The Narrator Who Wasn’t There : Philip Roth’s The Human Stain and the Discontinuity of Narrating Characters


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Publication Details

Author list: Edholm, Roger

Publication year: 2018

Start page: 17

End page: 38

Number of pages: 22

ISSN: 1063-3685

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/nar.2018.0001

URL: https://ohiostatepress.org/Narrative.html

View additional information: View in Web of Science


By discussing The Human Stain by Philip Roth, this article aims toquestion the standard view of fictional narratives as being told by a narrator and as beingformal imitations of natural narrative discourse. In my discussion on Roth’s novel,I demonstrate how the concept of the narrator can start to produce interpretations ofa literary work. Although critics discussing this particular novel are not always narratologists,the concept is theory-laden and therefore presents a preconceived notionof who the narrator is as well how to approach so-called first-person fiction. In TheHuman Stain, the character of Nathan Zuckerman appears as a narrating-I, yet attainsdifferent functions throughout the literary work, besides that of “telling.” By using thisexample, I argue for a rhetorical and aesthetic approach to narrating characters. Narratingcharacters are viewed as products of the authorial discourse rather than producersof narrative discourse or sources of narrative information. The topic discussedin this article is thus an example of the conflict between certain narratological coreconcepts, defined within a given theoretical paradigm, and the practice of reading narrativefiction. The rules and conventions governing that practice should be the focusfor any rhetorical approach to fiction, yet narratological distinctions might contradictour readerly responses and appear counterintuitive to how literary works communicatewith us as readers of literary fiction, as the reception of Roth’s novel demonstrates.


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