The Stain of Mankind
In life you are faced with many challenges and hardships. It is these experiences and how you react to them that shapes and gives you your character. The Human Stain, a novel by Philip Roth is a detailed account of the past of the characters and how the choices that they made build them to be the person that they are today. Everyone has things that they are not proud of from their past. These are essentially the human stains that Roth used as a foundation for The Human Stain. These stains are not limited to a specific person, gender, race, or even society. The prominent stain that affects the protagonist is with his own race. Many of the past experiences that the characters go through take place during America’s own stains, like the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, and the Bill Clinton sex scandal. It is hardships that we have gone through as a country to make us who we are now. Taking a more in-depth look at each character past allows the reader to see the overall message and meaning of the novel. Each of their human stains intertwine to provide the complexity of The Human Stain’s plot.
Roth introduces us to the protagonist Coleman Silk. The reader finds out more about Silk than any other character in the novel. Coleman was a dean at Athena College and later stepped down to teach. For five weeks, two students failed to attend Coleman’s class. Coleman started his lecture on the sixth week by inquiring the whereabouts of these two “mystery” students asking the class, “Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks”(Roth 6). After he said that, it was found out that the two students were black. Coleman was brought in front of the board of directors and fired because of the racial nature of the word “spook”. In defense to the board of director’s decision, Coleman stated, “These two students had not attended a single class… I was using the word in its customary and primary meaning: ‘spook’ as a specter or ghost. I had no idea what color these students might be” (Roth 6). After he was fired, he and his wife Iris became targets of scrutiny. Shortly after the “spooks” incident Iris passes away and Coleman claims that the “spooks” incident led to her death. Following her funeral Coleman visits the novels narrator Nathan Zuckerman, a professional writer. He asks him to write his story of Coleman Silk. “I had to write something for him – he all but ordered me to… [I] had to put aside whatever else I might be doing and write about how his enemies at Athena, in striking out at him, had instead felled her” (Roth 11). The “spooks” incident posed a paradox situation of irony because Silk is living a fallacy with his very own life. Silk is actually a light skinned African American living as a Caucasian because of his disgrace to his own heritage. It was this lie that he was living hat caused him to lose everything dear to him.
Silk’s stain destroyed the image that he once had. But over time, he experienced second...