Defender Of The Faith Summary

Philip Roth

Defender Of The Faith

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Defender Of The Faith Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Defender Of The Faith by Philip Roth.

American author Philip Roth’s short story “Defender of the Faith” (1959), first published in The New Yorker and later reprinted in his short-story collection Goodbye, Columbus, centers on a Jewish-American army sergeant who has to resist the manipulation of a fellow Jewish soldier to give him special favors due to their shared ethnicity. It was one of Roth’s most controversial stories. Exploring themes of Jewish-American culture, military discipline, assimilation of later-generation immigrants, and the alienation between members of the Jewish community from different backgrounds, it was critically acclaimed and praised for its deft handling of the issues involved. However, it created significant anger among Jewish readers, who felt Roth’s take on the characters was that of a self-hating Jew. Goodbye, Columbus won the 1960 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction and is considered to be the work that established Roth as a fast-rising literary talent.

“Defender of the Faith” is set in spring 1945, after military operations in Europe during World War II have concluded. Sergeant Nathan Marx, the narrator, is rotated out of Germany to a training company in Camp Crowder, Missouri. He is transitioning from being an infantry leader to a non-combat trainer. The first evening after he arrives at the camp, he is approached by nineteen-year-old trainee Sheldon Grossbart. Grossbart has figured out from Marx’s name that their new Sergeant is Jewish like him. He begins complaining to Marx about the way the cleaning of the barracks is scheduled for Friday nights when Jews are supposed to be at temple. Although trainees are allowed to attend services, Grossbart feels stigmatized by other trainees as a result. Marx feels uncomfortable being approached so casually by Grossbart on this matter but decides to consider the matter. The next day, he issues a public announcement that reminds the trainees that they are free to attend the Jewish services. Grossbart approaches him to thank him and introduces his two fellow Jewish trainees, Larry Fishbein and the quiet Mickey Halpern. They attend the next service, as does Marx. Marx notices that out of the three, only Halpern seems to be paying any attention to the service.

A week later, Marx gets a call from his commanding officer, Captain Paul Barrett, asking Marx to explain a letter from Grossbart’s father to Congressman Franconi. The letter complains that camp food doesn’t conform to Jewish dietary practices, and says that Grossbart throws up after every meal. Barrett and Marx confront Grossbart at the shooting range, and Barrett points out that he should be ashamed of himself, complaining about food when Marx did so much for the Jewish people by killing Nazis in Europe. When they’re alone, Grossbart tells Marx that the letter is actually about Mickey, who has trouble speaking up for himself. Marx later finds out that Grossbart’s parents don’t speak English. Grossbart admits to writing the letter himself. Two days later, they receive a letter from Franconi, where Grossbart’s father says the problem has been resolved with the assistance of Sergeant Marx and also saying to General Lyman that Marx is a credit to the US Army and the Jewish people. Marx doesn’t hear from Grossbart for some time until he arrives in his office to ask for a pass to join his aunt in St. Louis for a Jewish holiday. Although Marx refuses to grant any special treatment, Grossbart is due some leave and Marx signs the pass. Grossbart later asks for passes for Fishbein and Halpern as well, and Marx convinces himself that it would be good for the boys’ morale and signs the passes.

The next night, Grossbart approaches Marx and asks him if he’s heard anything about their orders once they graduate training camp. He asks for sympathy for the three of them and describes how Halpern cries every night, thinking about going to war. He tells Marx it would help if they knew for sure. Marx, not having the energy to fight, tells him that they’re going to be sent to the Pacific to fight against Japan. Grossbart asks if there’s any way to change the orders so they’d be sent somewhere safer, but Marx tells him it’s impossible. Marx notes that Grossbart promised to bring him back some fish from the Jewish feast, but only brought him back an egg roll. He realizes that Grossbart makes a lot of promises but rarely delivers. Orders come in a week later. All the trainees are bound for the Pacific—except Grossbart, who has been assigned to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, in a non-combat position. Realizing that Grossbart must have found someone else to pull strings, Marx uses his position to change the orders and send Grossbart to the Pacific as well. Grossbart, when he learns, accuses Marx of being an anti-Semite. Marx assures him he’ll be fine and thinks to himself that Grossbart will be fine because he can manipulate people anywhere.

Philip Roth is an American novelist and short story writer, best known for his explorations of American Jewish identity. One of the most decorated novelists of the modern era, he is a two-time winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, a three-time winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, and a Pulitzer Prize winner for his 1997 novel American Pastoral. Eight of his works have been adapted into films. In total, he has written twenty-nine novels and an additional four collections of his writing and essays.