The Human Stain

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The Human Stain (2000) is a novel by Philip Roth. It is set in late 1990s rural New England. Its first person narrator is 65-year-old author Nathan Zuckerman, a character in previous Roth novels, including American Pastoral (1997) and I Married a Communist (1998); these two books form a loose trilogy with The Human Stain.[1] Zuckerman acts largely as an observer rather than the protagonist of the novel. critic Charles Taylor argues that Roth had to have been at least partly inspired by the case of Anatole Broyard, a literary critic who, like the protagonist of The Human Stain, was a man variously identified as Creole or black who spent his entire professional life more-or-less passing as white.[1] Roth however states there is no connection as he only learned about Broyard being black from a New Yorker article published months after he started writing the novel.[2]

The Human Stain was a national bestseller and was made into a film in 2003 starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman.



The Human Stain is set in 1990s America, the time of the culture wars, political correctness and the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. The story is told by Nathan Zuckerman, a writer who lives a secluded life where Coleman Silk is his neighbor. Silk is a classics professor and dean of faculty at Athena College, a fictional institution in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. At 71, Silk falls victim to an unjustified charge of racism by two black students, whom he calls "spooks" because they had never shown up in his seminar: "Do they exist or are they spooks?" Having never seen these students, Silk does not know that they are black when he makes the statement, nonetheless, this incident leads to Silk's resignation and soon after to the death of his wife Iris. Silk starts an affair with one of the school's janitors, Faunia Farley, a 34-year-old woman who was married to an abusive Vietnam veteran. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Coleman Silk has been living a lie for most of his life: he is actually a light-skinned black man passing as white and Jewish.

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