Donatelli is a stocky man with crew-cut white hair. He carries himself in a military manner and is very businesslike, even brusque, as he first measures Alfred (five feet seven and three-quarter inches tall) and then weighs (124 1/2 pounds). Donatelli tells Alfred exactly what to expect if he tries to become a fighter. He invites the young man to return but suggests that he not do so unless Alfred is genuinely prepared to commit himself to the program.
Lipsyte uses this chapter for transition (presenting a major change in Alfred's life) and to introduce a key character, Donatelli, as well as the new boxing regimen that Alfred is about to begin. The wise old manager offers several guidelines to Alfred, and each is a theme of the novel as well as a lesson in growing up. In a boxing ring, just as in life, there is no place to hide. Alfred must learn to follow the rules. He must earn his way. Skill is essential and can be learned, but skill is not enough. Nothing is guaranteed. If Alfred quits before he really tries, he has failed more than if he had never started at all.
Most importantly, as the title of the novel indicates, Alfred must strive to be a contender rather than a champion. The chances are that Alfred will never reach the top, but he will be a contender if he takes his skill, his brain, and his heart as high as he can. "That must sound corny to you," Donatelli tells Alfred, and it does seem like a cliché; but what Lipsyte and Donatelli understand is that a cliché often becomes a cliché because it carries a deep truth.
This chapter is a transitional one, but it is almost a dramatic monologue as well, serving as one of many examples of the way that Lipsyte uses speech to reveal character. Throughout most of the book, the dialogue is reasonably realistic. As a reporter and sportswriter, Lipsyte is familiar with the sounds of Harlem and of boxing in the 1960s. Perhaps he cleans up the language a bit; but when Major speaks in the first chapter, we get a good idea of the kind of person he is. When Major mocks Alfred as an Uncle Tom, the language evokes a strong visual image. With different effect, the same is true in Chapter 3. There is no jive in Donatelli, but his speech reveals as much about his character as Major's speech does about his. Donatelli's speech is as straight as his posture and contrasts noticeably with Major's. The challenge to Alfred is clear. What Alfred does in response to the challenge will determine the action of the rest of the novel and, ultimately, the direction of his life.
duffel bag a large, cylindrical cloth bag, especially of waterproof canvas or duck, for carrying clothing and personal belongings.