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Free Study Guide for The Contender by Robert Lipsyte Free BookNotes

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Alfred is with Henry at Spoonís house before his fourth and final boxing match. Feeling nervous and restless, Alfred refuses to play cards or watch television. Henry feels sorry for him and regrets that Alfred has made the decision to stop boxing.

When Spoon and his wife return, he talks to Alfred at length. Spoon gives him the forms to enroll in night school and advises him about courses. He also gives Alfred information about the rehabilitation center for James. Betty busies herself with the preparation of a steak dinner, which Alfred really enjoys. After the meal, Spoon takes him out for the usual walk and pep talk. After Alfred takes a short nap, Donatelli arrives to take him to the arena. In the dressing room, Donatelli tries to talk Alfred out of the match, for his opponent will be Elston Hubbard, an indomitable fighter. Alfred is determined to box.

When the fight begins, Hubbard quickly shows his superiority, dealing Alfred a series of strong blows. The determined Alfred boxes boldly, returning punches whenever he has the chance. By the end of the first round, Alfred is already filled with pain and exhaustion, but he will not quit. By the end of the second round, Alfred is badly beaten up, but he still refuses to quit. In the third round, Alfred puts up a strong fight despite his injuries, winning applause and encouragement from the crowd. Although Hubbard is declared the winner, Alfred feels satisfied with his performance, for he has gone the distance. After Hubbard has shaken his hand, everyone cheers for Alfred, including Donatelli. Later he acknowledges Alfred as a true contender.


Alfredís last boxing match is a difficult one. His final opponent is Elston Hubbard, known as an indomitable fighter. Worried about Alfredís well-being in the ring against Hubbard, Donatelli suggests that they cancel the fight; Alfred, however, is determined to box and do his best.

Before the fight, Alfred follows his normal routine. He goes with Henry to Spoonís house in order to relax; but Alfred is too nervous and restless to sit still. He cannot make himself play cards or watch television. Even though he enjoys the steak dinner that Spoonís wife prepares, he does not eat it with relish as before. Everyone understands Alfredís feeling, and they say little to him. Even after Donatelli arrives and they head to his final match, there is silence. In the car, "they each looked out a different window as Spoon drove down town. Even (the talkative) Dr. Corey had nothing to say when he and Bud climbed into the car in front of the gym." No one can find the right words to express his sentiments.

In his final fight against his toughest opponent, Alfred proves himself to be a true contender. Although Hubbard hits him hard and repeatedly, Alfred stays up and fights with confidence. Even when he is badly hurt, he boxes until the end. When the referee blows the whistle to end the match, Alfred is still tussling with Hubbard. Although he loses the match, Alfred is proud of how he has fought, and Donatelli tells him he has proven himself to be a real contender.

In this chapter, Alfredís future is foreshadowed. Spoon gives him the necessary forms for night school and suggests courses of study to him. He also recommends a rehabilitation center for James. Because Alfred has gained self-confidence, he now feels he can help his friend.



Alfred comes home to find Aunt Pearl looking agitated. She informs Alfred that the police have visited the house to inquire about James, for he has again broken into the house of the Epsteins. Since James was not caught by the police at the scene of the crime, they are searching for him. As soon as Alfred hears this information, he goes in search of James. Entering the cave in the park, he finds James hiding in a corner. James asks him to go away, but Alfred stays and asks his friend to turn over a new leaf. When James asks him to give him money, Alfred refuses, for he believes he will spend it on drugs; but Alfred promises to help James if he will allow. After he tells James about the rehabilitation center, James finally consents to go.


In the previous chapter, Robert Lipsyte has presented Alfred as a contender. In this final chapter, he shows that his protagonist is also a healer and reformer. Alfred has worried about James throughout the novel. Now, when he hears that his friend has committed another crime, Alfred is determined to help him change his life. When he goes out to look for James, he finds him hiding in the cave in the park, where Alfred had looked for him after his first attempt to rob the Epsteins. When James begs him for money, Alfred refuses, not wanting to feed his friendís bad habits. Instead, he tells James about the rehabilitation center, emphasizing how it can help him get back on the right course. When James agrees to enter the center, Alfred promises to help his friend along the way. The reader feels certain that he will show an equal amount of determination in helping to heal his friend as he showed in pursuing his training to become a boxer. As a result, the novel ends on a hopeful note.

The book has come full cycle. In the first chapter, Alfred went looking for James to ask him to go to the movies. In this final chapter, he is looking for James to ask him to go to the rehabilitation center. In the interim chapters, Alfred sees very little of his friend; but he constantly worries about James, for he knows that he is running with Major (the devil in disguise), taking drugs, and participating in crimes. As James falls deeper and deeper in trouble during the book, Alfred is climbing higher and higher on his ladder to a successful future. Because he is now confident and filled with hope for himself, he is in a position to help James turn his life around.

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