Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Handout: Philip Roth's The Human Stain

Here are my modest questions about this absorbing book. I have just scratched the surface with these.

I will have more to post after our class discussion tonight, which includes some student activities, and another set of questions. Next week we are scheduled to view the film.

The Human Stain, by Philip Roth

Questions for Further Discussion

1. The action of the novel takes place during 1998, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal figures throughout the book. Why does Roth bring this issue forth for consideration? What does the Lewinsky scandal signify in this novel?

2. Characterize Athena College, its appearance, faculty, administration, culture, and so forth. Compare and contrast Athena College with Purdue University.

3. The deanship at Athena is characterized as being in a “no man’s land” between the faculty and the administration (page 7f). Read over these pages regarding Coleman Silk’s deanship, and discuss from your perspective.

4. “Of course she had the credentials. But to Coleman (Silk) she embodied the sort of prestigious academic crap that the Athena students needed like a hole in the head but whose appeal to the faculty second-raters would prove irresistible.” (On Delphine Roux, page 190). Comment.

5. Professor Delphine Roux seeks a soul mate, far from the men she tends to meet on campus. Discuss what she means by “the Diapers,” “the Hats,” and “the Humanists,” and discuss why she goes out with Arthur Sussman.

6. Comment upon Faunia Farley.

· Her background.
· Her relationships with men.
· Her supposed illiteracy (page 296).
· Her eulogy by Smoky Hollenbeck (pages 286f).

7. Comment upon Coleman Silk.

· His youth.
· His secret.
· The incident that precipitated his resignation.
· His behavior after the resignation.
· The eulogy given by Herb Keble (pages 308f).

8. Read pages 241-42. What does Faunia Farley, and then the author, mean by “the human stain”?

9. Comment upon the very ending of the book, especially the last two sentences (page 361).

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