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文化冲突与身份迷失

发布时间:2019-03-26

  2 Cultural Conflicts and Identity Crisis

  Blacks and Jews are excluded as guest from American mainstream culture. Inorder to seek the survival and development, blacks and Jews adopt to the localmainstream culture. To some extent, they are assimilated by the local mainstreamculture. In the interaction between the native culture and the mainstream culture,blacks and Jews are troubled with identity anxiety. American mainstream culturearises the identity crisis to the black and Jews. It can awake and nurtures the Jewishand black’s national consciousness, in spite of the American mainstream culturedispelled their identity confirmation. American culture does not fully accept black andJews, and implicitly or explicitly reject them. This kind of rejection reflects culturalcontradictions, political conflicts, and the darkness of human nature.

  2.1 Coleman Silk: Identity Betrayal under the Impact ofAmerican Culture。

  In this “American issue” novel (Parrish 142), which is considered to be mark theera, Roth depicts a tragic story about a white-skinned black man Coleman Silk whopasses to Jewish as the protagonist. Roth presents the issues of race, gender, identityin theAthena College.

  As an African American who was born into a middle class family and his parentswere well educated, Coleman Silk inevitably faces many identity problems. For mostof his life, Coleman always expects to be free and “primitive” to him. Coleman’spursuit of identity can be divided into two periods: The first period began on the dayof his father’s funeral to when the “spooks” incident happened. During this period,Coleman as a Jew, joined the army, enrolled in school, taught, married and hadchildren, and become a winner in life. The second passing identity began with thehappening of the spook incident, which created people’s hypocritical image ofColeman Silk. As a result, he became the opposite typical figure in the school, thevictim of political correctness. In an instant, all the good things around him werereplaced by a hellish situation. He was dismissed from the university and became anunemployed. He was abandoned by his friends and became a loner without friends.

  His wife died of a heart attack, and his children are also far away from him.Loneliness has become his partner.

  During his childhood, young Silk didn’t feel as much pressure as a coloredchild because of the protection offered by his parents and his brother. Silk is anexcellent student in all aspects of the class, and gets all A’s in tests. His quick mindand prodigious memory make his performance at school as outstanding as it has always been. Coleman Silk not only has a good job in study, but also exceeds othersin sports, never expecting that he would be discriminated against because of his ethnicidentity. However, a series of events later forced him to realize that if he kept hisAfrican American identity, he would become an object of rejection in mainstreamsociety. For the first time, he was refused a hot dog in Washington show that “In thesegregated South there were no separate identities” (103) but nigger for him. Thegraduating speech also had a strong influence on him. The father of one of his Jewishclassmates came to visit his parents and took out 3,000 dollars in exchange for thequalification of the graduate representative. Although the parents did not agree withtheir request, the things have a great impact on Silk. His classmate’s parents madeyoung Coleman deeply aware of the status of blacks in American mainstreamculture ,which is far inferior to Jews. His father’s death also had a huge impact on him.
 

文化冲突与身份迷失
 

  Coleman’s father has a passion for classical literature and a profound literary dream.

  But, due to his skin color and race, he has to be a waiter in train’s restaurant. Then,Steena Pallson, a beautiful white girl who he fall in love with her deeply and wanna tomarry him. However, she broke up with him after finding out the original racialidentity of Coleman. As white, Steena’s idea of racism outweighs her love forColeman. This made Coleman realize that he was a poor other in the eyes of whitepeople. Later, he was driven out of the brothel because he was black identity, and hewas ashamed of his racial identity. These incidents strengthened his vulnerability tocultural conflicts.

  A series of frustrating experience made him internalize the white superioritytheory and form a feeling of inferiority. In order to compensate for his inferioritycomplex, Coleman tried to gain white identity by posing as a white person, winningthe love of a white woman and achieving a successful career. He would rather be avulgar Jew, and no longer want to have anything to do with blacks. In Coleman’s view,Because of racial discrimination, black identity as a barrier to his path, he pretendedto be white to compensate for his inferiority complex, and the black identity becamethe stain he tried to erase. In the novel, Coleman used his white skin to cover up hisblack attributes. He lied about his race when he was ready to join the army. In order toavoid the recurrence of his and Steena’s tragedy after exposing the black familybackground, Coleman pretended that his parents were immigrant Jews and had passedaway. In order to maintain his marriage with the white woman Alice, he even askedhis mother to break away from him. In order to join the ranks of whites, he even saw his black relatives as obstacles, sacrificing the mother who gave him life. Colemanrushed to become a white man, gaining the essential attributes of white people.

  Passing the black identity means to gain the freedom he had always pursued.“Like Oedipus’s resistance to his destiny, identity transformation is an act ofself-construction, individuals consciously discard his history and his collectiveidentity as their strategy” (Rankine P.D:2005). “For some people, identity is whatpeople cherished. For others, identity is just like an accidental case, or a stain one triesto be forgotten and avoided”(Zhu zhenwu:2006). To Silk, black identity is just like astain. However, these compensations can only represent or strengthen his inferioritycomplex, and eventually he is lost between the black and white ethnic identity. In fact,passing as white is not only the expedient strategy to avoid the future pain for betterlife but also is a strategy to se5arch for free life or a free will.

  Racial discrimination is the main reason why Coleman passing as Jews the factthat Coleman tried to get rid of the black identity is closely related to the long-termoppression of the black. The historical memories of blacks is written by WangYuechuan in the book “Post-colonialism and New Historicism Literary Theory”,“Historical memory” is the “root” that a nation left behind after the yearsof washing. It is a “ore-comprehension” of an era, and it is a reflectionbasis for the society to move toward the future”.Since the blacks are shipped to America, it opened the history of the slavery.

  The miserable life of the blacks is not only deprived of all normal rights, but alsotortured or killed. They are forced to give up their language, culture and family andbecome the tools of the white. Mark Twain analyzed the reasons why slaveryexisted.

  He pointed out that “if a country is to enslave a nation, its first task is tomake people around the world feel that who were enslaved lower thanhuman. The next step makes their citizens believe that these people areinferior. One of the most uncharitable moves is to convince the enslavedpeople that they are inferior” (Abbey Lincoln: 1970).

  Blacks are treated as aliens. Such conflicts began the day when the blacks set foot on the territory of the United States. In the eyes of many white people, blacksare a barbaric race, and they still need to be domesticated. They are still inferiorcitizens and must be civilized. “They are a fallen nation, which need to benoticed”(Edward Said:1999)In western countries, Voltaire, Kant, Hegel and other philosophers andideologists, all elaborated on the view of white superiority, affirmed the overallsuperiority of whites and nature. They agreed that blacks are inferior in nature. Even awhite man with a low birth rate can accomplish more than a free, black man. Even if awhite man is of low birth, he is also more successful than a black man. Blacks bornwith a “stain”. The idea of racism centers on a genetic “stain”, which is seen as anirremovable swag. It is based on insurmountable skin barriers. (Tajiev:2005). Becauseof the color, blacks are forced into service role in American society, which makesthem to occupy the status of the lower class. Few centuries ago, when blacks weresent to America as slaves, they had been deprived of their culture, language, religionand identity and forced to accept the owner’s culture, language and customs. Blacksare assimilated by mainstream culture, but the result of assimilation can’t change theirposition, because whites never treat them as complete man. In the eyes of whitepeople, blacks have no complete humanity, and they are still “its-ness” (HoustonBaker:1991). With the interaction of the Black culture and the American culture,blacks are faced with an identity anxiety. In general, the emergence of slavery resultsin inequality between the two races. As white discourse became the hegemonic one, itdominated almost all aspects of the world, including the emergence and “prosperity”of slavery. The ruthless oppression and inhuman repression on the black peopleeventually became a disgraceful page in the history of human history.

  Dexter B Gordon said that: “In terms of Blacks, alienation is made up ofthe languages of Blacks and Whites. In this aspect, white language playsan important role to marginalized blacks.”(Dexter B Gordon: 2003).

  For a long time, Blacks are lack of social cohesion. In other words, lack of socialcohesion means lake of alienation. As early as the first half of the twentieth century,the scholar Du Bois proposed in the book “The Soul of Blacks” that blacks have thetheory of “double consciousness”. When blacks were born with masks, they weregiven a “second sight”. The United States could not make them produce true self-consciousness, but let them see themselves through the other world. “This is avery strange feeling, a kind of double consciousness. Blacks look at themselves byothers’ eyes. It is strange that blacks have to balance their ideas with another angle. Itmakes a person feel that he has double identity, an American identity, a black identity,two souls, and two kinds of thoughts. These are two kinds of struggles that cannot bereconciled with each other. The two hostile consciousness coexist in a black body thatdid not broken by that indomitable spirit of mind”( (Du Bois:1959).

  2.2 Coleman Silk:Acceptance and Disillusion of Jewish Identity。

  Jewish culture is different from both of Black culture and American culture.Because of the special ethnic culture and tortuous national experience of the Jewish,the Jews are extremely sensitive and persistent in their identity. A Jewish nation livedamong many different races since its birth. Jewish ancestors have a strong sense ofidentity since ancient times. Jewish ancestors presented a profound identity complexin various ways. “Circumcision” is a cultural symbol in the form of folklore which isfilled with a strong “identity” consciousness.

  “It is a mark of an ethnicity and is a symbol that the Hebrew (Jewish)people collectively agreed and observed. It is presented in the form of ashrine contracted by God and fixed in religious law. Since the beginning ofthe Jewish nation, circumcision fixed in the cultural structure of the entirenation, showing a marked meaning that encompasses and transcends thenational identity of theological beliefs” (Liu Hongyi:2002).

  The Roman invasion led Jews to flock to all parts of the world. The constantsearch for shelter becomes a Jew’s lifelong career. Although they are careful in theirlives, anti-semitic is still an unavoidable reality in every corner of the world.

  “The Nazi policy of genocide against Jews demonstrated to the world ahistorical phenomenon in which the Jews were sometimes reconciled,sometimes repelled, sometimes sheltered, and sometimes driven,sometimes prosperous and sometimes killed. Therefore, it is difficult forJews to relax their vigilance with other races. Jews around the world arekeenly aware that the priority is to strengthen the identity and cohesion ofthe Jewish people, and to raise the sense of racial identity” (Thomas Sowell: 1992).

  Based on a unique historical culture, Jews have a strong identity complex. Thereal hardships of the discrete, isolated, massacres are the lingering pains of everyJewish person. Jewish Americans are constantly questioned by “who I am, where Icome from, and where I am going” in the process of integrating into American culture.

  Jeffrey c. Alexander, a professor of sociology at Yale university, he thinks that:“When individuals and groups feel that they have experienced terribleevents, leaving indelible traces of group consciousness, becomingpermanent memories, fundamentally and irreversibly changing theirfuture, cultural identity trauma has taken place”(Jeffrey c.Alexander)Cultural identity trauma is a kind of intense, profound, indelible, painful memorythat has a significant impact on the identity and future orientation of a person or agroup. It’s a kind of collective experience, and is not just about individual identity. It’sabout group identification.

  The massacre of Jews in World War II caused the world to begin to pay attentionto the ethnicity. After the 1950s, American Jews made some changes in theunderstanding of Jewish identity. Jews is regarded as a successful model in the UnitedStates.“Now, American Jews are different from when I started writing in1950s. They are no longer afraid of pagans as they used to be. Theyhave more experience such as antisemitism. This is not becauseassimilation lost their sense, but because they are no longer absorbedin the nature of assimilation as they used to be.” (Roth,“Interview”4).

  But, in Roth’s view, the Massacre not only established a clear cultural identityfor Jews, but also marked the entire Jewish nation with a collective marks. As longas it is a Jew, whether or not to witness the Holocaust, it should be used a group ofvictims. The genocide came to examine this national catastrophe that killed people;the Holocaust should unite the Jews and give them the courage to live for nationaldignity.As long as a Jew, whether through massacre or not, should be a member ofsuffering groups to examine the extinctive national disaster; The massacre should unite the Jews and give them the courage to live for national dignity. But that’s notthe case. Most Jewish people think about how to erase the Jewish identity asquickly as possible. They are eager to show that they want to be the number of theUnited States.

  That is why Coleman gives up his black identity and chooses to survive in theUnited States as a Jewish person. The United States opens the door for Jews andprovides more employment opportunities for the Jews who are dispersed there. As aresult, many Jews see American as the land of hope. Jews wants to enjoy the sametreatment as other nations. However, behind the “equal opportunity”, there is anassimilation crisis. The United States gave the Jewish people freedom, democracy,and equality they had dreamed of, it also allowed them to slowly assimilate toAmerican culture under their mainstream culture. The Jewish community in thiscontext has gradually lost its cohesion.

  In the victim’s images, almost all protagonists have a different culturalbackground, which is the embodiment of Jewish tradition in the pursuit of knowledgeand wisdom. Jewish is a rational nation which advocates wisdom. There are a lot ofarguments about wisdom in the Bible of Jewish culture, such as the attributes ofwisdom, importance, function, etc. Jews in education also includes thoughts ofwisdom. On the one hand, Jews praise theological classics. On the other hand, Jewspraised wisdom of life and the philosophical thinking. In modern times, the latterbecomes a major pursuit for Jews. In many of Roth’s works, the protagonists arehighly educated. Coleman Silk is no exception. Therefore, when Silk passes himselfas a Jew, he seems to become powerful. Silk’s ethnic secrets stem from his mentaldepression, then his determination to reshape his identity was influenced by theAmerican culture and political climate.

  With his Jewish identity, Silk marries a Jewish wife. His Jewish wife and hisdiploma have become a passport for his white identity. Eventually, he becomes thedean of the Department. In order to keep the secret of identity, Silk has to rely onlies to maintain the passing identity. He lies to his wife that his parents died and hehas no family. All four of his children were born with white skin, which makes himfeel very happy and try to tell his wife the secret but eventually gives up. He also liesto his son that he fabricates a Russian Jewish family. Silk’s Mother warns him, “Youthink like a prisoner, You are as white as snow, but thinking as slaves.”(139) Hisbrother drives him out of the house. “Never come back again, If your white face appeared in this house again, you can try it!”(145) Silk’s sister said, “he can cut offthe relations with us, but cannot cut the feelings.” When he identified with whiteculture, or sell himself to the white, his mental has been in a state of crisis. Silkbelieves that living in America was like living in one’s own body. He thinks living inAmerica is the best place to live in the world. If a person does not have all theAmerican emotions, he will feel lonely. So his pleasure is American pleasure, andhis values of happiness are American values of happiness. He feels that he is a goodexample of the integration of immigration culture and mainstream culture. However,the Jews did not really integrate into the white American society at the spiritual level.

  No matter where they live, no matter how much they are assimilated, they arealways “other” who are living in other places.When he, in a funny voice, asked two students who had been absent from school,does anyone know about these two people? Do they really exist? Are they just spook?The use of the word “spook”, brings him a series of troubles.Silk lingers on the edge of civilized society, and he become an abandoned chess.

  As a social man, he gradually took off his features. He left Athena College, and later,meet the college cleaner, Faunia Farley, who is half as young as his wife. FauniaFarley lives by sweeping the floor and milking cows. She restores Silk’s nature, thenature of the man, and plant the seeds of sex in his desolate heart. In the face of theself-imposed and the failure of life, Silk tries to heal the pain and anger with rationalrules. In Faunia’s opinion, the purpose of the relationship with Silk is to get “somefriendship. Maybe something, sex or happiness”. (31) However, with either Silk’sracial change or Fornia’s deliberate disguise, they all use the real ghost as a metaphorof identity, whose behaviors are the destruction and transcendence of the self-identity.

  Silk flees away because he could not reconcile with a society, and the thought of racecomes from the desire for freedom [6]. He has created his own self and enjoyed thefullness of his unique life, but he completely ignored that there was something elseuncontrollable. He fells into the palm of his history, which he could not rely onentirely. Silk uses to successfully control the change of his identity, but he can’tcontrol the era as well as the trend of the times, turbulent emotions and moralhypocrisy.

  However, Silk and Faunia’s life doesn’t last too long. Their relationship arousesthe attention of Athena college faculty, and among them, professor Delphine sends ananonymous letter, for his misconduct. The relationship is also accused by anonym:“everyone knows that you are sexually exploiting a woman who is abused,uneducated, and half younger than you.”(20) The anonymous letter, which is only 12words, presents the crime and their relationship in poetic form. Anonymous letter witha powerful tone states the sexual exploitation of Coleman Silk, used with only oneword “sexually”, sets the tone for all, and indicates his crimes. So this is a sexualexploitation. The hypocrisy of morality and terrible lies stains his reputation and killshis dedication as a self-reliant teacher at Athena College. The old customs andprejudices, together with other factors, put Silk on the edge. “Everyone knows”,people in Athena College think they know everything. “Everyone knows” is thebeginning of hackneyed and stereotyped expressions. It is the beginning of thesecularization of experience. The solemn, authoritative tone of the cliches is mostintolerable. What we do not know is surprising, but what’s even more surprising iswhat you think you know.(212) “it is the thought of an age, which contains all theprejudices of an age.”[7]. People hold the prejudices full of egoistic elements, andthey attack and destroy a person collectively. Egoism reflects the human stain, thedarkness of the heart, and the hypocrisy of morality. The cruelty of history and thehelplessness of the individual are the true reflection of social reality.

  The origins of political correctness have radical revolutionary and violent colors.

  In 1960s, in the radical movement, when a student argued against each other in thedebate, they used to blame the other party’s political incorrectness. In the politicalcorrectness, great changes have taken place in American social life. People not onlyneed to examine their research and teaching in academic activities, but also have to becareful about each word and action in daily life. Otherwise, it is easy to touch theminefield, and people are accused of discrimination. At the beginning of the issue, thepolitical correctness rule was pursued by the American academic circles. Now, it hasevolved into a controversial issue. Therefore, a cultural war has been launched inacademia. In The Human Stain, the “nigger” incident and failure of Silk’s identity arethe best embodiment of this “culture war”.

  Silk deliberately passes himself as a Jew. It seemingly looks perfect but collapseseventually because of political incorrectness. It is just an ordinary class call, but theword “spook” brings a series of troubles. Eventually, political correctness leads todeath of his wife and his own tragedy. “spook” has the meaning of “spook” and“nigger” in American English. Coincidentally, the two absent students are black.

  Ironically, his colleagues think he contempted blacks, and accused him of a racist. It seems that all of his achievements are nothing but humiliation. The true fact of thetragedy is the rule of political correctness. This is the fate of Silk. A word “spook”

  makes him lose all achievements which he has fought for many years. In the voice ofblame, he has to resign his work. Silk was abandoned by Athena College, and his wifeAlice also died of a stroke.

  In The Human Stain, “Spook” is a crucial identity metaphor, symbolicallyentering the key of the novel. In fact, Silk uses the word “spook” to express his stateof mind which has been repressed all the time. Omer-Sherman said that ColemanSilk was haunted by the spook in his body and he was oppressed by his own past.

  (258) Psychologist Erik Erikson pointed out in his famous theory of crisis ofrecognition that “self-identity is the process of integrating ability as self-integratedall the process of identity with changes in Libido, a natural tendency formedgenetically, opportunities offered by various roles in society. Individual identity isnot automatically acquired, but combined in adolescence from many factors. It is aprocess with many possibilities and changes.”[9] Silk goes through the process ofidentity transformation, which becomes a “spook” after trying to judaise himself. Itis clear that his identity has failed in the crisis. According to Erickson, “identitycrisis is influenced by his boyhood subconsciousness and social political climate.” Infact, behind the passing identity, there hides political correctness academic rule inAmerican academia. The experience of Silk’s life proves that the choice of identityis the coming of sin.

  Jewish immigrants are full of sorrows, hardships, accumulation of wealth, andpursuit of the American dream. However, when immigrants think they have integratedinto American society and excused the United States everywhere, the mainstreamculture of the United States does not appreciate them and still rejects them on the edge.

  The positive efforts of the seniors and the resistance of the younger generations showthat economic success cannot change the reality of Jewish immigrants as the “other.”In the United States, Jews enjoy the joy of creating wealth and realizing value, whileat the same time suffering the loss of self.

  What Roth tries to tell us is a profound revelation: it is painful to us to make thechoice of life. He also described a clear picture, “in the beauty of the Jewish culturaltradition, people full of frustration, angry and independent, which is as an individualJew, not as a Jew.” The objects he explores were not confined to Jews, and blacks, butto individuals and societies with universal significance.