Norman Mailer's 'The Naked and the Dead' - An analysis

Seminar Paper, 1998

13 Pages, Grade: very good



1. Introduction

2. The autor´s motivation and referential information

3. Structure of the novel
3.1 Structure and Point of View

4. Norman Mailer and New Journalism
4.1 New Journalism in The Naked and the Dead: Perspective - Details - Language

5. Narrative Technique

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This paper deals with the relationship between fiction and traditional and New Journalism. I have taken Norman Mailer´s novel The Naked and the Dead as an example of fiction influenced by New Journalism and my paper intents to show the relationship on the basis of this novel and other texts we have dealt with in the course of the lecture Periodismo y Ficción en los E.E.U.U.

The first chapter deals briefly with the author´s motivation to write the novel and more extensively with the referential material used, referring partly to the author´s own experience and to the existence of derived material, which has to be taken into account as well. The next chapter states the parts the novel consists of and gives a brief analises of how structure and point of view work in the novel. The main focus of the paper is the next chapter: Norman Mailer and New Journalism. After a definition of “traditional” and “New Journalism” these terms are brought into relation with Mailer´s novel with regard to the most eminent features: perspective, details and language. The last chapter features the narrative techniques Mailer employed and how these techniques provide the reader with closer insights into the novel´s characters and events.

2. The author’s motivation and referential information

The war novel The Naked and the Dead was published in 1948 as Norman Mailer´s first novel. He was only 25 years old when it appeared but it ‘immediately established itself as the best American novel about World War II and a masterpiece of realism’ (McConnell, 65). The work presents a terrifying view of men at war and war, as we see it in the novel, is used as ‘a mirror of vaster social and historical issues, issues that pertain to the kind of world men must live in when the battles are finally won or lost’ (Hassan, 92).

Mailer himself had enlisted in the army after graduating from Havard with the determination to write a great war novel. By witnessing combat and absorbing the rudiments of army planning he could find a realistic background for his novel. He enlisted purposely as a private even if - as a Havard graduate - he could have easily become an officer, but he did not want to be put behind a desk and never see combat (cf. Mills, 76). The novel is based mainly on the letters he wrote to his wife during the war and the characters were drawn from real people in Mailer´s platoon. As one of his comrades said, when asked if he would recognize any of the details in the novel: “ I recognised all of it. Some characters, he didn´t even bother to change their names.” (Mills, 83).

The character of Lieutenant Hearn can be assumed to be based on Mailer himself. Hearn is a liberal Havard man who despises the other officers. The situation when Hearn gets humiliated by the general by having to pick up a cigarette butt from the floor reflects a real situation in Mailer’s life when he found himself “crawfishing” before his own superior officer and felt the same self-loathing that Hearn does in the book (cf. Mills, 80).

There is criticism, however, about the originality of the work, as, for example, expressed by the author Gore Vidal:

a fake, a clever, talented, admirably executed fake (...) I would find myself stopped cold by a set of made-up, predictable characters taken, not from life, but from the same novels all of us have read.” (quoted in Sanz González, 91)

The critics settled with the expression “a derivative work” (because of a noticable part of imitation in the novel, which Mailer himself never denied) in order to concentrate on the more original aspects, which the novel shows in abundance (cf. Sanz González, 91).

3. Structure of the novel

The novel consists of four parts. The first one is called “Wave” and it presents the men of the platoon. It starts from the beginning of the invasion to the first death on the beach. The second part is called “Argil and Mold”. In this part the development of the conflicts between the men within the military hierarchy takes place. The soldiers, metaphorically seen as “argil” are victims of the “mold”, which is the war (cf. Sanz González, 97). The third part, called “Plant and Phantom” contains the climax of the novel, the story of the recon platoon. The last part, “Wake”, is a very brief epilogue about the “mopping up”, the end of the campaign, with the last word given to the most unlikely of all characters, the insipid Major Dalleson.

3.1 Structure and Point of View

The structure itself of the novel creates an image of ´controlled disorder´ (Hassan, 96). The presentation of the suffering in the battlefield and the shifts back in time to the characters’ civil lives show that the struggle of men is solely controlled by chance. These shifts in point of view and the shifts back and forth between staff headquarters and the platoon foxholes evokes the image of the men being lost, as Ihab Hassan expresses it, ‘in the great erratic shuffles of a military campaign; they are dwarfed by a grand design no one seems fully to comprehend’ (97). In this way the novel is only the ‘irónico edificio que alberga al hombre desnudo y muerto’ (Sanz González, 98), because the ending brings no resolution. We are removed from all the characters we have got to know so intimately - we only know that some men died and others live, but we do not see any real change in their outlook or any resolution.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Norman Mailer's 'The Naked and the Dead' - An analysis
University of Vienna  (Anglistics/ American Studies)
Journalism and Fiction in the United States
very good
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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446 KB
Norman, Mailer, Naked, Dead, Journalism, Fiction, United, States
Quote paper
Mag.Phil. Michaela Tomberger (Author), 1998, Norman Mailer's 'The Naked and the Dead' - An analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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