Study Guide

The Natural Morality and Ethics

By Bernard Malamud

Morality and Ethics

Pop scanned it. "Where in blazes did he get the figure of three thousand dollars?"

"It was for a five thousand minimum but the Judge said I already missed one-third of the season."

Pop burst into scornful laughter. "Sure, but that entitles you to about thirty-three hundred. Just like that godawful deadbeat. He'd skin his dead father if he could get into the grave." (2.45-47)

Roy's innocent and naïve when he finally signs with the Knights, and we can see here that he was so desperate for a contract, any contract, that he took a really measly salary just to pay. Even then, the Judge cheated him out of part of it. This is Roy's introduction to the kind of questionable behavior he's going to see.

"The Judge is trying to push Pop out of his job although he has a contract to manage for life—that's what the Judge had to promise to get that ten per cent of stock. Anyway, he's been trying everything he can think of to make things tough for Pop. He has by his sly ways forced all sorts of trades on us which make money all right but hurt the team." (2.186)

Any hardcore sports fan knows that the only thing that's good for the team is a win. Even if the team is making more money or getting more publicity by losing, the real deal is to win. So when Judge makes decisions that hurt the team to benefit himself, he's seen as a dirty, rotten scoundrel. It just goes against the ethics of baseball.

He said he wouldn't exactly call the Judge a thief but he wouldn't exactly call him honest either.

[. . .] "When triple talk is invented," Pop said bitterly, "he will own the copyright." (4.36)

We can tell that Pop's just being polite. The point is that the Judge is a deceptive, wily character and shouldn't be trusted.

"Think, on the one hand, of the almost indigent Abraham Lincoln, and on the other of Judas Iscariot. What I am saying is that emphasis upon money will pervert your values. One cannot begin to imagine how one's life may alter for the worse under the impetus of wealth-seeking." (4.46)

And this advice is coming from the Judge? From what we can gather he's gone against all of it. He compares Abe Lincoln, honest Abe, who was also poor, to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed his friend Jesus Christ in exchange for silver. His point is that wanting money might really make your life worse (Abe became the president; Judas hanged himself). Of course this doesn't apply to him. This passage illustrates what Pop meant about the Judge's "triple talk."

"Mr. Hobbs."

Roy stopped.

"Resist all evil—"

The match sputtered and went out. Roy went the rest of the way down in the pitch black. (4.87-90)

After his unsuccessful meeting with the Judge, Roy gets a morality lesson. "Resist all evil" can be taken as sarcastic in this scene, because it's obvious that the Judge has not been too successful at resisting evil. It's more like he's using morality to keep the people around him from messing up his own plans. When Roy descends into darkness it's kind of a symbol for losing his way, taking the wrong path.

Gus dropped his guard and pinned his restless eye on Roy.

"Say the word, slugger, and you can make yourself a nice pile of dough quick."

Roy wasn't sure he had heard right. Gus repeated the offer.

This time Roy was sure. "Say it again and I will spit in your good eye." (8.51-53)

The first time that Roy gets an offer to throw a game in exchange for some money he takes serious offense. At this point in the novel his moral compass is still working, and he can see right and wrong as plain as the nose on Gus' face. This indignation will come back to bite him when he's weak later on and takes the deal.

Sam stayed awhile, then he said to Roy, Take my advice, kiddo.

Yes, Sam.

Don't do it.

No, said Roy, I won't. (9.24-27)

Sam, who died more than fifteen years ago, appears in Roy's hospital room in a hallucination, or maybe he's a ghost. He seems to be a relic from Roy's past, when he knew right from wrong and things were simpler. We don't exactly know what Sam is talking about when he says "Don't do it," but given what comes next we can guess that it's a warning against taking the Judge's deal.

"What does he want me to do?"

"It's something about the playoff—I don't know."

"They want me to drop it?"

[…] To refuse her just about broke his heart. (9.88-93)

In this scene we can get to the bottom of why Roy, who's been so strong and so opposed to cheating throughout the novel, would suddenly weaken and take a deal to throw the game. It's Memo. It breaks his heart to refuse her, because he's obsessed with being rich enough to make her his wife. The problem is she's not good enough for him, even if he doesn't realize it yet.

Roy said, "Ain't you ashamed that you are selling a club down the river that hasn't won a pennant in twenty-five years and now they have a chance to?" (9.120)

Putting up his last bit of fight before he gives in to the Judge, Roy appeals to the Judge's sense of ethics. Good luck with that, Roy. The Judge is far gone and isn't going to listen to any moral reasoning at this point. He's totally unscrupulous.

He thought, I never did learn anything out of my past life, now I have to suffer again. (11.23)

Roy knows his failure and suffering are punishment for not learning from experience. But do Gus and the Judge suffer because of their cheating? They're way more guilty than Roy, but other than Roy's final confrontation with them, we don't know what happens. We know they earned a bundle by betting against the team. Plus, Roy returned the money they paid him to throw the game, so even more profit. Crime pays.