Norman Mailer Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Naked and the Dead has been called the greatest American novel about World War II. What does it say about war and military life?

Some have claimed that Norman Mailer’s nonfiction writing is superior to his fiction. Argue for or against this assertion.

How does Mailer explore the conflict between the individual and society?

Mailer has often been criticized for his failure to create well-developed female characters. Is this complaint valid?

Discuss the political commentary in Mailer’s writings. Does a unified picture of American politics emerge?

How does The Armies of the Night comment on the concept of history?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Beginning with The Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer published several works that cross the conventional boundaries of fiction and nonfiction: a “novel biography,” Marilyn; a “true life novel,” The Executioner’s Song; and an “imaginary memoir,” Of Women and Their Elegance. Because of his sophisticated handling of style, structure, point of view, and characterization, many of Mailer’s works of journalism and reportage approach the novel’s complexity of language and form; examples include Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968 (1969), Of a Fire on the Moon (1970), The Prisoner of Sex (1971), St. George and the Godfather (1972), and The Fight (1975). His essays, interviews, short stories, poems, and drawings have been collected in Advertisements for Myself (1959), Deaths for the Ladies and Other Disasters (1962), The Presidential Papers (1963), Cannibals and Christians (1966), The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer (1967), The Idol and the Octopus: Political Writings on the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations (1968), Existential Errands (1972), Pieces and Pontifications (1982), Modest Gifts: Poems and Drawings (2003), The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker, and Bad Conscience in America (2006; with John Buffalo Mailer), and On God: An Uncommon Conversation (2007; with Michael Lennon). His work in drama and literary criticism appears in The Deer Park: A Play (pb. 1967) and Genius and Lust: A Journey Through the Major Writings of Henry Miller (1976).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

With the appearance of The Naked and the Dead in 1948, Norman Mailer was hailed by many critics as one of the most promising writers of the postwar generation. Since his early acclaim, Mailer’s reputation has risen and fallen repeatedly—in part because of the unevenness of his writing and in part because of his intense participation in the causes and quarrels of his age. More important, however, his work has often been misunderstood because of its remarkably changing character and its innovative procedures, for Mailer relentlessly searched for the style and structure that could most effectively express his ambition to make “a revolution in the consciousness of our time.”

By whatever standard Mailer is judged, it is clear that several of his books have a secure place not only in postwar literary history but also in thecanon of significant American literary achievements. The Naked and the Dead and The Armies of the Night continue to receive attention as masterpieces, and his other novels have begun to benefit from the serious exploration accorded to the finest works of fiction. The Executioner’s Song—very favorably reviewed when it first appeared—may eventually rank with Mailer’s greatest writing because it contains a complexity of point of view and characterization rivaled only by The Naked and the Dead, An American Dream, and Why Are We in Vietnam? He believed that his last...

(The entire section is 473 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Adams, Laura, ed. Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up? Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1974. A valuable collection of reviews and essays on Mailer’s life and work, which is arranged in strict chronological order to resemble a composite biography.

Braudy, Leo, ed. Norman Mailer: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972. Contains an excellent introduction surveying Mailer’s career, providing thoughtful criticism on individual works and themes, and a bibliography.

Glenday, Michael K. Norman Mailer. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. A good critical survey of important themes and strategies in Mailer’s writings.

Gordon, Andrew. An American Dreamer: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Fiction of Norman Mailer. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980. One of the most penetrating studies of Mailer’s fiction and nonfiction, which shows how deeply rooted in his work are aspects of his biography.

Leeds, Barry H. The Enduring Vision of Norman Mailer. : Pleasure Boat, 2002. An analysis of Mailer’s works that includes Leeds’s 1987 interview with his subject. A good introduction to Mailer.

Leigh, Nigel. Radical Fictions and the Novels of Norman Mailer. New York: St....

(The entire section is 539 words.)