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The Armies of the Night

Term Definition
The Armies of the Night

Written about the March on the Pentagon in 1967, one of the unique characteristics of Norman Mailer's work is that it has generally been classified as a nonfiction novel. What this means is that the core of the novel is actually based on real historical events and details, although these are intertwined with fictional elements that serve to develop the main themes and ideas of the work. This was innovative at the time. 

Introduction To The Armies Of The Night

The Armies of the Night is a best-selling 1968 non-fiction novel written by American essayist and culture critic Norman Mailer. The book deals with the author's observations of an antiwar demonstration that he attended the year prior.

On Oct. 21, 1967, more than 100,000 protesters gathered in Washington D.C. to protest U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Assembling at the Lincoln Memorial and marching from there to the Pentagon, the protest brought together a motley assortment of individuals and groups who were all united in their opposition to an unjust, undeclared war in the Far East. In The Armies of the Night, Mailer chronicles the events leading up to the two-day protests and explores the primary concerns of the various parties involved.

Theme Of The Armies Of The Night

The Armies of the Night is representative of a mid-late 60s literary trend in which true-life events are presented through a novel-like narrative structure. Other books in a similar vein from this time include In Cold Blood (1965) by Truman Capote, Hell's Angels (1966) by Hunter S. Thompson, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) by Tom Wolfe.

The Vietnam War drew strong criticism from vast segments of the American public. As U.S. deployment in the war-torn Southeast Asian nation escalated into full-scale—if not legally declared—involvement, American's started to question the moral authority of their elected leaders. With The Armies of the Night, Mailer examines how U.S. citizens feel about the role of their nation's military in worldwide affairs. While most of the protesters are powerless in the face of government and law enforcement, they cannot be robbed of their conviction to oppose a war that in no way benefits America or the world at large.

Mailer sheds light on the courage of the protesters for fighting a rightful cause. This serves to illuminate the complicity of those who idly sit by as the U.S. government sends young men to die half a world away. At the same time, the author acknowledges the naivety in certain actions of the protesters, and how some of their rhetoric could alienate the uninformed, hawkish right. But while Mailer freely points to the sometimes flawed tactics employed in the demonstrations, he casts an unflinching, unforgiving eye on the oppressive brutality of D.C. cops against the free-speech of what are mostly peaceful protesters.

More Details On Norman Mailer

In The Armies of the Night, Mailer acknowledges that some of his own behavior during the protests are an attempt to energize people, in any way possible, towards the anti-war cause. The word "armies" refers to the motley assortment of disparate groups that took part in the march: Marxists, intellectuals, civil rights activists, flower children, right wing isolationists, and various other types across the vast political spectrum.

The Armies of the Night was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award in the respective categories of General Non-fiction and Arts & Letters. Following the book's release, Mailer continued the political theme with his next work, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, which examined the 1968 Republican and Democratic National Conventions and the anti-war protests that surrounded those events.

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