6: Text excerpt, Philip Roth’s "The Human Stain," 2000.
In this passage Nathan Zuckerman, the narrator of Philip Roth’s novel, is attending the funeral of a friend. His meditation on the Mourner’s Kaddish places it in the context of Jewish history and in fact places every Jewish death in a wider historical context.
Suggested Activity: This passage highlights a tension between the context of personal history and communal history. Have students reflect upon the historical and communal events that may have informed the Ginsberg’s personal family history and Naomi’s mental illness? (Possible examples to consider include: the Holocaust, the Soviet Union, the McCarthy hearings, and the history of sexism and women’s oppression.)
Why might Roth’s character Zuckerman feel the kaddish announces not that an individual is dead, but that “a Jew is dead”? What is the difference between saying “Naomi Ginsberg is dead” and “Another Jew is dead”? In what ways is Kaddish a poem about a specifically Jewish death? In what ways is it not? Ask students to reflect for a moment on what the kaddish (or comparable prayers/rituals from their faith traditions) means to them. What does it seem to mean for Nathan Zuckerman and Mark Silk in the passage above? For Ginsberg?
Source: Philip Roth, The Human Stain (New York, Houghton Mifflin, 2000), 313-14.