Herman Wouk Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)
ph_0111207125-Wouk.jpg Herman Wouk Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Herman Wouk (wohk) wrote several plays; the first, The Traitor, was produced on Broadway in 1949 and was published by Samuel French the same year. His most successful theatrical work, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (based on his novel published in 1951), appeared on Broadway in 1954 and was published by Doubleday the same year. Nature’s Way was produced on Broadway in 1957 and was published by Doubleday the following year. Eric Bentley, speaking of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, said that Wouk showed a gift for crisp dialogue that no other regular writer for the American theater could rival. The musical Don’t Stop the Carnival, a collaboration with pop musician Jimmy Buffett, was produced in 1998. Wouk collaborated with Richard Murphy in writing the screenplay for Slattery’s Hurricane (1949). Wouk also wrote teleplays, for The Winds of War (1983) and War and Remembrance (1988). This Is My God, which Wouk first published in 1959 and followed with a revised edition in 1973, is a description and explanation of Orthodox Judaism, especially as it is practiced in America. The volume was a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book Club selection and an alternate selection for the Book-of-the-Month Club in 1959.

Herman Wouk Achievements

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

It is a peculiarity of American criticism to denigrate popular success in literature. Almost from the outset of his career, Herman Wouk was a very popular writer; putting aside prejudicial presuppositions, this can be acknowledged as a genuine achievement, for Wouk did not attain his popular status by catering to the baser tastes of his readers. Beginning with The Caine Mutiny, his books appeared regularly on best-seller lists. Several of his titles were selections of major book clubs. Wouk was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1952 for The Caine Mutiny. That same year, Columbia University presented him its Medal of Excellence, an honor extended to distinguished alumni. Several universities awarded him honorary doctorates.

Wouk might be described as a traditional novelist, in that his writing does not reflect the experimental qualities that are to be found in so much twentieth and twenty-first century American fiction. As with John Updike, he gives primacy of place to thenarrative element in fiction; he brings to the novel his own peculiar brand of rough-hewn vigor. At a time when conventional wisdom judged it bad form for a novelist to take a clear stand on moral issues—as if ambiguity itself were a virtue—Wouk consistently declared his moral position in his writings. This was not always to the benefit of his fiction, but by and large, his novels are stronger for his conviction that literary art does not subsist in a vacuum but is part of a larger moral universe.

Herman Wouk Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beichman, Arnold. Herman Wouk: The Novelist as Social Historian. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1984. A lifelong friend of Wouk, Beichman offers a strident defense of the novelist against those who fault him for both his conservative political stance and his decision to stress narrative and action over complex characterization.

Darby, William. Necessary American Fictions: Popular Literature of the 1950’s. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Press,1987. Examines The Caine Mutiny as a mirror of 1950’s popular values.

Gerard, Philip. “The Great American War Novels.” World and I 10 (June, 1995): 54-63. Gerard notes that World War II was “the last public event that defined a generation of novelists.” In this essay, he looks at the works of many of them, including Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny.

Mazzeno, Laurence W. Herman Wouk. New York: Twayne, 1994. Offers a brief biographical sketch and analyses of the major novels through Inside, Outside. The book contains excerpts from hundreds of reviews of Wouk’s fiction, providing a sense of the contemporary reaction to each of Wouk’s major works.

Shapiro, Edward S. “The Jew as Patriot: Herman Wouk and American Jewish Identity.” American Jewish History 84 (December, 1996): 333-351. Shapiro provides a retrospective review of Wouk’s career, arguing persuasively that Wouk is concerned principally with defining American Jewish identity.

Shatzky, Joel, and Michael Taub, eds. Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-critical Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Includes an entry on Wouk’s life, major works, and themes, with an overview of his critical reception and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.