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Defender Thesis

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 7 years, 7 months ago


In Philip Roth’s “Defender of the Faith,” the “faith” in question can refer both to a set of religious values, exclusive to those who believe and at odds with a broader culture, and to an inclusive military meritocracy.  The protagonist Marx, a sergeant in the Army in the closing months of WWII, is admired by his captain not because he belongs to a particular cultural group but for his “guts” (387).  Marx seemingly shares the captain's egalitarianism, but recalled to the Judaism of his youth, he recognizes that much of his compassion for fellow Jews has been “anesthetized” (390).  He thus feels cut off from a valued part of his past.  The dilemma over which faith to commit himself ultimately raises the question for Marx of the source of his identity [and, considering America at the start of the 60s, whether the melting pot or the mosaic will define U.S. cultural diversity].  In the end, he asserts the purity of the meritocratic ideal: no special treatment, no insider communities in the military.  In so doing, however, Marx recognizes that upholding such ideals often requires compromise and inconsistency.  Individuals will always be pulled in different directions by their various allegiances, Marx realizes, but they will forever remain united in a shared inadequacy to their most cherished values.


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