Author: Norman Mailer
First published: 1968
Locale: Washington, D.C., Virginia, and New York
Plot: New journalism
Time: October, 1967
Norman Mailer, a famous American novelist, journalist, social critic, historian, and candidate for mayor of New York City. Variously described in the third-person narrative as Mailer, the Novelist, or the Historian, Mailer is the focal character, a principal witness to the historic events the novel recounts and analyzes. A literary genius who has just published a novel, Why Are We in Vietnam?, Mailer is a reluctant participant in public demonstrations against the war in Vietnam; he believes his own literary work is his only real answer to the war. A self-described Left Conservative, he is soon persuaded to lend his extraliterary efforts to the antiwar effort and is arrested during the massive protest march to the steps of the Pentagon in October, 1967.
Robert Lowell, a much-admired rival of Mailer. He is considered to be the most talented and most distinguished poet in America. A man of great personal attractiveness, Lowell makes speeches, reads his poetry, and marches with the protesters. Along with Mailer, Dwight Macdonald, Paul Goodman, and Ed de Grazia, Lowell is a speaker at the Ambassador Theater in Washington on the Thursday night before the Saturday march on the Pentagon.
Dwight Macdonald, a gregarious, massive, and bearded literary critic. He is a speaker at the Ambassador Theater and a participant in the march. He is admired by Mailer, but their relations are touchy because Macdonald is currently at work on a review of Mailer's Why Are We in Vietnam?
Paul Goodman, a speaker at the Ambassador Theater who is disliked though respected by Mailer. Goodman is a social critic and essayist for Dissent, a socialist quarterly.
Mitchell Goodman, a former Harvard classmate of Mailer. He wrote a war novel for which Mailer wrote a blurb. A member of the antiwar group Resist and a principal organizer of a demonstration at the Department of Justice in support of students refusing the draft, Goodman telephones Mailer and invites him to speak at the Ambassador Theater.
David Dellinger, a principal organizer of the march, chairman of the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, and editor of the anarchist-pacifist magazine Liberation.
Jerry Rubin, a principal organizer of the march. He is a creative, unpredictable, militant, hippie-oriented leader of the New Left and an organizer of the first mass protest of the war at the Berkeley campus of the University of California. Rubin once appeared at a House Committee on Un-American Activities hearing wearing an American revolutionary war uniform.
Ed de Grazia, a leading lawyer for the legal defense committee of the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam andanoldfriendofMailer.
William Sloane Coffin, Jr., the chaplain at Yale. He is a man of great personal integrity and force who participates in the march.
Hirschkop, the masterful chief counsel for the demonstrators, confident and powerfully built. He successfully defends Mailer in a brilliant courtroom encounter with Commissioner Scaife.
Commissioner Scaife, an impressive Virginia judge who attempts to hold Mailer in jail but who is outmaneuvered by Hirschkop and thus compelled to free Mailer without bail.
Fontaine, a documentary maker who records the events of the march and interviews Mailer on camera.
Leiterman, a cameraman who assists Fontaine.
Heiss, a sound man who assists Fontaine.
Walter Teague, who is arrested during the march and held in a large holding cell with Mailer. A Leninist, Teague is a tireless caller for militant antiwar activities.
Noam Chomsky, a brilliant linguist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is arrested during the march and held in the same cell as Mailer.
Dr. Benjamin Spock, a famous pediatrician. He is a speaker at and participant in the march.