Defender of the Faith was released in 1959 in a collection of stories titled Goodbye, Columbus. Defender of the Faith is considered to be the best part of the collection because it explores the conflict between personal feelings and religious loyalty, rather than exploiting, as Roth had done previously. The Defender of the Faith explores Sergeant Nathan Marx’s confrontations and dealings with a new trainee, Sheldon Grossbart, who believes his Jewish connection with Marx will enable him to special privileges and treatment during his time in training.
Philip Milton Roth was born March 19, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey. Roth attended Bucknell University, earning a degree in English. After Bucknell, Roth pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he received an M. A. in English literature and worked briefly as an instructor in the university’s writing program (Encyclopedia Britannica). Roth continued teaching writing at the University of Iowa and Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania, before retiring from teaching in 1992 (Encyclopedia Britannica).
While in Chicago, Roth met his first wife, Margaret Martinson. Their separation in 1963, along with Martinson’s death in a car accident in 1968, left a lasting mark on Roth’s literary output (Encyclopedia Britannica). Between the end of his studies and the publication of his first book in 1959, Roth served two years in the United States Army. His first book was Goodbye, Columbus, a novella and five stories that use wit, irony, and humor to depict Jewish life in post-war America (The Bankston 2 Philip Roth Society).
The book won him critical recognition, including the National Book Award of fiction, and also brought condemnation from some within the Jewish community for depicting what they felt was an unflattering side of the cotemporary Jewish American Experience (The Philip Roth Society). Events in Roth’s personal life have occasionally been the subject of media scrutiny. According to his pseudo-confessional novel Operation Shlock, Roth suffered a nervous breakdown in the late 1980s (Encyclopedia Britannica). In 1990, he married his long-time companion, English actress Claire Bloom.
In 1994, they separated, and in 1996 Bloom published a memoir describing their marriage in detail titled, Leaving a Doll’s House, much of which was unflattering to Roth (Encyclopedia Britannica). Roth continues to write and will release a new novella, Nemesis, this year (The Philip Roth Society). Defender of the Faith begins with introducing the reader to Sergeant Nathan Marx. It is May of 1945 and the fighting has just ended in Europe. Marx is relieved to be returning back to the west after two years of war.
Through his experiences in the war, Marx has become numb to emotions and withdrawn. “After two years I had been fortunate enough to develop an infantryman’s heart, which, like his feet, at first aches and swells, but finally grows horny enough for him to travel the weirdest paths without feeling a thing. ” Marx is introduced to his company and begins his routine. A young trainee, Sheldon Grossbart, wastes no time trying to establish a connection with his new superior. Grossbart quickly conveys his displeasure with “G. I. parties”, cleaning sessions, being held on Friday nights.
Grossbart quickly explains that he hopes now that he has a Jewish superior, that he and the other Jews will be able to attend shul on Fridays, instead Bankston 3 of performing their cleaning duties. Marx becomes angered and tells Grossbart that he should take his concerns to the Captain. Grossbart departs to tell his Jewish friends that they do indeed have a Jewish superior. Although Marx is angered by Grossbart and develops a disliking for him, he brings up his discussion with Grossbart to his Captain the next morning. Marx describes it “as to unburden myself of it”.
This is where Marx first allows Grossbart’s manipulation to get him. Marx finds himself defending Grossbart’s position, not explaining it. The Captain sees this as the other men see it, as Grossbart trying to get out of cleaning duties. “Seems awful funny how suddenly the Lord is calling so loud in Private Grossman’s ear he’s just go to run to Church. ” However, instructions are sent to inform the men that they’re free to attend church services whenever they are held. Later that night, Grossbart and his two Jewish friends, Larry Fishbein and Mickey Halpern prepare to attend the church services.
Grossbart introduces his friends and thanks Marx for making the gesture. Grossbart invites Marx along but the Sergeant brushes them off. As Grossbart and company leave, Marx finds himself recalling his youth. This is huge turning point in which Marx connects himself with the young Jews and finds himself allowing emotions back into his life. “But now one night noise, on rumor of home and time past, and memory plunged down through all I had anesthetized and came to whit I suddenly remembered to be myself. ” Marx then finds himself following Grossbart’s tracks and attending the services.
Marx sits behind the young men and watches them during the service. Following the service, Grossbart has another concern that he brings up with Marx. The food being Bankston 4 served is not that of Jewish tradition. Grossbart continues explaining that it’s not so much him with the problem, but Mickey, who vomits after eating. Mickey pushes this off, saying he has a cold. Marx investigates the other friend, Fishbein, who claims he can deal with it. I feel it is at this point that Marx begins to wonder about Grossbart’s motivations.
Grossbart made it out as if his friends were in a great amount of distress over the food situation, but when confronted about it, by someone with the same traditions as their own, the friends do not express a large amount of displeasure. The following week Marx is informed that Grossbart’s mother has contacted a congressman about the food. The Captain, none to pleased, confronts Marx on the subject. Marx again finds himself defending Jewish tradition and even explains that Jewish parents can be overprotective. The Captain wants to speak with Grossbart on the matter and they head to the field to speak with him.
When the superiors arrive at the firing range, Marx approaches Grossbart alone. Grossbart is firing, but Fishbein is nearby. Fishbein inquires about where they might be sent, claming his parents are asking repeatedly, and their concerns are hampering his ability to concentrate. Marx tells him to go about his business and takes Grossbart to the Captain. The Captain and Grossbart discuss his parents’ letter and Grossbart defends his stance and tries to use Marx and the rabbi as allies. The Captain becomes angered by the discussion and leaves.
Following the discussion, Marx who should be angry with Grossbart, notices his teeth. Grossbart’s teeth are white and straight, and Marx has a realization that Grossbart is someone’s son. Marx asks Grossbart about his parents. After Grossbart reveals that his parents speak little English, Marx comes to another realization, Grossbart wrote the letter. Marx, stunned, Bankston 5 inquires why Grossbart wrote the letter. Marx, although he said otherwise, has seen Grossbart eat well at chow. Grossbart explains that he is trying to help his friend. Marx replies with calling him a Messiah.
At this point that Marx is becoming more aware of Grossbart and his motivations and schemes. “Me a little bit, you a little bit. You’d like to believe that wouldn’t you Grossbart? That makes everything so clean for you. ” Marx is now conflicted with the reoccurring them of the story, being a good Sergeant or being a good Jew. He is realizing that Grossbart is playing him and using his Jewish connection to his benefit. Two weeks later, a letter comes across Marx’s desk. The letter is from Grossbart’s father. Marx knows that Grossbart has written the letter.
The letter explains that Grossbart will suffer the “pangs” of religious remorse for the good of his country and he credits Sergeant Nathan Marx for helping him reach this decision. Marx reflects on the letter, contemplating that Grossbart might have felt that he’d gone to far and was trying to make amends. He also considers that it might be a crafty attempt to strengthen what he considered an alliance. In the days following, Grossbart separates himself from Marx. The separation allows Marx to forgive Grossbart for their past encounters and even admire him for having good sense. During the separation Marx evolves further.
He recalls his past and looks to his future. He writes past girlfriends and shows interest in Law School. He allows himself to become happy. Grossbart returns seeking two favors. He would like to know where his going to be sent, Marx explains that he doesn’t know and that Grossbart will have to wait like the others. The second favor is permission to visit his aunt for a Jewish meal. Marx objects, Bankston 6 but Grossbart is able to convince him to give him a pass to leave the base. When the time comes for Grossbart to leave, he goes to Marx, asking for permission to take Fishbein and Halpern.
Marx, now feeling like he being taken advantage of, becomes enraged with Grossbart. The other boys, caught in the situation, appeal to Marx to be allowed on the trip. Marx finally concedes and gives all three boys a pass. Marx then reflects on his struggles with Grossbart. He considers that some of it may be his fault and wonders how he got so “tight-hearted”. He recalls his past, his grandmother, and concludes that “the Messiah himself” wouldn’t “niggle over nickels and dimes. ” The next day Marx hears news that all the boys will be sent over to the Pacific.
Marx finds the news shocking and he is now letting his connection with these boys interfere with being a good Sergeant. When Grossbart returns, he visits Marx at his bed. Marx even relates it to a homelike atmosphere. Grossbart explains that he is worried about Mickey after watching him cry. Marx realizes that this is just another tactic to find out where they will be shipped. Marx actually admires this tactic and sees himself in Grossbart, so he tells him the truth, they will be sent to the Pacific. Grossbart pleads with Marx before leaving. Marx explains that there is nothing he can do.
As Grossbart departs, he gives Marx his gift. Marx opens up the bag expecting fish, instead it’s a Chinese egg roll. Grossbart explains that his aunt wasn’t home and he had misread the letter. Marx has now had enough of Grossbart’s antics and lets him have it. “Grossbart, you’re a liar! You’re a schemer and a crook! You’ve got no respect for anything! ” Marx realizes that he’s been had and now must live up to his duty as a Sergeant. Bankston 7 A week later the orders for the trainees comes in. Everyone is going to the Pacific, everyone expect Sheldon Grossbart.
Marx realizes that Grossbart had pulled and string and he wasn’t it. Marx calls a Corporal and makes up a story having Grossbart’s orders changed to the Pacific. He plays the same card that Grossbart has played against him. Grossbart’s orders are changed to the Pacific. Following the change in orders, Grossbart confronts Marx. Grossbart continues his antics, claiming his father has a poor heart, and he needs to be near him. Marx, however, now has no sympathy for Grossbart and tells Grossbart that he owes explanations to Fishbein and Halpen for using them in his quest to receive undue privileges.
Grossbart contends that he was indeed watching out for all of them. Marx has had enough of Grossbart, knowing that he has let the youngster get the best of him in the past and moves forward accepting that he must do what is right. Defender of the Faith explores maintaining personal integrity in the face of group pressures. When confronted with Grossbart, Marx had to decide what was more important, being a good Sergeant or being a good Jew. If Grossbart’s motivations would have been true, would that have changed things for Marx? Perhaps, but after being used repeatedly, Marx felt like he had to take action.
It’s a common theme in life, your emotions can easily be used against you, and you must be aware of that fact at all times. Two possible questions from the Defender of the Faith: 1. What collection of stories was Defender of the Faith released with? Goodbye, Columbus 2. Why does Sheldon Grossbart feel that he shouldn’t have to participate in cleanup? He needs to go to the Jewish Church services. Works Cited Pozorski, Aimee. “The Philip Roth Society”. Central Connecticut State University. 7/1/2010 . “Philip Roth. ” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010 Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 7/1/2010