The unrealistic nature of An American Dream is signaled in the novel’s first sentence, in which Stephen Richard Rojack, who is both the narrator and the protagonist, says that he met John F. Kennedy in 1946 and that they double-dated one night during which Rojack seduced Deborah Caughlin Mangaravidi Kelly, who later became his wife. By way of comparing his heroism with Kennedy’s, Rojack then tells of a war experience during which he single-handedly wiped out a German machine-gun nest and became a hero. Although this event, narrated in the tough-guy idiom of Mailer’s literary hero, Ernest Hemingway, catapults Rojack into social success—resulting in his election to Congress, his marriage to the rich socialite Deborah, and his becoming an academic and television celebrity—Rojack believes that he failed in that encounter because he did not charge the final German soldier’s bayonet, for “it was gone, the clean presence of it, the grace, it had deserted me.” Rojack’s efforts to regain this sense of grace—a Hemingway brand of cool and simple macho identity—is what dominates the rest of the novel.
At the beginning of the present action (a nightmarish three-day period following his wife’s death), Rojack contemplates suicide, although he also accepts that he has murder within him, for murder, he thinks, offers power and release; “it is never unsexual.” While at a party, he flirts with suicide by walking the balustrade of a high balcony, feeling that the moon is luring him to death. It is the murderous urge, however, that dominates when he confronts his estranged wife, Deborah, whom he sees as both the great American Bitch and as a mythic, demoniac, witchlike figure. When he strangles her as a result of her taunting him with stories of her sexual escapades, the murder is...
(The entire section is 741 words.)