The Contender By Robert Lipsyte Summary and Analysis Chapter 10

Summary

Over the next few weeks, Alfred experiences the hard work and tedium of training to become a fighter. The first week is mostly pain. Mr. Donatelli has him shadowboxing for three minutes, resting for one minute, and shadowboxing for three minutes again, to the point that Alfred awakens in the middle of the night in misery. The second week is more of the same but worse. Alfred feels that everyone is riding him. At Sunday morning service, Aunt Pearl asks Reverend Price about the boxing. Alfred secretly hopes that the preacher will make him quit, but Reverend Price wisely sees this as a positive way to direct the young man's energy for a while.

Halfway through the third week, the pain subsides. Alfred is getting in shape. He wakes up before the alarm in the morning and runs smoothly. Still, Alfred feels isolated. Spoon drops by and pays some attention to him, but days pass when no one says a word. At work, Lou Epstein reveals that he was once a fighter known as "Lightning Lou Epp." Alfred is impressed. Lou respects Donatelli and Bud Martin but is skeptical about the way that the profession of boxing has changed. He appears to genuinely care for Alfred.

Alfred grows weary of the routine of training. He wants to get in the ring and spar. He is beginning to wonder what the point of it all is. In late July, Aunt Pearl has to go out of town; she leaves the girls in Queens with Dorothy and Wilson, and Alfred has the apartment to himself.

Alfred runs into Major on the street one night, and Major claims that he was just "testing" Alfred that night at the clubroom when Alfred stood up to him. Major tries to get back into Alfred's life. He comes by the gym, but Bud Martin asks him to leave. Major says that James will be at a "little party" at the club that night; he wants Alfred to drop by. Henry is suspicious of Major's motives.

Henry asks him to join Henry and Jelly at the movies that night. He warns against visiting the clubroom. Alfred declines and walks into the hot Friday night, telling Henry that he can take care of himself. Alfred notices other people out for a good time and questions the purpose of all the training he is doing. Alfred misses his best friend, James, and wants to get back together with him. At the end of the chapter, Alfred heads toward the clubhouse for a little visit.

Analysis

In these few weeks, Alfred's attitude slides from euphoria to dejection. He still relies on others to confirm his own worth, and he is terribly impatient — two sure signs of immaturity for Lipsyte. Alfred wants to move along in his training, but the Donatelli code demands that no one is special and each man must earn his own way.

Lipsyte's style captures the tedium of the daily workouts at the gym. He repeatedly quotes the trainers as they demand more and more of Alfred in the boring but necessary exercise of shadowboxing: "Left . . . left . . . snap it out, Alfred, . . . left . . . right . . . right . . . left . . . left-left . . ." Like all beginning boxers, Alfred has trouble holding his arms up and continuously punching, three minutes at a time, over and over.

Lipsyte's imagery is again effective. He uses simile (comparing one thing to another with the use of "like" or "as") to make his point. Angel and Jose, the Puerto Ricans, cackle "like hens" when the medicine ball knocks Alfred over "like a tenpin." As Alfred gets into the routine and begins to get in shape, the days roll off "like perspiration," a very apt simile. The Friday night street scene evokes the provocative mix of excitement, danger, and despair that seems to lure Alfred toward trouble. Children play in the gutter, their playground. Each street corner anticipates action of the night. The sun goes down, and music fills the street from windows. It is too hot to sleep, and why should he sleep anyway? So he can rise before dawn and fill yet another day with tedium? The party at the clubroom is very tempting to Alfred in this atmosphere, and he wants to see James. Most of the temptation, however, comes from within.

Willie Streeter appears again as a negative example. He returns to the gym "sullen and overweight." Willie is what Alfred could become at his worst. Willie has given up. He goes off to training camp in the mountains with Mr. Donatelli to train for a fight out of town, but he loses the fight anyway, primarily, we can assume, because of his bad attitude and lack of commitment.

Of special significance is the return of Major. He buzzes around Alfred like a flea in his ear, whispering temptation. When Alfred meets Major on the street, his adversary is cloying and artificially friendly. Major wants to get past his earlier threats, which turned out to be empty. Major wants to be a part of Alfred's life because he sees that Alfred is going somewhere. But Major doesn't just want to ride along; he wants to derail the train. He knows that the best way to reach Alfred is through James, so he tempts Alfred with an invitation to a party at the clubroom that James will attend. Throughout the novel, Alfred runs into barriers not from the outside world but from Harlem itself. Major wants Alfred to fail so that Alfred will be back on the same level as Major is, maybe even a notch lower. Henry sees Major's hypocrisy and tries to guide Alfred away, but Alfred must make his own decisions, and he is about to make a bad one.

Glossary

shadowboxing sparring with an imaginary opponent, especially in training as a boxer; here, the exercise Donatelli has Alfred do to train, the exercise Alfred tires of and sees no purpose in.

tenpin a specific one of the ten bowling pins. Here, it suggests the way Alfred is knocked over by the medicine ball.

racketeers people who obtain money illegally, as by bootlegging, fraud, or, especially, extortion. Here, Lou Epstein uses the term in reference to the bad people he sees affiliated with boxing.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After James quits school, be starts hanging out with a gang led by which of the following characters?




Quiz