Identify some of the dilemmas the protagonist finds himself in. Are they used primarily to create suspense, to reveal character, or to illuminate theme? Might all of these dilemmas be classified as...

Identify some of the dilemmas the protagonist finds himself in. Are they used primarily to create suspense, to reveal character, or to illuminate theme? Might all of these dilemmas be classified as specific applications of general dilemma? If so, how might this general dilemma be described?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whereas "mercy overrides justice" for Sergeant Marx, the new recruit Grossbart exploits his fellow Jews and the Jewish faith for his own self-serving desires as he marshalls Fishbein and Halpern into his own designs. Under false pretenses, with Fishbein and Halpern, Grossbart, who maneuvers Sgt. Marx into several dilemmas:

  • As he attempts to ingratiate himself to Marx, Sheldon Grossbart hints at their commonality--"the Jewish personnel"--asking that he and his friends be allowed to officially attend the Jewish services on Friday nights so that it does not appear that they are trying to eschew scrubbing floors for inspection.
  • Having feigned a letter from his father to his local congressman, who in turn, contacts the military that moves down the chain of command to Captain Barrett, who then calls in Sergeant Marx, Grossbart attempts to finagle the opportunity for his friends and him to be served kosher food. Sgt. Marx is called in by his captain and taken with him when he questions Pvt. Grossbart, who tries to draw Marx in, saying that he made the request on the behalf of Fishbein and Halpern. Grossbart rationalizes,

"It doesn't seem too bad a thing to believe, Sergeant. I only means we should all give a little, is all"

  • Grossbart comes privately to Sgt. Marx, feigning tears, accusing the sergeant of "persecuting" him, even accusing him of acting against his own people, "You even talk like a goy!" [a disparaging Yiddish word for Gentiles] as he feigns tears.
  • When Grossbart finally convinces the sergeant to let him have a pass to his aunt's in St. Louis in order to celebrate Passover Seder, despite this holy day's being over, he, then, presumptuously asks Marx for passes for the other two Jewish recruits. 
  • After Grossbart returns from St. Louis, he begs Sgt. Marx to inform him where his troop is being sent, pretending that he is asking for Mickey who "held my hand...He was almost hysterical...saying if he only knew where we wer gokng. Even if he knew it was the Pacific..." when he really wanted to know so that he could get his own orders changed.

Clearly, these incidents of Grossbart's behavior indicate his lack of character, his having been taught "that only lies can get the truth" and that exploiting others--even those of his own kind-- in order to serve his own needs is the way to survive and succeed. In addition, they indicate Sgt. Marx's character as well, his sense of being one of the Jewish faith "and what I suddenly remembered was myself." But, while he feels a sense of community with the other Jewish men, Grossbart represents the exploiter of their commonalities.


science2014 | Student

Philip Roth's The Defender of the Faith portrays the nature of Jewishness  through the characters of Sergeant Marx and Sheldon Grossbart.

The story centers around the dilemmas that Sergeant Marx must face in order to act as a top sergeant, Jewish man, and human being. Roth has deliberately used dilemma through the main protagonist character of Sergeant Marx. Each time Marx interacts with his Jewish trainee Grossbart, who cunningly attempts to gain Marx's favor by utilizing the common factor of being Jewish, Marx's true character is revealed which is somewhat sympathetic and uncertain. 

For example, when Grossbart pleads Marx to leave the base for a day and visit his aunt for the Jewish holiday, Marx needed to decide whether or not to let Grossbart go even though it was prohibited to do so. Finally Marx gave in to the sly attempt of Grossbart, thinking that family and holidays are more important than anything else. Obviously Grossbart misuses Marx's faith. "Through each dilemma, Marx's character is strengthened yet becoming more furious as the story comes to an end."

There are several instances where Marx faced this kind of dilemmas. Those are all part of a general dilemma where Marx feels an internal conflict between his soldier duties and Jewish heritage. Marx is a law-abiding devoted soldier, determined to carry out the task of preparing men for war. On the other hand, Marx is continually being reminded of his Jewish faith and culture. Human values or patriotic values - which one will come first?