Blog Question 12/5

Zukerman imagines Delphine as wanting to date “whites only”because of her experience with Dominique, a man from a “good family in Brazzaville,” (261). Zuckerman depicts her as thinking that it is not that she “is now prejudiced…[but] that she would not have so misjudged a man of her own race”(262). On the other hand, Zukerman describes Delphine as thinking of herself as “de facto dumb” in America because she “…will never understand these men, and the reason she will never understand these men is because she is not fluent”(275).

What do you see as the relationship or logical consistency or inconsistency between these similar descriptions of her inability to “read” non-French men  (American men and Dominique who is the Republic of the Congo) and her making of a racial barrier in the latter case?  What might this tell us about Delphine’s liberalism and/or Zukerman’s critique  of it? Is this racialization related to/ consistent or inconsistent with Zuckerman’s earlier depiction of Delphine’s dealings with Tracy?

5 Responses to Blog Question 12/5

  1. Siobhan McKenna says:

    The relationship between Delphine’s inability to “read” non-French men and her making of a racial barrier may relate to Zuckerman’s critique of liberalism as elitist. Her notion of liberalism falls along the line of equality. However, she holds such a romantic notion of what equality is supposed to be that her only end goal really seems to be to protect people, particularly the defenseless, yet she never really enables them, or helps them gain equality, or their own agency. This can be seen in the case of Tracy because although she takes her in, Tracy still ends up leaving school, and Delphine never really gave Tracy the help she really needed. Therefore, Delphine’s liberalism seems kind of, for lack a better term, almost fake, given that it’s almost just there for show, but she never really acts on it. In relationship to her inability to “read” non-French men, then, Delphine doesn’t even seem to believe in this equality that she preaches. Given that she sees some fundamental difference between French people and Americans, Delphine, at least in the way that Zuckerman describes her, doesn’t believe that she’ll ever be able to understand French men. She doesn’t give herself the chance to understand them, she doesn’t allow herself to have agency, or a chance to understand American men, nor does she allow French and American men to ever be on the same playing field, just like she never gave Tracy the help that she actually needed. As a result, Delphine’s liberalism and promotion of equality, to me, seems to be just for show.

    • Abigail Gardener says:

      Although I am not sure I completely agree, I do see truth in the idea that Delphine’s liberalism is just for show, as Siobhan said. In the novel, Delphine is described as “young and adventurous, she didn’t want to be cautious” (261) right before dating Dominique. A few sentences later, it is revealed that Delphine thought “there was something trustworthy about him” (261). Her view that dating a black man would require “caution” and the need to be “adventurous” and that she noticed something trustworthy about him implies that she thought he was intrinsically untrustworthy, likely because of his race. Both of these statements led me to believe that she had prejudices before dating Dominique, although she claims that she would not date someone of a different race specifically because of this relationship, because she would not have “so misjudged a man of her own race” (262). Although both of these ideas do not support the idea of Delphine being truly liberal, I believe the way she viewed Dominique before she met him shows she was prejudiced in the first place.

  2. Noah says:

    These questions are interesting when we consider that the passages with Delphine are written from Zukerman’s perspective, who has taken considerable artistic license. However, it is conceivable to think that Zukerman knows what went on with Delphine and Tracy (as he got a large amount of information from Coleman–which is again worth noting that Zukerman’s view of Delphine has been, in turn, colored by Coleman’s handling of the situation.)

    In any case, Zukerman has already engaged in his critique of liberalism as we’ve already discussed, particularly in the heated argument between Delphine and Coleman. It would follow then, if Delphine’s character is Zukerman’s attempt at a criticism of the liberal conception of equality, that the narrator would want to invent a racially complicated backstory for Delphine.

    Also interesting is that she is someone that is, on the one hand, very much concerned with protecting and speaking up for a marginalized female student, but, on the other, obsessed with and very much desiring a man who represents an ideology perhaps in conflict with her outwardly-stated goals. Her own horror at this realization is both humorous and telling. Perhaps Zukerman (and Roth) are suggesting that these two liberal ideals are both inseparably intertwined and perpetually at odds with one another.

    • Gilberto Rosa says:

      I actually really agree with that last part of your statement. I’m thinking about how plenty of people heavily criticize capitalism (rightfully so) but do so without any intervention of the ways in which they are also complicit in that system. And part of it is because white supremacy ensured that we were all complicit in capitalism and that there would be no (easy) escape from it. That’s kind of like what I see being worked out here with her and Coleman. Like, actually sticking up for marginalized groups is doing way more than just talking, it takes deep introspection to change your own “liberal” ideologies and it takes even more work to actually help marginalized folks.

  3. Sydney Exler says:

    I think that this inconsistency highlights some hypocrisy within Delphine’s character. While she embodies these notions of liberalism publicly and actively — a great example of the latter being her addressing of the feminist issue to Coleman — as readers we are given insight into her failure to genuinely internalize this liberalism internally (privately). I think this recognition speaks to the notion of the entire novel, and Zuckerman’s construction of stories behind every, even seemingly unimportant, character. I’m not sure what definitive conclusion we can draw from this inconsistency, but recognizing such disparity importantly creates a notion of sympathy for Coleman’s case throughout the novel (specifically with regard to his disparity with Delphine). Our ability to understand Delphine’s failure to privately internalize the liberal ideals she criticizes Coleman for failing to embrace diminishes her argument, and ultimately establishes further sympathy and understanding for Coleman.

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