“Defender of the Faith”
In Philip Roth’s, “Defender of the Faith”, Sergeant Nathan Marx is the “Defender” of whom the title speaks. Reluctant at first, Marx defended his faith on two fronts, one across the sea in Europe and the second in the United States. The battle in the states was of a different type. Marx learned what it was like to defend his and the faith of his fellow Jews against prejudice and abuse by those who waged the war.
Marx is not an orthodox Jew. He does not follow the doctrine as most of those in his religion would and did not realize until asked by Grossbart that he was still religious. It was not that he was religious yet more of the religion was sentimental to him. Marx a battle-tested soldier in the U.S. Army did not even recognize that he had already defeated an enemy set to wipe his heritage. PFC Grossbart and Captain Barrett were Marx’s next opponents.
Grossbart first introduced himself as “Sheldon” to try to get on a first name basis with Marx for a familiarity that Marx did not want. Grossbart suspected Marx was Jewish by the spelling of his last name which he spelled out as “M-a-r-x”. Grossbart led Marx into believing he was interested in going to church instead of cleaning the barracks. Marx knowing it was unfair that they were denied the chance to attend service told Grossbart he could “attend shul”. By calling the service shul and not church Grossbart knew Marx was Jewish. When Grossbart tried to correct him by saying, “You mean church, Sergeant.” Marx was furious that he had given himself away and relented by saying, “I mean shul, Grossbart!” This was a small victory for Grossbart, one he would use to his advantage. Marx was concerned that Grossbart was right and that those who wanted to attend the service should have the chance to attend. Marx confronted Captain Barrett on the matter who only confirmed Grossbart’s case by showing he was prejudice. Captain Barrett told Marx he’d “fight side by side with a nigger if the fella proved to me he was a man.” Marx was not pleased with the captain’s outlook and even less pleased when the captain told him he should “leave that stuff to the Chaplin”. Marx took it upon himself that the soldiers who wanted to attend church should be allowed and ordered his C.Q. to announce “Jewish personnel who want to attend services this evening are to fall out in front of the orderly room” and then added “By order of Captain Barrett.” Marx had one that battle.
Marx after a few exploits of Grossbart, such as, him getting a weekend pass to attend a religious dinner a month late and then not attending that dinner, understood that he was being played the fool. Grossbart did not want special privileges for his fellow Jewish soldiers, yet only wanted a free ride in the army. This came to Marx when Grossbart asked if Marx could “do something” about Grossbart’s being shipped off to war in the pacific. Grossbart was not pleased to hear that Marx could do nothing to stop him from being shipped off. Yet, when the orders came in that every trainee was to be deployed in the pacific except Grossbart, Marx knew Grossbart had found another person to trick. Marx decided it was time to face his last battle and called the C and A to have the orders changed so Grossbart was to be shipped to war. Marx used the same ploy Grossbart had wrongly abused to have the changed made when he made up the lie that Grossbart’s brother was “killed in Europe, and he’s hot to go to the Pacific.” The orders were changed; Grossbart was going to get what he deserved. Marx was not going to let Grossbart abuse his faith.
In the end, Marx did not feel right about having to use tricks to defend what he at least still held sacred. Grossbart and Captain Barrett were both enemies to Marx’s faith. One was will to abuse the fact he was Jewish for special handling the other was just straight out against anyone who was not “proven” in battle. Marx was the defender of the faith to those who the acts of others would have lessened.