The Contender By Robert Lipsyte Summary and Analysis Chapter 6

Summary

Alfred retrieves the euphoria of his morning run as he bounces up the "friendly" stairs leading to Donatelli's Gym. He tries to stifle his grin before entering, because he wants to look businesslike and tough when he greets the manager for his first day of training. But when he opens the door this time, he is greeted not by Donatelli but by a sight that reminds him of Reverend Price's description of hell.

The gym appears to be in chaos. Young men of several races and all sizes are participating in activities completely foreign to Alfred. Some perform gyrations that resemble jacks-in-the-box. Others seem to be boxing their own images in mirrors. A very rotund person flies past, spraying him with sweat "like a lawn sprinkler." Alfred is totally unprepared. He doesn't even have proper gear and must work out in his street clothes. Donatelli is absent, preparing a fighter for an appearance at Madison Square Garden that night. Dr. Corey, the dentist from the second floor of the building, finally greets him in a friendly manner. Still, most of the crowd ignores him. An arrogant, well-built fighter called "Red" treats him rudely. Red is eventually expelled by Bud Martin, Mr. Donatelli's cagey old assistant.

Analysis

Chapter 6 introduces Alfred, and the reader, to the world of Donatelli's Gym. Despite the apparent disorder, the gym runs by a strict system of honesty and effort. Within the confines of the gym, Donatelli and Bud Martin set and enforce the code. It is a way of life that a young person like Alfred might apply very effectively to the outside world. Individuals are responsible for their own behavior. They must earn everything they get. It is, consequently, a meritocracy. Individuals will receive only what they merit or deserve.

Lipsyte uses the character Red as a literary device to illustrate the code by opposing it. Red wants to be treated like his idea of a champion, but he has done nothing to earn it. When Red demands that someone tape his hands, Bud Martin tells him to learn to do it himself. When Red tries to get Henry to fetch a headgear for him so that he can spar, Bud Martin rescinds the order and reminds Red that he can spar only if Mr. Donatelli or Bud can monitor the activity. Donatelli is gone, and Bud is busy. Bud tells Red that he needs to learn to follow the rules. Red challenges Bud just as he challenges the system. He even tries to punch the old man in the mouth, but the wily Bud knows how to defend himself. He knocks Red's punch aside and raps the misfit in the jaw with his own stinging blow. Red is kicked out, but Bud reminds everyone that no one needs to mention the incident to Mr. Donatelli, because another part of the code is that everyone gets a second chance.

Several minor characters contribute to the atmosphere, some of whom appear later in the novel. Denny is a skinny white boy who is friendly to Alfred and teaches him to do sit-ups in the manner that was acceptable at the time. Two Puerto Rican boxers impress Alfred with their quickness and skill. Jelly Belly is the enormous black man who inadvertently sprays Alfred with sweat and is a supporter of the system.

Initially, Alfred feels alone and like an outsider when he enters the gym, but he goes ahead anyway. When he is alone on the mat doing sit-ups and pushups, he doesn't want Henry to walk away. But Alfred overcomes that feeling of loneliness again. Bud Martin has a final surprise for Alfred. Donatelli has left a ticket with Henry so that Alfred can attend the evening match at the Garden. Alfred's will to overcome his fears is paying off.

By the end of the chapter, Alfred and the reader have a pretty good idea of the world in which the protagonist will try to become a man. We already suspect that manhood has more to do with character than with physical toughness.

Glossary

jack-in-the-box a box from which a little figure on a spring jumps up when the lid is lifted, used as a toy. Here, the term is used to set the scene in Donatelli's Gym when Alfred first arrives.

medicine balls large, heavy, leather-covered balls, tossed from one person to another for physical exercise.

the Garden Madison Square Garden, a center for sporting activity, especially boxing, in New York City.

spar to box with jabbing or feinting movements, landing few heavy blows, as in exhibition or practice matches.

Cassius Clay Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., (1942-) won the light heavyweight championship at the 1960 Olympics. He joined the black Muslims (Nation of Islam) in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, winning the world heavyweight championship three times and earning a worldwide reputation for his outspoken opinions on the Vietnam War, the military draft, politics, religion, and race.

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