Response: Literature as Conversation


The Natural by Bernard Malamud, Chapter 1


Weak response, example #1:

      This book is about a baseball player named Roy Hobbs. At the beginning he’s on a train going to Chicago for a tryout with the Cubs. The train stops and they go to a carnival where he strikes out The Whammer and wins a bet. Then he meets this girl named Harriet, who………….


This is considered a weak response because it is only a PLOT SUMMARY. Again, that may be useful to refresh your memory, but that is NOT a response. You will never be asked to simply summarize the plot on a literary or academic essay, on the Regents exam, and especially in college. This is simply not enough; basic comprehension is no longer our goal.


Weak response, example #2:

      I don’t like this book. It’s stupid and boring. I don’t understand any of it. I don’t like baseball and I really don’t care about baseball. I don’t understand some of the words and the story doesn’t make any sense to me. I have no idea what’s going on….


This response is weak because it is an OPINION, an evaluative judgment, and while we do tend to do that, it is not useful for the purpose of literary response. None of us is qualified to judge literature this way, and again, you will never be asked for this sort of opinion on an essay, or on the Regents exam. You must not let your opinion, especially a negative one, get in the way of your response. The key is to write what you are getting from the reading; you must be getting something. You can only be wrong if you get nothing.



Fair response, example #1:

      This book is interesting. I like the way Roy strikes out the Whammer at the carnival. It’s interesting how the writer describes the train ride. It was sad when Sam died. Roy seems pretty arrogant and full of himself, talking about how he’s going to be the best there ever was. That lady Harriet is crazy. I don’t know why she did that. I don’t like that sportswriter, Max……


This is better; it does show evidence of reading and understanding, and some evidence of meaningful thought and insight, but it touches on many different ideas without exploring any of them. This is a start, as it shows the reader beginning to think beyond the text, but it’s really more of a reaction than a response; the writer would have to explore these ideas in order for this to be effective.


Fair response, example #2:

      That guy Roy reminds me of my cousin Steve. He thought he was going to be the best basketball player ever. He’d go around, telling everyone how great he was, that he’s the next Michael Jordan and everything. But one time he was playing and these guys came along and asked him if he wanted to play, and he said….


This one also is better than the weak responses, and it’s wonderful that the text reminded the student of his own life, but the writing here drifts too far away from the text. He would need to come back and make the connection between the character of Roy and his cousin, explaining why they’re so similar. As interesting as it is, the writing doesn’t really show evidence of reading without making those specific and explicit connections.



Strong response, example #1:

      Already in Chapter 1 (“Pre-Game”) we see shades of the Mighty Casey. The Whammer seems like any modern sports star, rich, spoiled, full of himself; he’s the “hero” who strikes out in the end, just like Casey did. Malamud describes him going back to the train an “old man,” defeated and humbled; I wonder what will happen to him now. Roy then becomes the hero, and gets Harriet’s attention, but he seems to act the same way; arrogant and shallow. I wonder if, or how, Roy will become the embodiment of the Mighty Casey in this novel.………


This is an effective response which shows a clear understanding of the text and significant thought, consideration and insight by the student. It also draws a direct comparison to another text which we read in class. Note that the writer “wonders” about certain aspects of the story; what he should then do is attempt to answer the questions he poses for himself.


Strong response, example #2:

      Malamud makes effective use of foreshadowing in the first chapter, with Harriet’s hatbox, and the newspaper articles about the slain athletes, portending the chapter’s conclusion. The hatbox is obviously important, since she won’t let Eddie the porter touch it, and the news articles appear right before we meet the Whammer, who immediately goes after Harriet. The Whammer striking out also foreshadows what eventually happens to Roy, and it is ironic in that it ends up saving the Whammer’s life; he loses the battle, but if he had won, he……..


This is more of a literary analysis, as the student here notices the literary techniques and elements that are at work in the text, specifically foreshadowing and irony. This is especially useful on Task III of the Regents exam. Again, the response shows evidence of reading and thorough understanding of the text, as well as significant thought, sophisticated insight, and the beginnings of critical analysis.