Norman Mailer: Contribution as American Novelist

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      Norman Mailer (1923-2007) in his Presidential Papers (1963) wrote: “Our history has moved on two rivers - one visible, the other underground; there has been the history politics wick, is concrete, practical and there is the subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of violence which is the dream life of the nation.” As he intimated that these two strategies were not mutually exclusive. In his war novel The Naked and the Dead (1948) there are two levels of action. There is actual fighting of the reconnaissance platoon under Sergeant Croft which gives us the view on the ground of the combatant soldier. There is other strategic view of the operation as conceived by General Cummings. Connecting these two is middle-class liberal Lieutenant Hearn who is humiliated and later got killed by the agency of Croft. There is the bleak irony at work in this historical narrative.

      Mailer second novel Barbary Show (1951) mostly in a run down boarding house in Brooklyn about the about power and politics. His third novel The Deer Park (1955), set around Hollywood is more about power and sex. The later book Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967) is about those national fantasies of power precisely that prompted American into imperialistic venture in South Asia. A scholar called D.J. who claims to work for Texas radio station, narrates the story. Armies of Night, subtitled as “History as Novel. Novel as History” has its subject a 1967 protest march on the Pentagon. Ancient Evenings (1983) set in ancient Egypt, has a protagonist who is reborn three times as he rises from the peasant childhood to become an adviser to the pharaohs. The subject is the power and mystery of the body and the body politic. In his next novel An American Dream Mailer has his hero Rojack negotiating the edge between an America of heard facts, power politics, and a night world of America of strange, subrational and supernatural experience.

      Norman Mailer is generally considered as the representative author of the recent decades, able to change his style and subject many times. In his appetite for experience vigorous style and dramatic public persona, he follows in the tradition of Earnest Hemingway. His ideas are bold and innovative. He is the reverse of a writer like Barth for whom the subject is not as important as the way it is handled. Unlike the invisible Pynchon, Mailer constantly quotes and demands attention. He has produced fiction and non-fiction that goes much further than the story of his nation. A novelist, essayist, sometime politician, literary activist, and occasional actor, he is always on the scene. From such ‘New Journalism,’ exercises as Miami and The Siege of Chicago (1968) an analysis of the 1968 US Presidential conventions. And his compelling study about the execution of a condemned murderer, The Executioner’s Song (1983) is set in the Egypt of antiquity and Harlot’s Ghost (1992) revolves around the US central intelligence agency.

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