Conflicts Ancient and Modern in the Human Stain

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In Philip Roth's The Human Stain, Roth utilizes multiple conflicts and allusions within the story to explore human nature and the reasons that people choose the paths to settle conflicts. In the opening and closing scenes, many conflicts are being discovered as well as resolved. The conflicts include white versus black, right versus wrong, ideology versus ambition, and loyalty versus betrayal. Roth uses the Berkshire community and the small Athena College in 1998 as a microcosm of the world in which he uses these conflicts, as well as classical and literary allusions to bring to light all of the possible decisions of the past and outcomes of the future. In the opening scene the protagonist, Coleman Brutus Silk is introduced through the eyes and words of the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman. Silk is an former professor of Greek and Latin as well as the dean of faculty at Athena college located in the Berkshires of New England. During one of his classes, Silk makes a classical allusion to the conflict between the powerful King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles over the maiden Briseis in Homer's epic, the Iliad. Agamemnon steals Briseis , who is a war prize of Achilles, after he returns his own captured maiden, Chryseis, back to her father. Achilles is enraged by Agamemnon's actions and vows to never assist the Greeks in their quests again. Silk is unknowingly describing, symbolically, the situation that he will be in only a few months into the future. Silk soon resigns from the college after being labeled a racist and his wife of more than forty years, Iris, passes away during the debacle. As a man of over seventy-one years old, he should have honored his wife and lived out the rest of his life in peace. Like a Agamemnon though, he was enticed by a younger woman. As Agamemnon says of Briseis, "Clytemnestra (the wife of Agamemnon) is not as good as she is, neither in face nor figure," so thinks Coleman Silk of Faunia Farley, the thirty-four year old woman whom...
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