Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331
Philip Roth's 1959 story "The Defender of the Faith" features a first-person narrator named Nathan Marx, a first sergeant in the Army stationed at Camp Crowder in Missouri. He is a veteran of combat in the European theater of WWII. He is considered the protagonist of the story. His commanding officer is Captain Paul Barrett.
The antagonist of the story is Private Sheldon Grossbart, an enlisted soldier referred to as "the trainee." Marx takes an almost instant dislike to Grossbart because he sees him as a seeker of special treatment who uses his faith as a lever. Marx understands that Grossbart is "goldbricking" or shirking his responsibilities, when he asks that the Jewish soldiers be excused from the regularly scheduled Friday barracks cleaning to attend shul. Once he succeeds in getting excused from barracks cleaning, Grossbart becomes bolder in scheming to get different food, a pass to St. Louis for himself and two others, and a preferred, safer posting, all on the pretext that his faith and devotion to his family requires it. Grossbart's close associates are Larry Fishbein and Michael "Mickey" Halpern, Jewish soldiers who follow Grossbart's lead and reap the benefits of his manipulations. Major Ben Ezra is the chaplain who conducts the Jewish services that Grossbart insists that he, Halpern, and Fishbein desire to attend, though none of the men appear to actually be devout. Grossbart, Fishbein, and Halpern are all teenagers and new to the Army. As the story progresses, Marx's recognition of Grossbart's scheming deepens, and even as he allows himself to be manipulated, Marx's dislike and disapproval of Grossbart intensifies.
The charge of quarters, or CQ, is Corporal Robert LaHill. Sergeant Bob Wright is the non-commissioned officer (NCO) in charge of "Classification and Assignment (C&A)." Corporal Shulman also works in C&A, and he is another Jew that Grossbart manipulates to attempt to get the posting he wants in New Jersey instead of the Pacific theater, where all the other soldiers are headed.
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