The Natural

Bernard Malamud


Welcome to the vibrant world of Bernard Malamud’s The Natural! 🌟 This novel, a cornerstone in American literature, was first published in 1952 and marks a significant entry in the realm of sports fiction. Bernard Malamud, an American author known for his intricate storytelling and profound themes, weaves a tale that transcends the mere boundaries of baseball, delving into the depths of human nature, dreams, and the harsh reality of lost opportunities.

Set against the backdrop of the Great American Pastime, baseball, The Natural explores the journey of its protagonist, Roy Hobbs, whose life echoes the highs and lows that the sport, and indeed life itself, can offer. The novel is not just a story about baseball; it is a rich tapestry that combines elements of myth, tragedy, and the American Dream.

Malamud’s unique blend of realism with the fantastical elements of the Arthurian legends gives the novel a distinctive place in the genre of sports fiction, making it a compelling read for not only sports enthusiasts but also those who appreciate deeply layered narratives that reflect on the human condition.

So, grab your baseball cap 🧢 and let’s step into the batter’s box to explore the intricate layers of The Natural. Whether you’re here for the love of the game, the allure of a captivating story, or the exploration of literary depth, you’re in for a home run! ⚾

Plot Summary

The Natural by Bernard Malamud is a compelling narrative that charts the journey of Roy Hobbs, a talented baseball player whose career is marked by both meteoric rises and devastating falls. Here’s how the story unfolds:

Exposition — The novel begins with a young Roy Hobbs traveling by train to try out for the Chicago Cubs. His natural talent with a baseball bat, crafted from a tree struck by lightning, hints at his promising future. However, his journey takes a tragic turn when he meets Harriet Bird, a mysterious woman who shoots him, derailing his budding career.

Rising Action — Many years later, Hobbs returns to baseball, older and with a past shrouded in mystery. He signs with the New York Knights, a struggling team. Despite his age, Hobbs’ extraordinary talent becomes apparent, and he quickly becomes the team’s star, reviving the Knights’ fortunes and inspiring hope among fans and teammates alike.

Climax — As Hobbs reaches the pinnacle of his career, his life off the field begins to unravel. His relationships with women, including Memo Paris, the niece of the team’s manager, and Iris Lemon, a single mother who represents a chance at redemption, complicate his life. His involvement with gambling and questionable characters, coupled with his own pride and the physical toll of the sport, begin to jeopardize his career and the Knights’ success.

Falling Action — Hobbs’ struggles come to a head in a crucial game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Battling health issues and personal demons, he makes a decision that impacts not just his own future but also the fate of the Knights. His choice leads to a moment of profound realization about his priorities and the consequences of his actions.

Resolution — In the novel’s poignant finale, Hobbs reflects on his life and career, contemplating what could have been. The story closes on a note of introspection and melancholy, as Hobbs faces the reality of his choices and their impact on his life and dreams.

Through its exploration of talent, temptation, and the quest for redemption, The Natural presents a dramatic tale that intertwines the personal with the professional, offering a nuanced look at the complexities of human nature and the fleeting nature of glory in the world of sports.

Character Analysis

In The Natural, Bernard Malamud introduces us to a cast of characters as rich and complex as the story itself. Let’s delve into the main characters and their journeys throughout the novel.

  • Roy Hobbs — The protagonist of the story, Roy is a talented baseball player whose career is derailed by a youthful tragedy. Driven by a desire to be the best in the game, he is also prone to succumbing to temptation and making poor personal choices. His character arc is one of redemption, downfall, and the relentless pursuit of a dream, despite the cost to himself and those around him.
  • Pop Fisher — The manager of the New York Knights, Pop is a weary and disillusioned figure, longing for one last shot at glory. His relationship with Hobbs is complex, filled with both mentorship and conflict, as he sees in Roy both the promise of success and the peril of wasted potential.
  • Memo Paris — The niece of Pop Fisher and the love interest of Hobbs, Memo is depicted as a femme fatale, leading Roy into making decisions that ultimately harm his career and personal life. Her character symbolizes the dangerous allure of fame and fortune.
  • Iris Lemon — In contrast to Memo, Iris represents the possibility of genuine love and redemption for Hobbs. A single mother who encourages Roy to make the most of his second chance, her presence in the story highlights themes of hope and the importance of making the right choices.
  • Max Mercy — A sportswriter who plays a pivotal role in both the rise and fall of Roy Hobbs. Max’s character underscores the influence of the media in shaping public perception and the fragile nature of fame.
  • Gus Sands — A gambler and another figure who leads Hobbs astray, Gus embodies the darker aspects of the sporting world, including corruption and the temptation of easy success.

Here’s a summary table of the characters’ analysis:

Roy HobbsTalented but flawedTo be the best baseball playerFrom naïve youth to tragic hero
Pop FisherDisillusioned and hopefulTo win a championshipLearns to trust and take risks
Memo ParisSeductive and manipulativePursues her own interestRemains largely unchanged, a symbol of temptation
Iris LemonKind and supportiveTo find happiness and support RoyOffers a chance for redemption
Max MercyOpportunistic and influentialTo uncover and write sensational storiesExploits Roy’s fame and downfall
Gus SandsCorrupt and temptingTo profit from others’ failuresRepresents the darker side of success

This analysis sheds light on the intricate dynamics at play among the characters, illustrating how their personalities, motivations, and relationships drive the narrative forward and contribute to the overarching themes of the novel.

Themes and Symbols

The Natural by Bernard Malamud is rich in themes and symbols that contribute to the depth and complexity of the narrative. Let’s explore some of the major ones:

  • The American Dream — Roy Hobbs’ journey reflects the quintessential American Dream: rising from obscurity to achieve fame and success. However, Malamud presents a nuanced critique, showing how this dream can be corrupted by greed, temptation, and the quest for superficial success.
  • Fall from Grace and Redemption — The story of Roy Hobbs is a modern retelling of the hero’s journey, marked by a fall from grace and a quest for redemption. His struggles mirror the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by individuals striving for greatness while grappling with their flaws and desires.
  • The Role of Fate vs. Free Will — The novel explores the tension between destiny and the choices one makes. Roy’s natural talent suggests a predetermined greatness, but his decisions ultimately shape his fate, suggesting that free will plays a crucial role in one’s path.
  • Nature vs. Modernity — The bat made from a tree struck by lightning, named “Wonderboy,” symbolizes the purity of natural talent and the past. It contrasts with the commercial and often corrupt modern world of professional sports, highlighting the tension between authenticity and artificiality.
  • Mythology and Legend — Malamud infuses the narrative with elements of Arthurian legend, particularly in the character of Roy Hobbs as a flawed knight. This symbolism enriches the story, elevating Roy’s journey to a mythical quest fraught with moral challenges and the pursuit of a noble, albeit elusive, ideal.
  • Baseball as a Microcosm of Life — The game of baseball is depicted not just as a sport but as a reflection of life’s broader struggles, successes, and failures. It serves as a backdrop against which themes of ambition, failure, and the pursuit of redemption are played out.

These themes and symbols intertwine to form a complex narrative that transcends the boundaries of a sports novel, making The Natural a profound exploration of human nature, aspirations, and the consequences of one’s actions.

Style and Tone

Bernard Malamud’s The Natural showcases a unique blend of writing style and tone that sets it apart in the realm of literature, especially within the sports genre. Here’s how these elements contribute to the mood and atmosphere of the book:

  • Realism Mixed with Fantasy — Malamud masterfully combines realistic depictions of life and the gritty world of baseball with elements of fantasy and myth. This juxtaposition creates a rich narrative tapestry that blurs the lines between the ordinary and the extraordinary, making the story and its characters resonate on a deeper, almost mythical level.
  • Symbolic and Lyrical Language — The novel is replete with symbolic imagery and motifs that enhance its thematic depth. Malamud’s use of lyrical language, especially in describing baseball games and Roy Hobbs’ experiences, lends a poetic quality to the narrative, elevating the sport into a realm of epic struggle and triumph.
  • Sardonic Tone — There’s a distinct sardonic undertone in Malamud’s portrayal of the American Dream and the world of baseball, which serves to critique the often harsh reality behind the pursuit of success and fame. This tone adds a layer of complexity to the narrative, inviting readers to question the values and ideals that society holds dear.
  • Dramatic and Reflective — The narrative oscillates between dramatic moments of action and introspection, allowing readers to engage not only with the external conflicts but also with the internal dilemmas faced by the characters. This balance between action and reflection adds to the novel’s emotional depth, making the characters’ journeys more relatable and poignant.
  • Evocative Descriptions — Malamud’s vivid descriptions of settings, especially the baseball field, bring the story to life in the reader’s mind. These descriptions serve not just as backdrops but as active elements of the narrative, reflecting the characters’ emotions and the thematic undercurrents of the novel.

The integration of these stylistic elements and tonal nuances contributes significantly to the mood and atmosphere of The Natural, making it a compelling read that transcends the conventional boundaries of sports fiction to explore broader themes of human aspiration, failure, and redemption.

Literary Devices Used in The Natural

Bernard Malamud’s The Natural employs a variety of literary devices that enrich the narrative and deepen the reader’s engagement with the text. Here are the top 10 devices used in the novel:

  1. Symbolism — The use of symbols, such as Roy Hobbs’ bat “Wonderboy” and the character of the Whammer, enriches the narrative by adding layers of meaning that extend beyond the literal. “Wonderboy” represents Roy’s talent and dreams, while the Whammer symbolizes the fleeting nature of fame and success in sports.
  2. Foreshadowing — Malamud skillfully uses foreshadowing to hint at future events, creating suspense and building anticipation. The early encounter with Harriet Bird, for example, foreshadows the tragic trajectory of Roy’s career.
  3. Allusion — The novel is replete with allusions to mythology and Arthurian legends, particularly in the portrayal of Roy Hobbs as a tragic hero akin to a fallen knight. These allusions elevate the story to a mythic dimension, highlighting the universal themes of ambition, downfall, and the quest for redemption.
  4. Metaphor — Baseball serves as a powerful metaphor for life’s struggles, triumphs, and defeats. The game encapsulates the highs and lows of human existence, making Roy’s journey emblematic of the broader human experience.
  5. Imagery — Malamud uses vivid imagery to bring scenes to life, particularly during the baseball games. The detailed descriptions of the ballparks, the players, and the action immerse the reader in the experience, making the novel’s setting vivid and memorable.
  6. Irony — The novel employs irony, especially in the juxtaposition of Roy’s aspirations against the reality of his situation. The contrast between his dreams of glory and the compromises and failures he experiences underscores the novel’s thematic concerns with the corruption of ideals.
  7. Simile — Malamud uses similes to draw comparisons that highlight the characters’ emotions and the atmospheric tension of the narrative. For instance, Roy’s pitching is often compared to natural phenomena, underscoring his raw talent and the elemental force of his ambition.
  8. Personification — Elements of the game, such as the baseball itself, are occasionally given human-like qualities, emphasizing the emotional and symbolic weight of the baseball games in the narrative.
  9. Motif — The recurrent motifs of darkness and light run throughout the novel, symbolizing the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters. These motifs enhance the novel’s exploration of good vs. evil and success vs. failure.
  10. Alliteration — Malamud uses alliteration to enhance the musicality of his prose and to emphasize certain points or themes within the narrative. This device adds a lyrical quality to the text, making the language as compelling as the story itself.

These literary devices are instrumental in weaving a complex, multifaceted narrative that engages themes of heroism, failure, and the human condition, making The Natural a masterpiece of American literature.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s delve into specific examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices identified in Bernard Malamud’s The Natural.


Example 1: “Wonderboy” — Roy’s bat symbolizes his strength and potential.
Example 2: The lightning bolt that strikes down the tree from which Wonderboy is made — Represents a moment of divine intervention or destiny shaping Roy’s future.
Example 3: The Knights — The team name symbolizes the quest for honor and victory, akin to the knights of medieval tales.


Example 1: Harriet Bird’s presence in the train — Foreshadows the tragic turn Roy’s life will take.
Example 2: The early reference to the stomach pain Roy experiences — Foreshadows his later physical decline.
Example 3: Pop Fisher’s concern about winning the pennant — Foreshadows the team’s struggles and Roy’s critical role in their fate.


Example 1: Roy Hobbs as a modern-day knight — Alludes to Arthurian legends, emphasizing themes of heroism and fallibility.
Example 2: References to Homer’s Odyssey — Roy’s journey mirrors that of Odysseus, emphasizing the themes of quest and homecoming.
Example 3: The name “Roy Hobbs” — Suggests “Robin Hood,” alluding to a character who is skilled with a weapon and faces moral dilemmas.


Example 1: Baseball as a metaphor for life — The game’s ups and downs mirror the human experience.
Example 2: “Knocking the cover off the ball” — Suggests transcending one’s limitations or expectations.
Example 3: The playing field — Represents the arena of life, where personal battles are fought.


Example 1: Descriptions of the baseball field — Vividly evoke the sense of place and the game’s atmosphere.
Example 2: The depiction of Roy’s first at-bat — Creates a vivid picture of anticipation and excitement.
Example 3: The portrayal of the final game — Intensely conveys the tension and drama of the moment.


Example 1: Roy’s quest for greatness leads to his downfall — Ironically undermines the notion of the American Dream.
Example 2: Roy’s admiration for The Whammer turns into a personal rivalry — Ironically reflects on the fleeting nature of fame.
Example 3: Roy’s failure in the final game — Ironically contrasts with his earlier successes, highlighting the unpredictability of fate.


Example 1: “Roy pitched as if his arm were a mighty wing” — Compares Roy’s pitching to the powerful and effortless flight of a bird.
Example 2: “The ball sailed like a comet across the sky” — Likens a home run to a celestial event, emphasizing its beauty and rarity.
Example 3: “His mood darkened like the sky before a storm” — Compares Roy’s changing emotions to an impending storm, suggesting turmoil.


Example 1: The baseball “whispering” secrets — Personifies the ball as a keeper of the game’s mysteries.
Example 2: The stadium “roaring” in anticipation — Gives the stadium a voice, reflecting the collective emotion of the crowd.
Example 3: “The night wrapped itself around the game” — Personifies the night as an entity that embraces the event, suggesting a merging of fate and action.


Example 1: The recurring motif of light and darkness — Represents moral clarity versus ambiguity.
Example 2: The cycle of seasons — Reflects the phases of Roy’s career and life.
Example 3: The motif of vision and blindness — Symbolizes awareness and ignorance of one’s true self and fate.


Example 1: “Wonderboy whacked the winning run” — Enhances the rhythmic quality of the narrative.
Example 2: “Fate’s foul play” — Emphasizes the capricious nature of destiny.
Example 3: “Bitter battle between” — Highlights the intensity of conflict.

These examples illustrate how Bernard Malamud skillfully uses literary devices to enrich The Natural, adding layers of meaning, enhancing imagery, and deepening the reader’s engagement with the story.

The Natural – FAQs

Q: What is the significance of Roy Hobbs’ character in “The Natural”?
A: Roy Hobbs represents the archetypal hero with a tragic flaw. His character signifies the complexities of human nature, ambition, the pursuit of the American Dream, and the consequences of personal choices. Through Hobbs, Malamud explores themes of redemption, downfall, and the enduring human spirit.

Q: How does Bernard Malamud use symbolism in “The Natural”?
A: Malamud employs symbolism extensively to deepen the narrative’s meaning. Symbols such as “Wonderboy,” Roy’s bat, symbolize his talent and dreams, while other elements, like the lightning bolt, signify fate or destiny. These symbols contribute to the novel’s exploration of themes like heroism, ambition, and the dichotomy between natural talent and human imperfection.

Q: What role does mythology play in “The Natural”?
A: Mythology plays a crucial role in enriching the story’s thematic depth and character development. Malamud alludes to Arthurian legend and other myths, casting Roy Hobbs in a light similar to that of mythical heroes, complete with quests, trials, and moral dilemmas. This layer of mythology underscores the timeless nature of Roy’s struggles and achievements.

Q: How does “The Natural” critique the American Dream?
A: “The Natural” presents a nuanced critique of the American Dream by showcasing both its allure and its potential for corruption. Through Roy Hobbs’ journey, Malamud illustrates how the pursuit of fame, success, and material wealth can lead to moral compromise and personal downfall, suggesting that the dream is fraught with complexities and challenges.

Q: What is the significance of the baseball game in “The Natural”?
A: The baseball game in “The Natural” is symbolic of life’s broader struggles and triumphs. It serves as a microcosm for the human experience, with its highs and lows, victories and defeats, and the constant push towards achieving greatness amidst challenges. Baseball also reflects the themes of fate, free will, and the quest for identity within the American cultural landscape.

Q: How does Malamud portray women in “The Natural”?
A: Malamud portrays women through the characters of Memo Paris and Iris Lemon, who represent contrasting aspects of femininity and influence on Roy Hobbs. Memo is depicted as a femme fatale, leading Roy into temptation and failure, while Iris embodies redemption, offering Roy a chance for genuine connection and moral grounding. Through these characters, Malamud explores the impact of relationships on personal growth and downfall.

Q: Can “The Natural” be considered a tragedy?
A: Yes, “The Natural” can be considered a tragedy in the classical sense. It features a protagonist with a tragic flaw—Roy Hobbs’ hubris and susceptibility to temptation—that leads to his downfall. The novel embodies the elements of tragedy, including the hero’s journey from glory to suffering, the presence of a moral lesson, and the elicitation of pity and fear in the audience.


Here’s a multiple-choice quiz designed to test comprehension of Bernard Malamud’s The Natural.

QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What is the name of Roy Hobbs’ baseball bat?ThunderboltWonderboyLightningHomerun HeroB
Who shoots Roy at the beginning of the novel?Iris LemonMemo ParisHarriet BirdMax MercyC
What team does Roy Hobbs play for?New York KnightsChicago CubsPittsburgh PiratesBoston Red SoxA
Which character represents the possibility of redemption for Roy?Pop FisherMemo ParisIris LemonGus SandsC
What is Roy’s tragic flaw?His ageHis prideHis lack of talentHis backgroundB
What symbolizes Roy’s dreams and talents?The baseball fieldThe Knights’ pennantWonderboyHis uniformC
Which character is a femme fatale leading Roy into temptation?Iris LemonMemo ParisHarriet BirdPop Fisher’s nieceB
What is a major theme of the novel?The importance of teamworkThe American Dream and its pitfallsThe thrill of the gameThe history of baseballB
How does Malamud use mythology in the novel?By comparing Roy to a Greek godBy naming characters after mythical figuresThrough Roy’s quest and trials, similar to a mythical heroBy setting the story in a mythical landC
What ultimately undermines Roy’s career and personal life?His lack of skillInjuriesPoor decisions and moral failingsExternal enemiesC

This quiz covers key aspects of The Natural, including plot points, character analysis, themes, and symbolic elements, offering a comprehensive review to ensure understanding of the novel’s complexity.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from “The Natural”:

“In the half-light of the tunnel, Wonderboy seemed to glow with a life of its own, like a piece of the sun fallen to earth. Roy gripped the bat tighter, feeling the weight and power in his hands, as if he were holding the fate of the world. The crowd’s roar faded to a distant thunder, and in that moment, Roy stood alone, a knight ready for battle, the field before him a vast arena where legends are born and dreams are either fulfilled or shattered.”

Identify the literary devices used:


  1. Metaphor — “Wonderboy seemed to glow with a life of its own, like a piece of the sun fallen to earth.” This compares Wonderboy to a celestial object, emphasizing its significance and Roy’s connection to it.
  2. Personification — Giving Wonderboy a “life of its own” personifies the bat, suggesting it has its own destiny intertwined with Roy’s.
  3. Simile — “The crowd’s roar faded to a distant thunder,” compares the sound of the crowd to thunder, enhancing the atmospheric tension of the moment.
  4. Alliteration — “fate of the world” uses alliteration to emphasize the critical nature of the situation.
  5. Imagery — The entire passage is rich in visual imagery, particularly “in the half-light of the tunnel” and “a knight ready for battle,” which vividly paint the scene and Roy’s emotional state.
  6. Symbolism — “Wonderboy” as a symbol of Roy’s hopes, dreams, and talent; and “a knight ready for battle,” symbolizing Roy as a hero on a quest.
  7. Allusion — Referring to Roy as “a knight ready for battle” alludes to Arthurian legends, reinforcing his role as a heroic figure facing a crucial test.

This exercise not only aids in recognizing literary devices but also in understanding how Bernard Malamud’s use of these devices contributes to the depth and richness of “The Natural.”