The Defender of the Faith Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

After the Allies are victorious in the battle against the Axis in Europe, Sergeant Nathan Marx, in “Defender of the Faith,” is rotated back to the States, to Camp Crowder, Missouri. A veteran and a war hero with medals to prove it, Sergeant Marx is modest enough—and totally unprepared for confrontations with Private Sheldon Grossbart from the Bronx, whom he is assigned to train along with other recruits for the continuing war against Japan. Quickly recognizing in Marx a “landsman”—that is, a fellow Jew from New York—Grossbart begins to play on the sergeant’s hidden sympathies. Although he is far from an observant Jew himself, Marx cannot bring himself to reject totally the pleas for special favors that Grossbart repeatedly brings to him, such as being excused from a “G.I. Party” (that is, a barracks cleaning) on Friday nights (the start of the Jewish Sabbath). Marx is uncomfortable about this, but Grossbart is persuasive, not only on his own behalf, but also on behalf of Fishbein and Halpern, two other Jewish men in the company.

One success leads to another, as Grossbart wheedles favor after favor from Marx. He apparently goes too far when he complains about the nonkosher food and writes a letter to his congressman over his father’s signature. When the commanding officer of his company finds out, he questions Grossbart in front of Marx, holding the sergeant up to him as a model. At this point, Grossbart backs off, and another letter arrives, again purportedly from Grossbart’s father to his congressman, praising Sergeant Marx for helping his son over the hurdles he has to face in the Army. In a note attached to the letter, passed down through the chain of Army command to Marx, the congressman also praises the sergeant as “a credit to the U.S. Army and the Jewish people.” After that, Grossbart seems to disappear from his life for a while, and Marx is...

(The entire section is 771 words.)

The Defender of the Faith Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sergeant Nathan Marx, a veteran of combat in the European theater, is rotated back to the United States and assigned as top sergeant to a training company in Camp Crowder, Missouri. He soon becomes acquainted with a trainee, Sheldon Grossbart, who appeals to their common Jewish heritage as the rationale for granting him and the two Jewish fellow-draftees whom he dominates, Fishbein and Halpern, a succession of special favors. Grossbart cunningly uses their shared roots in the New York Jewish community to exploit Marx’s humaneness, generosity, and sense of fairness. Their relationship is characterized by deviousness and self-serving opportunism on Grossbart’s part, while Marx changes from open vulnerability to wariness to righteous indignation at Grossbart’s increasingly outrageous conduct.

The first episode revealing their conflict occurs when Grossbart wants Marx’s permission to attend Jewish services Friday night yet does not wish to give Gentile recruits the impression that he is ducking the customary “G.I. Party,” or barracks cleaning. He insists, “this is a matter of religion, sir,” deliberately using the salutation reserved for officers despite Marx’s continuing reminder to address him as “Sergeant.” At the synagogue Marx observes, from a back-row seat, Grossbart and Fishbein playfully pouring the contents of the sacramental wine to and from each other’s cups, while their prayer books remain closed—until they notice his presence....

(The entire section is 603 words.)