The role of symbolism in Bernard Malamud¡¦s The Natural is important in helping the reader understand the theme and meaning of the novel as well as the time period in which it took place. Malamud¡¦s use of symbolism defines the character of Roy Hobbs and shows how the events occurring around him affected his decisions and, eventually, his career.
Symbolism in The Natural takes the form of characters, such as women who strongly influenced Roy; historical events, such as the infamous 1919 World Series scandal; and even Greek and Roman mythology. All forms of symbolism used by Malamud are woven into the life and career of Roy Hobbs.
As a first example, women have a tremendous influence on Roy¡¦s actions and feelings. One of the more influential symbols in the book, women tend to control what Roy does. The first woman Roy falls for is Harriet Bird whom he meets on a train on his way to Chicago to try out for the Chicago Cubs. Roy is extremely attracted to her, but a major league ballplayer on the train named Whammer Wambold has already caught her eye. Roy becomes jealous and begins to do things to try to get her attention. At a stop in the route, the passengers get off for a break and go to a local carnival where Roy and the big leaguer clash in a contest of talent, a David-and-Goliath-type confrontation (Solotaroff 9). Roy strikes out the batter with three blistering pitches, each of which make Harriet pay more and more attention to him. As they arrive in Chicago, Harriet stays at the hotel at which Roy has booked a room. She gives him a call and provocatively invites him to her room. Succumbing to her invitation, and making his way to her room, he enters and sees her wearing nothing but a silk nightgown. After a short conversation, she pulls out a pistol and shoots him in the stomach. His desperate attitude leads him to be seduced by her, ending his bid to make the Chicago Cubs.
The character of Harriet Bird serves as an ancestor-figure to Iris Lemon and Memo Paris (Helterman 25). In a way, Iris and Memo are symbolic descendants of Harriet because they, too, have so much influence on Roy. Memo, however, closely resembles Harriet in personality. Both of the women are very attracted to two separate major league ball players, Memo having a relationship with Roy¡¦s teammmate Bump Bailey, and Harriet being attracted to Whammer Wabold on the train. Both also seem to want to cause Roy harm, doing what they can to stand in the way of his eventual stardom.
The two truly opposite personalities created by Malamud are Memo and Iris (27). Physically, Memo is first shown wearing a black dress and has red hair; Iris is shown wearing a red dress with a white rose attached and has black hair. Mentally, Memo tends to use her memory to live in the past, relating everything to her deceased lover, Bump. On the other hand, Iris uses substance to live, describing her life with actions and words rather than by memories. Malamud creates these two...