The Naked and The Dead

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No, it's not a Noir.

The novel that put Norman Mailer on the map. Written in 1948, The Naked and The Dead is set During the War - specifically, World War Two, and is based on the author's own experiences in the Philippines. The story follows a platoon of foot soldiers, led by the sadistic Sergeant Croft, during the campaign for a small (fictional) Pacific island. Meanwhile, a young Lieutenant named Hearn is assigned as an aid to the divisional commander, General Cummings, only to learn that Cummings is a Villain with Good Publicity, who maintains a PR facade with his subordinates, especially the enlisted men, but is in reality a cruel tyrant trying to subtly break down the morale of his men to keep them in line. Eventually, both Plot Threads collide and Hilarity Ensues.

Critically acclaimed, it is notable for its dark, cynical Deconstruction of the "Good War", The Squad and numerous other war tropes before they were even clichéd. It is considered to be Mailer's Magnum Opus, and also possibly a case of First Installment Wins. It is also famous for the use of the word "fug" in lieu of the normal "fuck". It also utilizes a concept called the "Time Machine", which is a Flash Back of the lives of the men before the war and further exploration of their characters.

Made into a 1958 movie starring Aldo Ray as Staff Sergeant Croft, Cliff Robertson as Lieutenant Hearn and Raymond Massey as General Cummings.


Tropes used in The Naked and The Dead include:
  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Several characters, Brown most vehemently, fear this to no end.
  • Affably Evil: Cummings.
  • Armchair Military: Cummings, who is fairly competent nonetheless. Also Dalleson, who blunders his way into winning the campaign through luck.
  • Anti-Hero: Pretty much every character, except for maybe Goldstein and Ridges, and Croft and Cummings who are straight-up villians. Mostly Type I.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Father Hogan to Gallagher.
  • Anyone Can Die: Several of the characters are dead by the end of the book, including Wilson and Hearn.
  • Blood Knight: Croft, a villainous example.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: New Meat Hennessey soils himself during a mortar bombardment. When he leaves his foxhole to clean himself, he is killed by said mortar. The veterans Lampshade this with an oft-repeated expression, "Keep a tight ass-hole".
  • Butt Monkey: Roth is picked on the platoon, sometimes for his Jewishness, and others for his patheticness. Even his death is ridiculous; he tries to leap a gap in Mount Anaka and falls to his death.
  • Cannon Fodder: Red has no illusions he and his comrades are this.
  • Conscription. Most of the soldiers are draftees.
  • Cultured Warrior: Cummings and Hearn often discuss politics and philosophy amongst themselves.
  • The Cynic: Many of the platoon. Red and Polack especially.
  • Cynical Mentor: Red to Wyman, reluctantly.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Red. Croft and Hearn as well, and other soldiers have their moments.
  • Death Notification: Inverted. Gallagher learns from the Chaplain his wife has died in childbirth.
  • Disappeared Dad: Martinez enlists in the army to escape an unwanted pregnancy.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Both Croft and Cummings target this against Hearn. Croft, humiliated when Hearn assumes command of the platoon and forces him to apologize for crushing Roth's bird, sends him to his death. Cummings, humiliated by the self-loathing he showed in front of Hearn and irritated when Hearn soils his tent floor with a cigarette, sends him to the platoon for the patrol.
  • During the War
  • The Eeyore: Roth.
  • Ensign Newbie: He's been an officer for some time, but when Hearn is assigned to the platoon, he fits this trope.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Even Croft calls Red Valsen "Red" most of the time. Also, to a lesser extent, "Japbait" (Martinez). "Polack" as well.
  • A Father to His Men: Deconstructed. Croft doesn't even bother; he considers officers and squad leaders who buddy with their men "womanish". Cummings puts on a pretense of this to hide his tyrannical nature. Hearn tries but most of the men, especially the veterans, reject him. (Then again, many of them loathe all officers).
  • Fatal Family Photo: No photos are shown, but Roth and Wilson, both married fathers, are killed off. In an Inversion, Gallagher's wife dies in childbirth, but Gallagher survives.
  • Field Promotion: Stanley to Corporal.
  • Forever War: Many of the protagonists, particularly the veterans, view it as one, although the novel is set in 1944, one year before the end of World War Two.
  • Glory Hound: Sergeant Croft and General Cummings both fit this role, though Croft is the foul-playing war-lover, whereas Cummings is part of the Armchair Military. Cummings believed war can be calculated with a formula, whereas Croft is just bloodthirsty. Either way, they're both out for glory regardless of the cost, and both attempt to send Lieutenant Hearn, one of the protagonists, to his death. They are successful. Cummings assigns Hearn to Croft's squad, and Croft sends Hearn ahead to lead the group, and he gets killed in an ambush because Croft deliberately failed to tell him that he was walking towards a machine gun. Stanley is also constantly looking for a promotion by brown-nosing.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: Famously, "fug". Mailer was persuaded to change it by the editor, because the word is used liberally throughout the text. However, the word "shit" and other softer swears remain uncensored. Allegedly, when Dorothy Parker was introduced to Mailer at a party, she introduced herself with: "So, you're the man who can't spell fuck?"
  • Good-Looking Privates: Martinez is described as particularly handsome, some of the other soldiers seem pleasant looking and others are Gonk.
  • Gonk: Some of the descriptions of several soldiers, notably Gallagher, Ridges, Hearn and Roth, border on this.
  • Freudian Excuse: Croft's "time machine" tries to explain his sadism, whether it was his father beating him, or his wife cheating on him. It is implied he was born that way.
  • Informed Judaism: Roth resents his Jewish upbringing and feels it hinders him in life.
  • In Harm's Way: Croft loves combat.
  • Instant Death Bullet: Averted when Wilson finally dies of his stomach wound after an agonising haul through the jungle.
  • Karma Houdini: Croft. Also Cummings, who is humiliated when Dalleson wins the campaign by accident, but mentioned in dispatches as the victor nonetheless.
  • Kick the Dog: Croft, taunting a Japanese prisoner with cigarettes and chocolate then shooting him in cold-blood. Even worse: He sadistically crushes a wounded bird to death as a punishment against Roth. This almost sparks a mutiny.
  • Leave No Survivors: Croft killing a Japanese prisoner for fun. At the end of the novel, this is described as happening amongst several U.S. units.
  • Mildly Military: The platoon would be this if they had their way, but Croft disapproves.
  • Military Moonshiner: An unseen mess cook who sells three canteens to the platoon.
  • Modern Major-General: Averted with Cummings. Whatever his personality faults, he is a competent officer
  • The Mutiny: the Platoon, led by Red, when Croft makes them climb Mount Anaka and Roth falls to his death. Croft threatens Red with his M-1, Red realises that Croft masterminded Hearn's death and backs down.
  • My Girl Back Home: Several of the platoon, and they worry incessently about them cheating.
  • The Neidermeyer: The platoon views Hearn as this. In a Subversion, he is actually fairly competent if inexperienced, but the men just hate officers in general.
  • New Meat: The replacements, and Hennessey.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Minetta feigns madness in an attempt to get a Section 8. The doctor calls him out on it and he is sent back to the fighting.
  • Obligatory War Crime Scene: As a look into Croft's character. Croft has a Kick the Dog moment when he gives a Japanese prisoner cigarettes and chocolate to taunt him into thinking he'll survive the war, then shoots him in cold-blod.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Minetta is gazed by a Japanese bullet. This gets him to the hospital, but he panicks when he realises he is going to be sent back to the platoon.
  • Politcally Incorrect Anti-Hero: Gallagher most notably, and several other characters. Ridges, for example, displays some racial prejudice.
  • Psycho for Hire: Croft again. It is revealed the first time he killed a man was during a riot when he was surving in the National Guard.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: The platoon buys three canteens from the aforement Military Moonshiner and end up scavaging dead enemy corpses for souvenirs.
  • Semper Fi: Averted. Although the Marines are famous for fighting in the Pacific, the novel centers on an army platoon.
  • Soldiers At the Rear: Headquarters Company and Hearn before he gets reassigned to the platoon. The platoon wants very much to be these soldiers, except for Croft, who hungers for more combat.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Martinez appears to be turning into one. He's one of the most experienced soldiers in the platoon, but he is constantly on edge and full of self-doubt, has bad dreams and harmless noises set him on edge.
  • The Sneaky Guy: Martinez-
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Croft, oh so very much. Cummings as well.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Croft, Wilson and Ridges.
  • The Squad: Deconstructed. Their Sergeant Rock is a sadist and Complete Monster, the platoon are embittered cynics and constantly bicker and insult each other. Only Red, Wilson and Gallagher seem to get on well with each other.
  • Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Gallagher is pretty anti-semitic. He also becomes a Jerkass Woobie when his wife dies.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Croft manipulates Hearn's death by deliberately sending him into an enemy ambush, neglecting to mention the machine gun covering the route. He threatens to do the same to Red when he mutinies.
  • War Is Hell: Combat is random and terrifying. In-between there's crushing boredom and manual labor, the armies chickenshit ways and the only way to escape is through death or serious injury.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Toglio. Unerringly patriotic, thinks the platoon are all "good old boys" and argues with Red about the war. He is shot in the elbow and sent home. Red cynically remarks he'll probably end up on a bond tour.[1]
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Cummings.
  • Zerg Rush: The Japanese attack at the river. Truth in Television.
  1. For those unfamiliar with the lingo, a cross-country tour to raise funds for the war efforts, using veterans making speeches for extra appeal.