Study Guide

The Natural Dissatisfaction

By Bernard Malamud

Dissatisfaction

Though he did not show it, the pitch had bothered the Whammer no end. (1.198)

Up until this point in the novel, the Whammer's had the upper hand. He's already a professional baseball player with a contract, he's rich, he's pals with an important sportswriter, and he's got the attention of Ms. Harriet Bird. But this one small mistake, taking a strike from Roy, drives him nuts. You'd think that being the American League MVP would let him take a loss with some perspective. He's not that kind of guy; he has to win every time.

"I have a green thumb," he said huskily, "and I shoulda farmed instead of playing wet nurse to a last place, dead-to-the-neck ball team." (2.1)

Pop is playing the shoulda-woulda-coulda game, and he's not winning. He points out that there are other things that he's good at, like farming; he's sorry he chose baseball as a career. We probably would feel the same way if we were coaching a last-place team that takes every opportunity to miss an opportunity. Pop calls himself a "wet nurse," implying that his team is made up of helpless infants or "dead-to-the-neck" players.

"And to top it off I have to go catch athlete's foot on my hands. [. . .] No wonder I am always asking myself is life worth the living of it." (2.14)

It's hard not to laugh at poor Pop's plight. We've heard of tennis elbow, but athlete's hand? That's just wrong. As long as the team's losing, Pop's condition won't go away. When they start winning, he starts healing. Malamud's using physical illness to mirror emotional pain.

"I sweat myself sick trying to direct you, and all you can deliver is those goddamn goose eggs." (2.108)

In case you aren't up-to-date on your sports slang, Pop's talking about zeros, as in no runs, as in big-time losers. Pop's disgust with the team has a deeper history, though. He's trying to make up for that terrible incident in his own career when "Fisher's Flop" lost a critical game for his team.

The players thought now that the team is on its way up he will change his crabby ways and give us a smile once in a while, but Pop surprised them by growing sad, then actually melancholy at the thought that but for his keeping Roy out of the line-up for three weeks they might now be in first division. (4.20)

Now we're really getting to the heart of this dissatisfaction stuff. Pop finally has a winning season and a great roll going, but he can't find the joy in it. He beats himself up for benching Roy early in the season, and dwells on that instead of being happy about winning. It's been a long time since Pop's been happy; he can't seem to get the hang of it.

"She was my sister's girl and I do love her, but she is always dissatisfied and will snarl you up in her trouble in a way that will weaken your strength if you don't watch out." (5.127)

Pop's trying to warn Roy about getting mixed up with Memo. How does her dissatisfaction make her so dangerous? She wants more and more and will stop at nothing to get it, including sucking the life out of people around her.

He coughed, tore his voice clear and blurted, "My goddamn life didn't turn out like I wanted it to." (7.71)

Roy opens up with Iris, really for the first time in the novel, and confesses his disappointment to her. Look at how difficult it is for him to do so: he has to rip his voice out of his throat. Roy has a lifetime of regrets that's almost too much for him to bear, even with his success with the Knights.

He said this was the shame in his life, that his fate, somehow had always been the same (on the train going nowhere)—defeat in sight of his goal. (7.101)

Roy finally reveals to Iris that he was shot by Harriet fifteen years ago. It's the story Max Mercy is trying so hard to dig up, and the secret that Roy's running from. But look at the way that Roy talks about it: it's his shame and his fate. Is Malamud suggesting that it's humanity's fate to always fail? Is it just something about Roy? Carrying this secret around has been keeping Roy from any kind of real satisfaction in his life.

"I can't go on with my life as it is." Memo dropped into the armchair and began to weep. In a minute everything around her was wet. (9.38)

Talk about drama! Poor Memo just can't go on with her life without furs and cars and a sugar daddy to provide it. She's so dissatisfied with her current situation that she'll do anything to change it. This was the "bad news" that Pop told Roy about. She's about to convince Roy that there are things he could do to make her happy.

"I feel if I win it just this once—I will be satisfied." (10.23)

Pop's one of the few people in the novel who doesn't seem to have any overblown expectations. He doesn't need to win the World Series; he'd be satisfied with the pennant. Maybe his expectations have been diminished by the disappointments of his time as a player, when he blew the big game for his team. Before Roy's arrival on the team, Pop's in a constant state of disappointment with his players. When the team starts to win, he's happy as a clam. Now he's got his hopes up; maybe that's even worse.