Study Guide

The Natural Trains

By Bernard Malamud

Trains

They're not just for country songs anymore but let's get in the mood with the best train song ever. We'll give you a minute.

Trains in the novel, cheesy at it sounds, can represent the journey of life. The train to Chicago is sort of a symbol for him leaving his childhood and innocence behind. It takes him from being a country bumpkin to the big city, where he has a chance at fame and fortune but also risks danger and destruction.

Later the train will mean escape for Roy. When he loses his edge and falls into a slump on the field, he imagines leaving the city and baseball forever:

He longed for a friend, a father, a home to return to—saw himself packing his duds in a suitcase, buying a ticket, and running for a train. Beyond the first station he'd fling Wonderboy out the window. [. . .] The train sped through the night across the country. In it he felt safe. (6.74)

In this quote the train stands for everything in Roy's past; it's a way out, back to when he was a child (and had a father), and was safe, surrounded by friends and a home. Trains will mean escape once again when Roy finds himself feeling cornered by Iris and her persistent, friendly questioning:

He heard a train hoot and went freezing cold.

"Where's that train?"

[…]"It must have been a bird cry. There are no trains here."

He gazed at her suspiciously but then relaxed and sat down. (7.87-93)

Roy's looking for a way out. Things are getting really cozy with Iris, and since he has a serious aversion to being emotionally close to a mature woman, his instinct is to escape.