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A central irony that runs through Roth's work is that where his protagonists attempt to evade the importance of ethnicity, they ultimately make it the defining element of their personal relationships. The characters in Portnoy's Complaint (1969), My Life as a Man (1974), The Professor of Desire (1977, and The Human Stain (2001) attempt to find through their intimacy with the cultural Other some element of their essential identity, the "true self," that they believe is stanched through the ethnic or racial associations that define them. In his three initial novels depicting elements of his own marriage gone sour, as well as later in The Human Stain, Roth portrays characters who attempt to escape what they perceive as a shameful element of their cultural heritage through their relationship with one of the many embodiments of his late wife, Margaret Martinson Williams. These men's efforts to escape the associations of their ethnicity through the cultural Other ultimately alienates them from the identity that they hope to realize.