Norman Mailer's An American Dream: The Character of Steven Rojack

Norman Mailer's An American Dream: The Character of Steven Rojack

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Norman Mailer's An American Dream: The Character of Steven Rojack


In almost every genre of literature there is the classic
antagonist, and the classic protagonist. When examining these
characters, there are certain guidelines which authors
follow. However, there are times in literature when the
classic guidelines are broken, and a new prototype emerges.

Contemporary writer Norman Mailer broke the mold of the classic
character(s) when writing the novel, An American Dream. In An
American Dream, there is no set protagonist or antagonist. In
fact, Mailer has taken these two separate identities and merged
them into one character. The product is the main character of
the novel, Steven Rojack. Throughout the novel the reader
isn't sure if they want him to succeed, or fail. This is due to
Rojack's ever-changing personality. He first seems like the
perfect man, a decorated war hero who knows all the right
people. However, shortly after this impression is made another
is formed. He murders his wife in cold blood and lies to the
police, claimi! ng she committed suicide. As the novel
continues however, Rojack realizes the horror of his crime and even
confesses what he has done to a woman he loves. Due to the
realization of his crime, he is redeemed in the eye of the reader.

From this point on, the reader wants Rojack to succeed. However,
before final judgement can be passed, it is imperative that Rojack^s
entire character be explored.

Steven Rojack is first introduced as a prominent man in society
who becomes recognized due to his decoration in military
service. Through this service he became close with many famous
politicians, Jack Kennedy being one. It is through Jack that
Rojack meets his first wife, Deborah, a woman who he describes
^would be bored with a diamond as big as the Ritz^ (1) After
serving a term in Congress, he and Deborah marry.

Unfortunately, the relationship they have is one in which
Deborah has full control. As he continues to describe the
relationship with his wife it is often filled with bitter
memories. He remembers going to parties where she would
compare his worth to that of another man^s. It is from this
that a bitter hatred stems towards Deborah. Finally, after
seven years of marriage, they separate. However, after the
separation, Deborah^s needs are still covered by Steven, who is
now a college professor and the host of a popular TV show. In
addition to this Deborah main! tains a close contact with him,
seeing him whenever she desires.

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She relishes the thought of having
control over him, and he realizes this. It is because of this that
Rojack feels the way he does about her. So I hated her, yes indeed I
did, but my hatred was a cage which wired my love, and I did not know
if I had the force to find my way free. Marriage to her was the
armature of my ego; remove the armature and I might topple like clay.

(23) At this point in the novel Rojack comes across as an egocentric
man with the potential to have an extreme temper. Many times
throughout the beginning of the novel, the reader may questions his
sanity due to the fact that he often thinks about many morbid issues.

As a result of this it can be said that Rojack is in conflict with
himself. Furthermore, because of this, problems arise with others.

Therefore it can be said that he is his own antagonist. After leaving
a party that was held at his close friend^s house, Rojack once again
feels alone and bitter. While standing outside on the balcony he
contemplates what would happen if he were to jump. Shortly after this
he decides to leave. As he walks home in the pouring rain he stops at
a pay phone feeling the need to call Deborah. During their
conversation, Deborah insists that Steven come over. Although his
better judgement tells him not to go, he goes anyway. As he enters
Deborah^s room, he can see her lying on her bed with a bottle of rum
close by. The moment she sees him enter she begins to insult him. As
the conversation continues, Steven becomes more and more bold in
responding to Deborah^s insults. The tension begins to escalate, thus
flaring both of their tempers. Suddenly, Rojack slaps Deborah across
the face. In turn, Deborah rises from the bed and charges Steven,
plunging her head into his abdomen. As the fight continues, Steven
finally gets the upper h! and and Deborah surrenders. However, as he
removes his hand from her head, her body falls on the ground; she is
dead. I knelt to turn her over. Her body made some rustling sound of
protest, a muted whisper. She was bad in death. A beast stared back
at me. Her teeth showed, the point of light in her eye was violent,
and her mouth was open. (44)

It is at this moment that Rojack becomes a despicable,
cold-blooded murderer. Immediately after the murder he begins
to question whether or not he is truly evil. Unable to come up
with an answer at the time, he slips downstairs where he makes
love to his wife^s German butler, a woman named Ruta. Shortly
after this escapade, Steven explains to Ruta that Deborah
committed suicide by jumping out the window. When the police
arrive to take a look at the scene, he tells them the same. He
explains to the police that Deborah had a fascination with
death, and that she often spoke of it. Furthermore, he also
said that Deborah had convinced herself that she had a rare
form of cancer. When the police wrap up their interrogation of
Rojack, they go outside to examine the body. As Rojack approaches, he
notices a tall, blonde woman out of the corner of his eye. He feels
drawn to her classic, small town girl appearance. As he strikes up a
conversation with her, Police Chief Roberts informs him to get in the
squad car because he needs to identify the body at the morgue. On the
way he talks with the police officers. During this conversation it is
apparent that the cops are fully aware that this wasn^t a suicide.

However, they will not press charges until they feel the need because
they like him. A few minutes later they arrive at the morgue.

Walking in to the morgue, Rojack feels a sense of disgust over what he
did. Seeing Deborah^s body he realizes that no matter how badly
things were between them, she never deserved to die. Whatever Deborah
would deserve, that morgue was not the place for her. I had a reverie
of my own death then, and my soul was trying to lift and loose itself
of the body which has died. I felt guilty for the first time. It was
a crime to have pushed Deborah to the morgue. (77)

At this point Rojack begins to make the transition between evil and
good. He finally realized the heinous nature of his crime, and
because of this realization he can be redeemed in the eye of the
reader.

Shortly after the police interrogation ends, Rojack again comes
in contact with the tall blonde. He learns that her name is
Cherry and that she is a singer in a small cabaret downtown.

After being released by the police, he decides to go downtown
to see her perform. He is drawn to her for unknown reasons,
and this confuses him. He hasn^t felt this strongly for a
woman since the time he first met Deborah. Walking into the
cabaret he hears Cherry^s voice. When the set is finished,
Cherry comes over and begins to talk with him. A few moments
later they begin to kiss. Cherry then invites Rojack to her
apartment. Once they arrive at the apartment they begin to
talk about their past lives. Although a relationship is
forming, a strong friendship is also in the making. Rojack
stays the night, and leaves early the next morning after
receiving a message that Deborah^s father is in town and that
he wants to meet with Rojack. When Rojack returns to his
house, he begins to ma! ke phone calls to old friends
inquiring why Oswald Kelly, Deborah^s father, wants to meet with him.

It is during one of these conversations that Rojack learns that Deborah
was involved in high profile cases of espionage. Not knowing whether
to rejoice or to cringe in fear, he decides to keep this secret to
himself.

Later on that day, Rojack returns back to Cherry^s apartment,
and once again they begin to talk about their past. He realizes
that when he is with Cherry, he feels safe. Because of this
feeling he tells the truth when confronted about the crime.

^^Steve?^^ asked Cherry. ^Did you kill your wife?^ He calmly
responded, ^yes.^^ (168) After talking, Cherry tells Rojack
that she loves him, and that everything will be ok. With this,
Rojack leaves to meet Oswald Kelly. In the cab many fears come
into Rojack^s head. He is fully aware of the powerful
connections that Oswald Kelly has with the Mafia. Finally, he
reaches the hotel and Kelly^s room. Walking in, he has the
opportunity to speak with his stepdaughter whom he has not seen
in months. However, this conversation only lasts a few
minutes, because he knows that he must face Kelly. When Kelly
first sees Rojack; he greets him with a warm hug. He starts to speak
of Deborah and of her involvement with foreign spies. He also tells
Rojack that he ordered to police to stop the investigation. After a
while however, the conversation begins to get to its point. As the two
walk out to the balcony Rojack is hit with the question of his
involvement in Deborah^s death. Unable to lie, he admits the truth.

As a result of this, Kelly informs him that he will not turn him in.

However, Kelly states that in order to survive he must walk around the
edges of the hotel from the last floor. If he survives this, he will
be able to walk away. It is at this moment that Rojack makes the
transition into the protagonist.

As Rojack carefully steps on the edge of the balcony, he
realizes the importance of every step. While walking he begins
to think about everything he is done. Finally, he arrives at
his destination, but he doesn^t stop. Instead, he attempts to
walk around the perimeter of the building once again to redeem
himself. However, Kelly attempts to push him down, but fails.

After a brief struggle, Rojack walks out of the hotel unharmed,
and redeemed. In conclusion, Steven Rojack is a very complex
character who underwent a transition from being his own
antagonist to being a protagonist. He was able to commit the
perfect crime, and still earn forgiveness. It is easy to say
that Steven Rojack is the true poster-boy for "an American
dream."
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