Defender of the Faith Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Nathan Marx recounts his experiences shortly after his posting to Camp Crowder, Missouri. An infantry sergeant, Marx has spent two years in heavy combat in the European theater of World War II. In May, 1945, he is reassigned to the United States, tasked with helping train fresh recruits before they are sent abroad. Soon after Captain Paul Barrett, his gruff and abusive new commanding officer, introduces him to the troops, Marx is approached by one of the camp’s trainees, a private named Sheldon Grossbart. Grossbart asks whether Marx will continue his predecessor’s practice of ordering the men to clean their barracks every Friday night. He complains that it forces Jewish soldiers like himself to choose between religious worship and their military duties. Jews are a rarity at Camp Crowder, and he notes that attendance at Friday night services arouses resentment among the other soldiers. Grossbart suspects that Marx, too, is Jewish and hints that he should be sympathetic toward the plight of a coreligionist. However, denying any tie to Grossbart, Marx is curt and formal and insists that he will not make unusual accommodations for him. It is only when he uses the Yiddish word shul to refer to the site of sabbath services that Marx reveals his own Jewish identity.

Marx later informs Captain Barrett about Grossbart’s request. The officer is disdainful of Grossbart as a Jew who seeks special privileges, and he praises Marx for not allowing his own Jewishness to interfere with his military responsibilities. However, Marx asks Corporal Robert LaHill to announce to the soldiers that they are free to attend religious services whenever they are held. On Friday night, just before going off to synagogue, Grossbart and two other Jewish...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

Defender of the Faith Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Baumgarten, Murray, and Barbara Gottfried. Understanding Philip Roth. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. A thematically organized examination of Roth’s oeuvre to 1990.

Cooper, Alan. Philip Roth and the Jews. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. Presents Roth as the leading chronicler of Jewish experience in the United States.

DaCrema, Joseph. “Roth’s ’Defender of the Faith.’” Explicator 39, no. 1 (1980): 19-20. Concentrating on Nathan Marx’s use of language, DaCrema traces the sergeant’s evolution into a mature, self-aware Jew.

Halio, Jay L. Philip Roth Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992. An overview of Roth’s work that emphasizes the role of truth-telling humor.

Parrish, Timothy, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Philip Roth. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Eleven essays provide an overview of Roth’s career. The first, by Victoria Aarons, focuses on American-Jewish identity in Roth’s short fiction.

Pinsker, Sanford. The Comedy That “Hoits”: An Essay on the Fiction of Philip Roth. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1975. A study of the bittersweet humor in Roth’s early work.

Royal, Derek Parker, ed. Philip Roth: New Perspectives on an American Author. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005. Collects seventeen essays that track Roth’s writings chronologically. The first essay, by Jessica G. Rabin, focuses on the early short stories. Contains a dozen essays examining such topics as the novel’s chronology, language, and narrative design.