Study Guide

The Natural Chapter 1

By Bernard Malamud

Chapter 1

  • The first section of the novel is entitled "Pre-game," nicely matching the sporty cover your copy of the book probably has. (Ours has an unraveling baseball. Hm. Ominous.)
  • We start out on a train in a dark tunnel with Roy Hobbs. Symbolism alert.
  • Roy's been asleep on the train, dreaming of kids playing baseball in the night.
  • He gets dressed in his cramped sleeping car and checks his bassoon case before heading to breakfast.
  • Eddie, the porter, asks him what's in the case, but can't guess. We don't know either, except that it isn't a pogo stick or a combination fishing rod, gun, and shovel.
  • Roy asks Eddie how far to Chicago, because he's going to try out to play with the Cubs (that's baseball, for the sports-impaired among you).
  • We find out from their conversation that Roy hasn't been to too many places in his life; Boise, Idaho, is as exotic as it gets for him. Roy's also worried because he isn't sure how tipping works for train porters. He keeps thinking about somebody named Sam, who seems to know what to do in these situations.
  • Roy shaves and walks through several train cars to the last one where he comes upon Sam Simpson. Sam's sleeping in a regular seat; he gave up the berth to let Roy have a comfortable night before his big tryout.
  • Sam's a drunk, but Roy cares a lot about him. He's crying in his sleep, and Roy decides to leave him be.
  • He heads back to the club car and Eddie shows him a pair of dice that always rolls snake eyes, and says that they're bewitched.
  • He says he's going to get rid of them, and Roy asks why, if he could always win. Eddie says he doesn't want any outside assistance in his gambling. (Foreshadowing alert.)
  • The train stops at a station and picks up a girl in a black dress. She's carrying a lot of bags, including a golf bag and hat box, and she gets on the train.
  • She lets Eddie take all her luggage to her compartment except the hat box, which she keeps with her.
  • Roy digs the girl and watches her while she smokes in the club car. He gets nervous and clumsy though, and runs out of the car after ordering his breakfast.
  • We finally find out that Sam's the scout who first spotted Roy's pitching talent. He dreams of finding a team full of amazing ball players, but he has Roy, which is just as good.
  • Sam wakes up and goes to take a shower in the train crew's bathroom. He gets caught; it turns out showers aren't included with the cheap seats. The worker is friendly and lets him finish up, though.
  • Sam heads for the bar and sees a couple of guys reading a newspaper. One of them is a huge guy, the other has pop-eyes.
  • The paper says that an Olympic athlete has been shot, just after an All-American football player had been killed. Both of them were shot by a mysterious woman firing silver bullets.
  • Sam suddenly recognizes the popeyed guy as Max Mercy, the sportswriter. The giant is Walter (the Whammer) Wambold, the MVP of the American League.
  • Sam starts talking about Roy and goes to get him to do a little show and tell. Max and Whammer aren't impressed.
  • Roy's still looking for the girl with the hatbox. He learns her name is Harriet Bird.
  • Roy and the Whammer meet, and they immediately hate each other.
  • The Whammer and Harriet end up getting to be BFFs, and Roy's jealous.
  • The train stops for an emergency and everyone starts to get off. Roy takes his bassoon case with him in case the train leaves without him.
  • Sam spots a carnival, so he and Roy go and play some games. Since Roy's a pretty good pitcher, he cleans up at the knock-over-the-pyramid game. He wins so many prizes that the game operator, a pretty girl, starts to give him kisses as a reward so she doesn't run out of merchandise.
  • The Whammer shows up with Max and Harriet and starts trash-talking. Sam decides to make it interesting, and bets ten dollars that Roy can strike out the Whammer.
  • Roy does it, but in the process he wallops Sam, who's playing catcher, with a fastball right in the chest.
  • That night, back on the train, Roy's got Harriet's attention, but he loses his mentor.
  • Sam dies, probably as a result of the hit he took in the pitching contest. Before he goes, he tells Roy to take his wallet and get a hotel room so he can rest before his tryout.
  • In the hotel that night, Harriet somehow gets Roy's number and tells him to come down to her room. When he gets there, a half-naked Harriet pulls out a gun and shoots him.

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