Saturday, April 2, 2011
The Truth of Who You Are
During Tuesday's class we had an interesting discussion concerning the main character Coleman in The Human Stain. We discussed the morality of his decision to pass for white and I was interested to hear more of your opinions regarding the topic. I did not feel that he was wrong for desiring the freedom that claiming his black ancestry would not allow him to fully possess. But his decision to merely deny his black ancestry affected the lives of those around him also. Coleman was forced to separate himself from his family while he was in his early twenties. He told his aging mother suddenly that he planned to live out the rest of his life as a white man. So of course this meant that the aspects of his life that did not fit this charade would have to be hidden. He could not openly claim his family while maintaining his façade so his mother suffered throughout the rest of her life because she had lost her youngest son. A great deal of importance was placed on a conversation that Coleman’s sister had with his friend the author after Coleman’s death. Among other things they spoke of the problem that he had left to his children by not telling them the truth of who they were when he had the chance. It was stated that his daughter in particular may face a ticking time bomb when she has her first child because she may marry a white man and give birth to a noticeably black child. Her husband may then think that she had been unfaithful because she does not know her ancestry. This seems unlikely, but there is the possibility that she could have encountered this situation since Coleman himself was such an anomaly in his own family according to his brother when referring to Coleman’s “lilywhite” face. Was what Coleman did so wrong? What's the real problem here? There was a great deal of importance placed on the role that ancestry and history plays in one’s identity. According to Coleman’s sister Ernestine it seemed that Coleman never got over the guilt of not revealing to his children the truth of “who they were”. She says, “But it was clear that he never forgot that there was a lie at the foundation of his relationship with his children, a terrible lie..the children, who carried their father’s identity in their genes and who would pass that identity on to their children, at least genetically, and perhaps even physically, tangibly, never had the complete knowledge of who they are and who they were” (321). Is it truly so important to one’s essence and state of being for them to be aware of such aspects of their ancestry. Is race so essential that it was wrong of Coleman to go to his grave without revealing to his children that they were living out their lives with false knowledge regarding their descent? Did the whole of “who they were” really lie in that one small detail? Was Coleman therefore a despicable character for withholding this information?