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The Malamudian hero
am 12. Mai 2000
In his 1952 novel, Bernard Malamud comments on the role of the hero in the modern world. In order to do so, he parallels Roy, the baseball natural and protagonist, with Percival the Arthurian knight. Roy is on a quest to join the game of baseball at the beginning of the novel. His first failure comes when he answers Harriet Bird's question wrong. When asked what he wants to become as a ballplayer, Roy can think of nothing more than personal gain. By inserting this in his book Malamud implies that many stars are in the game only for themselves. This refers to Percival asking the Fisher King the wrong question and being turned away. After a lapse of about fifteen years, Roy tries again to make it big in the pros. He joins a team called the New York Knights, an obvious relation to Arthurian legend, with the team coach Pop Fisher. Pop not only serves as a parent figure for Roy but he also resembles the Fisher King in the tale of Percival. Roy, who started out as a pitcher and is now a slugger, a reference to Babe Ruth, has made his own bat and dubbed it "Wonderboy". Roy's hitting is unbelievable while using this bat and he quickly becomes the league slugger. Percival, much like Roy, created his own lance with which to do battle. As Roy continues to increase in popularity, he is confronted with a wish from a dying lad at a hospital. His father asks Roy to hit a home run for his son because that is the only way his son will survive. Roy accepts this challenge and does in fact knock one out of the park for the boy and in doing so saving him. This alludes to Babe Ruth hitting a home run for the same reason. Malamud inserts this into his novel to show that even though most ballplayers are playing for personal gain, some also try to give back to the supporters. In a conversation with Iris Lemon, one of Roy's many loves, they discuss the importance of heroes. Iris, and in essence Malamud, states "Without heroes we're all plain people and don't know how far we can go." (167) This shows that Malamud respects heroes and expects them to set examples meant to be followed by all. There are many more examples of the hero motif as well as the Arthurian allusions near the end of the story, but in order to not spoil the ending, I will stop. Malamud does not only use these two motifs in his story but also many others such as color scheme, a bird motif, a train motif, and numerous allusions to events in baseball history. Beware though, this novel contains many scenes involving sexual topics. Malamud's use of these literary devices as well as his brilliant descriptions throughout the book make this story a must read for high school students.