The Defender of the Faith

by Philip Roth
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What are the major themes in Defender of the Faith?

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Much of Philip Roth's fiction deals with the inner conflict of people who are independent and individualistic, but still feel the pull of loyalty to family and religious background.

In "Defender of the Faith " Sgt. Marx is aware of the anti-Semitism common in the military and in...

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Much of Philip Roth's fiction deals with the inner conflict of people who are independent and individualistic, but still feel the pull of loyalty to family and religious background.

In "Defender of the Faith" Sgt. Marx is aware of the anti-Semitism common in the military and in American life in general at that time. Grossbart's behavior is annoying to Marx on a personal level, but the real problem is that Grossbart's attitude is detrimental to Jewish people in general and would exacerbate the already existing anti-Semitism of others with whom Marx has to deal, such as the captain, an ignorant, bigoted man.

Yet Marx, despite his dislike of Grossbart, knows that to deny his own background and to take sides against other Jews would be wrong. This conflict, between individualism, being one's own person, and loyalty to one's religious or ethnic group, is the principal theme of Roth's story.

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Some of the themes are considered relatively offensive to a possible Jewish audience since Sergeant Marx is a character with acclaim and was a war hero and he is abused in many ways by Private Grossbart, the Jewish character in the story.  Basically Grossbart does anything he can to get favors from Marx, taking advantage of any acquaintance he can and pushing on any weakness he can exploit to get what he wants.

Marx, as a good guy, is trying hard to do what he thinks is right, but is eventually forced to simply throw up his hands and give in to the avalanche of requests and bullying from Private Grossbart.  It is particularly painful since Marx himself is Jewish but not practicing so he is willing to accomodate Grossbart but he takes total advantage of him.

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