TONY TANNER


On the Parapet

Every hundred yards Cummings steps up on the parapet, and peers
cautiously into the gloom of No Man's Land.

The Naked and the Dead

... and I was up, up on that parapet one foot wide, and almost
broke in both directions
, for a desire to dive right on over swayed
me out over the drop
, and I nearly fell back to the terrace
from the panic of that.

An American Dream

Since the Second World War Norman Mailer has demonstrated an unflagging ability to convert environmental pressures into lexical gestures which makes him one of the most resilient of recent American novelists. In this study of his novels I want to suggest why the image of a man standing on a parapet which appeared fleetingly in his first novel should become the crucial situation in a novel he wrote seventeen years later. But first we may make a more general approach to the subject which has obsessed him since he began writing. At the end of Saul Bellow's The Victim, Asa Leventhal cries out one last question to Albee: ' "what's your idea of who runs things?" ' It is an apt question with which to conclude a book in which the persecutor and the paranoid are never quite sure which role they are in at any particular moment. But more generally it could be said to be the question which occupies a large

____________________
From Critical Quarterly 2, vol. 12 ( Summer 1970). Copyright © 1970 by Critical Quarterly.

-33-

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