Defender of the Faith is a short story by Philip Roth. The story centers on Sergeant Nathan Marx, a Jewish soldier in the United States Army during World War II. Marx is asked to serve as a chaplain’s assistant, and he finds himself in the midst of a battle between his own religious beliefs and those of his fellow soldiers.
Marx must decide whether to stand up for his own beliefs or to uphold the Army’s values. Ultimately, he chooses to defend his faith, and he is rewarded for his decision. The story provides a glimpse into the religious tensions that existed within the Army during World War II.
Defender of the Faith is an important work of fiction that sheds light on the religious conflicts of the time period. Roth’s story is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the United States during World War II.
The short story The Defender of the Faith, by Philip Roth, exemplifies a Jewishness that is represented through characters like Sergeant Marx and Sheldon Grossbart. There’s a recurring theme in the tale concerning Sergeant Marx’s struggle to balance his responsibilities as a top sergeant, Jew, and person (Paterson, 136). Marxs internal conflicts lead him to doubt his religion on a daily basis, ultimately forcing him to wage an uphill battle in order to maintain his faith.
Defender of the Faith not only speaks to the idea of what it means to be Jewish, but also to what it means to have conviction in any belief system. Sergeant Marx, as a top sergeant and Defender of the Faith, is pressured by his commanding officer, Colonel Brewster, to single out Sheldon Grossbart-a new recruit who has been openly flaunting his Judaism- and make an example of him. However, upon further evaluation of Grossbart, Marx realizes that Grossbart is nothing more than a scared young man who is simply trying to connect with his religion.
Although brewster pressures marx into making an example of grossbart and stripping him of his jewish identity, marx ultimately decides against it. He instead opts to connect with grossbart on a personal level, in an effort to understand him and his actions better. In doing so, marx not only affirms his own beliefs, but also Grossbart’s. As a result, the two men are able to find common ground and respect for one another- something that would not have been possible had Marx followed through with Colonel Brewster’s orders.
What Defender of the Faith ultimately speaks to is the idea that religious beliefs- or any belief system for that matter- should not be forced upon others. People should be allowed to explore their beliefs and connect with them in their own way, without judgement or interference from others. Philip Roth’s story provides a perfect example of how easy it is to lose sight of what is important, and how important it is to remain true to oneself.
The protagonist and hero, Sergeant Nathan Marx (Searles), is a Jew who returns to his hometown after the war. The main character of Roth’s novel is a Jewish soldier returning from World War II in Europe. Through the use of uncertainty throughout various encounters with one of his Jewish trainees, Sheldon Grossbart, March creates a narrative tension (102).
Marxs character is constantly in doubt in his many encounters with Grossbart, one of his Jewish pupils. Because Marx is also Jewish, Grossbart attempts to exploit their shared characteristic as a means to gain unique advantages over him. By employing this problem throughout the tale, Marx’s true nature and personality are revealed with each encounter.
Roth uses first person point of view when Sergeant Nathan Marx is writing a letter to his Rabbi in order to explain the events that have unfolded. This allows readers to feel as if they are inside Marxs head, experiencing everything he does. Roth also uses heavy descriptive language in order to paint a clear picture for readers.
For example, when Grossbart is asking for money from Marx, Roth writes: His face was not unattractive in its plump hook-nosed way, but it wore an air of such sly and ingratiating calculation that it might have been the face of anyone at all (Roth, 2). This description allows readers to understand just how slimy and untrustworthy Grossbart is.
Roth ultimately uses his short story Defender of the Faith to explore the themes of identity and morality. Through Sergeant Nathan Marxs interactions with Sheldon Grossbart, Roth is able to show how people can be pushed to their breaking point when it comes to dealing with others. Additionally, Roth also highlights the importance of staying true to one’s own beliefs and values, no matter what the situation may be.
Despite his Jewishness gaining contempt from the sergeant, Marx is aware of Grossbart’s devious methods yet cedes to them time and again. Although Marx is a dedicated soldier who has been programmed and driven to accomplish the critical duty of preparing his troops for battle, he shows the reader a sympathetic side that breaks free of his duty-driven mentality (43).
Grossbart’s slyness is first seen when he requests to speak to the sergeant in private. It is during this conversation that Grossbart gains pity from the sergeant by sharing his sob story of being Jewish and all alone in the world. The sergeant, moved by Grossbart’s story, decides to give him a three-day pass to visit his aunt.
Marx, on the other hand, is not as easily fooled by Grossbart’s tricks. He knows that Grossbart is up to something but he cannot help but feel sympathy for him. In one instance, Marx even goes so far as to say, “I don’t want any part of your shenanigans” (Roth 43). However, despite Marx’s warnings, Grossbart continues to try to pull the wool over his eyes.
In the end, it is Marx’s sense of duty that prevails and he ultimately turns Grossbart in to the authorities. However, the reader gets a sense that Marx does this more out of duty than anything else. There is a hint of regret in Marx’s voice when he says, “I’m sorry it had to be you” (Roth 44). This regret shows that Marx is not as heartless as he first appears to be.
Defender of the Faith by Philip Roth is a short story about two soldiers, Sergeant Marvin Marx and Private Seymour Grossbart, who are stationed at an army base during World War II. The story focuses on the relationship between the two men and how their different backgrounds and views lead to conflicts between them.
Sergeant Marvin Marx is a Jewish man who is struggling to come to terms with his religion. He is constantly questioning his faith and often feels like an outsider in his own community. Private Seymour Grossbart is also Jewish but he has no such doubts about his religion. He is a sly, manipulative man who knows how to use his Judaism to get what he wants.
The story begins with Marx and Grossbart arguing over a religious issue. Marx is trying to explain to Grossbart why he does not believe in God but Grossbart will not listen. This sets the tone for the rest of the story as the two men butt heads on a number of occasions.
Marx is portrayed as a very duty-oriented man. He takes his job as a sergeant seriously and is always trying to prepare his men for war. Grossbart, on the other hand, is more interested in pursuing his own agenda. He is constantly trying to get out of work and find ways to take advantage of the situation.
In this scenario, Marx accepts the conditions because he believes in the value of family and vacations. Marx’s character is developed throughout each problem, but becomes more furious as the narrative draws to a conclusion.
When Grossbart tries to swindle the old sergeant again in his final challenge with Marx, Marx exposes his hostile and vengeful nature. Grossbart asks Marx for sympathy when he visits him at home, attempting to persuade him that there is any way he may be sent to a New Jersey base instead of being deployed to the Pacific.
In his anger, Marx had him transferred to the Aleutian Islands which were considered a punishment worse than death. This story provides readers with a different perspective of war and how it affects everyone in different ways. Defender of the Faith is a story about family, loyalty, and betrayal that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.