The Contender Study Guide

The Contender Study Guide

Original title:
The Contender

The Contender is a debut novel by Robert Lipsyte that tells us the story of a black young man who lives in Harlem with his aunt and cousins. His harsh life is urging him to take the easiest way of criminal life and becoming a thug, but the main character named Alfred Brooks struggles and tries to use his destructive impulses for good.

The story of Alfred Brooks is the story of silent rebellion, when he sees that his best friend chooses the path he tries to avoid, when he realizes that there are no perspectives to get a good job for him and almost no chance to live an ordinary life. His decision to start a boxing career is a bright metaphor of putting the anger and frustration that leads the rest of his friends to criminal life into something that can truly benefit him.

He is lucky - his stepfamily, especially his aunt, is the example of selflessness, kindness and genuine care about loved ones. But despite having a relatively comfortable and safe atmosphere at home Alfred is still influenced by the society around him (he is only seventeen years old and heavily depends on the opinion of the people he values). He still gets involved into a teenage gang and start having drug issues. He isn’t an angel who just is above Harlem and its life, too good for this sinful world. He is a young man of flesh and blood with all his troubles, urges and desires. But this fact only makes his choice more valuable and more mature. He sees all the temptations, he looks into the depths of despair, he loses battles he desperately hoped to win - but still in the end he triumphs, turning into the reasonable and selfless young adult, who understands that even the harsh life shouldn’t turn a person away from the path they choose for themselves.

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— Page 189 — “It's the climbing that makes the man. Getting to the top is an extra reward.” — Robert Lipsyte, The Contender

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