Three men conjure up a mixture of reality and fiction in their quest for a second chance. Their love of baseball creates a common link that ties them together in the novel Shoeless Joe. The author, William Kinsella, captures each characters' unique need for fulfillment through reincarnation around a setting located in a heaven like cornfield in rural Iowa. The field is transformed into a mysterious baseball park which connects their lives together through a combination of days gone by and present circumstances to right a wrong or the failure to do something right. The main character, Ray Kinsella, relies on dreams and voices from a mysterious baseball announcer to help him fill the void left between him and his father. A famous, though troubled writer, Jerry Salinger, wants to renew his flare for writing and break his writer's block by tagging along with Ray to find new inspiration.
Shoeless Joe, a former disgraced big league player, wants the chance to return from the grave to play baseball again, the sport he loved with a passion. The atmosphere can be likened to the song "Take me out to a ball game", where dreams are grown, nurtured and broken. In this novel, all three men share the same longing for a second chance to rekindle their feeling of self-worth.
The main character Ray Kinsella is searching for his second chance to fill the void with his father and brother. Ray grew-up a city boy that tried his hand at selling life insurance after college. He grew tiresome of this way of life and buys a few acres in Iowa to grow corn. He has a simple but pleasant life with his country wife and family. Suddenly, his world is turned upside down when he hears a mysterious voice say, "If you build it, he will come." (Kinsella, 4), while sitting on his verandah one spring evening. He interprets the message as a mission to build a baseball park in the middle of his cornfield. The ghost of Shoeless Joe, a disgraced major league player, appears to play ball on his field with of Joe's peers. Ray is not quite sure what his second chance is but is compelled to find out more since he "...had a strained relationship with his father that was never resolved while his father was still alive." (Masterplots, 3) In a series of adventures, he travels across America in the search for answers even to the point of almost loosing his farm and livelihood.
His quest becomes more evident as the story progresses, when he discovers the team needs a catcher he makes comments like "I know a catcher..." (Kinsella, 19) that never made the majors and "What about the catcher?" (Kinsella, 24). Unconsciously, Ray is really looking to reunite with his father, a second rate catcher and his estranged brother, Richard. He wishes his father "...could be here with me." (Kinsella, 14) since he and his twin brother had grown up on baseball stories not nursery rhymes, without a mother in their lives. Ray gets his hidden wish when his long lost brother shows up at his home. They watch a game of reincarnated players where their father gets his dream of playing with the big leaguers. They realize their father is the catcher and end up "... talking of love, and family, and life, and beauty, and friendship, and sharing...." (Kinsella, 255). This fulfills Ray's hidden longing that started him on his journey to find his second chance to erase his failure to do something right for his brother and father.
Jerry Salinger is looking for a second chance at fulfillment as a writer. He has become disillusioned with a life of notoriety. He says he wants to return to being just ordinary and to be left alone. Though deep down, he wants to break his twenty five years of writing silence but really lacks a compelling story to tell. He is very adept at expressing in words what others can only think and feel. Jerry hears a voice that tells him to "... fulfill the dream." (105). He joins Ray in his quest for some answers.
Jerry understands his gift since "It is a sad time when the world won't listen to stories about good men" (Kinsella, 133). He wants to rekindle his faith in good men. Jerry knows that Ray could lead him to an inspiring story, even at the risk of being kidnapped. He wants to help others by becoming "The man being able to touch the perfect dream." (Kinsella, 263). His writer's block is broken when he says "What a story it will make" and "I will write of it, I promise." (Kinsella, 263) His second chance comes when the Joe invites him to visit heaven, the story of a lifetime. Shoeless Joe sets the tone for the story and is the common thread that draws the others together. He was an exceptional major league player that was disgraced by a scandal in the World Series many years ago. Joe understands the real passion of the game in it's pure and genuine form when he said " I love the game... and I'd have played for food money.. ..it makes me tingle all over like a kid..." (Kinsella, 15). His former life inspires Ray to build a superb ball diamond in the middle of his cornfield and livelihood. This gives his father the opportunity to finally play ball in the big leagues with departed players that to just wanted another chance to play the game they love. Joe understands Jerry's need for a another story when he asks him to " ....go out with us after the game?" (Kinsella, 260) Baseball becomes just a simulation of the game of life.
Joe gets his "...second chance through the magic of reincarnation" (Masterplots, 3) to play ball with his old friends without having to hide in a "... tenth rate commercial league" (Kinsella, 3). His chance comes when he ventures from heaven to Ray's field of dreams to show his prowess to the true believers in the game.
In the novel Shoeless Joe, author William Kinsella captures the quests of three individuals seeking a second chance a self-worth. Ray Kinsella is searching for closure with his family, Jerry is seeking new writing influences and Shoeless Joe is looking to reunite with the great game of baseball. It is important to realize that second chances rarity come from being complaisant. The author weaves a tale based on fact and fiction which shows these men stalled in their current circumstances whether alive or deceased. Their regard of the game of baseball as a genuine form of living gives them their second chance to right an old wrong or to finally do something to make things right.