In Don Delillo’s Underworld, the baseball is sought after as the ultimate goal and a fulfillment in life for Nick and the memorabilia collector. On the other hand, the ubiquitous use of waste throughout the novel is a motif of both the byproduct and the opportunity cost of mankind’s quests for fulfillment. Waste, whether as literal waste, wasted love, wasted lives, or objects all serve as a contrast to the value of the baseball as an object of fulfillment.
The baseball Bobby Thomson hit is important because it is both worthless and priceless at the same time. It is worthless when it is removed from the context of a baseball game; it loses the very purpose that it stands for. Yet, people like Nick and the memorabilia collector are sentimentally attached to this particular baseball that produced a specific home run off ‘The Shot’. The circumstances of this baseball give it a history that is immensely valued by collectors like Nick and Marvin.
Because of the value of the baseball, people like Cotter, Nick and Marvin use any means necessary to track down the baseball. It was “the one thing that my whole life for the past twenty-two years I was trying to collect” according to Marvin, the memorabilia collector. Cotter’s persistence in securing the baseball in the prologue is also another such example. Once he gets ahold of the baseball, “he feels it hot and buzzy in his hand” (Delillo 48) and runs away as soon as possible to secure it.
Cotter, Nick and Marvin’s obsession with the baseball can be rationalized much like any other human goal or obsession. The baseball seems to symbolize a sense of purpose inherent in every human aspiration. The unique history behind the particular baseball is the reason why collectors like Nick and Marvin aspire to get ahold of the baseball. Just as an investment banker would spend years trying to become a managing director, Marvin spent twenty-two years tracking the baseball down; just as a soldier fights a war, Cotter fights and runs from Bill in order to protect the baseball. The baseball, as one possible objective for fulfillment, symbolizes the desires and goals of mankind.
If the baseball is viewed in such a way (as a symbol of inherent human goals), then Nick and co. are not redeemed by the baseball. Instead, they are simply very human, driven by their pursuit of the fulfillment of lifelong objectives. However, where there is a quest for fulfillment, regret inevitably follows. The regret comes from either the failure in fulfillment or the opportunity cost (the sacrifice) of such a quest. For example, an investment banker may fail to ever become a managing director; and he might never become the journalist he was aspiring to be. This regret, ubiquitous throughout the novel, is represented by the motif of waste. For example, “a prostitute whose silicone breasts had leaked […] was unemployed now” (246) after possibly failing in her desire to profit from prostitution. Another illustration of waste lies in The...