42 pages 1 hour read

William Styron

Sophie's Choice

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1979

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Themes

Destructive Guilt

Sophie’s fatal flaw is to blame herself for situations over which she has no control. Rather than defying the judgment that others place on her, she is prone to internalizing an undeserved sense of shame. At one point, Nathan observes that she has no ego at all (371). Her feelings of guilt do not originate from actions she took during her time at Auschwitz. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent to the reader that Sophie’s father held most of the responsibility for shaping her pliable and submissive temperament. Her habit of self-belittlement becomes so ingrained that Sophie doesn’t even realize that her guilt is misplaced.

Rather than blaming her father for his venomous anti-Semitism, Sophie blames herself for assisting him with his project by typing the manuscript and later distributing his pamphlet. She considers herself a collaborator in his scheme. Sophie reaches the same conclusion about herself when she types up Höss’ correspondence that would result in improved efficiencies at Birkenau. Her collaboration takes a darker turn when she intentionally tries to seduce Höss to gain a transfer for her son. Even though her motives are selfless, she judges herself harshly and says, “I was a filthy collaboratrice, that I done everything that was bad just to save myself” (497).

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