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Defender of the Faith Essay

  • Date Submitted: 11/02/2011 11:01 AM
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Sam Davies
AP English Literature
Mrs. Averill
AP English Defender of the Faith  
A story is judged by both literary merit and critical reception. In these regards, Defender of the Faith, by Philip Roth, can be considered an influential short story. Published in 1959, it is one of six short stories contained in the book Goodbye Columbus, Roth’s first major publication. Not only are the story’s style and language indicative of prose that, in later years, will earn Roth a gamut of major literary awards, but the controversy stirred up in the Jewish community by its themes are equally telling of Roth’s influence. Indeed, Roth himself describes
the novel as about one man who uses his own religion, and another’s uncertain conscience, for selfish ends’.   It is this misuse, if not abuse, of religious affiliation which troubled so many rabbis in the climate of post world war two America, where Jewish families were making an effort to assimilate into society, not alienate them from it. But these criticisms are of secondary important to the story, which finds strength in the moral dilemmas presented to the reader, and the lack of easy answers. At the very core, this story allows the reader to question his own moral maturity without authorial bias given to one side or the other.
There are multiple examples of what maturity and morality mean to Roth. The most
basic example is exhibited through the highest-ranking officer in the story, Captain Paul Barrett.
His thoughts on morality are quite simple. He states them in the first line of dialogue. He is a
veteran of the European theater and consequently will take no crap. Barrett holds the
most power and so his decision making process must be the most precise. He judges a man by what he shows me on the field of battle. This is the most basic trait possible in the army,
combat. For Roth, as power increases, morality becomes a substitute for pragmatism. Clearly,
what Barrett lacks is a conscience, as even though...


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