Critical Overview

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Mixed reviews came out in response to the publication of Sophie’s Choice. It was found to be “affecting and thoroughly convincing” by a reviewer for the June 11, 1979, issue of Time magazine. But John W. Aldridge, writing in Harper’s (September 1979), regretted Styron’s inability “to make his material meaningful.” Another reviewer, writing for the New Yorker (June 18, 1979) summed up the novel as “an elaborate showcase of every variety of racial prejudice and guilt.” This reviewer found Styron’s prose “loaded with overwrought sentences . . . and with ponderous lectures that reduce Sophie’s story to the stuff of theory.”

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Benjamin DeMott in the July 1979 Atlantic Monthly attempted to balance the centrality of Stingo, his family, and his past, with Sophie’s “fearful and ponderable life.” DeMott criticized the dissonance between chapters spent on Stingo’s “bizarre and comic passage through the straits of virginity,” and Sophie’s “monologues,” full of “events [that] are both hideous and unsurprising.” DeMott also faulted Styron’s inclusion of material that disengages the reader’s feelings about the story, calling it “academic banality.” He found disruptive the “treatises concerning the technology of despots of mass murder” and insisted that summaries of scholarship shatter the novel’s fictive world. Nonetheless, DeMott commended Styron for his accomplishment in the portrait of Sophie that “reaches toward the full truth of human panic at the edge of oblivion.” In all, reviews addressed the disparate parts of the novel. Some reviews were, in some cases, compelled by the Holocaust story but at the same time put off by the discursions into lecture and pomposity.


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Sophie’s Choice