Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 400

It is all too easy to treat God Save the Mark's story of a tainted inheritance and its pursuit by a variety of greedy schemers as pure entertainment with no evident social concerns. The protagonist, Fred Fitch, is an introverted bachelor whose inability to avoid confidence tricksters is used as...

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It is all too easy to treat God Save the Mark's story of a tainted inheritance and its pursuit by a variety of greedy schemers as pure entertainment with no evident social concerns. The protagonist, Fred Fitch, is an introverted bachelor whose inability to avoid confidence tricksters is used as both a running gag and the explanation for his failures in human relationships. It is precisely Fitch's difficulties in distinguishing between deceivers and truth-tellers, however, that determines his — and since the book is narrated in the first person, also the reader's — perception of society: It is seen as an essentially unregulated confusion of conflicting claims, where appearances are seldom an accurate reflection of reality and the most surprising event is for someone to turn out to be exactly what they say they are.

Although Westlake's comic novels continually mitigate this somewhat dystopian vision with amusing incidents and a generally light touch, there is no doubt that he is offering a serious analysis of contemporary American society. In the series of books published as "Richard Stark," this is presented in a brutally direct and even shocking manner; in the titles Westlake writes under his own name, humor and whimsy soften his nonetheless bleak view of people's capacity for living together. In God Save the Mark, Fred Fitch can never be sure of the authenticity of those attempting to influence his behavior. The police, when they are not laughably incompetent, may well be in cahoots with the bad guys; respected social institutions turn out to be fronts for organized crime; and Fitch's relatives, when they deign to notice his existence at all, have only a mercenary interest in his well being.

Westlake does, however, offer a partial remedy for this general absence of social cohesion. The process of making friendships, of understanding, accepting and coming to love the peculiarities of a particular individual, does hold out the hope of establishing a meaningful relationship. In God Save the Mark, this occurs when Fitch comes to know and trust the girlfriend of the policeman assigned to his case, which leads him to put his life in her hands with gratifying results. Although superficial social relationships may not permit one to have faith in others, a commitment to mutual communication can result in the kind of interpersonal bonds that help to hold off the anarchy which is never far below the surface of Westlake's work.

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Characters