Read more · Philip Roth - The Human Stain. Read more · Roth, Philip - The Human Stain · Read more · Stain of the Berry. Read more · The Ink Stain · Read more. THE HUMAN STAIN. Screenplay by. NICHOLAS MEYER. Based On The Novel. The Human Stain. By Philip Roth. Production - white. February 25, PDF | Philip Roth belongs to the first generation of American novelists for whom a It focuses on The Human Stain (), the novel in which he reflects most.
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Editorial Reviews. picscobenreatttas.tk Review. Athena College was snoozing complacently in the Berkshires until Coleman Silk--formerly "Silky Silk," undefeated. This books (The Human Stain [PDF]) Made by Philip Roth About Books none To Download Please Click. While the centrality of the genre of tragedy to The Human Stain has been consistently acknowledged by critics, the novel has tended to be read simply as an.
Hence, the accomplishments of Philip Roth and Francine Prose as writers not only add clout to the genre, but, make it more likely that scholars and critics will pay attention to future works of academic fiction. He feels they have a tendency to focus merely on problems within the college campus. He argues that writers of academic fiction stick with a formulated plot and only alter who is complaining about the problems within the campus and who they affect.
As he observes, The novelists perspective shifts, but the place itself remains substantially the same. He goes on to point out that many recent academic novels are too pleasant and affable, since the majority of those writing them are employed by the university and do not want to bite the hand that feeds, houses, insures He seems to believe that light-hearted campus fictions do nothing for the advancement of the academic novel as a scholarly genre and instead debase the genre to that of an easily read romance novel.
He stresses that if a campus novel wants to survive the times, it needs to be brutally honest and nasty; for example, Randall Jarrells Pictures From an Institution and Mary McCarthys Groves of Academe both written in the s are about either leaving or swearing off the university Incidentally, like those of Jarrell and McCarthy, Roth and Proses works involve swearing off and leaving the world of academe.
While many works of campus fiction involve critiquing the academic establishment, they also give a glimpse into cultural history, shifting in themes and purpose as times change. The academic novel of the s, for example, saw a rise in popularity as more people began attending college and sought outlets for the changes taking place at home and abroad, socially and politically Bradbury John Lyons, in his article The College Novel in America, cites three academic novels written after , when the popular news media portrayed American universities as troubled and on the verge of a breakdown; Norman Garbos The Movement, Paul Radars Professor Wilmess Must Die and Nicholas Von Hoffmans Two Three and Many More examine the issues of leftist professors, radical students, betrayal, and campus uprisings Accordingly, present day culture is reflected in the recent academic novels of Philip Roth and Francine Prose.
These academic novels give a pointed and often humorous glimpse of contemporary American society. This range of purpose in academic novels adds to their overall appeal and accessibility for both the reader and writer. Academic novels, as pointed out by William Tierney, have a broad reach and can be enjoyed by non-academics as well as those involved in academe While lay readers would likely miss much of the irony and sarcasm geared toward the university, they would certainly get a view of life inside the coveted ivory tower Sanford Pinsker goes on to articulate that professors often enjoy academic fiction because they contain just enough to seem familiar, even as their pages move steadily into territory over the top For those involved in academics, the books provide a realization that things could be worse and perhaps allow them to look at their own college with renewed appreciation.
In addition to its accessibility, the academic novel offers ways to reflect upon our lives and society. William Tierney writes that [a]cademic novels are helpful for academics not merely for the pleasure one may derive in reading fiction, but also for what the text tells us about ourselves What makes academic novels unique, and what differentiates them from 10 other genres, is their exaggerated use of satire and allegory in examining contemporary culture, as well as what they reveal about identity and tell us about ourselves.
Philip Roth has been writing for over forty years and in that time has been established as a well-known literary figure. In addition to the many novels he has written, he is known for writing articles and short stories, some of which have been adapted for TV and film.
Roth has produced controversial and thought-provoking literature. His novels often leave critics divided and reviews mixed, yet he has won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in for American Pastoral. Roths narrators are complex; the stories they tell are not chronological, and there is often a twist in plot. In addition, the text often engages in a dialogue with the reader scrutinizing and satirizing American culture.
Roth is innovative; constructing, twisting, and playing with literary devices has helped him to produce engaging fiction. Critics, reviewers, and readers alike often claim that Roths works are autobiographical. Yet he is insistent that, contrary to what people want to believe, they are not Milbauer 1. Milan Kundera accurately describes one aspect of Roths writing style: Roth is infinitely sincere in his desire to tell all, to say everything he has in his heart and to say it openly, naively, like someone who at confession wants to hold nothing back.
Infinitely vulnerable in his sincerity, Roth is infinitely ungraspable in his irony.
The human stain
Milbauer Themes in his books, particularly in The Human Stain, range from issues related to sexuality, power, gender roles, the search for identity, the role of family, to the importance of honesty.
He takes these themes and produces fiction that does not follow the typical fiction writing formula. As Paul Gray ascertains in his review [o]ne of his 11 more intriguing aspects has been his refusal to tailor his work to anyone elses expectations I believe this refusal not only makes Philip Roth controversial, but also gives him a unique voice for writing about the absurdities of American culture and the tribulations of identity construction.
Davies asserts that Roth has pioneered the production of a compelling mix of social commentary and fiction that has afforded a portrayal of a nation corrupted by a moral and political bankruptcy, undone by a spiritualism that smacks of Reaganism at its worst His most recent novel, The Human Stain, uses the academic setting to deliver commentary on and satirize a time period when the nation is saturated with political correctness and moral questioning.
This novel takes place in a small Northern New England town. The town is home to the prestigious Athena College, and the town and the college share an air of longstanding Puritan New England values. Nathan Zuckerman, a writer who has moved to the outskirts of town to escape mainstream society, narrates the novel.
In typical Roth style, the narrative is complicated due to Zuckermans first person semi-omniscient perspective continuously shifting from the present to the past. The narrative is further complicated by the fact that Coleman Silk, a key character throughout, is already deceased at the onset of the novel, but we do not learn of his passing until much later in the text. Most events of the novel are relayed through the voice of Zuckerman as they were presented to him through conversations with Coleman Silk.
However, some of the information in the novel is presented by Zuckerman as he learned it through outsiders such as Colemans sister Ernestine, or on his own accord such as when he learns of Faunias illiteracy lie by eavesdropping on a conversation at a local diner.
Coleman shows Zuckerman one of the many documents from his case which states one of his students was forced to flunk out of Athena College because she was too intimidated by the racism emanating from her white professors to work up the courage to go to class Silk wants to put in writing the events that not only motivated him to leave his position of Classics professor at Athena College, but also, in his estimation, caused his wifes untimely death.
It is through the attempt to write this account that a friendship develops and Zuckerman learns much about Coleman Silks life. Yet, it is not until after Silks death that Zuckerman learns the full truth about his friend.
Philip Roth Studies
The reader learns through Nathan Zuckermans flashbacks all about Coleman Silk, including the fact that he is not a Jewish man, as people suppose, but a light-skinned African American who, upon leaving college and entering the military, decided that for the rest of his life he would pass as a white man.
Subsequently, he also made the decision to cut all ties with his family. The woman he eventually married believed he was a white man, as did his children, acquaintances, and anyone he came into contact with over the next forty years.
Through these flashbacks, a dialogue about social values and morals takes place. The narrator depicts Coleman as a hard worker, who believed in his ability to achieve and prevail, skilled at whatever he chose to put his mind to from boxing to the Classics. He was an intelligent and insightful man, who, upon being appointed Dean of faculty at Athena College, enacted extensive changes throughout the establishment, in order to ensure the credibility and professionalism of Athena faculty.
Coleman, 13 consequently, made both new friends and new enemies with these changes. It becomes evident that Coleman has more enemies than friends within Athena when he is ridiculously charged with racism for calling two absent students, who happen to be Black, spooks. Almost all the faculty members, including those he aided by hiring them, do not stand behind him in his time of need. In particular, a French language and literature professor, Delphine Roux, seems to have a personal vendetta against Coleman Silk and is one of the key players in supporting the allegations.
The once confident and established Coleman Silk becomes angry and resentful of both the policies and procedures of Athena College and his co-workers. A change in Colemans personality takes place only after he develops a surprising relationship with a woman after his wifes death who works on the custodial staff at the college. While this woman is much younger than Coleman and passes herself off as illiterate, the two connect on a profound personal and physical level.
Despite the comments and actions of his ex-co-worker, Delphine Roux, who is jealous and resentful of the relationship and despite the fact that his children have little to do with their father, Coleman begins to see life in a new light.
Unfortunately this bliss and resurrection of self are short lived, due to the irrational and crazed actions of his lovers ex-husband. Faunias ex-husband, Les Farley, is a Vietnam vet, who, upon returning from war to the United States felt angry and displaced, and, while he attempts to help himself through therapy, he is never able to let go of the experiences he had abroad.
These experiences cause Les to act out in violent and inappropriate ways to Faunia, which causes her to cut all contacts with him. It is brought to the readers attention that Les additionally has a plethora of hatred for Faunia, because he is convinced that she is responsible for their children dying 14 in a fire that destroyed their home.
The character development of Les and his subsequent actions depict the troubled plight of Americas vets. Roth links the actions of the characters, the setting of the college campus, and the surrounding New England town to present an atmosphere saturated with incongruous ideals and political correctness. It is within this atmosphere that a variety of relationships and issues are examined.
These examinations lead to commentary on popular American society and the struggle of identity. In much the same way, Francine Proses Blue Angel, investigates and comments on American culture and identity through the setting of the college campus. While not as well known as Philip Roth, Francine Prose is an accomplished writer. She has written over fifteen books, which include novels, childrens books, and collections of short stories.
Her most recent work The Lives of Muses looks at the wives of some of literatures most famous authors. Prose writes articles for magazines such as Harpers and the New York Times Magazine and has also written a script for a motion picture entitled Janis. Troy L. Thibodeaux writes that Francine Prose is known to have a keen sense of observation of the idiosyncrasies of contemporary behavior and for the funny, frequently biting social satire that these observations occasion He goes on to say that many of Proses characters are trying to find meaning and direction in their disconnected lives.
She is adept at social criticism, and while her themes vary, overall they are centered on[u]npredictability and the imminent threat of catastrophe Ted Swenson, a professor, in Blue Angel is a good illustration of her use of characterization and satire to comment on contemporary behavior.
In the article A Wasteland of Ones Own, Prose attacks the recent influx of women-centered media, such as the television network Oxygen and the web site IVillage. She goes on to say the women-centered hot spots are merely playing on already ingrained stereotypes by depicting women as technology illiterate and as feeling that shopping cures all woes.
A closer look at what is seemingly feminist on the surface but just the opposite underneath resonates in her book Blue Angel. Blue Angel addresses feminist issues, but they are not always apparent. For example, we may ask if Ted Swensons student Angela Argo is a victim of an older mans hopes and desires or if Angela is actually the one who victimizes, using her sexuality to seduce Swenson so as to help her publish her novel.
Furthermore, we may ask if Prose is poking fun at Swensons daughter for taking a class entitled Batterers and Battered [that deals with domestic abuse] or is Prose bringing to light an important issue?
The duality of her writing, whether it is on feminist issues, the role of family, the absurdities of society, or the struggle for identity deepens and enriches her construction of characters and thematic concerns.
Francine Proses Blue Angel follows the thoughts and actions of a middle-aged creative writing professor. Ted Swenson has been teaching at Euston College for many years, and in terms of the American dream, he has it all: a nice house, a stable career, and a loving wife. His only setbacks are his strained relationship with his daughter, his lack 16 of motivation to write his third novel, and the lack of connection he feels with those with whom he works.
Swenson has been facilitating fiction-writing workshops for many years. While he once found it exciting and intriguing, he now struggles with the absurd and mundane process of flushing out reputable fiction from his students. In one of the opening scenes of the novel, Swenson is trying to lead a class that has been writing short stories that deal with bestiality.
A job he once found intriguing and uplifting has become a weekly struggle to find a way to chat about awkward subjects so that no ones feelings get hurt 5. He is irritated that many of his colleagues think his job is easy because he doesnt lecture or give tests. This scene illustrates the beginning of Swensons feelings of alienation, not only with Euston College, but with his identity as a competent instructor. In what seems to be a search for self, Ted Swenson becomes overly interested in one of his students and consequently further alienates himself from his daughter and his colleagues and faces losing his job, his wife, and life as he knows it.
Similar to Coleman Silk in The Human Stain, Swenson realizes amidst these allegations of wrongful conduct that he cannot count on his colleagues for support. It is within the context of these actions and events that take place at Euston College that we see commentary about contemporary American culture.
While the text of Blue Angel is not as complicated and in depth as The Human Stain, both are similar in terms of setting and scope.
In addition, both authors use humor, irony, and satire as it relates to political correctness to show the strange marriage of contemporary and traditional values that are prevalent in the current climate of some 17 college campuses. These literary devices ultimately allow for commentary and reflection on the absurdities of modern American society. Insightful commentary is given on a range of issues, from sexual relations to societys insistence on political correctness. The presentation of these issues within the context of the college campus gives great depth to this focus on cultural politics.
Sex, sexuality, and Americas view on both are central from the beginning of The Human Stain. The novel opens with the chapter Everyone Knows, which begins with the narrator Nathan Zuckerman talking about Coleman Silks confession that he was having an affair with a thirty-four year old cleaning woman who worked down at the college 1. What makes this confession remarkable is the fact that Silk is a distinguished man more than twice her age and status.
The early pages of this chapter are filled with language depicting offence, wrongful conduct, lack of self-restraint, and smoldering Puritan values. Delphine Roux, a professor of Languages and Literature, writes Coleman an anonymous note: Everyone knows youre sexually exploiting an abused, illiterate woman half your age In truth everyone does not know; however, the note represents what in all likelihood would be the popular consensus about Coleman and Faunias relationship.
People will view their relationship in terms of differences in occupation and societal status and reason that this younger, less intelligent woman is being exploited. As Nathan Zuckerman accurately affirms to Coleman, it doesnt conform to decencys fantasy blueprint for who should be in bed with a man of your years and your position The Human Stain also takes a humorous look at the newest wonder drug to hit Americas pharmacies, the sexual enhancement drug Viagra.
Coleman Silk is in the midst of telling Zuckerman how it has improved his life and goes into an almost poetic ode to the drug on page thirty-two. On the one hand, the text seems to marvel at Viagras ability to enrich life well past the sexual prime. On the other hand, it also looks at the problems this increased sex drive causes. For example, it is doubtful if Coleman would be 19 involved with Faunia if not for the help of the drug, since sex is where the two have the deepest connection.
Comparable to The Human Stain, Blue Angel presents a relationship between an older man and a younger woman. Like Faunia Farley, Angela Argo is of lower status and educational standing than her older love interest, the seemingly well-adjusted and successful Ted Swenson.
Swenson is aroused and intrigued by this younger student who partakes in his fiction writing workshop. An unlikely match, Angela is a skinny, pale redhead with neon-orange and lime green steaks in her hair and a delicate, sharp-featured face pierced in a half-dozen places 8. She projects extreme boredom in class but surprises Swenson with her striking ability to write and critique fiction.
The presentation of their relationship not only counters what culturally is considered sexy but also pokes fun at the scenario of the middle-aged man cheating on his wife with a younger woman. The situation is further satirized when Swenson and Angela attempt to have sex and Swensons tooth shatters, causing the moment to be lost.
It is at once a comic and pathetic scene. The presentation of sex in these two novels, as it relates to the college campus, satirizes the rigid Puritan views of sexuality held by some Americans.
The Human Stain
In addition to their exploration of sexual relationships, both of these novels explore the issue of relations between colleagues and the influence of power on these relationships. When Coleman Silk is reprimanded for allegedly referring to two black students as spooks, he realizes that those he thought were his allies fold under the authority of the College.
Understandably, the longtime professors who were severely irritated by the numerous changes Coleman made as Dean of faculty were not on his side. What came as a surprise was the lack of support from those whom Coleman helped out 20 by hiring them, all those who loved him for giving them a chance when they were newly graduated 9. This fluctuation of power among faculty members Coleman once being the man in charge, now being charged and persecuted by those who held little power illustrates the constant shift of influence within the microcosm of academia.
Coleman is shocked by the treatment he receives. He is upset that his colleagues do not support him and angrily laments to Zuckerman: These shenanigans were so much jockeying for power.
To gain a bigger say in how the college is run. They were just exploiting a useful situation It is this anger at the establishment that fuels his desire to publish a book with the help of writer Nathan Zuckerman explaining the unfair treatment. Although the book is never written, Coleman has found a close friend in Zuckerman. The many profound conversations between the two men help Coleman realize it is difficult to find allies in the competitive atmosphere of academics.
This realization alleviates some of Colemans initial shock and anger over the allegations. Similarly, in Blue Angel Ted Swenson finds himself amidst allegations, although his are for indecent conduct with a student.
Swenson becomes an example for Euston Colleges quest to stamp out sexual harassment, and, as a result, colleagues whom he thought were friends do little to defend him. His trial, as pointed out by numerous reviewers, resembles the early Puritan witch-hunts, as everyone from the librarian to former students are called forth to give information that can be used to persecute him.
In both instances, Coleman and Swenson are at the mercy of not only the policies and procedures of the academic institutions, but those individuals whom they thought they could trust.
During Swensons hearing, fellow faculty member, Dave Sterrer takes the stand. Swenson bitterly wonders what right Sterrer has to testify, considering he had affairs with his own fellow students In addition, Magda Moynahan of the poetry department is on the committee that will decide his fate, a woman, whom he thought was his good friend and confidant. Throughout the inquiry, she does not offer any non-verbal or verbal means of support.
In his article On Collegiality, College Style Carlin Romano talks about what leads faculty members to treat each other with a lack of genuineness.
Romano discusses a word he believes adequately describes faculty relationships: colleagueality. Unlike collegiality, colleagueality describes the backbiting, envy, irresolvable feuds, hidden agendas, contempt, cowardice present in many faculty departments B6. He suggests that although they present the facade of a connected group, faculty members are often at odds with each other in their quest for power, recognition, and advancement. In my opinion, these two instances exemplify how as a society we are often motivated by and act upon personal interest, especially in our occupations.
Not only can we be self-serving, but we often cater to those in power to avoid confrontation, even if we do not agree. In addition, like the case of Swenson and Coleman, in times of personal tribulation, we often find ourselves either in the situation of being alone or discovering who are our true friends.
For example, the topic of race and racial relations is addressed extensively in Roths work through the character Coleman Silk.
Coleman was born a light-skinned 22 African American. He realized early in life that passing as a Caucasian would be more beneficial to him in the racist society in which he lived. Encouraged by his boxing coach, Coleman first disregarded his race as a teenager, during a boxing match at West Point. He did so not by actively proclaiming he was white, but by being instructed by his coach, Doc Chizner, not to mention that he was colored Growing up, Coleman had experienced racism from fellow classmates and random individuals.
He knew that prejudice against his race could restrict his aspirations. But it wasnt until he was blatantly called a nigger at a store in Washington DC that he realized how painful and inhibiting his skin color could be. When he enrolled in military service, he finalized his decision to alter his identity by checking off Caucasian in the section that asked for race.
When Coleman Silk meets and falls in love with a white girl from the Midwest, his ethnic background once again becomes a factor. The two date for over a year and Coleman continues to heed Doc Chizner's advice on the subject of his race: "If nothing comes up, you don't bring it up" When he finally takes her to meet his family, who are unquestionably African American, things go well until the two are on the train headed back to the city.
Steena abruptly breaks down and tearfully exclaims, "I can't do it" , runs off, and the two never date again. He eventually meets and becomes engaged to a Jewish woman. He realizes that his reason for marrying Iris comes down to the fact that she has kinky hair, which could be used as an explanation if their children are born with African American characteristics.
This awareness saddens him, but he reasons that it is just another technicality in his decision to pass as white. He also decides that he needs to cut all ties with his family. Before he marries, he goes to visit with his mother 23 and announces he will have nothing to do with his family ever again, thus eliminating his mother's right ever to meet her grandchildren. Coleman realizes that his declaration is excruciating to his mother but reasons he is "murdering her on behalf of his exhilarating notion of freedom!
This idea of freedom, the notion of acquiring all that he can in life, and the desire to be a candidate for every opportunity lead him to turn his back on his race: "Only through this test can he be the man he has chosen to be, unalterable separated from what he was handed at birth, free to struggle at being free like any human being would wish to be free" Silk firmly believes the benefits of his decision outweigh the personal anguish and negative ramifications.
In his article "Climbing Over the Ethnic Fence: Reflections on Stanley Crouch and Philip Roth," Sanford Pinsker discusses Coleman Silk's desire to pass as a white man as his reaction to wanting the American dream, without any restraints, allowing an "emphasis on the Self as opposed to Society" He postulates that Roth's novel "dramatizes the gains as well as the costs of jumping over the ethnic fence" Colemans decision grapples with the matter of race in American society.
Even after the status of minorities in America was improved through the Civil Rights movement, he never revealed his true race. This raises the question as to why he does not reveal the truth.
Is it because he has lived the lie for so long, or is it because he knows that even in the s, there still existed racial prejudice which could inhibit his success? Silk is consistently depicted as an intelligent, confident, and powerful individual, yet he does not have the power or confidence to deal with racial adversity.
He has many strong qualities that would be beneficial to him in achieving success, yet he knows that 24 society will overlook those and instead look at the color of his skin.
Ironically, accusations that he is a white racist lead to the eventual demise of his career. Coleman's racial lie questions the ideology of the American Dream and what extent people will go to achieve it.
Is this dream, in actuality, molded and built on lies and false manifestations of self? Do qualifications for being able to pursue the American dream require being Caucasian? It is my judgment that the credentials for achieving the American dream are being satirized.
Here is a situation where an educated man is trying to be part of a cultural belief by falsifying a factor that is supposed to be irrelevant to that belief. Another topic examined in Roth and Proses novels is family relations; each book depicts family relationships that are flawed and atypical. His youngest son has always resented him, and the other three distance themselves after their mother's passing, blaming Coleman for her untimely death.
As previously mentioned, he also has strained relations with his mother and two siblings, resulting from his denial of his ethnic background. The only seemingly healthy relationship in Coleman's life is with Nathan Zuckerman and Faunia Farley.
Faunia Farley is able to make Coleman happy, despite the excessive emotional baggage she has from her dismal family relations. Her stepfather sexually abused her as a child, and her mother refused to accept it, causing Faunia to leave home at an early age. In addition, her own two children died in a fire and her ex-husband is a borderline psychotic.
These ill-fated events cause her understandable guilt and uneasiness in interpersonal relationships. She is depicted in the novel, as being pleasant, but lacking 25 close acquaintances other than Coleman.
It appears Faunia is closest to and relates best to a bird, an ostracized black crow that resides at the Audubon society She feels a sense of peace when she visits him, attributing their time together as a way for her "to leave the human race" Blue Angel also elucidates familial relationships that are broken and unhealthy, such as Ted Swenson's relationships with his wife, daughter and deceased father.
His father in a crazed act of suicide burnt himself alive. Swenson rarely speaks with his daughter Ruby, and after over fifteen years of marriage, he betrays his wife and abruptly loses all they had. The relationship receiving the most attention is between Swenson and his daughter, who attends college in a neighboring town. Ruby's emergence into adolescence caused Swenson to feel "mystified and hurt and embarrassed" It seems he was unable to accept his little girl growing up and felt alienated by changes she was going through.
Their relationship becomes further strained when he regrettably breaks up one of her relationships Consequently, Ted feels disillusioned with Ruby and their interaction is often awkward and unnatural.
Similarly, Elaine B. What his essay shares with those of Lyons and Safer, however, is a lack of attention to the way the relationship between established motifs of tragedy and the particular story of Coleman Silk is itself treated as a significant theme in the novel. In other words, these critics read The Human Stain simply as an embodiment of tragedy, rather than as a reflection upon it and an examination of its processes and assumptions.
In a footnote, Bakewell hits upon the major compositional question The Human Stain asks its readers, a question he states without attempting to answer: Even aside from the epigraph, the centrality of tragedy to The Human Stain is made clear from the outset. Coleman is a professor of classics at Athena College, and in describing The Iliad to his students, he implicitly connects the book we are reading with the original exemplar of tragedy: Little has changed over time.
We begin The Human Stain with a latter-day warrior prince, who in an academic context has leveled the field before him, powerfully asserting his will in the reconstruction of a faculty that he dredges from oblivion to high-level achievement. That this process makes him enemies, who then turn against him in his hour of need, is a reversal characteristic of tragic story-telling.
He is where he is as the result of a decision, an assertion of agency in the face of his racial fate, displaying what Arthur Miller saw in all tragic heroes: And it is this decision that will unseat him and finally destroy him, in an irony reminiscent of the fate of heroes before him.
The boxing anal- ogy reasserts itself as this decision is explained: This incident helps formulate an ethic for his life: Here we have the traditional American hero, the hero of self-invention. But the language of self also invites the language of tragedy: Here is the first significant occasion in his life when Coleman chooses to ignore the advice of the classical texts, advice beloved of his father, and goes his own way. From this point onwards, the parallels and intertextual references to tragedy do not abate.
Sometimes tragic refer- ences are used to support agency, while sometimes they emphasize fate and accident; sometimes Coleman correctly recognizes parallels, and sometimes he does not; sometimes his knowledge of tragedy aids his understanding and action, and at other times he becomes puzzled, indignant and resistant to the teachings of his own field of specialism.
It is often in those moments when Coleman feels most strongly the power of his own self-creation that his certainty is most starkly undone. When he invites his first white girlfriend, Steena Paulsen, to dinner at his house, thereby revealing his secret to her, the text focalizes his thoughts: This profession of agency, forceful though it seems, is quickly complicated by a scene that occurs a few pages later, in which Coleman meets Steena again, four years after their break-up over the revelation of his race: That is, he walked away understanding nothing, knowing he could understand nothing, though with the illusion that he would have metaphysically understood something of enormous importance about this stubborn determination of his to become his own man if.
At the close of the section, the link that these thoughts have to tragic themes is made even more explicit: While the Greek parallels may appear uncanny, if useless, to Coleman in the above passage, at other moments he willfully rejects the trappings of tragedy, feeling that bare reality must contrast with the narrative conventions he teaches in class.
For instance, as Coleman watches Faunia jokingly interact with her co-workers on the Athena campus lawn, he suddenly regrets the path his life has taken, and vows to change: To live in a way that does not bring Philoctetes to mind. He does not have to live like a tragic character in his course. Confiding in him. Reminiscing with him. Letting him listen. Whatever catastrophe turns up, he transforms into writing.
Catastrophe is cannon fodder for him. But what can I transform this into? I am stuck with it. As is. Sans language, shape, structure, meaning—sans the unities, the catharsis, sans everything. This moment occurs when Coleman consid- ers the possibility that his son Mark hates him because he knows his secret: That made no sense at all as a grievance—it could not be!
There was no such quid pro quo. It could not be. And yet, after the phone call—leaving the student union, leaving the campus, all the while he was driving in tears back up the mountain—that was exactly what it felt like.
I have done so because this is what the early parts of the novel would have us believe; later, however, we encounter a thorough unraveling of this logic of locatable cause and demonstrable effect. The reader gradu- ally realizes just how much motivation Zuckerman has invented, and how much mapping and patterning he has had to carry out on an inexplicable life.
Now the narrative changes tack, and it is this very inexplicability that is foregrounded. Everyone knows. How what happens the way it does? What underlies the anarchy of the train of events, the uncertainties, the mishaps, the disunity, the shocking irregularities that define human affairs? Nobody knows, Professor Roux. Even more astonishing is what passes for knowing. But while the narrator can freely admit this guilt, and hence allow provisional truth claims to be contextualized by the epistemological uncer- tainty that surfaces in passages such as the above, in the final movement of the novel a more profound problem begins to emerge.
Not for as long as we knew him. This is true.
The human stain
Being a Negro was just never an issue with him. Here the stress on the unlocatability of causes and the inexplicability of actions emphasizes the unknowability of the other person, the very otherness of the other.
But what also begins to suggest itself to Zuckerman in these late passages is something more radical: Understandably, Zuckerman cannot resist attempting to connect the Coleman who revolted against race and family to the Coleman who decided to quit Athena under a racist cloud, supposing that through this linkage some basic questions can be answered: How did such a man as Coleman Silk come to exist?
What is it that he was? But finding that such an enquiry leads nowhere, Zuckerman admits his perplexity: All of a sudden, we witness a shift from an epistemological problem to an ontological one. In condemning the gossipers of Athena, Zuckerman has already noted ironically that a label performatively effected upon a person can be thoroughly divorced from any cause: Only a label is required.
The label is the motive. The label is the evidence. The label, presumably, is not the truth. Miller assumes that cause and effect can be known, and for him the inner secrets of humanity, including the key dialectic of free will and determinism, are to be expounded by the keen artistic mind.
This might seem to bring us back, perhaps ironically, to a more Aristotelian view of tragedy—the imitation of an action and not of a character. Zuckerman mostly knows, after all, what Coleman does in his life, if not the reasons why he does it.
Yet what becomes of this promise is another in a long line of discontinuities. Embedded in that blue tattoo was a true and total image of himself. The ineradicable biography was there, as was the prototype of the ineradicable, a tattoo being the very emblem of what cannot ever be removed. The enormous enterprise was also there. The outside forces were there. The whole chain of the unforeseen, all the dangers of exposure and all the dangers of concealment—even the senselessness of life was there in that stupid little blue tattoo.
It seems to enclose all the meaning that the narrative as a whole meditates upon. And yet the coherence offered is illusory: This we can intuit because at this very point we witness perhaps the most abrupt shift in the entire novel: The symbolic tattoo has proven an epistemological dead-end—it is as if Zuckerman cannot decide where else to go after the enclosing totality that it represents.
To strengthen this reading, we can look to other examples of potentially all- encompassing symbols in the text. That the auge u r may hold the promise of wisdom is con- firmed when Zuckerman responds to the presence of the drilling tool a few inches from his face: Here was the origin. Here was the essence. In this instant, the auge u r would seem, like the tattoo before it, to encapsulate the meaning of the entire narrative; and yet that meaning proves more obscure than ever.
Maybe I end up tending to be a little dishonest. But despite his confidence here, Zuckerman knows nothing, neither about this secret nor the others he has struggled with in his narrative.
Roth would seem to be mocking the symbolic mode even while paying homage to it, never more so than in the final two lines of the novel, in which the entire scene becomes an ironic image of purity and peace: Only rarely, at the end of our century, does life offer up a vision as pure and peaceful as this one: The passage within which the phrase occurs has Faunia Farley considering the deficiencies of the hand-raised crow she has become fond of: Not even with sadness.
Nothing to do with disobedience. Nothing to do with grace or salvation or redemption. The quest for purity a quest Coleman appears to engage in through- out the novel is a fantasy, a lie. It finds its image in the stain, a fundamental mark common to all humans.
For her, all forms of metaphysical thinking are at fault for the sins of the world. Once again, a symbolic interpretation is here both imposed, and then undermined, func- tioning as a spatial substitute for the properly temporal meaning of the novel, a meaning embodied in the process of its reading.
Hence modern tragedy, in the hands of playwrights like Miller, became existential in nature. But in Miller, as in Bertolt Brecht and his followers, tragedy retained its instructive role, which for Antonin Artaud, another great theorist of tragedy, was neces- sary for the genre: But in The Human Stain, the tragic pattern is a failed one, as the uncohesive life of the protago- nist defeats the tragic unities, resists becoming a model for instruction, and fails to help us find the right way to live as Miller, writing in , claimed all tragedy must do .
Because of this breakdown, the explicit allusions to, and constant emphasis on, tragic tropes and texts throughout the novel can in fact be understood as an invitation to read the text as a critique of tragic coherence achieved either via narrative or symbol , rather than as an embodi- ment of it.
And yet, as most readers of the novel will testify, The Human Stain is not a work of fragments. This is because, as eventually becomes clear, what does offer the novel its coherence is the voice and imagination of its narra- tor, Nathan Zuckerman. We see Zuckerman surveying the evidence for meaningful content just as a reader does, and then connecting that content imaginatively, just as the reader is wont to do.
Nonetheless, closure presents a problem. To understand the origin and necessity of this illusion, we must look to where the story begins for the writer, where the decision to undertake belief in the illusion comes.Constantinescu AIC nr. The relationship receiving the most attention is between Swenson and his daughter, who attends college in a neighboring town. Funds for travel to academic conferences are regularly denied, et cetera, et cetera.
The bird in many ways symbolizes her. Are you sure you want to Yes No. A girl, really. He was painfully clear of the sociological reasons he was referred to in such a derogatory way and realized that in the face of this word, what defined him as a person became unimportant.