Places Discussed

Anopopei

Anopopei. Imaginary island in the South Pacific on which the novel is set. The island’s dense jungle terrain is itself almost a character in the novel—a constant reminder of how primal Nature is when seen in the raw. From the novel’s earliest sections, Mailer uses the jungle to remind readers that this is also true of human beings. One of the foot soldiers thinks that the jungle looks like the Garden of Eden, and there is, in some sense, a parallel. However, this is a post-Fall Eden, not Paradise. Anopopei’s jungle is primal, a force unto itself, and it stirs some ancient, atavistic recognition in the men who try to survive it.

Another soldier feels a deep excitement, “as if he were witnessing creation”—a feeling that seems to typify the soldiers’ reactions to the jungle. Their experience in the jungle is instinctive, pre-verbal, almost visceral in many cases. The experience precedes what the rational mind can codify, what the reasonable mind can articulate.

Not even a mind as reasonable and as fine as that of General Cummings can quite put into words what the jungle means; however, he comes closest. He is obsessed with bringing order to the primal world in which he finds himself, ordering the land cleared and a world of officers’ tents set out in a neat alignment of ninety-degree designs, only to have the clearing overgrown in a few days or to have an unexpected storm play havoc with his plans and...

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Historical Context

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Declaration of War against Japan, December 8, 1941. Published by Gale Cengage

The Great Depression
The stock market crash in 1929 triggered the Great Depression, the most severe economic crisis in...

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Social Concerns

The Naked and the Dead centers on preparations for the invasion of Anopopei, an island held by the Japanese during the latter stages...

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Compare and Contrast

1948: In the aftermath of World War II Japan is occupied by American forces. American occupation arms to put in place a...

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Topics for Further Study

Look up the history of the battles between the American and Japanese armies that took place on the Philippine Islands. Were any similar to...

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Literary Precedents

Mailer has acknowledged that much of his characterization in The Naked and the Dead derives from Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos....

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Adaptations

A movie was made of The Naked and the Dead in 1958, but it was not well received by critics. It is a stolid film, directed by Raoul...

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Media Adaptations

The Naked and the Dead was adapted for the screen by Denis Sanders, in a movie directed by Raoul Walsh and produced by RKO Studios in...

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What Do I Read Next?

The Thin Red Line (1962) was written by James Jones and focuses on the pointlessness of war in a...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Bufithis, Philip H., Norman Mailer, Frederick Ungar, 1978.

Dempsey, David, review, in...

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Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Aichinger, Peter. The American Soldier in Fiction, 1880-1963: A History of Attitudes Toward Warfare and the Military Establishment. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1975. Places the novel in the context of other treatments of World War II in American fiction. Complains that Mailer is unable to comprehend the character of the professional officer and that the novel is undermined by turgid ideological discourse.

Gordon, Andrew. An American Dreamer: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Fiction of Norman Mailer. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980. Considers the novel in the context of other Mailer fiction that contrasts weak, liberal, masochistic characters with strong, reactionary, sadistic ones. Says that the novel’s central psychological conflict is the doomed struggle for control over the self and outside forces.

Kaufman, Donald L. Norman Mailer: The Countdown—The First Twenty Years. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969. Analyzes the contrast between bestial and humane values in the novel and Mailer’s depiction of obstacles to the creative urge. Shows how the novel is a commentary on isolation from space, time, and one’s fellows.

Leeds, Barry H. The Structured Vision of Norman Mailer. New York: New York University Press, 1969. Interprets the novel as a pessimistic examination of the sickness of society and of the flawed nature of the individual. Shows how Mailer is an acerbic social critic.

Solotaroff, Robert. Down Mailer’s Way. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1974. Argues that the novel is an allegory for what Mailer saw as the coming of fascism to America. Says that Mailer loses control of the novel because the values he seemingly endorses go against his deepest beliefs.