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Written by Timothy Sexton
The title character of The Natural is Roy Hobbs, as in “that Hobbs is natural with a baseball in his hand.” Hobbs is more than a baseball player in Malamud’s book; he is more than a man. He is nothing less than a tragic hero of mythic proportions. And, like any good tragic hero of myth, Hobbs’ gifts that make him a natural is destined to be hobbled by a tragic flaw. It would be a spoiler of mythic proportions to reveal that flaw that hobbles Roy on his journey to legendary figure in baseball, but if you are really eager to get a start on the analysis, it is by no means spoiling things to point to the symbolic link between Roy’s name and the fact that he is ultimately hobbled by this character defect.
Harriet is one of those minor characters whose impact is felt throughout the entirety of a story. She is sort of a Lone Ranger in reverse: her idea of a kicky way to spend an afternoon is hunting down natural born athletes at the peak of their skills and shoot them with a silver bullet. The mythic dimension that Malamud intends for The Natural is creatively expressed in the character of Harriet. No rational explanation is ever forwarded for the manner in which she redirects the destiny of Roy Hobbs and then disappears. She is representative of all those unexplained petty revenges of the gods in ancient Greek and Roman texts.
Walter "The Hammer" Whambold
Walter’s a big guy with a big talent and even bigger ego. Actually, his talent and ego may not quite supersede his imposing physicality. The Whammer may remind you of a certain very famous baseball player who could swat baseballs out of a ballpark the way a sultan could sullenly dismiss infidels out of the caliphate. The only instance in which Whambold does not live large is in his actual physical appearance within the novel. Like Harriet Bird, however, his actions linger over the narrative well after he disappears from it.
Sam is yet another modern representation of the ancient Greek figures of myth. In fact, he may be the most symbolic link to the novel’s claim to mythology to be found within its pages. Sam is an aging, alcoholic baseball scout who recognizes that Roy is a natural the first time he sees him. Hoping to regain the glory of his own past in the future of Roy, Sam is show off Roy’s natural abilities to an influential if undeniably shady sportswriter named Max Mercy. Rather early in the proceedings, Sam is unceremoniously dispatched to the afterworld. Just remember that in the world of mythic heroes, death does not necessarily equal the inability to try influencing the course of future events.
Judge Goodwill Banner
A thick layer of irony is spread over the Judge’s name. He is the owner of the New York Knights and his love of holding onto money and coincidence dislike of parting with it—especially to the players responsible for his having it in the first place—may strike readers familiar with baseball history as reminiscent of the owner of the team that would go down in infamy as the Chicago Black Sox. Whether or not Judge Banner is actually intended to be a semi-fictional portrait of Charles Comiskey is up for debate, but what is not is the manner in which Banner is the novel’s ultimate symbol of one of the dealy sins of myth: greed.
One of the most unfortunate victims of Judge Banner’s love of money is the man he keeps on as the manager of the New York Knights. Talk about mythic properties! Pops has been on a losing streak ever since his own hobbled turn around the bases resulted in the stumble heard around the world. The bad luck streak following Pops since his baserunning error cost him the World Series can apparently only be broken by bending the thumb of fate back into place and that would require the unthinkable: leading his sad sack team of losers to a league championship. Not much chance of that unless the team somehow lucks into a natural willing to take an offer of far less money than he could possibly be worth by Judge Banner.
With a name weird even for a mythic story, Memo’s like to the New York Knights that brings her into contact with Roy Hobbs is being the niece of Pops Fisher. Her flaming red hair looks pretty dang good to Roy, contrasted as it always is with her sexy black attire. Unfortunately, for Roy, that weird name of the intensely seductive Miss Paris might well be short for mimeograph as there is something about her that is rather too keenly similar to Harriet Bird.
What Roy really needs in his life is to meet a nice girl like Iris. A woman with black hair who looks pretty dang good in her extensive collection of red clothing.
Gus is a bookie who also happens to have a case of the hots for Memo Paris. Gus and Memo make quite an unsavory pair, which is not good for Roy. Even more unfortunate relative to Roy’s tragic flaw is that Gus, Memo and Judge Banner make an even more fitting unsavory trio.
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