and pregnant--that's her reward for virtue? Bump is killed in a freak accident when he tries to play ball the right way. Roy is destroyed despite his epiphany and his effort to do the right thing. Malamud seems to be saying the universe is going to dump on you no matter what you do. What follows from that is, why bother to try to act morally? Why not just grab what you can, do what you want--the universe is going to get you anyway.

This is too bleak for me. I would be less bothered by Roy's downfall if he deliberately struck out and lost the game--then I could agree that his fall was deserved. But it kills me that he tried at the end and got not even a little bit of redemption.

I think I’ll stick with the movie version.
Agreed! I think the book’s worldview is basically existentialist, whether that was Malamud’s conscious intent or not. (Or even nihilistic )

#83  Bookworm_Girl 07-19-2019, 01:09 AM
From what I've read on line, this book is typical of his more famous works. Basically his books are about suffering and the continuation of that suffering through the plot. His characters are mostly men and Jewish, usually from Brooklyn. They have a profession where they work hard and toil away. They walk the line of poverty and go from one calamity to the next.

While it was very interesting to read this book because I like the added subject matter of baseball, I don't think I shall read any more of his works. Too depressing for me.

I also read that books with antihero characters were popular in the 1950s through mid-1960s. Perhaps that explains why I don't read much from this time period.

The comparison to Hardy was very insightful. I still have lingering negative memories of reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles as a teenager,. I've never remembered exactly why other than it was assigned in school and not by choice.

#84  Bookworm_Girl 07-19-2019, 01:26 AM
Quote issybird
But nobody deserves the bad breaks handed out unevenly by the universe. Roy was unlucky, yes, but not uniquely unlucky, and he had his chance at redemption at that. In mythology, Iris is the messenger of the gods; in this case, Iris was the messenger from the gods, but Roy ignored her until too late.

Timing! Hubris and irony: Roy had his chance when he was blasting the foul balls at Otto; that his epiphany only came after he misfired and struck Iris ("Christ! Another one!") was his tragedy, but he brought it on himself - which is one of the markers of tragedy.
I found a quote where Roy reflects:
"I never did learn anything out of my past life, now I have to suffer again."

#85  issybird 07-19-2019, 09:11 AM
I don't think we've mentioned Doc Knobb yet; what about him? I think he ties into comments made by Bookpossum and Catlady.

Bookpossum has referred to Roy's lack of growth after his shooting, that he remains essentially a boy. I think Doc Knobb reinforces this impression as applied to all the players, as he serves explicitly to pacify the players, to keep them in a state of delayed childhood.

"It's Doc Knobb." The catcher looked sleepy.

"What's he do?"

"Pacifies us."

The players were attentive, sitting as if they were going to have their pictures snapped. The nervousness Roy had sensed among them was all but gone. They looked like men whose worries had been lifted, and even Bump gave forth a soft grunt of contentment.
Just like an infant or toddler, in fact.

I think Malamud is suggesting that these men, notorious losers as a team, are losing because they refuse to be adult. Why should their worries be lifted? Isn't a large part of living as a fully-developed, grown person dealing with strife, real-life strife as opposed to the manufactured strife of a ball game? For once Roy's instincts are spot-on, as he refuses to be hypnotized and lose his agency.

This ties into Catlady's comment:

Quote Catlady
Malamud couldn't have foreseen the moves to the West Coast, the expansion teams, big-money contracts, free agency, all of which make his setting seem quite quaint.
I think that's the big difference between the game then and now. Back then, it was essentially grown men who continued to play a boy's game for less than a bare living, as most of them had to find something else to do in the off-season. It was a kind of perpetual arrested development. Now, of course, baseball is a serious business. Even journeyman players in the majors make a lot of money, they spend the off-season keeping in shape, and even though what they do is still characterized as "playing," it's related only in form to the playing that a child does.

I don't see this story as quaint but as timeless, but I do think that today's baseball couldn't be the motif to carry the themes Malamud is exploring.

#86  Bookpossum 07-20-2019, 12:23 AM
Instead of falling into a swoon when they learned there was to be no further hypnosis, the team played its best ball in weeks.
That whole Doc Knobb thing was rather odd I thought, but I suppose it was just another form of team-building. The quote above followed immediately on from when Pop "canned" Doc Knobb after he suggested that Pop should be hypnotised too. He considered the hypnosis to be "hocus pocus", so why was it happening?

I think your suggestion about the men refusing to be adults is right, issybird. One of the worst examples of childishness is Bump's bullying, which gets completely out of hand after the room swap and Roy's unexpected visit by Memo.

The rest of the team laugh at what is done to Roy, presumably because if he's doing it to Roy, he isn't doing it to one of them. I was reminded of schoolkids, sychophantically following and obeying the school bully.

#87  CRussel 07-20-2019, 01:12 AM
I'd call that more than just "childishness", frankly. One of the things I found really, really hard to read in this book was the bullying, "justified" by calling it practical jokes. Bump was a nasty bully, and the rest of the team were enablers. My least favourite type of males, frankly.

#88  Bookpossum 07-20-2019, 03:34 AM
Mine too! I meant childish in the sense that men who behave like this, apart from being nasty, are appallingly immature. They are covering up their own inadequacies by attacking others.

#89  issybird 07-20-2019, 08:12 AM
I thought "pacifies" in the passage quoted above an odd choice; surely it's unlikely (and long) in the context of a ballplayer's vocabulary? But it evokes "padifiers," i.e., a baby's dummy in British, and heightens the impression of a bunch of sleepy, stupefied infants.

I agree about the bullying; the clubhouse operates under the worst of playground rules, even to Pop's and Roy's standoff regarding Wonderboy. As an aside, Pop lived up to his adult moniker at the end, when he took the responsibility for games lost while Roy was benched. It's a level of insight that the other characters don't achieve.

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