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THE CONTENDER BY ROBERT LIPSYTE-FREE STUDY GUIDE
CHAPTERS 2 - 3
Alfred is in bed and is being attended by his aunt. Aunt Pearl informs him that Henry and his father had brought him home when they found him walking in a semi-conscious state. She asks him about the events of the previous evening. Alfred lies and says that he fell off the fence and hurt himself. Aunt Pearl sees through his lie but refrains from questioning him further. She then tells about the arrest of James for robbing the house of Epsteins.
Alfred lies in bed and keeps thinking about James and the Epsteins until he falls asleep. When he finally gets up, it is late in the evening. He dresses up and goes out for a walk. He nears the gym but hesitates to go up; however, when he spots Major across the street, he hurriedly walks up to the gym. He meets Donatelli and tells him about his intention to join the gym and become a boxer. Donatelli asks him to take off his shirt and inspects him from head to foot. Then after checking his height, weight, and flexibility, he tells Alfred about how hard it is to be a boxer and warns him about the difficulties and risks involved. Donatelli added that a person has to be very hard working and disciplined to succeed in the ring. He then sends Alfred home to think it over before starting his training.
Even though Alfred was orphaned at a young age, he is loved. Aunt Pearl cares for him and worries over the fact that he keeps things to himself. She also respects his independence. When she questions him about what happened to him the previous evening, she listens to his explanation about falling off a fence. Although she realizes that her nephew is not telling her the truth, she knows it is for a reason and does not press him.
Alfred is a thinker. As he lies in bed recovering from his beating, he worries about James in jail and the Epsteins questioning him about his friend. He also thinks about Henry inviting him to the gym, but he is not sure whether he should go. When he goes out for a walk, he heads toward the gym, but hesitates about entering. He decides to go up only when he sees Major across the street. His enemy is, therefore, responsible for altering Alfred’s life, for the gym will change him.
By entering the gym and making the decision to undergo training to become a boxer, Alfred takes his first step towards establishing his identity in his world. He symbolically climbs the long steps up to the gym, where Donatelli explains the difficulties and discipline of boxing. By accepting the challenge to train at the gym, Alfred will emerge from the shadow of the past and walk towards his future; the process will transform him from a child to an adult.
Donatelli, who will become an important character in the novel, is presented in this chapter. He shows himself to be a tough trainer, an experienced man of the world, and a frank, honest, and practical human being. When Alfred expresses his desire to become a boxer, Donatelli is cautious enough to carefully check the boy’s physical condition and realistic enough to warn him about the hard work involved in boxing.
He also does not immediately accept Alfred as his student; instead, he sends him away to think about the challenge of the game.