Study Guide

An American Dream Quotes

  • Society and Class

    Forgive me. I thought the road to President might begin at the entrance to her Irish heart. (1.2)

    From the get-go, Rojack sees Deborah as a way to join the upper class. Sure, he's already a war hero and congressman, but you best believe he has higher highs in him than that.

    Kelly's family was just Kelly; but he had made a million two hundred times. So there was a vision of treasure, far-off blood, and fear. (1.2)

    Well that's a nasty vision, if you ask us—Rojack should probably get his eyes checked. The idea of so much wealth is both intriguing and horrifying to Rojack, as if he already knows how many sacrifices he'll need to make to reach that rung of the social ladder.

    Those became the years when the gears worked together, the contacts and the insights, the style and the manufacture of oneself. (1.8)

    In order to join high society, Rojack must rebuild his identity from the ground up—he's like a method actor who stays in character whether the cameras are on or off. The loss of his identity is the first of many sacrifices he'll need to make on the road to the top.

    Mrs. Roosevelt was introducing me to Protestant gentry and Jewish gentry and, yes, it all began to fit and fit so well I came out […] a candidate for Congress. (1.9)

    If there were a recipe to becoming a successful politician, the first ingredient would be money. For the first time in his life, Rojack is rubbing elbows with the words' wealthiest and most powerful people—and boy, does he like it. He doesn't just want to hang with rich people, though; he wants to become one of them. Deborah will help him with that.

    I had loved her with the fury of my ego […] the way a drum majorette loved the power of the band for the swell it gave to each little strut. (1.48)

    For the most part, Rojack only loves Deborah because she helps him reach his goals. Without her, he's just some guy doing some stuff—boring—but with her, he becomes someone worth noticing and acknowledging, a V.I.P. if you will. That must really bum him out sometimes.

    I might have despised the money if it had not become the manifest of how unconsummated and unmasculine was the core of my force. (1.48)

    Rojack is ashamed that he's needed Deborah to get where he is. Listen: Rojack is a macho dude, so of course it drives him crazy that he owes all of his success to a woman. Despite whatever he may say about full moons or God or the Devil or whatever, these feelings of emasculation are the main motivation behind Deborah's murder.

    She had an aristocratic indifference to the development of talent. One enjoyed what was in flower, one devoured it if it were good for one, but one left the planting to others. (2.11)

    Here, the high-class life is tied to the idea of consumerism. Deborah represents a generation of Americans born into such immense wealth that they don't have to worry about anything but enjoying life (think: Keeping Up With The Kardashians). That might feel great for a while, but too much of a good thing gets bad—and boring—pretty quickly.

    There would come again a moment when to make love to Deborah was like a procession through a palace, each stroke a step upon a purple walk. (8.112)

    Rojack is so obsessed with class that he can't even have sex without thinking about it. This guy definitely needs to talk to a psychologist. There's something deeper going on here, however—Rojack knows that having a child with Deborah will solidify his standing in the upper class. Getting her pregnant would be a wise business move.

    "I never thought I'd have to explain to you," said Kelly, "that it doesn't matter what is done in private. What is important is the public show—it must be flawless." (8.323)

    Kelly wasn't always a high society guy, and he comes from even humbler beginnings than Rojack. This experience teaches him that perception is more important than reality, especially when it comes to class. In fact, he was only able to get where he is by creating the illusion that he was born rich. When you think about it, Rojack and Kelly are playing the same role, but Kelly is better at it.

    "She had no taste. But she was grand, grander than anything I'd ever seen, and I was petrified of her." (8.370)

    That's not the only way Rojack and Kelly are similar, either—they also both joined the upper class by way of women. But it's not like Bess is a classy lady or anything; her house is tackier than Donald Trump's hotels. She's so rich that she doesn't need to bother with good taste.

    "A rich man cannot afford that—his boredom is infinite in its dimensions." (8.386)

    This explains a lot a lot about Kelly's and Rojack's actions. It's like playing a videogame with cheat codes—when everything is easy, you end up doing a lot of crazy stuff you'd never do otherwise.

  • Mortality

    I looked down the abyss on the first night I killed: four men, four very separate Germans, dead under a full moon. (1.3)

    If Rojack were a superhero, this would be his origin story. This experience shapes the man he becomes and the crimes he will eventually commit. Keep an eye on the moon, by the way: It figures into Rojack's relationship with death quite a bit. We have more to say about it over in the "Symbolism" section and on Rojack's page in the "Characters" section.

    It was all in his eyes, he had eyes I was to see once later on an autopsy table […] so perfectly blue and made they go all the way […] to God. (1.7)

    Although Rojack isn't very religious, he has a powerful spiritual experience as he watches a man die. Later, he has similar feelings when he imagines Deborah's green eyes haunting him from beyond the grave. Rojack has gotten a glimpse of whatever it is that lies beyond life—and what he sees haunts him.

    Where many another young athlete or hero might have had a vast and continuing recreation with sex, I was lost in a private kaleidoscope of death. (1.10)

    In Rojack's eyes, his peers are ignorant of their own mortality. This guy sounds like a real buzz-kill, huh? Throughout the novel, we're shown the contradictions—and the similarities—between sex and death. At this early stage, however, Rojack is too shaken by thoughts of death to even think about creating life.

    His eyes had […] told me then that death was a creation more dangerous than life. (1.10)

    Once again, Rojack is haunted by the German soldier's eyes. This time, Rojack realizes that death is some sort of tangible thing itself. We're not sure if this guy is certifiably insane or certifiably brilliant, but it's an interesting idea.

    I could have had a career in politics if only I had been able to think that death was zero […] but I knew it was not. I remained an actor. (1.10)

    When Rojack compares himself to John F. Kennedy, he argues that the only difference between the two men (besides the love and affection of Marilyn Monroe, of course) is the fact that Rojack has experienced death, while old Jackie boy didn't. Rojack can't pretend that he's just like everyone else.

    There are killers one is ready to welcome, I suppose. They offer a clean death and free passage to one's soul. (1.103)

    What's up with this? If you ask us, we'd wager that Rojack knows that he hasn't been the best husband to Deborah. Dying at her hands would make up for all of the pain he's put her through—at least in his own twisted brain.

    It was odd. […] It seemed as if she were not so much dead as no longer quite living. (2.15)

    Twist it however you want it, but the fact remains: Deborah is dead. It's actually pretty crazy that Rojack is still grieving this way despite the fact that he killed her—but then again, he's crazy like that.

    Well, if Deborah's dying had given me a new life, I must be all of eight hours old by now. (3.425)

    In this instance, death really is an act of creation because Rojack has created a monster. It's almost as if he's a vampire, forced to consume others to stay alive for another day.

    "I saw a man once just after he came back from killing. You looked like he did."

    "How did he look?"

    "Like he'd been painted with a touch of magic." (6.72-74)

    Now that Rojack has murdered someone, his relationship with death has shifted, and he's no longer afraid of it because he has mastered it. Unfortunately for him, it's only a matter of time before that bad boy confidence wears off.

    And I had a sudden though […] that there was a child in her, and […] my violent death, would give some better heart to that embryo just created. (8.181)

    Rojack has reached a point where he thinks that only death will solve his problems. Is this what he means when he says that death is not a zero? Or is he just being the superstitious nut-job he seems to be? Per usual, we're left with more questions than answers.

  • The Supernatural

    I did not throw the grenades on that night on the hill under the moon, it threw them, and it did a near-perfect job. (1.7)

    It's a little frightening that Rojack doesn't experience anything supernatural until he's forced to kill someone. Regardless, the important question is why? Is it just the stress of war bringing out his animal instinct? Or is it something more?

    Suddenly it was all gone, the clean presence of it, the grace, it had deserted me in the instant I hesitated. (1.7)

    Rojack loses his supernatural powers as soon as he becomes aware of what he's doing. This certainly gives some credence to the idea (illustrated in Rojack's own philosophical work) that society lost a piece of its magic when it became self-aware.

    I was now […] a professor of existential psychology with the […] thesis that magic, dread, and the perception of death were the roots of motivation. (1.11)

    Yeah, it's really surprising that Rojack of all people focused his studies on death and magic… not. His thesis certainly holds true to his own experiences: After all, he only felt a touch of the supernatural when his life was in serious danger. Now that he's back in society, he can see traces of that magic wherever he looks.

    I knew I would fly. My body would drop like a sack […] but I would rise, the part of me which spoke and thought and had its glimpses of the landscape of my Being. (1.19)

    We're pretty sure that the word Rojack is looking for here is soul. At this point in the novel, Rojack's superstitious beliefs seem to be devolving into downright madness—don't forget, he's only thinking about suicide because he thinks the moon is talking to him. Eek.

    She had powers, my Deborah, she was psychic to the worst degree, and she had the power to lay a curse. (1.61)

    Although we are initially tempted to just laugh at this, it quickly becomes clear that Deborah does have some sort of magical power. This actually happens a lot—Rojack will talk about some supernatural occurrence that seems fake, but it always turns out be true. The world of An American Dream is not a rational place.

    When she had been pregnant, grace had come to her again. "I don't think God is so annoyed at me any more," she said. (2.9)

    Deborah's brand of superstition is rooted in Catholicism. This influences Rojack a great deal, as he later becomes obsessed with the idea of the battle between God and Devil. Regardless, if Deborah interpreted her pregnancy as an example of God's grace, then we can't imagine how she interpreted the subsequent miscarriage.

    "She felt that as your soul died, cancer began. She would always say it was a death which was not like other deaths." (3.177)

    Throughout the book, cancer is portrayed as a spiritual disease as much as a physical one. To us, it seems like Mailer is making a broader point about society, about the many deep-seated problems that we try to ignore, but eat away at us with time. What do you think?

    "And tonight we got him. Know why? Cause he's superstitious. His nephew told him to take a walk, get lost in the crowd. No. He's not leaving the car." (3.308)

    Even Eddie Ganucci, mobster extraordinaire, is super-superstitious. This is actually one of the few instances in the novel where superstitious beliefs seem to be proven wrong. That being said, we know from the end of the novel that Ganucci is free from prison just a day later, so maybe he isn't so wrong after all…

    My brain had developed into a small manufactory of psychic particles, pellets, rockets the length of a pin, planets the size of your eye's pupil where the iris comes down. (4.8)

    It almost seems like Rojack steals Deborah's psychic abilities after he kills her, and similarly, he later gains Cherry's ability to read other peoples' luck after she dies. We're not quite sure what to make of this, but we can tell you for sure that Rojack is the last person in the world we'd want to have telepathic powers. Yikes.

    "I always believed he was a hussar of the ghosts, but Bess was the queen of the spooks. Never met anyone so telepathic." (8.70)

    In the end, it turns out that Deborah comes from a long line of psychics—in fact, her father only becomes wealthy by exploiting that ability for monetary gain. Though we never get any concrete answers about the nature of all of this darn magic, the idea that the world's wealthiest people are using telepathy to reach their status is an interesting one indeed. It leaves us wondering how to pull ourselves up by our telepathic bootstraps…

  • Lies and Deceit

    I could go into more detail about the […] steps which left me a young Congressman […] but that would merely describe the adventures of the part which I as a young actor was playing. (1.10)

    It turns out that Rojack was a prodigious liar well before the misadventures chronicled in An American Dream. On one hand, this passage is a pretty sick burn against politicians in general and how they lie for self-serving purposes. But Mailer is also making a point about the lies that we all tell (to others and to ourselves) in order to fulfill other peoples' expectations.

    I howled then in a simulation of woe, but the woe was real—for the first time I knew she was gone—and it was an animal howl. (2.87)

    Although Rojack is straight-up lying about the circumstances behind Deborah's death, he can't help but feel real grief. Ultimately, this probably works to his benefit: His lies must seem a lot more realistic coming from a place of raw emotion.

    "Listen, pet, I have something awful to tell you. She had a sniff of you on me. And then she jumped." (3.22)

    That is cold-hearted, dude—you're not only lying about the fact that you murdered your wife, but you're placing all of the blame on a poor, innocent woman. Although the real lying has only just begun, we can already tell that Rojack is playing for keeps.

    And now I realized that the detective had seen me chatting with nothing less than a blonde. (3.68)

    Rojack has the romantic self-control (and the subtlety) of Pepe Le Pew. While this looks like it'll put a dent in his story, the truth is that Rojack would probably be doing the same exact thing even if Deborah had committed suicide.

    "And then she said, 'I didn't have cancer before. But in that hour I stood by the window, it began in me. I didn't jump and so my cells jumped.'" (3.209)

    This is an example of Rojack blending his own experiences with his lies to make them seem more real. Remember: Rojack has these exact same thoughts himself when he is contemplating suicide at the start of the novel.

    I began to shudder; the picture I had given was real to me. (3.219)

    At this point, Rojack has told so many lies that he can't tell what's real anymore. In fact, this makes us wonder how real any of this is… Could he be lying to us, too?

    There would be the funeral […] and the first in a new thousand to twenty-two thousand lies. But I was like a wrecked mariner in the lull between two storms. (4.1)

    Rojack has started a chain reaction and the only way to survive is to keep telling more and more lies. There's only one thing that could really stop this domino effect, however: the truth. But will Rojack ever become so desperate that he might consider doing something so unthinkable?

    But we could not begin with a lie between us. It was if […] some message had come to me from the end of the world. (5.14)

    After lying so much that his pants are incinerated, Rojack is desperate to find some sort of mental relief. In this way, Cherry represents a new start for Rojack, a life free of the deceit of his past. He holds true to this pact, too, telling Cherry the truth when she asks him if he killed Deborah.

    "Your wife's death is sufficiently tragic without beginning to mention the unhappy… the dreadful… the ambiguous aspects of it all." (5.192)

    Despite Rojack's plentiful lies, the truth is pretty readily apparent. He's like a dude with a bad toupee who's convinced that everyone believes he has a full head of luxurious hair. At a certain point, the only person that Rojack has successfully deceived is himself.

    "It doesn't matter what is done in private. What is important is the public show—it must be flawless." (8.323)

    In other words, something doesn't have to be true for people to believe it. The trick is to present your lies as if it they're true and never waver, no matter how silly and unbelievable they might seem. When you think about it, that's exactly what Rojack has been doing the whole time.

  • Violence

    Murder, after all, has exhilaration within it […] from possessing such strength. Besides, murder offers the promise of vast relief. It is never unisexual. (1.12)

    This quote establishes one of the novel's chief themes: Violence and sexuality are more connected than we'd like to admit. For Rojack, inflicting violence makes him feel powerful and strong, and his sexual conquests give him a similar rush. Ultimately, however, neither leaves him fulfilled.

    I had the mental image I was pushing my shoulder against an enormous door which would give inch by inch to the effort. (1.159)

    It's almost as if Rojack is sealing up all of the anger and resentment he's felt toward Deborah over the course of their marriage. It's a rather naïve mindset: He thinks that violence will make all of his problems disappear.

    I opened my eyes. I was weary with a most honorable fatigue, and my flesh seemed new. I had not felt so nice since I was twelve. (1.160)

    In a disturbing twist, Rojack feels rejuvenated after killing Deborah. This might just be us, but we don't think anyone would describe anything Rojack just did as "honorable." Regardless, we're beginning to see that Rojack likes the feeling he gets when he inflicts violence—and that means that there's surely more violence to come.

    It was as if in killing her, the act had been too gentle, I had not plumbed the hatred where the real injustice was stored. (2.86)

    So let's get this straight: You choked your wife to death and threw her out the window, yet you believe you were too gentle? That's pure insanity. It's clear that Rojack's violent instincts have taken over, transforming this seemingly mild-mannered professor into a bona fide maniac.

    I was a brain full of blood, the light went red, it was red. I took him from behind, my arms around his waist, hefted him in the air, and slammed him to the floor. (7.96)

    Just as with Deborah, Rojack loses control of his emotions and impulsively commits an act of violence. In fact, you can connect this to an even earlier event—his wartime fight with a gaggle of Germans. When Rojack commits violence, he usually loses his sense of self, devolving into a pure, animalistic rage. It's also worth mentioning that the phrasing here could easily be placed in a sexual context. We'll let you try that out for yourself, though.

    I had never had an idea I was this strong, exhilarated in the fact of the strength itself, and then he went limp and I let go. (7.96)

    Rojack sure feels exhilarated a lot, huh? There's a racial aspect to this exchange, as well: Because black men are looked at with fear by society, Rojack feels especially proud of his little victory. Unlike with Deborah, however, Rojack finds himself unable to kill Shago.

    "Shago, I'm going to kill you," I said.

    "No, man. You kill women," he said. (7.101-102)

    This is an illuminating moment: No matter how hard Rojack tries—he even throws the guy down a flights of stairs—Shago just won't die. In truth, Rojack only kills people he believes are weaker than him.

    "Well, the fight was stopped before they got outside. But Shago was afraid and his friends saw it […] and well, he lost his dignity." (7.152)

    It turns out that Shago isn't quite as tough as he let on—like Rojack, his violent tendencies are born from his feelings of weakness and emasculation. The only difference is that Rojack puts his money where his mouth is.

    "It wouldn't matter so much if you had killed her. I'm just as guilty, after all […] I was a brute to her. She visited that brutishness back on you." (8.310)

    This connects the idea of violence to the idea of repressed feelings—something that comes up throughout the novel. Deborah takes out her repressed feelings toward her father on Rojack, who responds in turn with violence. If you trace the cause-and-effect back to the beginning, then, you end up with Kelly.

    There was Shago's umbrella […] Grasping the umbrella I felt stronger now, like a derelict provided with a cigarette, a drink, and a knife. (8.333)

    This solidifies it: Rojack is straight-up addicted to violence—and when you mix this with his alcoholism, you end up with one nasty cocktail. Interestingly, for the first time, here Rojack inflicts violence on someone who probably deserves it. This is as close as you're going to get to a happy ending in this book.

  • Gender

    It was a losing war, and I wanted to withdraw, count my dead, and look for love in another land, but she was a great bitch, Deborah, a lioness of the species. (1.14)

    The idea that Rojack views his relationship as a battlefield—and his wife as a lioness—tells us everything we need to know about their relationship. First, it reveals that he sees men and women as fundamental enemies, and it also shows that he is truly afraid of Deborah, which is a fact that is about to become very important.

    She somehow fails in her role (as psychoanalysts, those frustrated stage directors, might say) if the love escapes with being maimed. (1.14)

    This is so over-the-top that we can hardly believe it. Does Rojack really believe that Deborah is such an evil person that she gets joy from hurting the people she loves? Already, it's clear that Rojack has some serious lady issues.

    She was a handsome woman, Deborah, she was big. With high heels she stood at least an inch over me. (1.53)

    Here, Rojack gives Deborah masculine qualities to emphasize how he feels emasculated by her. She's not pretty, she's handsome; she's not tall, she's big. It's worth mentioning that she's probably shorter than him—her height is only an illusion caused by her high heels, a trapping of femininity.

    I knew she was not crying for Deborah […] but rather for the unmitigable fact that women who have discovered the power of sex are never far from suicide. (3.5)

    In Rojack's mind, sexually active women are suicidal because of dudes like him—he knows all about the dehumanization they experience because he's usually the one doing the dehumanizing. Regardless, this knowledge doesn't seem to stop him from introducing women to the "power of sex" at every available opportunity.

    Yet there was something better about this girl, she had the subtle touch of a most expensive shop girl, there was a silvery cunning in her features. (3.54)

    It's telling that Rojack's highest compliment is that Cherry looks like an "expensive shop girl," a service worker paid to make her customers feel important. As usual, Rojack is simultaneously disgusted and attracted by these broad stereotypes. Basically, this dude has issues.

    Sitting next to me Roberts gave off the physical communion one usually receives from a woman. (3.70)

    Although this quote can be interpreted in any number of ways, we'd wager that this happens because Rojack is trying to lie to Roberts, and Roberts is trying to believe in something he knows in his heart to be untrue, After all, isn't that what Rojack's relationships with women are like?

    We laughed together. I had come to the conclusion a long time ago that all women were killers, but now I was deciding that all men were out of their mind. (3.299)

    Rojack is both a killer and out of his mind, so he must have a feminine side after all. Once again, however, he views the world through hackneyed stereotypes, perceiving all women as potential femme fatales. If anything, this new viewpoint expressed here represents a little bit of equal treatment. Baby steps.

    She looked at different instants like a dozen lovely blondes, and now and again a little like the little boy next door. (4.7)

    Once again, Rojack doesn't see Cherry as an individual, instead transforming her into some sort of pop culture chimera that represents the very idea of hot blondes. As usual, he refuses to see a woman as a human being.

    I was taken with this vanity, I was absorbed with it, for like most attractive women, her toes were the ugliest part of her body. (4.17)

    This idea of an ugly imperfection hidden within something beautiful is seen throughout the novel. This is actually one of the few moments where Rojack actually humanizes Cherry instead of seeing her as representative of all women. It's not much, but it's a start.

    Women must murder us unless we possess them altogether […] and […] perhaps I could possess that altogether, perhaps that face could love me. (4.17)

    Well that makes everything crystal clear, doesn't it? Rojack's hatred of women is rooted in his fear of them—his fear that they will somehow destroy him if he doesn't destroy them first. What's more, the idea that he'd need to "possess" a woman seems to contradict his seeming intellectualism.

    For she had been using me—so I understood it now. And felt an icy rage against all women who would use me. (4.80)

    You should take this quote with whole spoonful of salt—after all, this is the same dude who just murdered his wife and covered up the crime. He's used a lot of people along the way, so really, he has no business being angry with anyone.

  • Dissatisfaction

    A familiar misery was on me. I was separated from Deborah as much as a week or two at a time, but there would come a moment […] when it was impossible not to call her.

    This is a double-edged sword for poor Rojack. On one hand, his feelings of loneliness make it impossible to stay away from Deborah, but on the other, his helplessness in the face of these feelings only make him feel worse. As a result, he's stuck in a sort of no-man's-land between emotions, completely unsure about how to feel.

    At moments like that I would feel as if I had committed hari-kari and was walking about with my chest physically separated from my groin. (1.36)

    Ouch. In this passage, we see how Rojack's fear of emasculation fuels his feelings of dissatisfaction. Because of these feelings, Rojack tries to use sex to validate his masculinity and gain agency over his own life. It doesn't entirely work as planned, though.

    Being step-father to Deirdre was the most agreeable part of our marriage; for that reason I tried to see her as little as possible now. (1.71)

    At this point, Rojack is pretty much just wallowing in his own despair. If he were to visit Deirdre, he'd be acknowledging that he has a responsibility to take care of someone besides himself. He doesn't even seem capable of doing that anymore, though.

    That instinct sickened suddenly with disgust; the miscarriage, after all, had been my loss as well. (3.120)

    In our eyes, this might be the root of Rojack's feelings of dissatisfaction—to an extent, at least. Remember: Rojack fantasizes about impregnating every woman that he sleeps with, as if that will help him gain control of his life.

    A leaden anxiety settled in my stomach; just that sort of bottomless pit I used to feel when I had been away from Deborah. (3.288)

    Deborah's gone, but Rojack still can't escape his feelings of dissatisfaction. He expected that pain to go away once she was gone, but he was as wrong as wrong could be. Could it be that Deborah wasn't the only cause of his unhappiness, after all?

    My burned-up lungs went clear—once again this night I was taking one of those fine new breaths I had not known in twenty years. (4.18)

    Rojack feels as fresh and as clean as Outkast—what a far cry from the mopey sad-sack we've been hanging out with this whole time. Now that Rojack has murdered Deborah and met Cherry, he actually seems to be in control of his life.

    I had no brain left, no wit, no pride, no itch, no smart, it was as if the membrane of my past had collected like a dead skin to be skimmed away. (5.41)

    Despite his absolute exuberance just hours ago, Rojack is right back down in the dumps. For a while, he felt like he was in control of things, like he was in the driver's seat—but now that the cops are closing in, Rojack feels the same sense of paralyzing hopelessness that's crippled him for so long.

    Civilisation is the successful if imperfect theft of […] these secrets, and the price we have paid is to accelerate our private sense of some enormous if not quite definable disaster which awaits us. (5.376)

    This is some pretty heavy stuff, right? Interestingly, this passage seems to reveal Rojack's—and perhaps Mailer's—understanding of the dissatisfaction at the core of the modern experience. To Rojack, this unhappiness is due to the denial of fundamental truths about oneself. Now if only he could apply that knowledge to his own life…

    And the dread I had escaped […] now flew in silent as the shadow of a bat, and my body was like a cavern where deaths are stored. (7.119)

    It always happens the same way: First, Rojack does something crazy (either violent or sexual) and feels better, but then, in the next moment, he feels worse out of nowhere. If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then Rojack belongs in the loony bin.

    The dread had begun to be muted in the whiskey, but it would be back, it would certainly be back. (7.131)

    We would be remiss if we didn't mention Rojack's number-one tool for dealing with his feelings of dissatisfaction: copious amounts of alcohol. You can imagine how well that goes.

  • Lust

    That was love with Deborah and it was separate from making love to Deborah; no doubt she classified the two as Grace and Lust. (1.9)

    As we'll come to see, Rojack shares these beliefs about sexuality and then some. By separating sex from love, they're making it all but impossible to have a long-lasting relationship that's both loving and sexually satisfying. Plus, we all know how their relationship turns out…

    "That's what woke me up—making your reconciliation with Mrs. Rojack. I was awake and I was so excited—I can't explain it." (2.56)

    The noises that Ruta interprets as sex are actually the sounds of Deborah's murder. Gross. Pay attention to this one, though, because the link between lust and violence is an important aspect of the novel's view of sexuality and male-female relations as a whole.

    Hopeless, because I should have been down on the street already, and yet there was no help for it, thirty second was all I wanted and thirty seconds I took. (3.5)

    Rojack has just murdered his wife, slept with her maid, and pushed Deborah's corpse out a window, yet he's still so overcome by lust that he can't make it out the door. This shows us just how extreme Rojack's sexual addiction is: He's unable to resist his urges, even when his life depends on it.

    Like an echo from the […] past came a clear sense of doing this before, of making love to some woman who was not attractive to me […] and me saying "Oh, darling, oh, baby." (3.46)

    For context, Rojack is currently pretending to mourn Deborah's death in front of police officers. This implies that his very love for Deborah was a lie, though we don't think this is completely true. Either way, it once again establishes the connection between violence and death thanks to the much-needed release that both seem to provide.

    I did not go on to say that when I was in bed with a woman, I rarely felt as if I were making life, but rather as if I were a pirate sharpening up a raid on life. (4.280)

    Well, that's a problem Rojack ol' buddy. Rojack knows that he has a twisted mentality about sex, that he is far more concerned with his own satisfaction than anything else. So why not stop? Why not change his ways? As we'll soon see, Rojack is too hooked to turn back now.

    I was the equal of a cigarette smoker who has been three days without a butt—underneath everything I wanted sex now, not for pleasure, not for love, but to work this tension. (5.13)

    This is pretty much the same reason that he kills Deborah: to release tension. Furthermore, it once again establishes that Rojack is addicted to sexuality just as much as he's addicted to alcohol and violence. Maybe he had self-control at some point, but those days are long gone.

    If at this exact instant Roberts had offered me twenty-four hours of freedom I think I would have signed his confession, for I had to see her again, simple as that. (5.33)

    Once again, Rojack's lust overwhelms his instincts for self-preservation. Luckily, Roberts waits a few extra moments to make this proposition, so Rojack is able to stand firm. Although lust is a powerful emotion, capable of overwhelming him at a moment's notice, it tends to disappear just as quickly as it appears.

    She nodded her head wisely. "People want to make love after a death." (8.93)

    Here, Deirdre articulates a simple fact that Rojack has spent the whole novel trying to ignore: Ever since his experience during World War II—not to mention his murder of Deborah—Rojack has been trying to escape death through sex.

    "And then I felt an awful desire to go to her room: my teeth were literally grinding, my belly was a pit of snakes." (8.406)

    This is as dark as things get. Incest comes up several times throughout the novel, typically portrayed as the darkest level of lust that can exist. Essentially, Mailer is saying is that limitless money and time, combined with overwhelming, repressed lust, creates deep dark pits in our subconscious that would be better off not existing at all.

    I could hear what he offered now: bring Ruta forth, three of us to pitch and tear and squat and lick, swill and grovel on that Lucchese bed. (8.438)

    Basically, Kelly wants Rojack to completely give into his lust—as if Rojack hadn't already done just that. Luckily, there's a line that even he won't cross. That being said, this whole exchange makes us suspicious that Kelly might not have been completely honest about the extent of his relationship with Deborah.