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FREE BOOK SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS-THE CONTENDER
Robert Lipsyte portrays the setting of the book and his characters so realistically that the novel at times seems almost autobiographical. The spirit of life in Harlem is clearly captured from the beginning. In fact, the book opens with Alfred waiting for James "on the stoop until twilight, pretending to watch the sun melt into the dirty gray Harlem sky. Up and down the street, transistor radios clicked on and hummed into the sour air. Men dragged out card tables, laughing. Cars cruised through the garbage and broken glass, older guys showed off their Friday night girls." In these few lines, Lipsyte brings Harlem to life.
Lipstye also captures with realism the temptations and difficulties that a black teenager must face in Harlem. James is tempted into robbing homes and taking drugs. Alfred is constantly challenged by Major, who tries to tempt him into a life of crime, beats him up, tries to steal his money, and forces him to go with him to Coney Island in a stolen car. Alfred also succumbs to the temptation of smoking marijuana and underage drinking. Alfred must also undergo ridicule for being employed in the home of a white family. "Sonny and Hollis began to laugh as Major shuffled around the dim, warm room, his muscular arms dangling like a monkey’s, his eyes rolling, his black head bobbing in ugly imitation of an old time Negro servant. ‘I can see you now, Alfred, good old Uncle Alfred. Yassuh, Mistuh Ben, I be so grat-I-fied you’s kick me now and again, show how much white folks love us.’ The laughter rose high-pitched and nervous. Alfred peeked at their faces, black and sweating in the semi-circle around him. Hollis and Sonny grinning and nodding."
Robert Lipsyte is equally good at creating a realistic picture of Donatelli’s gym and the pain of training and boxing. When Alfred first enters the gym, he is astounded by the hectic activity in the place. "Half-naked bodies were jumping and twisting and jerking around. Bells rang, the peanut bag went rackety-rackety-rackety, ropes swish-slapped against the squeaking floorboards, someone screamed, ‘TIME,’ and gasping voices, ‘Uh ... uh ... uh-uh,’ and an enormous black belly rushed past, spraying heat like a lawn sprinkler."
Lipsyte is also masterful in creating dialogue, as evidenced in one of Alfred’s interactions with Aunt Pearl. The first morning after Alfred returns from jogging in the park, Aunt Pearl is suspicious:
"Alfred?" Her face was stern, her hands on her hips.
"Yes, ma’am." He winked at the girls, kissed his aunt on top of her head, and cakewalked around the kitchen table. "No applause, folks, please."
"Now, Aunt Pearl, you know I never drink till after breakfast."
Charlene giggled in her cereal.
"Where you been?"
"From One Hundred Tenth to Eighty-fifth street and back nearly three miles."
"Don’t you make fun of me, Alfred. Wipe that smirk off your face. Where you been?"
"Ladeez ... and, uh, ladies. An announcement." The twins began to giggle too. "Introducing Alfred Brooks, the up-and-coming champeen of the world."
"Now you gonna be the down-and -out chump if you keep on." She snatched up a big wooden serving spoon. "You ain’t that big I can’t still whip that smirk off your face."
The girls ducked back into their cereal.
"Now. Where you been?"
"I been running in the park, build up my wind, get in shape, strengthen my legs."
"Slow down. What are you talking about?"
"Aunt Pearl, I’m gonna be a boxer."
"Boxer!" The word rattled the cereal bowls, and the girls came up with milk on their noses. "Are you out of your mind? Boxer! Now you better ... Alfred Brooks, I can tell, you’re not fooling, are you?"
Alfred’s announcement, Aunt Pearl’s disbelief, and the girls’ amusement are all captured so realistically and cleverly that the readers are able to visualize the scene and have a hearty laugh over it.