In his Dictionary of Literary Biography article on Bernard Malamud, Joel Salzberg notes that the author "holds a preeminence among Jewish-American writers that has consistently been reaffirmed by recent critical assessments." Malamud, however, began his career with his popular first novel, The Natural, influenced by his love of baseball and his fascination with stories of the mythological quest for the Holy Grail
The novel's allegorical framework blends realism and fantasy in its exploration of the theme of moral responsibility. Malamud employs forces of good and evil to complicate the choices and consequences that face his protagonist. The novel introduces Roy Hobbs, an initially innocent young man, who strives to be "the best there ever was in the game" of baseball. As he attempts to reach that goal, his moral courage will be tested. Ultimately, this flawed hero will learn too late of the consequences of blind ambition. The novel received mixed reviews when it first appeared, due to its complex narrative structure. However, critical response grew to the point where many now consider it among Malamud's best works.