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The Causes of the Failure of the Characters’Identity

Author LiuDaLin
Tutor GuoYingJian
School Central University for Nationalities
Course Comparative Literature and World Literature
Keywords The Human Stain Identity Scapegoat Mechanism Desires
CLC I712.074
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
Downloads 81
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Philip Milton Roth is one of the greatest Jewish novelists in contemporary America. The Human Stain is the last book of his "American trilogy" created in his later years. Compared with the first two works, The Human Stain has paid more attention to people and presents characters’confusions when facing various identity problems and their tragic endings. The book describes the whole life of Coleman Silk, a classics professor and dean of faculty at Athena College, who passed himself as Jew. Through revelation of the complicated relationship between characters and the secrets that they held, the novel brings readers to characters’identity dilemmas. Set against the backdrop of the Bill Clinton’s scandals, the novel also satirizes the persecuting spirit behind it, presenting a panorama of contemporary American society.This thesis gives particular attention to revealing how and why four main characters in the novel failed in their search for identity. By studying on the social background and the ways of their search for identity, this thesis is aimed to explore the individual causes (Desires) and social causes (Racism, classism and sexism, The persecuting spirit, Scapegoat mechanism) behind the failure of characters’identity and to infer that their tragic fates are inescapable. Chapter One presents a brief introduction of relative theories of Identity and gives a close reading of the identity crises which four main characters of the novel confronted and the study of the ways in which they searched for identity. The chapter will also show the failure of their identity and the tragedies in their life. Chapter Two focuses on characters’ inner desires and proves that these desires (Desires for sex, success and violence) are not only the human stain referred by the title of the book, but also the individual causes of the twist and the failure of characters’ search for identity. Chapter Three analyzes the social causes of the failure of characters’ identity. The characters in the novel were discriminated against and hurt because of racism/classism/sexism, while the persecuting spirit brought them closer to the fail in identity. Comparing with that in Oedipus the King, the scapegoat mechanism in The Human Stain is studied to explain quite clearly how characters from marginalized groups finally were banished by the whole society. Conclusion summarizes the results of analysis and gets the final conclusion:In the historical and social background of the novel, the characters’ search for identity was doomed by their original marginalized identities. Under the scapegoat mechanism, their tragic fates are inescapable in this society full of desires and persecutions.

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