the naked dead

The Naked and the Dead

The Naked and the Dead is a 1948 novel by Norman Mailer. It was based on his experiences during World War II. It was later adapted into a movie of the same title in 1958.


Set on an island in the South Pacific where the American Army under General Cummings is trying to drive out the Japanese, it deals particularly with a single reconnaissance platoon of riflemen. The novel contains several combat scenes, and a great deal of description of the way the Army organises warfare in the jungle. From the difficulties of the campaign and the danger posed by the Japanese, but also from the conflict between officers and men, their own internal conflicts and fears, and the aggression between squad members. Everyone, from the General down, has character flaws and there is no depiction of lasting happy family life or of good male-female relations. Later in the book Hearn becomes the lieutenant of the squad, to the extreme anger of Croft, their ambitious regular sergeant, and to the detriment of the men and the work of the platoon. The novel questions the competence, motives and impact of high-ranking physical hardship and some deaths, but there is little mourning or kindness. There is no mercy shown to the Japanese.

The Naked and the Dead was Mailer's first published novel and his only hugely successful one ; it established his reputation as a novelist and brought international recognition.


The publishers of The Naked and the Dead persuaded Mailer to use the euphemism "fug" in lieu of "fuck" in his novel. Mailer's version of a subsequent incident follows:

"...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... I thought she [Bankhead] should have hired a publicity man who had a better sense of fair play." (1968 Panel Discussion, CBLT-TV, Toronto, moderated by Robert Fulford) From "Conversations with Norman Mailer", 1988. Edited by J. Michael Lennon.

The band The Fugs took their name from this word. According to Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, the remark was made by Dorothy Parker, not Tallulah Bankhead.

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