Cultural Context In Sports Literature

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While sports has always provided entertainment and escape for participants and spectators alike, much of its cultural importance lies in its frequent use as a metaphor not only for American democracy (see the above quote from F.T. Miller), but individual fulfillment. In his essay explaining the cultural context in which American sports literature was created, Wiley Lee Umphlett describes how in the early 20th century, when a large number of American schools first incorporated physical education and athletic programs, sports were used to indoctrinate schoolchildren with the importance of hard work and discipline. Sports, with its emphasis on competition and teamwork, were used as a tool to prepare children for the so-called, “game of life.” …show more content…
The roller-coaster chronicle of Roy Hobbs’s baseball career proved to be the first sports novel that commanded respect from literary critics and more significantly, established the subgenre of adult sports fiction. The story begins with the 19-year-old Roy, a superstar pitcher, en route to Chicago to begin his professional career. Unfortunately, Roy’s career is put on hold after a mysterious, obsessive, female fan shoots him in a hotel room. The novel then skips ahead 16 years, at which point the 35-year-old Roy (an old man, by baseball standards), having re-created himself as a prodigious home run hitter, finally makes it into professional ball with the New York Knights. Though Roy becomes a superstar and takes the Knights from the bottom of the standings to the brink of a pennant, the residual damage from his gunshot wound develops into a debilitating injury that winds up costing the Knights the pennant and results in the end of Roy’s career. Prior to The Natural, sports literature were romantic works written primarily for young boys told heroic tales that glamorized the world of professional sports and celebrated it as a metaphor for the American Dream. Though Roy’s performance on the field is at times mythological, his journey, fraught with dangerous women, vindictive sports writers, incorrigible fans, powerful mobsters, and corrupt management, reveals a cynicism and disillusionment that, while consistent with other works of modern American literature, was foreign to the otherwise juvenile word of sports

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