Blog question 11/21

When Coleman comes to Nathan begging him to write the story of Iris’s “murder,” Nathan’s response is ambivalent:

“I had to write about this ‘absurdity,’ that ‘absurdity’ –I, who then knew nothing about his woes at the college and could not even begin to follow the chronology of the horror that, for five months now, had engulfed him and the late Iris Silk” (11-2).

Does Coleman’s appeal work on Nathan? Is Nathan writing the account Coleman would have wanted? If so, provide some evidence from the suggest suggesting that Nathan’s narrative stance is sympathetic toward Coleman. If not, why is Nathan writing about Coleman?

-Brenden

7 Responses to Blog question 11/21

  1. Siobhan McKenna says:

    I think that Nathan’s stance is relatively sympathetic towards Coleman. Even if he doesn’t entirely seem to understand why Coleman is so fixated on these events, he is definitely intrigued by Coleman’s story, and the Coleman that emerges once the telling of this story is over. It is acknowledged that “there is something fascinating about what moral suffering can do to someone who is in no way a weak or feeble person” (12). This assertion, made by Nathan the narrator implies, to me, that Nathan is definitely interested in telling Coleman’s story, wanting to discover the man behind the story. Although, just because he is interested in Coleman and his story does not mean he’ll be sympathetic to Coleman in his retelling of the events. However, it does seem that Nathan is being sympathetic to Coleman. For one, he is telling the story word for word how Coleman presents it to him, and Coleman is arguably only presenting his one side of the story, which clearly favors himself because he believes that he didn’t do anything wrong. In addition, in describing Coleman’s years as dean at Athena, he seems only to focus on the positive change that Coleman brought to the campus, such as eliminating “the ill-named Scholar of the Year Prize”, and getting “rid of the clubby faculty lunchroom” (8). adjectives such as “ill-named” and “clubby” have negative connotations that imply that they were things that either nobody liked or that weren’t doing any good for the school, making Coleman seem like the good guy for getting rid of them. In doing so, Nathan makes the racist accusations made against Coleman seem even more outrageous, painting him as an innocent victim.

  2. Aly Thomas says:

    From what I have read thus far, it seems that Nathan is sympathetic to Coleman’s situation. This felt most prominent to me when it was revealed that Coleman was somewhat of a jerk in his position as dean, but his “jerkiness” (Better word?) was not put in conversation with his racism (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because in a different light, you could be “nice” AND racist), but there wasn’t much of an indication of “someone who can be such a strict dean is probably racist too,” which is a connection I was making as I was reading the narrative, and is a connection that it doesn’t seem like Nathan is making. Or there’s no hint of “someone who studies Classics- the epitome of old white men studies might be more racist than someone who studies something like, Sociology, for example.” There are certain assumptions (whether they are accurate or not) that Nathan could make that are left out of the text.

    • Gilberto Rosa says:

      Yea, I see this “good vs. bad racist” complex working within the novel as well. I feel like we, the readers, need to believe the accusations and take them seriously because it seems as though no one is doing that to Coleman. His judaism is brought in attempt to bring sympathy from the reader but I feel like that’s what everyone is doing around him and few people are actually holding him accountable. I see that especially with Nathan, who in his narration, sort of sees the flaws of Coleman but in this specific scene we see how he responds to it, which is to say that he sort of just does what Coleman asks of him and Coleman just continues to be himself.

  3. Michaela Cabral says:

    I don’t think that Nathan is writing the exact account that Coleman originally asked of him. The narrative Coleman wanted written seems to be the one that he attempted to write himself: one that is a case against those he has believed to have wronged him and killed his wife. Although Nathan does take a sympathetic stance toward Coleman, he also shows Coleman’s vulnerabilities and focuses on Coleman, which did not seem to be Coleman’s original desire. Whether or not it is Coleman’s appeal that convinces Nathan to write this story, it seems to be at least a subconscious motivation. It seems as though Coleman fascinates Nathan and by writing about him, he is indulging himself more than placating Coleman. Nathan’s sympathy is clearly seen in the way he values Coleman’s side of the story, portraying it in a way that shows he believes it. When Coleman receives the “anonymous” letter, Nathan goes on a rant that elevates and defends Coleman. Nathan himself says of this, “I was gushing and I knew it. I surprised myself with my eagerness to please, felt myself saying too much, explaining too much, overinvolved and overexcited in the way you are when you’re a kid and you think you’ve found a soul mate in the new boy down the street.” This adoration and interest colors Nathan’s entire narrative, showing how Nathan is sympathetic and potentially biased toward Coleman.

    • Abigail Gardener says:

      I agree with Michaela, especially about the fact that Nathan seems to be indulging himself by writing this narrative rather than simply acquiescing to Coleman’s request. Although I do believe Nathan paints Coleman in a favorable light, I don’t think that is because Coleman asked him to; it is because Nathan is excited to have found something of a friend in Coleman after his self-inflicted isolation. Nathan says of Coleman, “I wasn’t paying attention to his predicament as merely a mental exercise. His difficulties mattered to me” (43). This was never the narrative that Coleman wanted, one that would expose his colleagues at Athena as the murderer of his wife, but rather a narrative focusing only on Coleman’s troubles that is (in my opinion) clearly biased toward Coleman.

  4. Conor Amrien says:

    While I think that Nathan as a character is sympathetic to Coleman’s situation, I don’t believe that Nathan is writing the account that Coleman would have wanted. Coleman when he first asks Nathan to write the story of “Iris’ murder” is trying to find someone to blame other than himself necessarily in his grief. From Nathan’s tone in this quote, it doesn’t seem like he supports Coleman attacking the students who accused him as a way of dealing with his grief over Iris, and this explains why Nathan is relieved and supportive of Coleman when he finally gives up writing “Spooks”. I think that Nathan is writing about Coleman in order to expose Coleman. I don’t necessarily think that Coleman himself didn’t do much wrong as dean from an academic perspective, and did not have much intention behind the words he used to describe the absentee students, yet his words in “Spooks” do have intention. By speaking of Coleman in this way, Nathan emphasizes what really gives that word “intent” or even power. Therefore, he is sympathetic to the situation, but not necessarily his actions of retaliation. By writing about Coleman, he blurs the non ill-intentioned professor with the retaliatory actions of a spite-induced racist to create a more complex portrait of the “racist”.

  5. LaShawn Simmons says:

    I think Nathan respects Coleman but I don’t think he isn’t sure exactly if he wants to write this narrative. He is aware it is probably best as he explains “if he [Coleman ]wrote
    the story in all of its absurdity, altering nothing, nobody would believe it, nobody would take it seriously, people would say it was a ludicrous lie, a self-serving exaggeration” (15). Perhaps Nathan is writing this story out of pity or curiosity. I think Nathan is entertaining Coleman too because he is probably flattered that Coleman trusts him with his narrative. Besides, Nathan admits that he never really interacted heavily with Coleman before Iris died. He stated “Other than to offer a nod to one or the other of them whenever our paths crossed down at the general store or the post office, I had not really known the Silks or anything much about them before then. (14)” Ultimately, I believe Nathan finds Coleman intriguing and still trying to figure out what he wants to do but I would argue that Nathan would eventually give as he continues to get to know Coleman more as Nathan has been listening and visiting Coleman more frequently.

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