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Conflicts and Integration between Individuals and the Ethics

Author ZhangWei
Tutor WangYong
School Shandong University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords The Human Stain conflicts integration ethics existential paradox
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Philip Roth is the evergreen tree in American literary circles. He has published nearly thirty works, winning almost all the American literature awards. Many critics comment that, in the field of literature, the period from the end of twentieth century to the beginning of twenty-first century belongs to Philip Roth, just as Ernest Hemingway represents the twenties of the twentieth century and William Faulkner, the thirties. Concerning the content of his novels, there is usually a post-modernist feature, characterized by a wide description of sex, the crisis of belief, irrationalism, skepticism, and so on. Through a close scanning of the ordinary’s daily life, Roth has showed readers various conflicts and contradictions appearing in this post-modern world. The Human Stain is exactly such a representative novel. Coleman the protagonist is charged by his colleagues as a racist in a "spooks’" incident. But the fact is that, he is a black with light skin color. He hides his secret from his wife and children, making great achievement as a Jewish professor. But the "spooks" incident leads to his estrangement from his friends and the society. At the end of the novel, Coleman and the young janitor Faunia dies in an intentional car accident planned by Lester, Faunia’s ex-husband. In the novel, Roth surpasses the restraint of ethnicity and time, probing into the ethical fission of the entire society. He discusses individuals’existential paradox under the background of moral discourse in this novel.This thesis consists of four chapters apart from Introduction and Conclusion. The Introduction mainly gives readers a general summary of literary studies and criticism on Roth’s works. There is also a brief description of the story. Due to that most monographs focus on Roth’s works as a whole, and that The Human Stain is a current publication (published in 2000), there is not any systematic study on this novel. So here the present thesis will give a general literature review on all of Roth’s books, hoping to provide some backgrounds for the novel.The first chapter of this thesis discusses respectively about Coleman, Faunia and Delphine, the three main characters’ conflicts with their family members. Individuals abandon their family to make a subversion of their identity. They actually lose their continuity of identity, fettering their behaviors in an estranged environment where the significance of existence and self consciousness become vague.Chapter Two aims to relate the novel with American’s "persecuting spirit" (in Roth’s words) in the field of American sexual culture and the public opinions of "Everybody knows". Like Hester and Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, Faunia and Coleman also become sinners for their love affair. But the fact is that, Coleman’s wife Iris has been dead for two years and Faunia has already divorced with Lester. They, not in the least, commit adultery like that in The Scarlet Letter. By the same token, Delphine uses the "Everybody knows" note to threaten Coleman about his affair while actually, according to Roth, the phrase is the most absurd announcement which is against human’s limited knowledge about the world. The group consciousness is once secularized by human experience; it then becomes the American "persecuting spirit" like that of asceticism.The third chapter gives its focus on the hypocrisy of political correctness and Lester Farley’s afeard memory about Vietnam War. Coleman is charged as a racist by his colleagues. But it is just the racial discrimination that triggers his denial of black root and passing as a white professor. Lester in the novel is a maniac veteran. He murders Coleman and Faunia. But Roth gives him great compassion. Roth thinks that it is the war that dehumanizes his humanity, turning Lester into a killing machine with no feelings toward the world.The fourth chapter focuses on Roth’s social responsibility as a writer revealed in the novel. Roth, as a Jewish writer, has already shifted his concern from Jewish minorities to the grand theme of human sufferings. Through pastoral images portrayed at the end of novel, Roth puts forward that, after human’s departure from nature, the human nature has become imperfect or stained in some case. Nevertheless, nature can purify this stain for that, close to nature, return to one’s real humanity, means to get along with each other harmoniously. However, a total abandonment of human society is impossible for people. Roth suggests that humans need to accept their and the society’s imperfection. In a word, conflicts generated around Coleman as well as individuals’failure in their purification indicate that, in a country which convention and identity matters, people need to embrace this reality of human and society’s imperfection for that any kinds of betrayal and escaping from his inner identity would only lead to a modern Oedipus. People would never reach the spiritually paradisiacal state under this circumstance.Lastly, the Conclusion gives a summary to the major findings of this thesis. Through a thorough scanning on the contemporarily moral absurdities, Roth intertwines individuals’ conflicts with the familial, social and political ethics into this great story. He not only reveals to people the various facets in humanity but also probes into the underlying reason of individuals’tragedy. Roth really shows his strong concern for human beings in his constant exploring the relationships among various kinds of human beings and presenting the conflicts and contradictions in the context of individuals’confrontation with cruel social reality.

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