Literature Essay Sample: The Human Stain and Percival Everett’s Erasure

Conceptualising Racial Identity in Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain” and Percival Everett’s “Erasure”

Topic Outline

  1. Introduction – The concept of racial identity is delineated in two novels: Philip Roth’s “The Human Stain” and Percival Everett’s “Erasure.”

Thesis Statement: Roth’s depiction of Coleman Silk as a black man who passes as an American Jewish professor and Everett’s depiction of Monk Thelonious Ellison as an African-American novelist and college professor who deconstructs and constructs language are exemplification of the desire to resist social constraints posed by racism.

  1. Body – Racial Identity in Roth’s “The Human Stain” and Everett’s “Erasure”

  1. Whiteness as a Symbol of Racial Membership in Philip Roth’s Human Stain

  1. Why White: The Reason Why Racially Marginalised People Want to be White

  2. Culturalism: A Cradle for “Racial Adoption”

  1. Conceptualising Racial Identity in “Erasure”

  1. Resistance Against Structures

  2. Violation of Literary Conventions to Show Resistance Against Structures

  1. Conclusion

  1. Concluding statement

  1. Introduction

This paper aims to discuss the significance of how the 21st –century American fictions have conceptualised racial identity with reference toPhilip Roth’s “The Human Stain” and Percival Everett’s “Erasure.”

Topic Sentence: Roth’s depiction of Coleman Silk as a black man who passes as an American Jewish professor and Everett’s depiction of Monk Thelonious Ellison as an African-American novelist and college professor who deconstructs and constructs language are exemplification of the desire to resist social constraints posed by racism.

  1. Body: Racial Identity in Roth’s “The Human Stain” and Everett’s “Erasure”

  1. Whiteness as a Symbol of Racial Membership in Philip Roth’s Human Stain

The “Human Stain” by Philip Roth is a novel of identity that deals with the love affair between a professor named Coleman Silk and an illiterate woman named Faunia Farley who was being stalked by her ex-husband and was likewise blamed by the latter for the death of their two children. Roth exhibits the drama underlying America’ story, which is to become a new being – to bifurcate – as seen in the instance about Coleman Silk being a black man passing as Jewish. Coleman Silk sets aside the idea of a racial birthright as ancestor worship and does not indicate willingness to rejoin the black community nor acknowledge his past, but rather desires to disjoin past from present. The Human Stain presents more than just another foray into the domain of identity politics, as shown by universal misconception on the aspect of the disgraced Silk being mistaken as a “white” Jewish professor, which is the most salient example of this universal misconception. The tragic linkage between multiculturalism, public ignorance, and politically correct historical myth-making are surpassed by the author’s emphasis on the fabled friendship between Silk and Nathan Zuckerman. Racial identity in the 21st-century America is shown by the evolving political landscape of multiculturalism within the country, which was grown disenchanted with the idea of the melting pot of which various nationalities are often enthralled about. Roth shows this by depicting the tragedy of an African American man in the identity of Coleman Silk whose passing into whiteness passed for a Jewish professor in which the trope of passing is used in order to critique the puritan impetus perceived at the heart of the multicultural academy.

  1. Why White: The Reason Why Racially Marginalised People Want to be White

As Michaels points out: “Were there actually a serum designed to make it possible for the Negro to whiten himself, would the person who used it now able to pass for white or would we want to say that the person now was white?” It indicates that albeit a man may want to be part of the mainstream American culture by whitening himself, which is an overt indicator of membership to such culture and nation, it is not sufficient to conclude that he indeed, has obtained this superior status he highly perceives so. The desire to make such passing is hence reflective of a constant pressure to out-radicalise others, which is linked to the expression of power and which hitherto resides in various forms as the symbolic order of the multicultural America.

  1. Culturalism: A Cradle for “Racial Adoption”

The conceptualisation of racial identity in Roth’s Human Stain is thus directed towards being a part of the American culture, or being racially accepted within its realm through a melting pot of its various nationalities, referred to as “culturalism.” It is upholding what is white and Americanised from merely shedding off one’s cultural and racial membership – and indeed one’s physical attributes that may allow distinction to a former race. The conceptualisation of racial identity is thus led towards this direction.

  1. Conceptualising Racial Identity in “Erasure”

The same attempt at embracing one’s racial membership is exemplified in Percival Everett’s Erasure, which embodies a satirical structure on African-American double consciousness and popular culture in the United States. Monk Thelonious Ellison is depicted in the novel as a novelist and college professor who never allowed race to define his identity, exemplified in the text that outlines Ellison’s physical appearance: dark brown skin, curly hair, a broad nose; distinctive of an African race. Other non-physical basis of such membership to this particular race includes the narrator’s roots and race-related experiences. “… Some of my ancestors were slaves and I have been detained by pasty white policemen in New Hampshire, Arizona and Georgia and so the society in which I live tells me I am black and that is my race.”

  1. Resistance Against Structures

Erasure is a shifting narrative that questions the structure of several types of form, exhibited by its deconstruction of language to demonstrate that meaning is constructed socially. This deconstruction of language is shown in Monk Ellison’s essay which was presented at the Noveau Roman Society in which the concept of S/Z was explored, which both deconstructs and constructs the subjects through the ‘/’.

  1. Violation of Literary Conventions to Show Resistance Against Structures

The thread toward non-conformism from various established forms is likewise seen in the author’s violation of literary conventions since they exist completely beyond the plot’s border. Rather, Everett attempts at making this novel less accessible to the non-academic audience by referencing highbrow figures. This attempt to move outside the accepted conventional literary form is significant of one’s desire to express freely his desires and insights beyond any structural impositions such as racial membership and anything associated to it that imposes restrictions. This is how the novel has conceptualised racial identity in the United States through linguistic and symbolic means, whereby the same voice against racism is cried upon.

  1. Conclusion

Therefore, it may be inferred that the two fictions – The Human Stain and Erasures – present an attempt to bar restrictions posed against one’s identity. In Roth, this attempt is exhibited in Coleman’s effort to pass as a white Jewish professor, while in Everett, it is shown through linguistic and symbolic means in which a black monk and writer violates literary conventions to show resistance.

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