The Contender By Robert Lipsyte Essay Examples

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What It Means to Be a Contender

Mr. Donatelli draws an important distinction between being a champion and being a contender. While the odds of one being a champion are slim, he knows that anyone can be a contender. Being a contender is not about raw talent or the kind of innate skill that few possess—being a contender, as Mr. Donatelli says, is about blood, sweat, and tears. It is purely a measure of how hard someone works. The reason this is so important to Alfred is because he has never worked for something so hard; he does not even know if he can do it. Also, Mr. Donatelli knows that the concept of being a contender redefines the way Alfred thinks of himself. If Alfred is a contender, then he is somebody special. Being a contender comes not from what station in life a person is born, or how lucky they might be to have received a special gift or talent, but being a contender is a function of who a person is.


In the beginning of the book, Alfred teeters between two different destinies. He could go in one of two directions: toward a path of self-destruction as his friend James or toward a place where he can try and make something of himself. The problem with the latter is how difficult it is, especially when one has little support. Alfred decides to choose the road of self-improvement, which is why the concept of being a contender is so important to him. He improves himself along with his determination, his work ethic, his skills, his knowledge of himself, and his role in life. He decides that yes, he can be someone, and it does not mean that he must be a champion boxer. Being someone means going to night school, helping a brother, and working with kids at a recreation program. By the end of the book Alfred has an understanding of self, and thus, the self- improvement he needs to help him conquer temptations of negativity and nothingness.


For people in Alfred's position, quitting is not merely the ceasing of activity. Quitting is giving up in a way that begets a future with sparse ambition and little success. Quitting seems so easy, as indicated by James's and Alfred's hasty decisions to quit school. Furthermore, Alfred quits boxing, and James, worse still, quits functioning in normal society. For people whose prospects seem dim, quitting seals ones fate, trapping one into a life that he or she feels he or she cannot escape. Alfred demonstrates a will and determination that will not allow him to simply quit. What he learns about himself through his boxing training is that he is the kind of person who does not want to quit, which is perhaps his greatest success of all.

Fitting in

In a nutshell, Alfred's predominant reason for feeling as if he is not special is his inability to fit in. He is no longer in school, he has no immediate family, and his best friend has turned away from him to do drugs. He has no support system other than Aunt Pearl, and he has nowhere to turn for acceptance. Boxing provides him with a niche. The people take care of him, even though he is not particularly well suited for the sport. Alfred realizes that he does not need to be a champion boxer to fit in—he only needs to possess a drive and determination that others can appreciate and thus nurture. When Alfred fits in with a group of people brought together by the sport, he realizes that there are other avenues open to him such as school and recreation programs. Alfred learns how to fit in because he learns what it is about himself that is worth appreciating.

More main ideas from The Contender

Presentation on theme: "The Contender by Robert Lipsyte"— Presentation transcript:

1 The Contender by Robert Lipsyte
Cyberlesson by: Renée DeLeon8th grade language arts

2 IntroductionWe face conflicts in our lives everyday. A conflict is a struggle between two opposing forces. We show resiliency when we are able to face our conflicts, use good judgment, and overcome them.The novel that we will be reading deals with a teenage boy, Alfred Brooks, who faces several conflicts: growing up an African American during the Civil Rights Movement, dropping out of school to help pay the bills, avoiding the neighborhood gangsters, and avoiding drugs.We will find out if Alfred has the resiliency to deal with the numerous conflicts in his life.

3 Materials Copies of the novel for each student
Reader response journals for each studentPensInternet accessCopies of writing assignmentCopies of writing rubric

4 Before Reading Quick Writes
In your reader response journals, respond briefly to the following questions.Why do you think some students decide to drop out of high school?What kinds of jobs are available for high school drop outs?Why do you think some adolescents experiment with drugs?What kind of goals have you set for yourself and how have you gone about accomplishing your goals? What difficulties do you have in reaching your goals?

5 Before Reading Setting
Setting has a lot to do with the difficulties that Albert Brooks faces in the novel. Shortly before writing this novel, Robert Lipsyte was a sports writer for The New York Times. He often covered the career of Muhammad Ali, who heavily influenced this book.How much do you know about:The Civil Rights MovementHarlemBlack NationalistsReader Response: After reading these sights, write about the problems you think Alfred may face during the course of this book.

6 During Reading Read chapters 1 – 9
In your reader response journals, address the following:Your first impression of Alfred Brooks .Describe the influences that each of the following have on Alfred at this point: Mr. Donatelli, Henry, Major, JeffHow has Alfred changed both physically and mentally by the end of chapter 9?Respond to the following quote from Mr. Donatelli: “It’s the climbing that makes the man. Getting to the top is an extra reward.”

7 During Reading Read chapters 10 – 20
In your reader response journals, address the following:Why do you think Spoon spends so much of his time helping Alfred?What does it mean to be a contender?How do you feel about the way Mr. Donatelli handles his boxers?What impact, if any, did this novel have on you?

8 During ReadingMake a chart of each of the following influences on Alfred. As you come across them in the novel, indicate if they are a positive or negative influence and why. Support with evidence from the text.People Places HappeningsAunt Pearl cave boxingHenry church eatingHollis clubroom partyingJames Coney Island prayingJelly Belly Eptein’s trainingMajor gym relaxingDonatelli movies thinkingLou Spoon’s houseJeff Madison Square Garden

9 After Reading / Assessment
After thinking carefully about his life, Alfred Brooks has decided to go to night school in order to earn his high school diploma. The school that Alfred has chosen to go to requires two letters of recommendation. One of the letters must be professional and one must be personal. Think about all the characters that Alfred has relationships with. Choose one character to write the professional letter (ex: Lou Epstein, Vito Donatelli) and one character to write the personal letter Aunt Pearl, Jeff, etc.).You must write these two letters as if you were these characters. Explain in as much detail as possible why these characters would recommend Alfred. In other words, why should this school accept him?One of the main things that I will be looking for are examples from the book to support your statements and powerful, fluent, persuasive writing!!Please refer to your writing rubric for scoring!

10 Rubric / Criteria for Writing Assignment (Each letter will be evaluated according to the 8th grade writing rubric used in our district. Keep in mind the following key components.)ORGANIZATIONIDEAS/CONTENTWORD CHOICEVOICEFLUENCYCONVENTIONS

11 Beyond ReadingYou may choose one of the following options for your additional writing component for this unit. Choose the type of writing you feel you are best at!Option #1 (Research) Research the career of one of the following boxers mentioned in the novel. Write a two page biography and be sure to include what their life was life after their boxing career. (Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Cassius ClayOption #2 (Editorial) Write a column for our school newspaper on the value of sports in students’ lives.Option #3 (Creative) Write an additional chapter to the book describing either Alfred’s or James’ life in ten years from now.


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