The Contender By Robert Lipsyte Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

Summary

Alfred is running in the park at first light Monday morning. His stride is smooth and easy. Birds sing, the breeze is cool, and he feels a rare joy. Alfred Brooks is smiling.

Suddenly his reverie is smashed by two policemen, one of whom shouts, "Hold it right there." Alfred explains that he is in training, managed by Mr. Donatelli. The cops have heard of Donatelli and ease off. The mood, however, is broken. The good feeling is gone. When Alfred returns home, Aunt Pearl also wonders why he was out at such an hour, but Alfred tells her that he couldn't sleep and went for a walk.

At work, Lou Epstein, the oldest of the brothers, speaks privately with Alfred about the burglary. He says that Alfred is "a good boy," but the employers seem distant and distrustful. Jake, the middle brother, takes the deposit to the bank; this had been Alfred's job. Surprisingly, James, his face swollen and grim, appears at the window as Alfred is arranging fruit in the front window. He doesn't respond to Alfred's greeting. Alfred is despondent and fantasizes about robbing the store himself. Suddenly Henry pops in, oozing energy. He is delighted that Alfred will be at the gym after work. Before Alfred can refuse, Henry is gone.

Analysis

Alfred's hold on his new life is tenuous. He wavers between hope and despair. In this chapter, we see a young man at a crossroads in life, and he is struggling to determine which path to take. One continuing problem for Alfred is that he can be excessively influenced by those around him. (This will be a more serious problem for Alfred later.) He is just beginning to be his own man, another theme of the novel. Lipsyte demonstrates Alfred's vulnerability in three very different settings in this chapter.

Alfred's first challenge is in the park. He is trying a new regimen, and at first everything goes well. He is up at 5:30 a.m. and soon on the run. Sweet air fills his lungs. Although he is just beginning to get in shape, and a sharp pain runs through his side, Alfred is filled with joy. A silly smile crosses his face. He is a healthy young man who feels the gratification of accomplishing something. Still, this sense of self-worth is so fragile that it can be (and is) destroyed by a single exchange with the two policemen. Even though they quickly believe Alfred and laughingly wish him well, Alfred's run is ruined. The spring leaves his step. The stitch in his side is now unbearable. He notices gas fumes from cars. Soon he quits and goes home.

At the apartment, even Aunt Pearl questions his odd behavior. She asks if he has been out all night. In her loving way, she expresses her concern for Alfred's safety. As he often does, Alfred evades the truth. Instead of providing a candid response, he says he was out for a walk. He is not yet able to be a man and take responsibility for his choices, even when they are admirable. Alfred is still afraid to be himself.

At work, Alfred's day gets even worse. The Epsteins say they have faith in him, but their actions say otherwise. For Alfred's own sake, Lou Epstein says, it may be better not to present Alfred with too much temptation. Alfred is crushed when he sees that this means he will no longer be trusted with the bank deposit. James also rejects him, turning away from Alfred when he sees James standing outside of the grocery; James walks away like Major. Alfred feels like giving up and notices a way to disengage the new alarm system. Maybe he could regain James' friendship if the two of them robbed the store.

Alfred's problem is that he has not yet learned to believe in himself. If he did, it would matter less what others think. Alfred wants to escape to the safe, dark dream world of the movie theater. However, Henry's grinning intervention reminds him of the scheduled gym workout. Through it all, Alfred salvages enough hope to give the new life another try.

Glossary

sneakers shoes with a canvas upper and a continuous sole and heel as of one piece of soft rubber, used for play and sports; the shoes worn by Alfred on his morning run.

welfare the organized efforts of government agencies that grant aid to the poor, the unemployed, etc.; such aid. Here, the term relates to Aunt Pearl's reminders to Alfred that the family is not on welfare, that they have jobs and enough money to pay the rent and buy clothes.

probation the suspension of sentence of a person convicted but not imprisoned, on condition of continued good behavior and regular reporting to a probation officer; here, James' punishment for attempting to rob Epstein's grocery store.

bunions places on the foot showing an inflammation and swelling of the bursa at the base of the big toe, with a thickening of the skin. Here, the term refers to Lou Epstein's bunions.

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




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