Study Guide

The Armies of the Night

by Norman Mailer

The Armies of the Night Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

With The Armies of the Night, Mailer received the best reviews since the publication of The Naked and the Dead. Reviewers found his third-person treatment of himself as a character utterly convincing. Mailer’s narration seemed so credible because he dealt with all the important aspects of his character in conjunction with the complexity of events surrounding the march on the Pentagon. In other words, his original aim in The Naked and the Dead of showing the convergence of character and society was amply demonstrated in a mature, comic, and subtle work.

Mailer begins The Armies of the Night with his own reluctant agreement to participate in the march. He is at home trying to write when he gets a call from Mitchell Goodman, a friend urging him to come to Washington. At first, Mailer is petulant, advising Goodman that it behooves writers to write, not to engage in events that only take them away from their work. Mailer has to admit to himself, however, that he is not writing anything important at the moment and that he is really looking for excuses to duck a commitment.

Mailer’s ambivalence and early efforts to dominate events result in his drunken antics as master of ceremonies at the Ambassador Theater, where Robert Lowell, Dwight Macdonald, Paul Goodman, and other literary luminaries have gathered to read their work and to express their support for the march on the Pentagon. Mailer makes a spectacle of himself by trying to...

(The entire section is 607 words.)

The Armies of the Night Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a September morning in 1967, Norman Mailer received a phone call from Mitchell Goodman, an old friend and a political activist, urging his participation in a demonstration the following month against the continuing Vietnam War. Mailer reluctantly agreed and, two days before the scheduled rally at the Pentagon, flew to Washington, D.C., from his home in New York.

Thursday evening, before going on to an assembly at the Ambassador Theater, Mailer attended a cocktail party at the home of a liberal academic couple. Discomfited by their bland benevolence, Mailer, who spent his time conversing with Dwight Macdonald, Robert Lowell, and Edward de Grazia, further offended the host by declining her food and walking away with her copy of his novel Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967). Arriving at the Ambassador Theater, where he was supposed to serve as master of ceremonies, Mailer first headed for the unlit men’s room, where, spotted by a reporter for Time magazine, he inadvertently urinated onto the floor. On stage at last, furious that the proceedings had begun without him, Mailer wrested control of the microphone from de Grazia. Tipsy and inspired, he delivered an elaborate monologue about Vietnam and America in a manner that both engaged and enraged his audience.

On Friday, Mailer went to the Church of the Reformation for a ceremony in which thirty to forty young men affirmed their refusal of military service. In the company of people he found too nice and too principled, Mailer then walked a mile and a half to the Justice Department, where he, William Sloane Coffin, Jr., Mitchell Goodman, Benjamin Spock, Robert Lowell, and others gave speeches, and 994 draft cards were turned in to officials.

Following Saturday breakfast with Lowell and Macdonald, Mailer joined a crowd variously estimated at between 25,000 and 225,000 that...

(The entire section is 763 words.)