The Naked and the Dead
|The Naked and the Dead|
|Cover artist||"Joe Caroff"|
|Publisher||Rinehart & Company|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
The Naked and the Dead is a 1948 novel by Norman Mailer. It was based on his experiences with the 112th Cavalry Regiment during the Philippines Campaign in World War II. It was later adapted into a film of the same name in 1958.
In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Naked and the Dead 51st on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Set on an island in the South Pacific where the American Army under General Cummings is trying to drive out the Japanese, The Naked and the Dead focuses on a single reconnaissance platoon. The novel is split between alternating chapters depicting ongoing action on the island and retrospective chapters focusing on a particular character's personality and past. The Naked and the Dead contains several combat scenes and a great deal of description of Army protocol, as well as detailed descriptions of the many trials and agonies of the enlisted man. The novel deals with the difficulties of the campaign, the danger posed by the Japanese, the conflict between officers and regulars, each man's own internal conflicts and fears, and the aggression between squad members. Everyone, from the General down, has character flaws, and there are few depictions of lasting happy family life or of good male-female relations. Later in the book, a former general's aide, Hearn, becomes the Lieutenant of the squad, to the ire of Croft, the ruthless Sergeant previously in command, who withholds information from Lieutenant Hearn, leading to Hearn's death in combat.
The novel questions the competence and motives of high-ranking officers, as well as the integrity of each of the many men depicted. The men suffer physical hardship and even casualties, but there is little mourning or kindness. There is no mercy shown to the Japanese. Occasionally, individual soldiers show sparks of sensitivity or thoughtfulness.
The Naked and the Dead was Mailer's first published novel and is still his top ranked novel by sales; it established his reputation as a novelist and brought international recognition.
Publisher Bennett Cerf declared in 1948 "only three novels published since the first of the year that were worth reading ... Cry, the Beloved Country, The Ides of March, and The Naked and the Dead."
Gore Vidal wrote
My first reaction to The Naked and the Dead was: it’s a fake. A clever, talented, admirably executed fake. I have not changed my opinion of the book since… I do recall a fine description of men carrying a dying man down a mountain… Yet every time I got going in the narrative 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 had read, and informed by a naïveté which was at its worst when Mailer went into his Time-Machine and wrote those passages which resemble nothing so much as smudged carbons of a Dos Passos work.
The word has been a source of great embarrassment to me over the years because, you know, Tallulah Bankhead's press agent, many years ago, got a story in the papers which went..."Oh, hello, you're Norman Mailer," said Tallulah Bankhead allegedly, "You're the young man that doesn't know how to spell..." You know, the four-letter word was indicated with all sorts of asterisks.
The incident is mentioned in John Green's An Abundance of Katherines. Colin Singleton tells Lindsey Lee Wells about how he likes to read literary criticism after reading a book. He says that the publisher did not want to publish it if it contained more "f-bombs" than regular bombs.
- "Norman Mailer Interview: Living a Literary Life", Academy of Achievement (Chicago, Illinois), 12 June 2004
- Brower, Brock (24 Sep 1965), "Never the Champion, Always the Challenger", LIFE (Time, Inc.) 59 (13): 109
- "Reader's digest: Gossip, news: J. F. Albright reports on A.B.A. meeting". The Dallas Morning News. 30 May 1948. p. 6.
- Vidal, Gore (1993) , "Norman Mailer’s Self-Advertisements", United States: Essays 1952–1992, New York: Random House, p. 32, ISBN 0-679-75572-1
- Lennon, Michael; Mailer, Norman (1988), "1968 Panel Discussion, CBLT-TV, Toronto, moderated by Robert Fulford", in Lennon, J. Michael, Conversations with Norman Mailer, University Press of Mississippi, ISBN 978-0878053513