full title Sophie’s Choice

author William Styron

type of work Novel

genre Historical fiction

language English

time and place written 1970s, United States

date of first publication 1979

publisher Random House

narrator Sophie’s Choice is narrated by Stingo at least twenty years after the events he describes have taken place.

point of view The narrator speaks in the first person, relating only what Stingo sees and hears. However, the novel includes accounts of what other characters have said to Stingo in which those characters are quoted in the first person. The narration is subjective since readers have access to what Stingo is feeling and thinking and must rely on his second-hand accounts of the feelings of others.

tone The tone of the novel is dark, brooding, and regretful. Stingo narrates retrospectively and looks back on tragic events that he wishes had played out differently. Therefore, his tone in describing these events is often fatalistic, melancholy, and nostalgic.

tense The novel is narrated in the past tense since Stingo is looking back on events that took place years earlier. Sometimes other characters, such as Sophie, also narrate events from even further back in the past.

setting (time) The action occurs primarily between June and October 1947, with key events related to the plot having already taken place between 1939 and 1947.

setting (place) The main action happens in different neighborhoods of New York City, and the plot also references events that took place in Poland during World War II.

protagonist Stingo

major conflict Stingo struggles to find confidence and purpose in his goal of becoming a writer and in deciding what is meaningful in life. This conflict overlaps with Sophie’s inner conflict over whether or not she can forgive herself for the actions she took during the Holocaust.

rising action Stingo moves to New York, starting and then losing his job at a publishing house, inheriting money, and then deciding to focus solely on writing his novel. He moves to Brooklyn, befriends Sophie and Nathan, and begins to write. This action intersects with the rising action of Sophie gradually revealing more and more about her past and becoming increasingly fixated on the trauma she has lived through.

climax Nathan threatens Sophie and Stingo, who flee New York for Virginia. Sophie secretly returns to Nathan and New York, where they commit suicide together. Stingo arrives in Brooklyn in the immediate aftermath of their deaths.

falling action Stingo visits the beach and composes a line of poetry. He moves forward with writing and becomes very successful in his career. He eventually writes the story of Sophie and the events of the summer of 1947, which becomes the text the reader has been reading.

themes Guilt; Liberation through Sexual Experience; Religion

motifs Music; suicide; alcohol

symbols Sophie’s tattoo; the pamphlet; the radio

foreshadowing Because the story is narrated retrospectively and Stingo knows the end result, there is strong use of foreshadowing throughout. Stingo often comments explicitly on various moments being turning points or notes a sense of doom or dread about what lies ahead. These devices foreshadow the tragic conclusion of his friendship with Nathan and Sophie.