euoi (euoi) wrote in bookish,

Question about The Human Stain by Philip Roth

Hi all, first time poster here.  I've just finished  'The Human Stain' .  Have some questions about the ending though.

Type your cut contents here.

What is the significance of the ending passage, when Nathan finds Les Farley fishing on the frozen lake?
A lot of statements puzzled me.  Like this part, when Les is explaining why he started ice fishing:

In his voice there was a chilling resonance when he said, "It's real dark."  A chilling and astonishing resonance that made everything about Coleman's accident clear. "So any kind of a flash down there," he added, "the fish are attracted to it.  I guess they're adaptable to that dark environment."
How did this make everything about Coleman's accident clear?  I didn't really get how Nathan became so certain Les killed Faunia and Coleman from this conversation.

Also, there seems to be some significance to the auger.

The auger out on the ice.  The candor of the auger.  There could be no more solid embodiment of our hatred than the merciless steel look of that auger out in the middle of nowhere.


He got up and went over and he got the auger.  Despite the padded coveralls and the boots that added to his bulk as a shortish, stocky man, he moved deftly across the ice, sweeping up the auger in one hand the way you might sweep the bat up off the field while jogging back to the bench after running out a fly ball.  He came up to me and raised the auger's long bright bit right up to my face. "Here."
      Here. Here was the origin.  Here was the essence. Here.

Farley goes on to tell Nathan about the difference between the five-inch and six-inch auger, and about how the sharpness of the auger is everything.  And then:

Shuffling backward a half-step at a time, I'd retreated toward the shore some four or five feet, but he was still holding the auger up in his one hand, the corkscrew blade raised still to the level where my eyes had been before.  Completely bested, I'd begun backing away.

Why was Nathan 'completely bested'?  Is the auger purely symbolic of hatred, or is there some other significance to it?  Obviously, there's a lot I'm not getting here. :-(

And, in the final paragraph:

Just facing him, I could feel the terror of the auger -- even with him already seated back on his bucket: the icy white of the lake encircling a tiny spot that was a man, the only human marker in all of nature, like the X of an illiterate's signature on a sheet of paper.  There it was, if not the whole story, the whole picture.  Only rarely, at the end of our century, does life offer up a vision as pure and peaceful as this one:  a solitary man on a bucket, fishing through eighteen inches of ice in a lake that's constantly turning over its water atop an arcadian mountain in America.

This rather stumped me.  What did the author mean by 'the whole picture'?  And the 'peaceful' part seems at odds to the whole conversation with Les that happened before, which seemed sinister and menacing.

Also, there are a lot of references to Clinton in parallel to Coleman's story.  I understand it's to point out America's 'persecuting spirit', the 'ecstacy of sanctimony'.  But in the last chapter, Les, referring to him as 'Slick Willie', says he is one of those people that got away:

"Tell you what I was just thinking about.  I was thinking a lot of things.  I was thinking about Slick Willie.   I was thinking about our president -- his freakin' luck.  I was thinkin' about this guy who gets off everything, and I was thinkin' about the guys who didn't get off nothin'.  Who didn't dodge the draft and didn't get off.  It doesn't seem right."

I don't know how to fit this in with the parallel between Clinton and Coleman.  Is it because Les thinks Coleman is one of those people that 'gets away', one of the privileged.. so he is taking matters into his own hands?

Phew!  Yeah, a lot of questions.  Sorry about that, am not very knowledgeable about literature.  Always been a recreational reader, but this rather puzzling ending to a really great book just bugged me endlessly.  Hope you guys can give me some insight!  Thanks in advance!

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