There is only one “real” character in the book—Rojack himself, and he is less a fully rounded figure than a modern-day equivalent of the mythic hero who seeks some kind of primitive or existential freedom and, thus, self-identity. The problem of responding to Rojack’s character is that one can either see him as heroic figure, bravely daring to break social taboos and combat the demoniac forces of political power, coming out of it clean and pure—in other words, as the possessor of grace and power—or as a psychopath with grandiose delusions about both himself and the nature of reality. Either the book is a mythic journey into the dark night of the evil of which man is capable, or it is the dramatization of a journey into the dark night of the unconscious self. Perhaps it is both.
In Mailer’s psycho-aesthetic realm of reality, the quest is always for some primitive state of elemental or medieval magic perception. Rojack is indeed a psychopath, but as the primitive state and the psychotic state are the same, the way of the psychopath is the way to salvation. Thus, in The American Dream, social and personal complexities are eradicated by a system of simple and elemental macho values of power, grace under pressure, and thus, finally, sex and violence. Mailer couches all of this within the seemingly conflicting idioms of, on the one hand, the pop-art world of detective fiction and spy thrillers and, on the other, the popularizing of Martin...
(The entire section is 489 words.)