AP English Literature
AP English Defender of the Faith
A story is judged by both literary merit and critical reception. In these regards, Defender of the Faith, by Philip Roth, can be considered an influential short story. Published in 1959, it is one of six short stories contained in the book Goodbye Columbus, Roth’s first major publication. Not only are the story’s style and language indicative of prose that, in later years, will earn Roth a gamut of major literary awards, but the controversy stirred up in the Jewish community by its themes are equally telling of Roth’s influence. Indeed, Roth himself describes
the novel as about one man who uses his own religion, and another’s uncertain conscience, for selfish ends’. It is this misuse, if not abuse, of religious affiliation which troubled so many rabbis in the climate of post world war two America, where Jewish families were making an effort to assimilate into society, not alienate them from it. But these criticisms are of secondary important to the story, which finds strength in the moral dilemmas presented to the reader, and the lack of easy answers. At the very core, this story allows the reader to question his own moral maturity without authorial bias given to one side or the other.
There are multiple examples of what maturity and morality mean to Roth. The most
basic example is exhibited through the highest-ranking officer in the story, Captain Paul Barrett.
... of the old times “before the war.”(Irving 783). The story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” contains similar aspects as ... for self-beneficence. A predominant sub-theme in these stories is romanticism. The four stories that will be discussed are “The ... Tales and Sketches. New York: Library of America, 1983. Roth, Martin. “Comedy and America: The Lost World of Washington ...
His thoughts on morality are quite simple. He states them in the first line of dialogue. He is a
veteran of the European theater and consequently will take no crap. Barrett holds the
most power and so his decision making process must be the most precise. He judges a man by what he shows me on the field of battle. This is the most basic trait possible in the army,
combat. For Roth, as power increases, morality becomes a substitute for pragmatism. Clearly,
what Barrett lacks is a conscience, as even though he prides myself that I’ve got an open
mind, what he truly has is a closed one. His bragging that heed fight side by side with a
black man if the fellow proved to me he was a man implies that he does not typically
consider black men equal to him. This admission of racism is, I believe, an intentional act by
Roth to distinguish power from morality.
The next most senior officer, our protagonist First Sergeant Nathan Marx, is a decidedly
different blend of power and morality. His power is newfound, having just been transferred from
the battlefields of Europe to Camp Crowder, Missouri. But he still maintains an air of authority,
admired by Barrett for the ribbons on your chest, and pulls a little weight
according to Private Sheldon Grossbart. What separates him from his commander officer,
however, is a sense of his Judaism. Not necessarily a religious devotion, as he does
not practice an orthodox or even conservative form of Judaism, and goes so far as to forget what day Yom Kippur falls on. But he has an understanding of the non military bond he has with
other Jews. This understanding is one of camaraderie, knowing that Jewish parents
worry, and that it’s a hard thing to be a Jews. More than just a shared cultural background though, he understands the implications of representing a small minority. When Grossbart, furious that Marx has pulled strings to guarantee his orders were for the Pacific just like everyone else, claims Marx is being anti-Semitic, Marx
explains that he wasn’t watching out for Grossbart, he was watching out ‘For all of us.’
This is the cumulative Jewish people. Together was the Messiah. Me a little bit, you a
Karl Marx In this paper I want to try to explain Marx's theories about political power and human freedom. Also I want to Marxs attitude to the role of politics and the importance he places on the category of human freedom. While the freedoms that exist under democratic capitalism are gains of popular struggle to be cherished, democratic socialists argue that the values of liberal democracy can ...
little bit´(2734), each member of the community representative of the whole. If one member, in
this case Grossbart, shirks his duties and responsibilities, it casts a negative light upon the entire
religion. In this case, what at first glance appears to be the misuse of power for a personal
grudge, is in fact the use of power to achieve proper moral balance. He upholds his duty to the
Jewish people, and he maintains military authority. While he might not have as strong a belief in what is right or wrong like Captain Barrett, he has a more keen awareness of his role in society, both nationality and religion. The final major example of morality, of what it means to exhibit a personal belief system in everyday life, is Private Sheldon Grossbart. Grossbart is a Jew. This point Roth makes clear. For Grossbart, what matters are the health, happiness, and dignity of his fellow Jews. Throughout the story, he is representative of not just himself, but two other men, Private Fishbein and Private Halpern, the Jewish personnel. At first he is upset that they can’t go to Shul without being ostracized, because Jewish prayer occurs at a different time than Church. Ostensibly, he has a valid point, what Marx views as a personal problem you’ll have to work out yourself, Grossbart sees as a matter of religion, sir. The core of the argument though, aside from attending a religious service, is that where Grossbart sees an opportunity to gain power through alternative channels of influence, Marx sees as religious persecution. When he coalesces to Grossbart’s original religious demands, Grossbart only sees the chance to make greater and greater grabs for power through the means of religion. He plagiarizes complaint letters to receive preferential food, co-opts the earnest religious devotion of his friends into a way to receive a weekend pass, and at the short story’s climax, he uses another Jewish military member to get off the front lines, leaving his friends who he supposedly has never felt for anyone like I feel for him to face the Pacific alone.