Roth's Graveyards, Narrative Desire, and "Professional Competition with Death"

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In her article "Roth's Graveyards, Narrative Desire, and 'Professional Competition with Death'" Debra Shostak analyzes Philip Roth's 1954 short story "The Day It Snowed" and surveys a range of his books. Shostak offers a reading of Sabbath's Theater and Everyman to explore Roth's fictional forms and his conception of storytelling, elucidates how the traumatic knowledge of death at graveside initiates the psychoanalytic process of repression, repetition, remembering, and telling, and uncovers several motifs or formal strategies that appear when Roth deploys cemetery scenes: the linear plotting toward death is often embraced within circular narrative structures; the voice of the mother, dead or alive, presides over the protagonist's traumatic confrontation with mortality; and the narrative represents the battle waged between eros and thanatos. From the beginning of his career, Roth has sent his characters to meditate in graveyards or over coffins at crucial junctures such as narrative beginnings and endings. Drawing on psychoanalytic accounts of narrative desire, Shostak argues that Roth is preoccupied with the graveyard scene as a symbolic incitement to the compulsion that he calls in The Human Stain "professional competition with death."

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