11/30

Delphine Roux calls Coleman to her office to discuss an earlier incident, in which Coleman allegedly uses “‘engendered language'” (191) to address a female student. In the same conversation, he repeats the term he presumably uses with the student, “dear,” to address Delphine, and disparages feminist perspectives on classical literature.

Coleman’s bristling personality here is interesting when put into context with what we learn of him from the previous chapter. As a boxer, Coleman learned to act first and think later. When he breaks ties with his mother, he sees it as “a moment to deepen his focus on what he was there to achieve. If disowning him was a choice foreclosed to her, then taking the blow was all she could do” (138). As long as it is the only option to do right by himself, he is willing to hurt others; and if he must hurt others, he owes it to them to do it directly.

What is the relationship between Coleman’s treatment of his family and his treatment of his students and of Delphine? Is his dismissal of the charges in line with or a reaction to the difficulties he’s faced in the past?

And finally, given that Zuckerman was not present during any confrontations between Coleman and Delphine, why would he choose to make Coleman so disagreeable? Why isn’t Zuckerman’s Coleman a victim?

-Brenden

9 Responses to 11/30

  1. Siobhan McKenna says:

    I think this goes back to what we were talking about in class on Monday about Coleman as a rugged individualist, and also the conversation on the previous blog post about why Coleman is so enraged by Primus’s advice/criticism. Coleman seems to be all alone in the world. He is no longer welcome in his family. His wife and kids don’t even know that he is not white, so it seems they don’t even really know him at all. However, Coleman wants it this way. As Zuckerman writes, after Coleman’s dad died, Coleman was “free now not only of his father but of all that his father had ever had to endure… Free to go ahead and be stupendous. Free to enact the boundless, self-defining drama of the pronouns we, they, and I” (109). Therefore, Coleman sees his father’s death as an escape from his past, a chance to define himself, to create his own identity. As a result, staunch individualistic Coleman is born, and can’t seem to take any criticism or questioning of his life choices. He has no need for his family anymore, which is why he divorces himself from them. Similarly, he finds the comments that Delphine makes pointless because he’s living the life he wants the way he wants to, and therefore doesn’t need either Primus or Delphine’s criticism. As discussed in class, Coleman’s individualism doesn’t work well in a community setting, which is why he is forced/sees it necessary to alienate himself from his family, friends, and colleagues. Therefore, the dismissal of these charges is a reaction to the difficulties he’s faced in the past.

  2. Noah says:

    I’ve been especially appreciating Roth’s approach to portraying the narrative from different perspectives. I thought that the section on Delphine Roux’s letter from Zuckerman’s view of Coleman was rather narrow, but now, as we get to understand, from her perspective, especially her pain and confusion at whether or not to send the letter has, it has, in my opinion, added more depth to the text.

    I think Coleman is particularly interesting because Zuckerman (and Roth) have chosen not to portray him as a victim. It’s difficult to weigh Coleman’s history, the social structures that he’s been fighting against, with his more contemporary choices, such as his troubling relationship with Faunia and decide if he’s good or bad. Instead, Coleman is a complicated, multifaceted character whose flaws and origins make pronouncing judgement hard, which, to me as a reader, makes his story all the more compelling.

  3. Abigail Gardener says:

    I was surprised at first by Coleman’s unfeeling and condescending treatment of Delphine and the female students in his classes. Considering how calculating he had been as a boxer, and how much logical thought he put in before acting, his reactions to Delphine seemed incredibly impulsive. However, if looked at in a different light, this does make sense; he had no qualms about throwing away his relationship with his family away for his own gain, so why would he care about hurting the feelings of Delphine (whom he doesn’t like) or his students (whom he does not have a high opinion of). Throughout the reading, I also had to continually remind myself that Zuckerman is the one narrating, especially when it would switch to a first person stream of consciousness narrative (like when Faunia was speaking about being a crow). His disagreeable portrayal of Coleman was interesting and confusing to me because in the beginning of the book, we are led to believe that Zuckerman and Coleman are friends. Zuckerman says so himself: “I had, without figuring or planning on it, fallen into a serious friendship with Coleman Silk” (43). However, when we see Coleman’s stream of consciousness narrative later, he speaks briefly of Zuckerman, saying, “Feeding that great opportunistic maw, a novelist’s mind. Whatever catastrophe turns up, he transforms into writing” (170), implying that Zuckerman is perhaps dramatizing Coleman’s life for his writing purposes.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m very interested in putting Coleman’s staunch individualism, passing as white, and his focus in Classics in conversation with his masculinist approaches to conversation with Delphine.

    1. Blackness is so often evoked as hyper-masculine. Wouldn’t he adopt less masculine ways of being in order to note out himself as “of color” in the imaginations of white folks? Furthermore, is his aspiration for whiteness an aspiration for power, and that’s why he is oppressive towards women?

    2. As a Classicist, he has a deep mastery of language. As a Classics minor/ former major, I’m definitely aware of the ways in which Classics professors LOVE diction and the etymology of words. I just can’t help but laugh at the irony of how Coleman always chooses the wrong words.

    • LaShawn Simmons says:

      I share similar interest in exploring these topics. I want to add that although this his blatant sexism wasn’t as calculated as the other pursuits for freedom. These cultural codes were arguably embedded in his life due to the social norms experienced growing up and as an older man. I do believe the irony of Coleman’s poor choice of words highlights that Coleman’s outbursts and thoughts are not solely based on logic, but other beliefs and perspectives that are all part of what constitutes social tensions existing in the novel. No amount of Classics literature can give true insight to the shifting socio-cultural changes that are occurring all around him.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m really interested in the irony that Coleman is such a “ladies man” which is so stereotypically Black, while he is attempting to pass as “white” and high-society. Furthermore, he is a Classics professor (which are the professors most obsessed with diction, and the meaning of words) so there is so much irony in the ways he so often ruins things for himself by choosing the wrong words. I appreciate that Roth doesn’t always represent Coleman as the victim, moments where we see Coleman’s sexism are ones in which we see how a passing narrative is not only about survival, but also about “I have this privilege and I want to use it to gain more power over other people”

  6. amthomas says:

    I’m really interested in the irony that Coleman is such a “ladies man” which is so stereotypically Black, while he is attempting to pass as “white” and high-society. Furthermore, he is a Classics professor (which are the professors most obsessed with diction, and the meaning of words) so there is so much irony in the ways he so often ruins things for himself by choosing the wrong words. I appreciate that Roth doesn’t always represent Coleman as the victim, moments where we see Coleman’s sexism are ones in which we see how a passing narrative is not only about survival, but also about “I have this privilege and I want to use it to gain more power over other people”

  7. Sydney Exler says:

    Siobhan touched on this a little bit, but I think this does indeed go back to our conversation from Monday on Coleman’s individualistic perspective. His lack of connection to any community, and failure to find camaraderie with virtually anyone, further emphasizes his individualism. I think we can understand Coleman’s behavior, both towards his family and towards females, as a demonstration of his rigid individualism – despite having evident attraction to females, even they cannot thwart his individualistic logic and ultimate goal of passing. Further, I think Zuckerman’s portrayal of Coleman as disagreeable humanizes him – he is not necessarily a victim, and his determination to pass as white, which trumps his familial and personal connections, can be represented as questionable behavior (as, at times, Zuckerman represents it to be). In this case, Coleman dismisses the misogynistic charges highlighted by Delphine, choosing instead to focus on a strictly academic interpretation of the text; this supports his passing, as he attempts to defer to objective, rigorous, academic discourse.

  8. Gilberto Rosa says:

    I’m wondering if there’s a parallel to be drawn between the conversation Coleman has with Primus and his Coleman’s current battle with the accusations from the student. On page 80, Primus says to Coleman “Faunia Farley is not from your world. You got good look last night at the world that’s shaped her, that’s quashed her, and for that, for reasons you know as well as I do, she’ll never escape.” I’m thinking about how this type of analysis is offered to Faunia and not to the girls who are accusing Coleman of racism. Why aren’t they afforded this language?

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