The Human Stain – Philip Roth – Quotes

My first Roth…

I finished this book few months ago and still I’m not sure I’m ready to write its review. I liked the writing, characters, story, but it’s not about that, this is the superficial layer. I think I’m still digesting the book in some way, it touched on so many topics, all forms of discrimination, how we all lie and build and control our image, how no one can ever fully know anyone else, how we don’t know ourselves, how quick we are to judge and how we hate being judged, what is literature and what is the role of a writer, how our childhood forms us.

Still a lot of thinking to be done, but in the meantime I thought I’ll share with you some of the quotes. Looking forward to see what you think, share in comments!

SPOILER ALERT – some of the quotes reveal the plot

When she’s having guests on a Saturday evening, she sets the table Friday night at about five o’clock. It’s there, every glass, every piece of silver. And then she throws a light gossamer thing over it so it won’t get dust specks on it. Everything organized perfectly. And a fantastically good cook if you don’t like any spices or salt or pepper. Or taste of any kind.

It was not a moment to allow himself to be subjugated by the all-but-pathological phenomenon of mother love.

Nor was he a radical or a revolutionary, not even intellectually or philosophically speaking, unless it is revolutionary to believe that disregarding prescriptive society’s most restrictive demarcations and asserting independently a free personal choice that is well within the law was something other than a basic human right—unless it is revolutionary when you’ve come of age, to refuse to accept automatically the contract drawn up for your signature at birth.

Of course, she had the credentials. But to Coleman she embodied the sort of prestigious academic crap that the Athena students needed like a hole in the head but whose appeal to the faculty second-raters would prove irresistible.

Delphine Roux had misread his gaze by thinking, a bit melodramatically—one of the impediments to her adroitness, this impulse not merely to leap to the melodramatic conclusion but to succumb erotically to the melodramatic spell—that what he wanted was to tie her hands behind her back: what he wanted, for every possible reason, was not to have her around. And so he’d hired her. And thus they seriously began not to get on.

“Almost without exception, my dear”—again? why not?—“our students are abysmally ignorant. They’ve been incredibly badly educated. Their lives are intellectually barren. They arrive knowing nothing and most of them leave knowing nothing. Least of all do they know, when they show up in my class, how to read classical drama.

She didn’t go home, and now she hates him. What does she hate most? That he really thinks his suffering is a big deal. He really thinks that what everybody thinks, what everybody says about him at Athena College, is so life-shattering. It’s a lot of assholes not liking him—it’s not a big deal. And for him this is the most horrible thing that ever happened? Well, it’s not a big deal. Two kids suffocating and dying, that’s a big deal. Having your stepfather put his fingers up your cunt, that’s a big deal. Losing your job as you’re about to retire isn’t a big deal. That’s what she hates about him—the privilegedness of his suffering.

“That’s what comes of being hand-raised,” said Faunia. “That’s what comes of hanging around all his life with people like us. The human stain,” she said, and without revulsion or contempt or condemnation. Not even with sadness. That’s how it is—in her own dry way, that is all Faunia was telling the girl feeding the snake: we leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. Impurity, cruelty, abuse, error, excrement, semen—there’s no other way to be here. Nothing to do with disobedience.

To regain her self-possession, to rescue her name, to forestall the disaster of ruining her career, she must continue to think. Thinking has been her whole life. What else has she been trained to do from the time she started school?

As for thinking, were she able to think like Einstein, thinking will not open these doors.

“Hello?” says the man at the other end. “Hello? Who is this?” She barely gets it out. The most irreducible two words in any language. One’s name. Irreducible and irreplaceable. All that is her. Was her. And now the two most ridiculous words in the world.

The human desire for a beginning, a middle, and an end—and an end appropriate in magnitude to that beginning and middle—is realized nowhere so thoroughly as in the plays that Coleman taught at Athena College. But outside the classical tragedy of the fifth century B.C., the expectation of completion, let alone of a just and perfect consummation, is a foolish illusion for an adult to hold.

But the danger with hatred is, once you start in on it, you get a hundred times more than you bargained for. Once you start, you can’t stop. I don’t know anything harder to control than hating. Easier to kick drinking than to master hate. And that is saying something.”

My review of The Human Stain

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

4 thoughts on “The Human Stain – Philip Roth – Quotes

  1. Sarah

    I haven’t read this yet but it’s in my TBR pile, If it’s anything like ‘The Plot Against America’ I know what you mean about needing time to digest it. It was so powerful, and his rewrite of history so chillingly plausible, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for months.


    1. Ha! You just added ‘The Plot Against America’ to my TBR. I also read ‘American Pastoral’ and I needed a while to digest it too, but it was slightly easier, maybe because it’s more in the past, so I don’t personally know the situation. In ‘Human Stain’ the society where it happens is very familiar, it adds another layer.


  2. Pingback: American Pastoral – Philip Roth – Quotes –

  3. Pingback: 2/3 of The American Trilogy – Philip Roth –

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