Summary and Analysis
When Alfred arrives at the clubroom, the party is in full swing. James, however, is not there. Major assures Alfred, whom he calls "champ," that James will show up. Sonny also refers to Alfred as "champ." It is not likely that either could grasp Mr. Donatelli's concept of the word contender.
Initially, Alfred says that he can stay only a few minutes and is in training. Twice he turns down Major's offers of wine. However, the seduction of the party gets to him. Major's girlfriend, June, introduces Alfred to her cousin Arlene, a black girl with a blond wig, dizzying perfume, and an easy attitude. Alfred is surprised at how comfortably she enters his arms to dance to the low, funky blues. From Major, Alfred eventually accepts half an orange soaked with vodka. Major assures Alfred that it is good for him. The party becomes "a sweet, sticky blur." Arlene encourages Alfred to try marijuana, which he does. The only light in the clubroom burns out. More wine and marijuana come around. Alfred feels like he is in a nice, dark movie.
The next morning, still at the party, Alfred feels sick, halfway between intoxication and a hangover. James finally arrives and appears to have been living the hell of an addict. His face is thin. His eyes are sunken. His suit looks too big for him. He has come for a fix. Alfred tries to apologize for the burglar alarm at the grocer and to remind James of their friendship.
"That was kid stuff," says James. He takes a packet of white powder from Hollis and prepares to have a fix; Alfred wants to stop him but is too stoned himself to speak. Alfred falls to the floor and passes out.
Upon his arrival at the party, Alfred tries to convince himself, as much as the revelers, that he is still in training and will only stay a few minutes. But this is a form of self-deception and further evidence of Alfred's immaturity. Alfred is not yet prepared to take responsibility for his own actions. Major seems to have been waiting for him and calls him "my main man." Major's date, June, has a girl lined up for Alfred. Although Arlene is not exactly the kind of young woman Alfred would want to introduce to Aunt Pearl, she will still do very nicely for the night. Alfred turns down the wine bottle twice, but he does not require much persuasion after that.
Through much of the novel, Alfred seeks escape from reality. With James as his partner, Alfred could dream his way out of Harlem through the stories they created at the cave or those they saw on the screen at the movies. Dreams are not necessarily destructive; every goal begins with a dream. The problem is that those dreams had no relationship to reality, which is Mr. Donatelli's point. He does not want his fighters to indulge in unlikely dreams of championships. For Donatelli, and for Lipsyte, sports are not realistic escapes from poverty. Spoon is a positive example for this reason; he used sports to fulfill another dream: becoming a teacher.
James' attempt to escape reality is the most destructive of all. He has become a junkie, a heroin addict. It is not surprising that Major's gang deals drugs. It is just what we would expect of Major. He loves to manipulate people and hold them down. If he can make a profit from it, all the better.
The party is another escape for Alfred. It is not surprising that he compares it to the moment when the light goes out at the movies. The difference is that he is a living part of this movie, and real things are happening. Alfred supposedly came to the party to talk to James, so that he could apologize, renew the friendship, and help him if necessary. The ultimate irony is that, when Alfred finally finds James and wants to dissuade him from using drugs, Alfred himself is too stoned to speak.