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The Problem of Identity in Philip Roth’s Novels

Author WangLiXia
Tutor WangLaBao
School Suzhou University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Philip Roth the identity problem Portnoy’s Complaint The Ghost Writer The Human Stain
CLC I712.074
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
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Philip Milton Roth is a third-generation Jewish writer in the United States. Startingfrom his debut collection Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories (1959), Roth haspublished more than twenty novels. Roth’s works cover a wide range of themes. As awriter with an ethnic background, he repeatedly focuses on the problem of identity, whichis confronted by all ethnic minorities in the United States. This thesis studies threeinfluential fictions in Roth’s three different writing stages, namely, Portnoy’s Complaint(1969), The Ghost Writer (1979), and The Human Stain (2000) in the hope of offering anew interpretation of the treatment of identity as a problem in Roth’s fictions.The thesis is divided into five chapters. Chapter One is a general introduction toRoth’s works, the previous studies on his works and contemporary theorists’ perspectiveson identity. Chapter Two centers on Portnoy’s Complaint and discusses Roth’s insights intothe American Jews’ predicament arising from their fixed identity as Jews only in thepost-war society. Chapter Three examines The Ghost Writer, in which Nathan Zuckerman’sdefiance of Jewish literary tradition reveals Roth’s viewpoints on the act of offering a fixedauthorship. Chapter Four analyzes how Coleman Silk in The Human Stain passes as a Jewto escape from his fixed identity as a black. It is contended that Silk’s tragic fate containsRoth’s critique of identity categorization in the United States and his concern with thegeneral living conditions of human beings. Chapter Five is the conclusion. I contend thatthe identity problem on which Roth has adopted a unique stance is a major subject in manyof Roth’s fictions, and the above three novels demonstrate how Roth questions andcritiques the continued American fixation on identity for its people.

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