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1.1 Philip Roth and The Human Stain
Born on March 19, 1933, in Newark, New Jersey, Philip Roth graduated from theBrucknell University. From 1956, he studied for a doctorate at the University ofChicago, and began publishing works. His 1959’s debut, “Goodbye, Columbus,”earned him a great reputation. After published Portony’s Complaint, Roth left NewYork and moved to New England, focusing on literature and teaching. He was been aprofessor of literature at the University of Pennsylvania for a long time. Roth is aJewish writer, but he always denies himself being a Jewish writer. He once said, “I’mnot a Jewish writer. I’m just a writer who is Jewish. The most important thing in mylife and my greatest passion is to write a novel, not to be a Jew”. (George Perkins andBarbara Perkins,1999:1907)
In addition, he is not only a productive writer but also wins many awards. Duringhis writing period, he won 34 literary awards, including mainly two National BookCritic Circle Awards for The Counterlife and Patrimony (1991), two National BookAwards for Goodbye, Columbus Five Short Stories (1960) and Sabbath’s Theatre(1995), three Faulkner Fiction Awards for Operation Shylock (1994), The HumanStain (2001) and Everyman (2007), the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral (1998).Roth is one of the candidates for the Nobel Prize in literature and thus sets himself upas a great reputation in American literature.
Generally speaking, Roth’s writing career can be divided into four stages.
The first phase is from 1959 to 1969. It is the stage of experimental exploration.Due to the fierce criticism from Jewish readers, he describes Jewish life in Americansuburban into non-Jews,which shows in his masterpieces “Good-Bye, Columbus andFive Short Stories”. In this controversial stage, Roth recorded what he saw and whathe heard as his writing material. He reflected the influence and the bondage of “Ghetto Spirit”, which Jewish parents still sticked to. Besides, he also criticized thesuppression of the Jewish tradition on human nature, the temptation and exclusion ofAmerican culture of Jews, and the identity confusion of third generation of Jewishimmigrants.
1.2 Literature Review
Studies on The Human Stain abroad waves intense debates.
(1) An overview of the studies abroad
A large number of studies focused on the themes of the novel. The mostcontroversial is the subject as cultural identity, race, social class and passing. Forexample, “Grasping the ‘Raw I’: Race and Tragedy in Philip Roth’s The Human Stain”by Lydia Moland tries to put forward such a question “What claim, if any, can an unjust social constitution such as racism make on an individual’s practical identity?Can unjust organization make faithful to defect ethically compulsory?” (2008:189).The author believes that a new kind of ideology about race “challenges assumptionsabout autonomy and ethics that are at the crux of our experience of ethical life” (ibid.)Like Lydia Moland, Larry Schwartz also studies its race problems, but he is differentfrom Lydia Moland. In Larry’s “Erasing Race in Philip Roth’s The Human Stain”, heimplies that “Zuckerman’s purported understanding of Coleman Silk-that racialsecrecy is his motivation to pass–is illusory”(2011:65). G. Neelakantan, “Secrecy andSelf-Invention: Philip Roth’s Postmodern Identity in The Human Stain”, it remarksthat in The Human Stain, Roth “foregrounds the claim to an identity that refuses to besocially constructed and instead seeks privileging of its own narrative. As Much as thenovelist’s sympathies are with such a claim, he is fully aware of the fact thatsuppressing the unconsciousness is not the same thing as breaking away fromhistory”(2007:27). This article “tries to inspect how The Human Stain illuminates inexclusive such questions enhanced by the debates on identity in postmoderndiscourse”(ibid.). In “Everyone Knows:Public Opinion in Philip Roth’s ContemporaryTragedy The Human Stain”, José Carlosdel Ama thinks that, like the hero of the Greektragedy, Coleman becomes the victim of overwhelming authority, both of which areknown as “everybody knows”. Her conclusion is that “the ubiquitous threat that flowsfrom this chorus are flawlessly presented in the vague, but destructive ‘everyoneknows’ that exceeds the accusations that will destroy the career, the family and almostthe mental health of the characters”(2009:93). Patricia J. Williams, in his article,“Rushing Limbaugh’s Inner Black Child” refers to the theme of racism andself-denial.
2 Cultural Conflicts and Identity Crisis
2.1 Coleman Silk: Identity Betrayal under the Impact of American Culture
In this “American issue” novel (Parrish 142), which is considered to be mark theera, Roth depicts a tragic story about a white-skinned black man Coleman Silk whopasses to Jewish as the protagonist. Roth presents the issues of race, gender, identityin the Athena College.
As an African American who was born into a middle class family and his parentswere well educated, Coleman Silk inevitably faces many identity problems. For mostof his life, Coleman always expects to be free and “primitive” to him. Coleman’spursuit of identity can be divided into two periods: The first period began on the dayof his father’s funeral to when the “spooks” incident happened. During this period,Coleman as a Jew, joined the army, enrolled in school, taught, married and hadchildren, and become a winner in life. The second passing identity began with thehappening of the spook incident, which created people’s hypocritical image ofColeman Silk. As a result, he became the opposite typical figure in the school, thevictim of political correctness. In an instant, all the good things around him werereplaced by a hellish situation. He was dismissed from the university and became anunemployed. He was abandoned by his friends and became a loner without friends.His wife died of a heart attack, and his children are also far away from him.Loneliness has become his partner.
During his childhood, young Silk didn’t feel as much pressure as a coloredchild because of the protection offered by his parents and his brother. Silk is anexcellent student in all aspects of the class, and gets all A’s in tests. His quick mindand prodigious memory make his performance at school as outstanding as it has always been. Coleman Silk not only has a good job in study, but also exceeds othersin sports, never expecting that he would be discriminated against because of his ethnicidentity. However, a series of events later forced him to realize that if he kept hisAfrican American identity, he would become an object of rejection in mainstreamsociety. For the first time, he was refused a hot dog in Washington show that “In thesegregated South there were no separate identities” (103) but nigger for him. Thegraduating speech also had a strong influence on him. The father of one of his Jewishclassmates came to visit his parents and took out 3,000 dollars in exchange for thequalification of the graduate representative. Although the parents did not agree withtheir request, the things have a great impact on Silk. His classmate’s parents madeyoung Coleman deeply aware of the status of blacks in American mainstreamculture ,which is far inferior to Jews.
2.2 Coleman Silk: Acceptance and Disillusion of Jewish Identity
Jewish culture is different from both of Black culture and American culture.Because of the special ethnic culture and tortuous national experience of the Jewish,the Jews are extremely sensitive and persistent in their identity. A Jewish nation livedamong many different races since its birth. Jewish ancestors have a strong sense ofidentity since ancient times. Jewish ancestors presented a profound identity complexin various ways. “Circumcision” is a cultural symbol in the form of folklore which isfilled with a strong “identity” consciousness.
“It is a mark of an ethnicity and is a symbol that the Hebrew (Jewish)people collectively agreed and observed. It is presented in the form of ashrine contracted by God and fixed in religious law. Since the beginning ofthe Jewish nation, circumcision fixed in the cultural structure of the entirenation, showing a marked meaning that encompasses and transcends thenational identity of theological beliefs” (Liu Hongyi:2002).
The Roman invasion led Jews to flock to all parts of the world. The constantsearch for shelter becomes a Jew’s lifelong career. Although they are careful in theirlives, anti-semitic is still an unavoidable reality in every corner of the world.
“The Nazi policy of genocide against Jews demonstrated to the world ahistorical phenomenon in which the Jews were sometimes reconciled,sometimes repelled, sometimes sheltered, and sometimes driven,sometimes prosperous and sometimes killed. Therefore, it is difficult forJews to relax their vigilance with other races. Jews around the world arekeenly aware that the priority is to strengthen the identity and cohesion ofthe Jewish people, and to raise the sense of racial identity” (Thomas Sowell: 1992).
3 War Trauma and Identity Crisis........................21
3.1 Lester Farley: War Trauma in Vietnam War......................21
3.2 Lester Farley: Identity Crisis in Vietnam War...................24
4 Social Prejudice and Gender Discrimination........................27
4.1 Faunia Farley: Victim of Patriarchal and Bourgeois Society................... 28
4.2 Delphine Roux: Victim of Sexual Politics............................29
4.3 Mrs. Silk: Victim of Racial and Gender Oppression....................35
4 Social Prejudice and Gender Discrimination
4.1 Faunia Farley: Victim of Patriarchal and Bourgeois Society
This section mainly analyzes Faunia from three aspects, namely: First, her tragicchildhood, her failed marriage,and victim of patriarchal and bourgeois society.
As “one of Roth’s most interesting female characters”(Berstein 22), FauniaFarley also seems like a spook. She lives a short and sad life. It is a life that is full ofblood and tears. When she was five years old, her beautiful mother was found to havean affair, and then her rich father divorced her. Her mother likes money, she remarrieda rich man, who was the stepfather and devil of Faunia Farley’s childhood. Accordingto the results of child psychology research, most children do not have the ability toremember things for a long time, except for some particularly serious events such aswith psychological or physical trauma or death. Since the day when her stepfatherarrived, she was already behind happiness and destined to be miserable. Therefore,her childhood memories began with the brutal crimes of her stepfather. She cannottolerate the sexual harassment of her stepfather, so she ran away from home at the ageof fourteen. She excused her stepfather from harassing her and left home, away fromfamily life and civil society. She lives in a patriarchal society and always struggleswith patriarchy in a passive way. So, her childhood is doomed to a tragedy story.Perhaps Faunia had discovered sexual desire centered on body prematurely, andFaunia was very disgusted with the so-called “pureness” of man beyond nature. Sheadmits that her desires are the stain of humanity. However, it is attached to the lastwall of human nature, and thus is not shameful or redeemable.
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