"Defender of the faith" – Philip Roth


Philip Roth in his short story “Defender of the faith” portrays the inner conflict of a man between what he believes is right and his duties. Sergeant Marx, a Jew, whose good will has been used several times by a Jewish trainee, Grossbart, suddenly realizes he has been manipulated by the young boy. Their common faith made Marx give Grossbart lots of privileges in the name of it, while they proved to be only Grossbart’s whims.

Captain Barrett, a person that partly observes the whole incident, seems not to want to intervene and lets Marx handle the situation himself. He probably knows that any actions undertaken on his part might make the situation worse and not help. It is quite clear when Marks defends the boy while talking to Barrett, but thinks differently. Barrett wants Marx to come to terms with himself, his faith and duties and lets him decide what to do.
The last paragraph shows Marx driven to extremes by Grossbart. Having realized that the boy represents no moral values and manipulates people just to reach his aims, Marks gets mad and does something really nasty to the boy. He changes orders and instead of sending the boy to New Jersey, he sends him to the Pacific. It takes the sergeant some time to work out the whole situation and to act according to the dictates of his conscience, but finally he grows to the decision that being a good sergeant does not exclude being a good Jew. He realizes he can be both and it is the reason for imposing a punishment on the boy, who not only deliberately sets a racist boundary between himself and his Jewish friends and the rest of trainees, but also desecrates Jewish values.



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