Shoeless Joe Summary and Study Guide

WP Kinsella

Shoeless Joe

  • 36-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 5 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English professor with over fifteen years of experience
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Shoeless Joe Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 36-page guide for “Shoeless Joe” by WP Kinsella includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 5 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Traditional Religion Vs. True Religion and The Interplay of Imagination, Dreams, and Reality.

Plot Summary

Shoeless Joe (1982) by W.P. Kinsellais a magic realist novel that brings together stories about the Black Sox Scandal of the 1919 World Series by intermingling fantastic elements with the factual. The novel tells the story of Ray Kinsella, who lives with his wife Annie and five-year-old daughter, Karin, on a farm in Iowa, where he grows corn. The writer weaves the narrative around the importance of baseball in the collective memory of Americans, and the social fabric of America. The novel makes creative use of autobiography, fiction and historical facts. Shoeless Joe includes several characters, including the narrator, whose last name is the same as that of the author, real people such as the writer J.D Salinger and eight, actual Chicago White Sox baseball players who were banned from playing baseball for their role in the Black Sox Scandal. The novel was made into the popular 1989 movie Field of Dreams.

Shoeless Joe begins with the narrator, Ray Kinsella, describing how one day, while sitting on the verandah of his home, he heard the voice of a ballpark announcer telling him, “If you build it, he will come” (1). Ray believes that the “he” that the voice refers to is Shoeless Joe Jackson, who gained notoriety for his role in an infamous bribery scandal that marred the 1919 World Series. He interprets the announcement as an instruction to build a baseball field in one of the cornfields at his farm. He builds the left field and one night, the baseball players, including Shoeless Joe, appear on the field.  However, all the other players, except Shoeless Joe, are shadowy distortions of their real appearances. Ray talks to Shoeless Joe and tells him about his reverence for the game of baseball. He promises to finish building the whole field.

It takes Ray three baseball seasons to finish building the entire field. All eight Black Sox baseball players, called the “Unlucky Eight,” now appear in their vivid forms, except the right fielder and the catcher, who remain shadowy. Next, Ray hears another announcement that says, “Ease his pain” (32). Ray interprets this announcement as an instruction to seek the reclusive writer J.D. Salinger who, Ray believes, is a devout baseball fan, based on a newspaper article Ray once read. Also, the fact that Salinger had created characters named Ray Kinsella and Richard Kinsella, the name of Ray’s twin brother, makes Ray feel that his connection with Salinger goes beyond their common love of baseball. Ray decides to pay a visit to the writer and take him to a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston. The writer has not seen a live baseball game for over twenty-five years.

When Ray reaches New Hampshire, he persuades the writer, through an act akin to a quasi-kidnapping, to accompany him to Fenway Park. At the Boston Red Sox game, Ray is surprised to learn that Salinger has no love for baseball and that the interview in which he had talked of his love for baseball was a fake one. While watching the game, Ray receives yet another mysterious message about a baseball player named Moonlight Graham who played for the New York Giants in 1905. He receives a message telling him to “go the distance” (96). Salinger and Ray travel to Chisholm, Minnesota, to discover what they can about Archie Moonlight Graham. Salinger tells Ray that he, too, had received a message, “Fulfill the dream” (121). They get information about the only major league game in which Graham played at the Baseball Hall of Fame and discover that Graham had been a well-liked doctor in Chisholm. At night, Ray encounters Graham, who tells him how he got nicknamed “Moonlight” and that his one wish was to hold a bat in a major league game.

The next morning, when Salinger and Ray are traveling back to Iowa, they pick up a young man in a baseball uniform who says his name is Archie Graham. On his way, Ray stops at Bishop Cridge Friendship Center and invites his 91-year old friend Eddie Scissons, the oldest living Chicago Cub, to his baseball field. Ray receives another mysterious message that he interprets to be about Eddie. When they reach the farm, Ray finds his twin brother, Richard, there. The two have been estranged for twenty years. Meanwhile, his brother-in-law, Mark, who has been trying to buy his farm for a long time, announces that he has obtained the legal right to foreclose the farm if Ray doesn’t make good on the mortgage payments. Mark and his business partner, Bluestein, plan to use computers to modernize the farms in the area. When the players appear again, there is another player, Johnny Kinsella, Ray’s father, on the field. However, Ray cannot gather the strength to face him. Meanwhile, Moonlight Graham gets to fulfill his wish on the field. Mark tells Ray that Eddie had never played for the Chicago Clubs, a fact that Ray has known for a long time. Eddie gets to pitch for the Chicago Clubs on Ray’s magical field as Kid Scissons. Eddie passes away shortly after that and is buried at Ray’s baseball field, per Eddie’s last wish.

Mark and Bluestein claim they have legal temporary custody of the farm. Ray tries to scare them off the property at gunpoint. The confrontation ends abruptly when Karin, Ray’s daughter, falls, and everyone moves to save her. Suddenly, young Moonlight Graham morphs into older Doc Graham and saves Karin’s life.

Salinger envisions a way in which Ray can pay off his debts and retain his ownership of the farm. Just as Salinger is telling him the plan, the first few cars of visitors to the baseball field begin to arrive. That night, Ray gathers the courage to speak to his father. When Ray learns that the baseball players have invited Salinger out after the game, he feels jealous. Salinger reminds him of his blissful life with Karin and Annie and promises to write about what is behind the centerfield fence. Salinger walks with Shoeless Joe through the fence, while Ray walks back to the house, accompanied…

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