Places: The Naked and the Dead

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1948

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: World War II

Places DiscussedAnopopei

Anopopei. Naked and the Dead, TheImaginary island in the South Pacific on which the novel is set. The island’s dense jungle terrain is itself almost a character in the novel–a constant reminder of how primal Nature is when seen in the raw. From the novel’s earliest sections, Mailer uses the jungle to remind readers that this is also true of human beings. One of the foot soldiers thinks that the jungle looks like the Garden of Eden, and there is, in some sense, a parallel. However, this is a post-Fall Eden, not Paradise. Anopopei’s jungle is primal, a force unto itself, and it stirs some ancient, atavistic recognition in the men who try to survive it.

Another soldier feels a deep excitement, “as if he were witnessing creation”–a feeling that seems to typify the soldiers’ reactions to the jungle. Their experience in the jungle is instinctive, pre-verbal, almost visceral in many cases. The experience precedes what the rational mind can codify, what the reasonable mind can articulate.

Not even a mind as reasonable and as fine as that of General Cummings can quite put into words what the jungle means; however, he comes closest. He is obsessed with bringing order to the primal world in which he finds himself, ordering the land cleared and a world of officers’ tents set out in a neat alignment of ninety-degree designs, only to have the clearing overgrown in a few days or to have an unexpected storm play havoc with his plans and labors. The jungle itself seems to be his one unconquerable enemy: Heat licks at everything; foliage grows to prodigious sizes; the jungle is never silent. After a week of fumbling through the jungle, the “military concept of connected lines seemed no more than a concept.”

Mount Anaka

Mount Anaka. Peak on Anopopei that Hearn’s platoon is to climb across so that it can attack the enemy position from its rear. The mission is a fool’s errand at best, and at worst it is suicidal, as Hearn comes to realize. Nevertheless, he feels compelled to proceed. He feels a primal attraction to the mountain, almost as if it were a woman. He feels a desire to assault the mountain, capture, dominate, and subdue it. However, he also knows that these thoughts are ridiculous.

Sergeant Croft’s reaction is not quite so easily harnessed. The jungle and an enemy ambush awaken a dark place in his soul. Killing, being on the brink of being killed, being part of a jungle ecosystem completely beyond the boundaries of anything civilized and ordered arouses in Croft an erotic desire of tangible dimensions. Croft can not articulate this, not with ease, at least; all he knows is that something primal within him is responding to the jungle itself. He can almost put this into words the first time he sees the mountain through his field glasses: He feels a thrill of anticipation at the thought that the patrol might be at its peak by the following night. He feels a “crude ecstasy.”

BibliographyAichinger, Peter. The American Soldier in Fiction, 1880-1963: A History of Attitudes Toward Warfare and the Military Establishment. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1975. Places the novel in the context of other treatments of World War II in American fiction. Complains that Mailer is unable to comprehend the character of the professional officer and that the novel is undermined by turgid ideological discourse.Gordon, Andrew. An American Dreamer: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Fiction of Norman Mailer. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1980. Considers the novel in the context of other Mailer fiction that contrasts weak, liberal, masochistic characters with strong, reactionary, sadistic ones. Says that the novel’s central psychological conflict is the doomed struggle for control over the self and outside forces.Kaufman, Donald L. Norman Mailer: The Countdown–The First Twenty Years. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969. Analyzes the contrast between bestial and humane values in the novel and Mailer’s depiction of obstacles to the creative urge. Shows how the novel is a commentary on isolation from space, time, and one’s fellows.Leeds, Barry H. The Structured Vision of Norman Mailer. New York: New York University Press, 1969. Interprets the novel as a pessimistic examination of the sickness of society and of the flawed nature of the individual. Shows how Mailer is an acerbic social critic.Solotaroff, Robert. Down Mailer’s Way. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1974. Argues that the novel is an allegory for what Mailer saw as the coming of fascism to America. Says that Mailer loses control of the novel because the values he seemingly endorses go against his deepest beliefs.
Categories: Places