Philip Roth Defender of the Faith

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  • Topic: Philip Roth, Encyclopædia Britannica, Judaism
  • Pages : 6 (2157 words )
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  • Published : July 16, 2010
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Defender of the Faith was released in 1959 in a collection of stories titled Goodbye, Columbus. Defender of the Faith is considered to be the best part of the collection because it explores the conflict between personal feelings and religious loyalty, rather than exploiting, as Roth had done previously. The Defender of the Faith explores Sergeant Nathan Marx’s confrontations and dealings with a new trainee, Sheldon Grossbart, who believes his Jewish connection with Marx will enable him to special privileges and treatment during his time in training. Philip Milton Roth was born March 19, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey. Roth attended Bucknell University, earning a degree in English. After Bucknell, Roth pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he received an M.A. in English literature and worked briefly as an instructor in the university’s writing program (Encyclopedia Britannica). Roth continued teaching writing at the University of Iowa and Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania, before retiring from teaching in 1992 (Encyclopedia Britannica). While in Chicago, Roth met his first wife, Margaret Martinson. Their separation in 1963, along with Martinson’s death in a car accident in 1968, left a lasting mark on Roth’s literary output (Encyclopedia Britannica). Between the end of his studies and the publication of his first book in 1959, Roth served two years in the United States Army. His first book was Goodbye, Columbus, a novella and five stories that use wit, irony, and humor to depict Jewish life in post-war America (The Bankston 2

Philip Roth Society). The book won him critical recognition, including the National Book Award of fiction, and also brought condemnation from some within the Jewish community for depicting what they felt was an unflattering side of the cotemporary Jewish American Experience (The Philip Roth Society). Events in Roth’s personal life have occasionally been the subject of media scrutiny. According to his pseudo-confessional novel Operation Shlock, Roth suffered a nervous breakdown in the late 1980s (Encyclopedia Britannica). In 1990, he married his long-time companion, English actress Claire Bloom. In 1994, they separated, and in 1996 Bloom published a memoir describing their marriage in detail titled, Leaving a Doll’s House, much of which was unflattering to Roth (Encyclopedia Britannica). Roth continues to write and will release a new novella, Nemesis, this year (The Philip Roth Society).

Defender of the Faith begins with introducing the reader to Sergeant Nathan Marx. It is May of 1945 and the fighting has just ended in Europe. Marx is relieved to be returning back to the west after two years of war. Through his experiences in the war, Marx has become numb to emotions and withdrawn. “After two years I had been fortunate enough to develop an infantryman’s heart, which, like his feet, at first aches and swells, but finally grows horny enough for him to travel the weirdest paths without feeling a thing.” Marx is introduced to his company and begins his routine. A young trainee, Sheldon Grossbart, wastes no time trying to establish a connection with his new superior. Grossbart quickly conveys his displeasure with “G.I. parties”, cleaning sessions, being held on Friday nights. Grossbart quickly explains that he hopes now that he has a Jewish superior, that he and the other Jews will be able to attend shul on Fridays, instead Bankston 3

of performing their cleaning duties. Marx becomes angered and tells Grossbart that he should take his concerns to the Captain. Grossbart departs to tell his Jewish friends that they do indeed have a Jewish superior.

Although Marx is angered by Grossbart and develops a disliking for him, he brings up his discussion with Grossbart to his Captain the next morning. Marx describes it “as to unburden myself of it”. This is where Marx first allows Grossbart’s manipulation to get him. Marx finds himself defending Grossbart’s position,...
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