I wonder if anyone else out there is reading the "Natural" along with Matt. Nice to take a break from the demise of the newspaper industry and the greed of Wall Street and others (you'll love this story...) to read about baseball, eh? Or is it a break?
Malamud wrote this dark novel in the early 1950s (1952) and my guess is he wanted to debunk a lot of the phony hero worship inspired by the second world war in newspapers and popular culture. Norman Mailer, of course, did the same in "The Naked and the Dead." But Malamud chose baseball, perhaps because baseball is home to heroes and occupies a place of Platonic purity in the American psyche.
What disturbs me about "The Natural" is the role women play in it. Harriet Bird, betrayed to the point of insanity, shoots the young Roy Hobbs, guilty of no more than youthful lust, with certain intent to kill. Memo Paris is the second seductress of the novel, a woman of pure greed and unrestrained evil. Iris Lemon is a woman who has been raped twice in the novel -- once in her youth (from which she is socially tainted) and, again by the (anti)hero of the novel himself, Roy Hobbs. (Read that passage by the lake a second time and tell me I’m wrong.) Ultimately, Hobbs rejects her because ... well … she is a grandmother. Curiously, most reviewers ignore her as a minor figure and the act of rejecting her as somehow obvious. In my opinion, she is a major figure; she represents Roy Hobbs’ second chance, which he rejects on, frankly, the strangest grounds. (But, alas, did Malamud, the writer, see these grounds as strange in 1952?)
Hobbs also succumbs to the lure of money and an unflinching drive for fame, epitomized by a voracious appetite on the evening of his most important game. In the immortal words of John Mellencamp: "Ain't that America?"
I agree with Matt. In this case, it was Redford who struck out. Malamud intended us, I think, to know that the hero and the quest in America can sometimes lead to "bitter tears" instead of glory. Or bankruptcy, dishonor, steroid shame, the dismantling of a proud profession (The New York Times appears to be taking a humane route today) … what have you. It was a warning we’ve never heeded in our own quest for heroes until they are finally revealed to us without their fine robes and bulging muscles on CNN.
Anyone else want to weigh in? I'm sure Matt will be back on this...