Phillip Roth's The Defender of the Faith

According to English essayist Charles Lamb, "The measure of choosing well, is, whether a man likes and finds good in what he has chosen." In Phillip Roth's short story, The Defender of the Faith, Marx faces many hardships in choosing among everything that he values. Throughout the story, Grossbart always hinders Marx's ability to stay true to all of these obligations. By making the warranted decision of sending Grossbart off to war, Marx finally values everything that is dear to his heart: his religion, his profession, and his own morals. By teaching Marx a lesson Marx makes a clear statement that a man cannot disgrace Judaism, abuse the privileges of the army, or disregard morality.

One of the primary factors that effects Marx's decision to send Grossbart off to war is religion. Throughout the story, Grossbart exploits religion as something that is not sacred; he uses it as a scapegoat so that he will not have to fulfill his obligations. This is illustrated when Grossbart states that he cannot clean because he must go to shul. Likewise, Grossbart uses Judaism in a cunning manner as he tries to get permission from Marx to go to his aunt's house: "You're a good Jew, Sergeant. You like to think you have a hard heart, but underneath you're a fine, decent man. I mean that." Grossbart's persuasive words work well against Marx for a while, but slowly Marx learns more about Grossbart by beginning to understand his main intentions. Marx feels that it is unjust that, while people like himself fight in Europe for the Jewish race, others like Grossbart try to weasel themselves out of fulfilling their obligations. As Marx catches Grossbart lying, he starts to have no pity for him. The final straw that causes Sergeant Marx to lose total respect for Grossbart is whenGrossbart brings him an egg roll, instead of Gefilte fish as promised, after his journey to a supposed family dinner. Gefilte fish is viewed as one of the most sacred dishes of the Jewish heritage. An egg roll, on the other hand, is a dish entirely unrelated to the Jewish culture. When Grossbart brings back this egg roll, instead of the fish, the Jewish bond that keeps Marx and Grossbart together gets shattered. Following this occurrence, Marx decides to teach Grossbart a lesson; he does so by making sure that Grossbart is sent over to the Pacific. Clearly, Marx assumes the position of defender of the Jewish faith in this story. By sending Grossbart over, he is making the statement that no one should desecrate the image of the Jewish religion, especially during a time that is very difficult for the Jews. Marx is certainly justified in doing so, since Grossbart has, without a doubt, desecrated all that Judaism stands for; thus Marx defends what is so dear to his heart, his religion.

As a high member of the military, Marx has an obligation to his soldiers, and thus his military responsibilities affect his decision to send Grossbart off to the Pacific. Sergeant Thruston introduces Marx to the cadets by stating, "He is a veteran of the European theater, and consequently will expect to find a company of soldiers here, and not a company of boys." These words unmistakably portray Marx as an individual who has extensive experience in the army and deserves a great deal of respect from his cadets. Marx does notreceive this respect from Grossbart, which troubles Marx a great deal. Multiple times, Marx is called "sir" instead of "sergeant," and he feels it is necessary to correct Grossbart each time. Marx is troubled by the fact that Grossbart is always the odd man out, trying to change the army; by asking for different food or writing letters of complaint to congressmen. Consistently, Marx observes Grossbart getting himself out of military activities, but only at the end does Marx understand that Grossbart has absolutely no respect for the military. Marx's anger builds and when he observes Grossbart trying to weasel out of going to the Pacific he states, "Rage came charging at me. I didn't sidestep. 'Grossbart you're a liar!' I said. "You're a schemer and a crook. You've got no respect for anything, Nothing at all. Not for me, for the truth-not even for poor Halperin...Get out and stay the hell away from me. Because If I see you, I'll make your life miserable." Marx decides to correct the error that the feels was made, and is doing just that. Marx in no way meddles too deeply into the matter, because he gives little thought regarding who should get the position in New Jersey. He tries making that decision without personal or emotional interference. He does not even send Halpern, whom he likes, to New Jersey. Rather, he sends a random individual. Acting like any military sergeant would, Marx is justified in sending Grossbart over to the Pacific.

The third and final factor that has a great effect on Marx's decision to send Grossbart over to the Pacific is Marx's respect for morality. Grossbart always plays on Marx's personal weaknesses and strengths in order to achieve the "benefits" that he receives by deceiving Marx. For example, he knows that Marx respects very religious individuals, so whenever Grossbart wants a favor from Marx, he always stresses how important this benefit will be for Halpern, the religious Jew. Thus, Grossbart not only uses Marx for his schemes, but he also uses Halpern and Fishbein, his supposed friends. Only by the very end of the story does Marx realize that Grossbart uses everyone to his advantage. Marx decides that he morally cannot let Grossbart get away with what he is trying to do, because Grossbart would never learn a lesson. "He had pulled a string, and I wasn't it...I knew I'd discovered the string that Grossbart had pulled. In fact, I could hear Grossbart the day he'd discovered Shulman in the PX, or in the bowling alley, or maybe even at services." These lines identify Marx's realization that Grossbart will always find someone to use in order to benefit himself. Though it is clear that part of the reason Marx feels he must teach Grossbart a lesson is because he wants revenge, he is still justified in his action, because Grossbart deserves it. By doing this Marx creates a balance in the world. He makes a statement that others cannot abuse people for their own benefit. Marx realizes that, though he may not have committed the best action, he had no other choice. "Grossbart swallowed hard, accepting this then, resisting with all my will an impulse to turn and seek pardon for my vindictiveness, I accepted my own." So even if Marx might suffer from this decision in the future, he feels he is morally obligated to himself and to society to teach Grossbart a lesson.

It is clearly seen that Marx is justifiedin his actions by sending Grossbart to the Pacific. When Marx sends Grossbart to the Pacific, he feels he is doing it for everyone's benefit. "'For each other we have to learn to watch out, Sheldon. You told me yourself.' 'You call this watching out for me-what you did?' 'No for all of us.'" Thus, Marx looks at the bigger picture as he is watching out for "us." The "us" has various meanings in the above statement. First, Marx feels he is watching out for the greater Jewish race. Marx feels that Grossbart is a disgrace for being the kind of Jew that he is: deceiving, conniving, and unappreciative. Instead of wanting to go fight in the Pacific for a cause, Grossbart would rather sit on his behind, and have others fight and risk their lives for the Jews. Marx feels that Grossbart is using something as sacred as Judaism to get what he wants, and Marx cannot let Grossbart get away with this. Secondly, the "us" in the statement refers to the army men. Grossbart has abused his privileges in the army. By sending Grossbart over to the Pacific, Marx is watching over the army and is making a statement: an army man cannot abuse his privileges. This is the way that Marx himself pays back the army for letting Grossbart get away with not following the rules. Finally, the "us" that Marx uses somewhat refers to his morals and himself. Marx is watching out for himself since he feels that after being lied to he is not able to let Grossbart get away without punishment. Grossbart deserves what is coming to him, and thus Marx must stay true to himself and teach Grossbart a lesson. It is at this point in the story, the ending, where Marx is able to stay true to everything that represents himself: Judaism, the army, and morality.

Marx faces various dilemmas throughout the story, all of which conflict between Judaism, the army, and his morals. At the end Marx stays true to all that is important to him by sending Grossbart off to war. Marx clearly does the right thing because he makes a firm stand for the greater Jewish race, the army, and morality. By doing what he does, Marx teaches Grossbart a lesson, and makes it clear that for every deceitful action there is ultimately a punishment. Charles Lamb would definitely agree that if Marx is happy with his decision then his choice is correct. Marx believes that this is his only possible choice because a pitiful man like Grossbart deserves no other future and thus would do nothing less than send Grossbart off to the Pacific

Published by Julie Moore

I am a high school English teacher of 15 years who has recently moved to the field of Educational Adminstration. I am a Curriculum Coordinator and a Gifted and Talented Coordinator. I am highly literate a...  View profile