What is the human stain/are the human stains? Is there a relationship between it/them and the truth that Baldwin discusses in “Everybody’s Protest Novel?” Is there a relationship between it/them Roth’s concept and the funkiness discussed in the “Geraldine” section of The Bluest Eye? What complexity does it add to any attempt to write THE nation?
Within Roth’s book, I’m understanding the human stains as those complex and seemingly irremovable aspects of the human. PTSD/trauma, Race, Sexual desire, religion, etc. In Everybody’s Protest Novel, Baldwin levies the critique that protest fiction against racial inequality is overly-sentimental and lacks the nuance and complexity necessary to engage with race. I could imagine Baldwin preferring Roth’s engagement with race over a book like Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
^ this was me. I don’t know why it’s coming up as anonymous.
I feel like “The Human Stain” is something that Roth attempted to write about but that ultimately only writers like Baldwin and Morrison could actually accomplish. I think if I could, sort of, take everything we’ve learned in this and in our own interrogation of the nation, it would be Baldwin’s “Another Country.” I’m thinking specifically of when Ida is yelling at Vivaldo and she says “Rufus was dying and you couldn’t tell but I could.” I don’t think those were the exact words but that was the general message and that’s what I see at work in this book and across the texts we’ve read for this class. I don’t think Roth ever really got to that point. Of course, as readers we can arrive to that when we apply a critical lens to Coleman’s life but then again, how invested in critical questions surrounding race, class and gender was Roth really engaging in? Personally, I feel like Coleman’s decision to pass as white signifies a different death that was never really explored in the book but very much stood out to me. Baldwin and Morrison’s specific positionality as black people already puts them at a position to bear and then understand the bruises of America in a way that is only understood by those at the bottom.
I think the best way to define a “stain” is literally. Why, usually, when your clothes get a stain on them do you stop wearing them? Because they are dirtied, impure, un-presentable, changed forever. I think this definition of a stain, as a mark of (supposed) impurity, un-presentableness, and forever-changedness, is something incongruous with the nation and a principle of equality. Equality is an unstained sheet. But human nature itself is stained. I think that that is what is being expressed over and over again in this course. The idea of a nation is something pure but the reality of a nation is something unpure. Aly mentioned the “complex and seemingly irremovable aspects of the human” in her post. Purity is simple but human nature is not simple. Therefore, can humans coexist as something pure?
Trauma, Race, Sexual desire, religion, economic status — all these things exist as parts of who we are, all complexities which blemish any idea of pure equality. I believe that Roth casts them as all stains. However, through irony and through the vast amount of “stains” the connotation of a stain as something bad seems to fade. Human nature is unavoidably stained due to complexity. No matter how supposedly pure or how supposedly perfect even perspective can cause a stain. Primus, for example, seems to be “perfect” and yet his presence and perfectness causes upset in Coleman.
Maybe I’ve lost myself a bit in the complexities of things but my main point is in The Human Stain, and many other times throughout the course, there is a pure idea of the nation which is “stained” through reality and human nature.
I agree with Aly that within this novel, human stains seem to be these complex and irremovable parts of our identity, but it’s almost as if the real stain comes when an individual tries to hide part of their identity. Throughout reading The Human Stain, the main idea that really stuck with me the whole way through was the whole “A Human Being Lives Here” idea, and how this whole novel really seems to be Roth, through Zuckerman, humanizing all the characters within the novel, including Zuckerman, and showing that we cannot base our entire understanding of any human on a single isolated incident, nor should we hold the wrongs they’ve committed, or any flaws they have, or any part of their identity that one may view as undesirable, with more weight than any other portion of their identity, because at the end of the day we, as humans will all leave some sort of mark, or imprint as Faunia describes it, on this earth, as Faunia explains, “all she was saying about the stain was that it’s inescapable” (242). Therefore, we don’t need somebody else to do this imprinting for us, by making us out to be something that we’re not, or by dwelling on other’s mistakes, because that mark can manifest itself without the misinterpretations of an outsider who doesn’t understand the full picture.
In connecting that to the theme of writing the nation overall, then, The Human Stain seems to fall in line with the idea that no one person could possibly write the nation, nor can one person’s story represent a whole group of people, which means when we are reading any novel of a person attempting to write part of the nation, we must take it with a grain of salt, and really look at the story on an individualized and humanized level, which The Human Stain somewhat forces by having Zuckerman as the writer/narrator because the reader is aware, and reminded many times, that Zuckerman is making a lot of assumptions, so we cannot take his word for granted, nor can we take it as representing a whole group of people, but much more individual.
I think, as others have said, the human stains are the parts of the human experience that are permanent and stand out. Along with their permanence is the common reaction to hide or ignore these stains, rather than recognize their natural place in humanity. I think this can especially be connected to the idea of funkiness in The Bluest Eye. Geraldine disregards the “stain” of her race, choosing to associate with what is seen as “pure” and “white” as much as possible. But in other parts of the novel, funkiness is reinforced as something that is not unnatural or negative.
Perhaps there is also a discussion to be had around who is able to disregard these stains. Both Geraldine and Coleman are light-skinned, with Coleman even being able to pass as white. Their human stains, their experiences and identities, are no less present than anyone else’s, but they may find it easier to push them aside than someone like Pecola, who is constantly reminded by society of the “impure” way it views her.
As I mentioned in class, I don’t think that there is only one kind of “stain” being discussed in the novel. There are physical stains (Coleman’s white-passing), moral stains, and intrinsic stains. When Faunia discusses “the human stain,” what Zuckerman emphasizes is that “it’s inescapable” (242). Throughout the novel, I interpreted stains as being inescapable qualities of humanity.
I agree with Gilberto’s post that Roth did not explore fully what stains mean and how they interact with race, in comparison to authors like Baldwin. Thinking about “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” Roth’s “The Human Stain” seems to be a kind of protest novel that Baldwin may dislike for having a lack of engagement. For instance, it is unclear throughout the novel what is being critiqued, and by whom – is Roth criticizing a societal obsession with exposing “stains”? Is it a critique by Zuckerman for the purposes of writing a good novel, or does he recognize the varying complexities of all the characters?
From my understanding of the text, I read “The Human Stain” as a direct consequence of social inequality. I believe moral superiority is linked with the physicality of cleanliness. It makes me think about when Mary Douglas (cultural anthropologist) states that dirt is “matter out of place.” This form of “displacement” translates in to the claim that uncleanliness prompts inferiority. This dirtiness is an approach to reinforce social hierarchies. This is most explicit in Geraldine’s interaction in “The Bluest Eye”. The moment Geraldine sees Pecola in her house she first notices her “dirty attire” thus the accusation made against Pecola in killing Geraldine’s cat makes sense. In Coleman’s interaction with Nelson Primus, a very successful lawyer, he uses coded language that suggests Faunia’s socio-economic status is linked to her unresolved social and internal issues especially when he uses language such as “these people. ”