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Sophie's Choice

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Thesis Question: Is there any justification for those critics who say that the central figure should have been a Jew, not a Polish woman.

"In those days cheap apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn". This is the opening line in the novel Sophie's Choice by William Styron. In addition to being the opening line, it is the way we are introduced to our narrator, Stingo. To begin this story, Stingo moves into an apartment in Brooklyn after leaving his job at a publishing house called McGraw-Hill, and begins to work on his own novel where his true passion lied. In this Brooklyn building, Stingo comes to know his upstairs neighbors Sophie Zawistowaska and her lover Nathan Landau. This relationship, we come to find, is tainted by Nathan's violence and jealous ways. Stingo quickly develops an infatuation with Sophie, who becomes our main character. As we read about her we learn a lot about her past and why she is who she is during the length of the novel.

Sophie was a Polish women and a survivor of Auschwitz, a concentration camp established in Germany during the Holocaust in the early 1940s. In the novel we learn about her through her telling of her experiences, for instance, the murder of her husband and her father. We also come to learn of the dreadful decision she was faced with upon entering the concentration camp, where she was instructed to choose which one of her two children would be allowed to live. She chose her son. Later we learn of her short lived experience as a stenographer for a man by the name of Rudolph Hoss, the Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. During her time there, Sophie attempted to seduce Hoss in an attempt to have her son transferred to the Lebensborn program so that he may have been raised as a German child. Sophie's attempt was unsuccessful and she was returned back to the concentration camp. She was later released but would never come to know what was of her son.

As the story goes on Sophie's lover Nathan becomes more and more abusive. In confidence, Sophie tells Stingo about Nathan's attempt to make a pact with Sophie - a suicide pact. With the entry on Nathan's brother Larry into the story, Stingo is allowed to discover that Nathan is a sick man, with paranoid schizophrenia. When Nathan allows his jealousy to push him to a point where he threatens the lives of Stingo and Sophie, the two flee to a farm in Virginia owned by Stingo"s father. After they get there, Stingo asks Sophie to marry him. However, they two only spend one night together before Sophie leaves. Knowing she went back to New York, Stingo chases her there only to find that she had went along with Nathan's suicide pact, and that they were both dead.

It is my opinion that this story is best told in the style that it is written in. The story is mainly told by Stingo, recollecting on all of his memories. Besides telling the story Stingo sometimes goes off on tangents, usually in the form of a journal entry. In addition to this is the reciting of Sophie's memoirs, making Sophie's Choice a rather complex novel to follow. There is frequent change of time and setting with Stingo telling his present situation, what he had done in the past and all of Sophie's recollections of her experience during the Holocaust.

One major theme of this book involves the ugly faces of the American South accompanied by Anti-Semitism. Throughout this story, we find that Stingo is constantly confronting his family's slave-holding past. This ironically the reason by which Stingo had means to support himself after leaving his job that the publishing house. It seems that Stingo grandfather had sold a slave by the name of Ariste for a nice amount of money, which was than hidden and distributed to Stingo's father after his grandfather had been long gone. Whenever these matters of his family's past are discussed, the reader is always able to sense the feeling of dismay Stingo has with it.

Another major theme, and what should remain the focus of this essay, was that gall of Styron to place a non-Jewish character in the center of a Holocaust story. In doing this, Styron was attempting to plead the case that Holocaust should not be perceived solely as a Jewish tragedy. This view undeniably shared by the character of Stingo. Inversely, the character of Nathan is the novels voice calling for this exclusiveness. Nathan was never able to cope with the fact that his Polish-Catholic lover was also a victim in addition to European Jews. This leads to Nathan's accusations of Sophie of involvement in the Holocaust, eventually leading to their demise. With the controversy in the book for shadowing that in real life after the books release one must ask them self: is there any justification for those who say the central character should have been a Jew and not a Polish woman?

To answer this question we must first examine the Holocaust itself. Who was victimized is the operative question. Maintained throughout this story and throughout history, Jews in relation to the Holocaust have been referred to as "the victims of victims". It is, however, important to understand that these where not the only victims of the Holocaust. Poles, Gypsies, Russians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, homosexuals and handicap are jus some of the other groups of people targeted by Nazi Germany. Understand that Hitler and his Nazi followers sought complete domination of everything, every country, every race. Do not dismiss the Holocaust as the Jewish equivalent to American



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