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Philip Roth the Human Stain: The Great American Novel Term Paper

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Updated: May 16th, 2019


Literature brings to focus the real world situation in a piece of structured fiction. Through novels, poems, short stories and such other related literatures, one is able to give a reflection of what is really happening in real life situation in a factious manner that may not appear to be too direct or confrontational.

Many authors in the United States of America have done marvelously well in bringing out the real situations as regards to social, political and cultural life in a fiction form, with an aim of developing a culture where everyone appreciates the need to be a responsible citizen and a member of society.

The Human Stain by Philip Roth is a piece of literature that has been put together to focus not only on the American culture and how diverse it is, but also on political issues that the country faces and how both culture and politics affect leadership in America and the current world at large.

As regards to culture, it clearly explains the morals that one is expected to observe and follow keenly while interacting with other members of society and in any leadership position. It also explains conditions that could cause trouble to an individual. American culture according Roth’s literature is supposed to be seriously observed though much of it is politicized (Roth 44).

Generally, culture gives society a direction or guideline on how things are supposed to be carried out ethically but when politicized, it means much of basic truths of culture are violated and in a country like America where people are from different countries with cultural differences, cultural balance should be observed in order to accommodate all people.

The book brings out America as a nation that seriously discourages racism but promotes cohesion within and without the nation. It is also portrayed as a much-diversified nation that appreciates other peoples’ culture and easily adapts to it no matter how strange it may look. Human stain is all about general human weaknesses pictured within a social or political organization (Roth 46).

All humans have different weaknesses, which culture should be able to admit, accommodate and put into consideration. This is especially so in leadership. Leaders have differing weaknesses that should not be used to eliminate them from their positions but rather the society should help them in overcoming such weaknesses for perfect leadership.

In a diverse country like America with different people who vary in terms of culture, different cultural values should be recognized and appreciated to enhance coexistence. People have different ways on how they work.

This literature brings out different leaders from different origins and with different styles of leadership in Athena College. Their colleagues and the entire college fraternity appreciate some of these leaders while others are not (Roth, p. 48).

Coleman’s way of leadership does not please the staff and the students, who unlike Coleman are accustomed to a relaxed attitude in carrying out their duties. Instead of being viewed as Coleman’s strength, his strictness and thorough nature in conducting his duties is assumed his weakness and further used to accuse and deny him a job by the authority in Athena College.

This college is composed of people with different ideologies and political interests who want to control and have the biggest say in the institution. His predecessor is however appreciated and people enjoyed his relaxed way of leadership where the outcome of the work done was of less importance provided people reported to work. It should be noted that the weakness of one person could be the other person’s point of strength (Roth 52).

Philip Roth the Human Stain: Self-Made Man

According to this literature, the main character, Coleman Silver, is portrayed as a Jew who is focused and with big dreams in life, coming from a very humble background that believed not in big achievements. He is said to be the first and only Jew to have made to the level of becoming a dean in Athena faculty and to be allowed to join the teaching staff in classic department anywhere in America by then.

He was ranked as one of the great scholars, astute in his work, perfectionist and strictly time conscious in almost all his endeavors. Married and with four children, he was a very responsible and determined family man and it is out of the desire to provide for his family that his wife die out of stroke in a night, which he was fighting for his job back in Athena College (Roth 53).

The book reveals him as a self-driven and motivated man who believed in making changes and great advancements in life. To him, what was important was not the traditional norm of the society but the best that could be done for the betterment of that particular society. He was a very innovative man with a clear mind of where and who he wanted to become.

That is why Jews not making to the level of becoming a faculty dean did not discourage him. Through determination and hard work, he broke the history and got there, hence leaving a mark.

This novel portrays him, as a shrewd administrator who made it clear to the entire college fraternity that quality was the key to making Athena College an excellent college. He did not tolerate laziness and to him, success lay in the ability of all the stakeholders to face the objectives of the organization with singleness of purpose (Roth 54).

His term was characterized with high productivity of the teaching staff because of the pressure he put on them. After he was done with his term as the dean of the faculty, he comfortably went back to be a normal lecturer. He did his work perfectly, always ensuring that all students were present for lectures by checking their attendance on a daily basis.

When he realized that two students had not attended any of his classes, he got very concerned and inquired about their whereabouts. This reveals Coleman’s character as being concerned with the welfare of other people. To him, the two students were missing a lot by absenting themselves from his lectures.

As a responsible lecturer, he thought of getting to know what could have held them back from attending the lectures even after registering for his units (Roth 57).

Under normal circumstances, very few lecturers would bother to ask about students missing classes. Most of the lecturers do not care when students fail to attend their classes. When he was appointed the dean in Athena College, he did not follow the pattern of leadership that his predecessor, students and working staff were used to but he invented his own way of leading with an aim of improving the college.

He inculcated several changes and though most of his colleagues were not pleased with his leadership, Silk went ahead to bring the changes in Athena College. The changes included doing away with the clubby faculty lunchroom and converting it into the honors seminar room, making the faculty to eat from the cafeteria together with the students (Roth 59).

This did not go down well with most of the lecturers. To them, Coleman had reduced their dignity to that of a student. By making lectures to use the same table with students, was a clear denial of a sense of privacy and the freedom they would need, something they could not achieve when forced to share such facilities as a cafeteria with students.

However, Coleman had a different view when he effected this change. To him, the institution had limited facilities that could be used for extension purposes. However, this was not to be a barrier to offering quality education to students.

He therefore had to make use of the little available resources to give the best to their clients that is, the students. The clubby faculty lunchroom offered the best alternative space and he did not hesitate to change it into a seminar room (Roth 59).

Moreover, this was done to reduce the time lecturers took during lunch hour. It eliminated the opportunity of lecturers to make unnecessary ‘gossips’ at the expense of quality lecturers. This would offer a double benefit, as he should have created an extra room besides eliminating this joint that for a long time had acted as a time consuming club where lecturers could take most of their time making unnecessary discussions.

To validate this, he eliminated some of the provisions in Athena college constitution to reflect the new administrative structure that he had put in place. This brought him out as being very strict and rigid.He was so hard on teachers and against their wish, forced them to do as he thought was right. Even after realizing that the teachers were not pleased with his form of leadership, he stuck to it (Roth 60).

He maintained that they had to adhere to the new structures in the constitution. This earned him deep rooted hatred among the fellow dons who could not comprehend the reason why he was so determined to make their lives in this institution such unbearable. It was out of this harshness that when he was accused of racism, long after quitting administrative duties, no one supported him in pleading with the new administration.

They instead ganged up against him, emphatically recommending his interdiction. This ended up in losing his job. As a normal lecturer, he made certain that he attended all his classes, always insisting that all students did the same. He did this to make sure that what he taught was beneficial to all students. When he was accused of racism, Coleman genuinely explained what he meant by calling students spooks (Roth 64).

He never knew that those students were blacks because they had not attended his classes. He used the term as a reference to one who was lazy and not consistent with his obligations, irrespective of the race. It was but an unfortunate coincidence that the students were black and the term referred to the blacks in bad taste.

However, his sincere arguments were frustrated by his successor who, from a political view, wanted to have a greater say in the college. He sided with other lecturers and maintained that Coleman was a racist without seeking the whole truth of the matter.

Political interests here rules the society without a clear justification of what is supposed to be done. Though accused and forced to resign and retire, Coleman honestly fought for the truth up to the end until he even forgot that he had a sickly wife in the house who eventually succumbed to her disease (Roth 66).

His life as both an administrator and a lecturer at Athena College portrayed a self-made man. He was never swayed by what others thought and rarely went for popular opinions. He was a staunch believer of merit and always maintained it in all his activities.

Dignity to him never meant having a parlor for marry making, but having a positive impact on the lives of students and the entire college fraternity.

It was therefore so painful to him that his colleagues and the administration could find it morally upright to interdict him from the institution when he was on his path to ensuring that his work was done perfectly. This did not lower his spirit. He fought in the battle and lost it with dignity (Roth 68).

After the death of his wife, Coleman got into an affair with a woman believed to be from a wrecked background and nearly half his age. This identifies Coleman as being driven by his own drawn principles and not what is set by society. It is this aspect that brings him out as a man who can make great achievements by making extraordinary decisions, some of which are considered controversial.

The book ‘Human Stain’ brings out Coleman as being morally upright, determined and without impunity or racial discrimination. He is strict and believes in meeting the objectives, shuns excuses and leads with integrity (Roth 70).

American Diversity Captured

The United States of America is one of the most diversified nations in the world. Being the only super power that currently remains, it has attracted many individuals from different countries (Shlaes 45). With the fact that it is the leading economy in the world, this country experiences one of the most diversified cultures.

Many people come either to trade, employment, academic purposes, tourism or other reasons. The book, Human Stain, introduces us to this country which is rich in culture. The US is a country that has people who believe in different cultural practices owing to the difference in their country of origin (Foley 44).

This book captures this aspect when we meet the main character (Coleman Silk). Coleman is fired from the college where he had served for several years as a lecturer, an administrator and an instructor because he referred to some students as spooks, which in its literal terms means the black.

To him, he said this to refer to one who is available only by name and not physically or behaves like a ghost. We are informed that many individuals from different backgrounds characterize this institution. Coleman himself is a Jew. We are informed that there was another Jew in this institution before Coleman.

The Jews are known for their determination and strictness in conducting their duties. They are known for their perfectionist nature. This is reflected in the character of this professor. The previous dean of faculty at this college had allowed a relaxed attitude at workplace (Roth 74).

The lectures would conduct most of their activities at paces they liked. When Coleman took over power, things changed drastically. He set new rules and regulations for the lectures. They had to follow the set programs and work as per the schedule. Punctuality and syllabus coverage were issues he keenly followed with the lectures. This culture differed greatly with what other lecturers had been accustomed.

They were used to going to the classes at will. Furthermore, syllabus was something that was not very important as long as their presence was felt occasionally in the classrooms. Coleman strictly ensured that the faculty turned up for meetings to check and review the progress of the college, an idea that was not implemented initially by his predecessors (Roth 75).

The college had different lunchrooms for both the faculty and the student’s body, but when Coleman took power, he eliminated this idea and changed the faculty lunchroom into an honors seminar room making the faculty and the students to eat from the same place in the cafeteria. To him, students and teaching staff were not supposed to be separated especially in the social aspect.

The college encouraged enrollment of many black students and treated everyone equally and with fairness. This was America of the 20th and 21st century. It was a sharp contradiction of what used to happen in those earlier times when the blacks were considered second-class citizens of this country.

This book captures the current situation in America. Even though there has been an integration of various cultures to bring what is currently referred to as the American culture, some difference still exist as far as cultural practices are concerned (Langston 82).

However, the society has embraced the culture of tolerance towards different races and one can be held liable if he or she engages in what can be seen as racism. This is what Martin Luther King Jr. fought against and what the then president Bill Clinton discouraged, and it is what cost the professor his job. America is portrayed as being highly diversified and comprised of people with different cultural backgrounds.

Both white and black students including the Jews are treated alike without discrimination on either gender or race. Their complaints can be listened to and are given an opportunity to air their views and opinions equally. Giving students from different countries access to similar educational services again shows how high the American society values and embraces cultural diversity (Pyne 78).

The United States of America has changed over the past few decades from a country that racism was raw to a country where ethnicity is shunned. Leadership is currently based on merit other than race. It is this duration that Collin Powel, a black American, became the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At Athena College, Coleman is made the first Jew to be the administrator based on his merit.

The book captures the melting of cultural barrier in this country. It reflects the changing values of America and the cohesiveness of the society. Coleman, though a Jew, is given the mandate to become the dean of faculty and allowed to bring in his style of leadership that is completely contrary to the expectations of the whole college staff and students and to what his predecessors were not used to.

This nation currently discourages racism and that was why Coleman was punished severely when he called the two black students spooks. This clearly shows that America encourages unity, peace and harmonized coexistence among all people from different races without discrimination based on color or origin, religion, gender, or any other classification (Rosen 33).

Philip Roth’s the Human Stain: An Unconscious Historic and Political Representation

The Human Stain is a book based on human weaknesses. The United States of America has had various great leaders who inspired the citizens of this country and the world at large. Bill Clinton was one such a leader. Some of these leaders had various weaknesses however great they were. President Bill Clinton was considered a transformational leader. He was a role model to many in this country and abroad.

He was rated the most popular citizen in the United States of America before the rise of Obama. He was an inspiration to many youths across the world as he worked through the ladder to reach the highest office in this land. However, he had a stain. He was involved in a sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky, one of the officials at Whitehouse.

This brought up a huge debate in both the senate and congress. This almost cost him his job. He survived the impeachment very narrowly. Richard Nixon was not lucky enough, as he was impeached because of a stain that is, the water gate scandal of 1973 (Rosen 36).

Coleman Silk had a similar stain. He was interdicted from the institution for using a defamatory term towards his students who happened to be blacks. Like Richard Nixon, he paid the price though the intent was not as was interpreted. Richard Nixon was not directly involved in the scandal. However, this happened under his watch therefore, he had to take the responsibility.

When he referred to the students as spooks, Coleman never knew that the students were blacks. A statement referred to lazy students who were not consistent with lectures as a whole and not in reference to any particular race. Unfortunately, it happened that the students were from black origin.

This raised a big issue as the society was fighting racism. In spite of his plea, the administration and the entire college fraternity decided to eliminate him from the college (Butler 99).

In this book, we are introduced to the real picture of what happens in the real set up in the American society. What Coleman had gone through clearly portrays what people in leadership are currently facing. Culture and politics have been greatly used in defining what has to be done and how leaders are supposed to carry themselves out in their respective leading positions.

Like Bill Clinton, Coleman appreciates that the society is very sensitive towards individuals a leader gets involved. He is widowed and needs some company. He finds the same in a woman whom the society do not expect him to have a relationship.

He does his best to keep it a secret for fear of the implications that may arise if it is known by the society. Bill Clinton did the same but he was unlucky and his affair was known (Millard 152).

Before declaring leaders guilty of any offence, first the validity of reasons behind the whole issue must be sought in order to pass on the right judgment, failure to which the nation may end up eliminating very crucial leaders that are key to development of a country.

This is illustrated by the dismissal of Coleman from Athena College. He had been very instrumental in the improvement of the college but because of misinterpretation of a single word, his efforts went unrecognized and his positive contribution towards college advancement completely forgotten. The reason behind his dismissal was not much based on the mistake done but out of political interests.

Culture is good and can successfully be used in governing the society although it should be flexible and be in a position to accommodate changes that come up with time and should not be politicized (Oliver 115).

It should give room for correction of mistakes done in the society to avoid total condemnation of victims who are resourceful to the society and the nation as well. People have different political interests. Those in the leadership positions want to retain their positions while those that are not want those in leading positions to quit so that they can take over (Oatis 67).

False accusations made Coleman lose his job, a common phenomenon in the current political scenario. Witch-hunt, accusation and counter accusation characterizes the current political scene in America.

Many believe that the best way to get the favor of the populace is by making them believe that the political opponent has a stain that is loathed by the society. Just like Ronald Reagan, Coleman became a victim of political witch-hunt (Harbach 95).

Other Related Publication

United States of America has been reflected in many publications. Literature has made it possible for many authors to show the world what is actually taking place within the borders of this country. The politics and social structure of this nation has been wrapped in different genres of literature, with authors giving real account of what they have experienced or seen happening but in a factious form.

Tony Morrison’s book: ‘The Beloved’, gives us the picture of what used to happen in the early American set up, a century after independence (Morrison 62). It gives the picture of Ohio and how some of the families were affected due to limited nutrition. Sethe and her daughter Denver are depicted as individuals leading a humble life in an environment that is yet to achieve its full potential in terms of infrastructure.

The set up is quite different from the set up given in the book that is Human Stain. However, one thing that the two books draw in common is the fact that the society cherishes morality and uprightness, especially for those entrusted with leadership positions (Morrison 65).

Jayne Anne Phillips’ Machine Dreams takes account of what normal American citizen went through during the Vietnam War of 1960s (Srigley 56). It reflects the dissolution of the American populace during this war and the suffering some families underwent during the war. There is a sharp difference between America during this time and America depicted in the ‘Human Stain’, which is a reflection of the current world scenario.

However, the need for morality is depicted in this book just as the above two books. This book gives a typical family set up, with passion brought out in the characters. Like Coleman and her secret lover, the main character’s father was twenty-five years older and he had more than one wife.

In fact, this shows that the father was a womanizer, a habit that was recanted in society. This book is woven in an artistry that depicts America in the 1960s and how the Vietnam War affected citizens (Phillips 39).

In Jonathan Frantzen’s book, ‘The Corrections’, we are introduced to two characters, Alfred and Enid. The two are married and with grown up children. This book brings to focus the global greed as the spirit of nationalism engulfs many countries across the world. The society had embraced capitalism and everyone was determined to accumulate as much wealth as possible.

One thing that remained unchanged in the society brought out in the book was the need to have morality (Frantzen 75). Enid was attached to the husband and could not afford an extramarital affair out of her marriage.

Even though the husband was almost losing his sanity to Parkinson’s disease, she was morally obligated to him and enjoyed all fun available to them. The society was experiencing serious changes and the older norms were dropped for more current ideologies brought about by new inventions and innovations (Frantzen 77).

Roth Phillips’ Human Stain was perfectly written to bring to focus the current America. The above books attempted to do the same but they needed some sense of reality and ability to relate characters directly to the current world scenarios that could help the reader relate the story to easily to the American set up.


Philip Roth has successfully managed to use fiction to bring into focus the current America. In his book, ‘Human Stain’, the author has managed to use the main character Coleman Silver to illustrate what leaders always go through in the course of discharging their actions. An accomplished, self-motivated and focused man Coleman walks through the hierarchies at Athena College to become the dean of Faculty.

This was despite the fact that he was a Jew. This can directly be related to Colin Powel’s rise who become the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although he was a black American. More recently, it can be related to the rise of the current president of the nation that is, Barrack Obama. This means that the book cuts across ages and can be related to the past, present and future of the United States of America.

Human Stain is common with every leader. For Coleman, the stain was his relationship with a woman half his age and the defamatory statement he made to black students. For Bill Clinton, his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinski was his stain. Cultural diversity has been the focus of many scholars in the American society. Scholars have greatly condemned cultural biases through written texts.

Works Cited

Butler, Robert. ‘The American Quest for Pure Movement in Dos Passos’s U.S.A.’, Twentieth Century Literature, 30.1, 1984, 80-99.

Foley, Barbara. ‘The Treatment of Time in The Big Money: An Examination of Ideology and Literary Form’, Modern Fiction Studies, 26.1, 1980, 44-85.

Frantzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. New York: Picador, 2001. Web.

Harbach, Chad. The Art of Fielding. New York: Hachette Books Group, 2011. Web.

Langston, Hughes. The Negro Speaks of Rivers. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1954. Print

Millard, Candice. The Destiny of a Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and Murder of a President. New York: Random House, 2011. Web.

Morrison, Tony. Beloved. New York: Penguin Putman, 1998. Print.

Oatis, Steven. A Colonial Complex: South Carolina’s Frontiers in the Era of the Yamasee War, 1680-1730. New York: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. Web.

Oliver, Mary. The Black Snake. New York: Molly Malone Cook Literary Agency, 1979. Print.

Phillips, Anne. Machine Dreams. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. Print.

Pyne, Stephen. How the Canyon Became Grand. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1998. Print.

Rosen, Robert. John Dos Passos: Politics and the Writer. New York: Putman, 1981. Print.

Roth, Philips. Human Stain. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. Web.

Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2008. Web.

Srigley, Katrina. Breadwinning Daughters: Young Working Women in a Depression-Era City, 1929-1939. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2009. Print.

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