Philip Roth Confirms: Indignation’s Narrator Not Dead, At Least Not Until After the Book Ends

Last weekend The Guardian published an interview with Philip Roth in which he suggested that Marcus Messner, the narrator from his new novel, Indignation, is not dead while he’s telling his story—as pretty much every critic thought—but rather hallucinating as a result of a morphine high. In a radio interview set to air tomorrow at noon on WNYC, Philip Roth tells Leonard Lopate the same thing in no uncertain terms.

Here’s the transcript:

LL: There is a critic who suggested that Marcus is not really dead but speaking from an altered morphine-induced state of consciousness.

PR: Well that’s what I think.

LL: Oh, that’s what you think?

PR: Yeah.

LL: So that was a suggestion that other people are misreading when people think that he’s dead?

PR: I’ll let them read how they read. He says-in the narration that I quoted in the way that you say-that he’s dead. And experiences the state he’s in as death. And this must be what death is, he thinks, which is you remember in detail the past, and that’s all you do. So it’s a kind of hell. Not until the end do we discover that this is-I think you discover-this is a morphine-induced hallucination and in the morphine revelry that he has he tells his story, and in that morphine revelry he wonders where the hell am I? And he thinks, well I must be dead. And in fact he does die, but he dies after the morphine-induced thought of death comes to him.

We made a “death of the author” joke in our last post about this issue so we’ll spare you this time.