Why is Stingo so obsessed with losing his virginity?
Stingo is obsessed with losing his virginity because he is ashamed of his history of rejection and he wants to gain knowledge about the full range of the human experience. Stingo tends to dwell obsessively on incidents from the past in which women have rejected him, and this unsuccessful history makes him insecure and anxious to prove himself. Stingo fails to persuade either Leslie or Mary Alice to have sex with him, and both of these incidents make him aggressive and embittered because of the shame he experiences. In both of these cases, Stingo blames the young women for refusing to engage in activities he feels entitled to, and he is not satisfied with the physical affection that they are willing to provide. Although Stingo craves the physical relief of sex, he is more interested in proving himself as a “man” and establishing a reputation for sexual prowess. After the incidents with Leslie and Mary Alice, Stingo tries to salvage his reputation by encouraging other men to believe that he did have intercourse with them. Stingo wants to feel powerful, attractive, and successful, and he believes that seducing a woman and then bragging about it will help him to feel this way.
Because of his hope of being a writer, Stingo also feels a need to have a deeper understanding of human sexuality. Stingo is ambitious but insecure about his capacity as a writer, and his relatively sheltered life is part of what makes him eager to gain more knowledge of the world. To Stingo, sex seems like a fundamental mystery that he longs to uncover. When he finally does have sex with Sophie, Stingo marvels at the opportunity to see what the things he has fantasized about actually feel like. This knowledge makes him feel more sophisticated and worldly in general, and he hopes this will translate to a sense of greater confidence and self-assurance.
Why does Sophie pursue a relationship with Nathan?
Sophie falls in love with Nathan because of the care he provides, but she remains with him because his abusive treatment encourages her self-loathing. When Sophie first meets Nathan in the summer of 1946, she is physically and emotionally fragile due to the suffering she lived through during the war. Nathan takes charge of providing care for her, ensuring that she gets the nutrition and medical attention that she needs. Because Nathan is wealthy, he also buys Sophie new clothes and takes her out to enjoy nice restaurants and excursions to the beach. Moreover, Nathan offers Sophie a very passionate and sexually fulfilling relationship. For more than a year, Sophie takes pleasure in the care and attention she receives from Nathan. Her love for him is clear from the way she becomes very agitated whenever it seems like their relationship is going to end and how she responds with delight to the possibility that they may get married.
In addition to the loving aspect of their relationship, Nathan also periodically becomes jealous, controlling, and furious with Sophie. On the surface, the way Nathan behaves when he lashes out at Sophie while accusing her of horrible actions should make Sophie unhappy with their relationship. However, Sophie passively accepts whatever treatment Nathan subjects her to and even claims to enjoy it sometimes. She also defends Nathan to Stingo. Early in the Nathan threatened to kill himself and Sophie, yet she still chose to pursue the relationship. Sophie is unphased by Nathan’s brutal treatment because she is consumed with self-loathing and shame. When Nathan hits her or calls her names, he reflects how Sophie feels about herself and treats her in the way she believes she deserves to be treated. Because of her shame about her actions during the Holocaust, Sophie believes that she deserves to be punished, and Nathan’s abuse satisfies that desire for her.
Why does Sophie initially conceal important details about her past?
Sophie conceals important details about her past because she is ashamed of how she has behaved and because recalling these events is simply too painful for her to bear. Sophie conceals information both by deliberately misrepresenting events and individuals and also by simply omitting key facts. For example, she initially claims that her father worked to advocate for the rights of Jews in Poland and then later admits that he was an anti-Semite and that she had helped him spread his beliefs. Sophie tells Nathan one version of this story and then admits the truth while speaking with Stingo. Sophie admits to hiding the truth from Nathan because she is ashamed and because she is afraid of how he might react. Sophie feels deep shame about her past, but she is more open to telling the truth to Stingo because Stingo is kinder and gentler, and she does not have to fear that Stingo will lash out and punish her for her past actions.
In addition to shame, Sophie sometimes simply cannot deal with the pain of reliving past trauma. The loss of her children is clearly deeply traumatic, and this explains why she is so reluctant to articulate the whole truth of her past. It takes Sophie a long time to tell Stingo that she had any children, and even then she only admits to having had one child. Only later does she reveal that she also had a daughter. Sophie waits until her very last night with Stingo to reveal that her daughter Eva was sacrificed when Sophie had to choose between her children. Once she has confessed to this detail, Sophie is so consumed by the pain of reliving this trauma that she abandons her plan of starting a new life and returns to Nathan. A very short time later, she dies in a suicide pact. Telling the truth about what happened to her daughter does not liberate Sophie to move forward with her life. Instead, reliving the pain confirms that she will never be able to move beyond it. With this knowledge, Sophie gives up on any hope of a future.