Study Guide

The Natural Ambition

By Bernard Malamud

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A few decades before Gordon Gekko would tell us that "Greed is good," Bernard Malamud was telling us that it doesn't always work out so great to be ambitious. Everybody has a racket in the novel: becoming a rich man's wife, becoming a rich man, becoming the greatest player the game's ever seen. The book's real tragedy is that Roy's ambition blinds him to what's important in life, and this leads to his ultimate failure. Malamud's not knocking ambition in general; he seems to admire Roy's drive to be the best. What he's telling us is how easily ambition can get out of control when we're not careful or when we go after the wrong thing.

Questions About Ambition

  1. What's Roy Hobbs' dream? Do you think he achieves it? Does he think he's achieved it?
  2. Does the novel reward ambitious characters? Do the ones who dream big get further than the ones who don't seem to have much ambition? What does that tell us about the novel's overall message?
  3. Do the characters in The Natural have ambitions that are different from most people?

Chew on This

Ambition is punished in The Natural; just look at Bump, whose hustle led to his death; or Roy, whose ambition to get Memo leads him to sell out when he has the chance to be the greatest player in the game.

The Natural shows how ambition can make it impossible to appreciate what you already have, which leads to despair, hopelessness, and binge-eating.

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