In The Naked and the Dead, was defiance the best tactic for Hearn to follow with General Cummings?Hearn defied General Cummings and was sent on a dangerous assignment without changing his...

In The Naked and the Dead, was defiance the best tactic for Hearn to follow with General Cummings?

Hearn defied General Cummings and was sent on a dangerous assignment without changing his viewpoint or future actions. Should abuse of power be met with direct defiance or are there more effective ways to deal with such situations?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, in regard to Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, an act of actual defiance (a daring and bold resistance to authority) in the military would result at best in a court martial and at worst immediate death in war time as Croft reminds Red of near the top of Mount Anaka. Therefore I suggest that the question isn't one of defiance but of challenging, with challenge defined in its subtler sense of "to take exception to; call in question." This is a critical distinction since the major theme of the novel is that of victimization and victim, which subsumes the corresponding theme of superiority and humiliation.

Hearn arrogantly challenged tyrannical General Cummings' wisdom, perspective, and therefore his absolute authority. Cummings responded with disgust and reacted through producing humiliation and devaluation of humanity. Cummings discarded a cigarette butt and forced Hearn to pick it up thus utterly humiliating the arrogant young man. Then he sent him on a dangerous scouting mission with higher command than the also tyrannical Croft who began a subordinates game of victimization and dominance that led to Hearn's death.

The questions really, as suggested above, are what happens when arrogance, tyranny, superiority and a willingness to victimize clash head-on with each other? Who will victimize whom? And how far will that victimization go? And when the victim is humiliated, how far will he go in striking back; as far as Croft? Mailer doesn't offer a suggestion of what to do in the face of abuse of power: he gives a suggestion of how to be. He suggests that being arrogant or tyrannical or manipulatively superior are not ways to be as these lead to humiliation and possibly to retaliation and possibly death.

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The Naked and the Dead

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