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Free Study Guide for The Contender by Robert Lipsyte Free BookNotes

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Alfred goes with Aunt Pearl and the girls to visit Uncle Wilson and Aunt Dorothy once again. Jeff, their son, is also there to greet them. Uncle Wilson compliments Alfred on his success at boxing and inquires about his future plans. Alfred states that he has two more boxing matches to fight before Christmas. He also mentions that he is thinking about going to night school to pursue his education. When Jeff talks about starting self-help groups to benefit poor, black children, Alfred mentions the opportunity at the recreation center.

After their visit, Jeff drives Alfred, Pearl, and the girls back to Harlem. Since her daughters have fallen asleep on the say, Pearl hurries them to bed. As Alfred walks more slowly up the stoop, he hears some movement below. When he looks for its source, he spies James, who asks Alfred for money. As soon as Alfred gives him six dollars, James quickly disappears, ending the chapter on a note of suspense.


To balance the novel, Lipsyte alternates scenes of action with quieter domestic scenes; both help to develop Alfred as a whole person. In this domestic chapter, Alfred pays a second visit to Uncle Wilson. The visit brings into focus the transformation that has occurred in Alfred’s personality. Earlier, he had evaded the questions of his uncle and appeared diffident. Now, he talks confidently and answers all the inquiries posed by Wilson and Jeff. In the past, he had also felt self-conscious around Jeff because he had considered himself inferior to his cousin. During this visit, Alfred is in control of himself and has no problem establishing a rapport with Jeff or presenting his views. Jeff notes that in the past Alfred "seemed to drift along;" now, however, he notes that Alfred seems to have ambition.

Jeff also seems to have undergone a transformation. In an earlier chapter, it was revealed that Jeff was intelligent but snobbish. When the reader finally meets him in person in this chapter, he presents himself as sensible and refined. He no longer desires to go to Africa and make a fortune. Instead, he wants to stay in his community and help less fortunate children, in much the same way that Alfred has considered working with needy children at the recreation center.

All through the novel, Alfred has been haunted by James. Even when his friend has been absent for weeks, Alfred keeps thinking about him and wants to see him. When he learns that James has fallen into bad company and has started using drugs, Alfred is very concerned about him. He wants to reform James, but feels helpless to do anything for his friend. When he spies James near his house, Alfred calls him and offers to provide him food and shelter. Unfortunately, James refuses Alfred’s kindness and simply asks for money. When Alfred gives him six dollars, he realizes that James will probably use it to buy drugs. His heart goes out to his troubled friend.



In Alfred’s third boxing match, his opponent is Barnes, a rough and crude boxer. He has no qualms about hitting Alfred mercilessly. Unfortunately, Alfred is boxing with a handicap. After seriously injuring his last opponent, he is determined not to inflict the same kind of pain again. As a result, he refuses to attack Barnes; he merely tries to defend himself. When Barnes falls down, Alfred does not even try to take advantage of his superior position. The match finally ends in a draw.

Henry, Bud and Donatelli are disappointed in Alfred’s performance, but they refrain from talking to Alfred about it after the fight. Later, Donatelli takes Alfred to the gym and asks him to retire from boxing. He feels Alfred lacks the aggressive instinct to become a champion. He encourages Alfred to use his ability in some constructive activity rather than in boxing. Alfred agrees with Donatelli, but he expresses a desire to fight one more match before quitting boxing.


In his third match, Alfred cannot fight with any spirit, for he is haunted by the memory of the battered Griffin, his last opponent whom he seriously injured. When Barnes hits him hard and repeatedly, Alfred can only try to defend himself. He will not take the offensive and fight with aggression. Even when he knocks Barnes down in a defensive move, he will not take advantage of his position. The match ends in a draw.

Although Donatelli is disappointed in Alfred’s lack of aggression in the ring, he is too kind to reproach him in front of others. Instead, he takes Alfred to the gym and advises him to retire from boxing, saying that he lacks the killer instinct that is needed to become a champion. He encourages Alfred to use his energy and ability in another field where he can be more successful. Alfred agrees with Donatelli’s judgement and accepts his practical and sensible advice; he does, however, ask for the chance to box in one more match before permanently retiring from the ring.

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