MYTH AND REALITY IN FAULKNER’S SAGA OF THE SOUTH
William Faulkner is one of the most praised American writers of his time who approached a wide range of themes such as: childhood, family, sex, race, obsessions, time, the past, his native South and the modern world. His entire saga can be viewed as a triumph of the myth, a myth born, bred and raised in his native land. Unfortunately for his characters, this myth is not a pliable one, but rather a fatal one just like the South’s history: “When the great myths of mankind, certainly among our most inalienable possessions, are presented, they must be presented in their historical form, as history.”
Faulkner’s attempts were seeking one purpose that of creating a sharp perspective on history immured within the borders of myth. South was basically living on the margin of history because after 1863 it could no longer identify itself with the rest of the country; a moment of loss of freedom is majestically described in Intruder in the Dust: “ For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instance when it’s still not two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun…”
After its defeat in the Civil War, the South could no longer participate fully and especially freely in the normal development of American society. The loss of the Civil War completely altered the every day life of the South. The institute of slavery crumbled although the majority of its social values remained. This period was dominated by confusion, a time when the Negroes were legally emancipated. However, whites continued to refuse to acknowledge the blacks’ new status, thus, they were socially unequal to whites, still unable to pursue either an education or equal economic opportunities. Due to the loss of slavery as a business, and adding the rapid growth of industry and manufacture, the South lost its place as a major economic influence on the nation. Agriculture, which was the staple of the Southern economy, became increasingly and significantly less lucrative, and it became impossible for small farms to continue producing, consequently, surviving
The South was a level or two under the development of the other American states; moreover industrialism and large-scale capitalism arrived there much later and with much less force than in the North or West. It became a pariah region which was struggling to keep itself intact even if it was alone in this futile and fruitless struggle because all the other regions submitted to dissolution. The South was partially in a state of inanition and self-deceit because, by now, what was left to give its people were merely crumbles of the memory of a thriving society; yet it nurtured in the southerners a generous and often obsessive sense of the past. Then, it came a dark period for the South due to its lack of acceptance of the new American values and things were getting worse with the passing of time since the rest of the country had instantly embraced the struggle for commercial expansion and it grew inside the nation an addicted sense of optimism. Many had different opinions concerning the cause that prevented this region from developing in the same ordinary rhythm as the other areas blaming it on either the destruction of the war and the following degradation of will and lack of force or on the moral and not physical incapacity of a class which laid its basis on slavery. Irrespective of the cause, above the South was a permanent and unappeasable cloud of memory. It is this cloud that constitutes the main source of influence for the southern writers.
The advantages of writing romance and drama were provided by this place. Nathaniel Hawthorne in the Preface to The Marble Faun commented on “the difficulty of writing a romance about a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a commonplace prosperity.” It is imperious to bring into prominence the fact that it took approximately fifty years for serious Southern writing to appear. Immediately after First World War, the entrance of the twentieth century with its new codes, societies, values, politics, commercial aims, which is with a new life, gave birth to despair on the one side and hope on the other one. It was when the South as a region began to die that its writers were capable of producing serious literature and not insipid and sentimental. The writers seem to bear the unattainable sin of the past, they had been forced to look back upon a past that was irretrievable and forward to a future that appeared rather confused, irrelevant to the past and intolerable.
This Southern myth is the spring of Faulkner’s saga. A myth is defined as “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief or natural phenomenon.” Obviously, the myth has many other levels of understanding; firstly one knows that the characters of a myth seem larger that ordinary people. The majority of myth readers categorize the stories as lacking credibility with gods, heroes, villains, monsters with supernatural powers as main characters, many magical elements are presented. However, myths as they are known in different parts of the world are similar in their following a certain pattern preexisting in the human unconscious. They are almost always full of objects and incidents that have a symbolic value. Trees, forests, rivers, mountains, magic potions, witches, fetishes, animals that can talk, dragons, descents into the underworld, flights, pursuits, and sacrifices are all recurrent in myths. All of these are so minutely described that the readers imagine themselves as taking part in the action. But Faulkner’s myth is a real one; although a decayed one it relentlessly reflects the fundamental experiences of a people from an honorable and relucent past.
The ground of the respective myth is the fate of a defeated Motherland which had never accepted interference from outside, determined to write itself its own destiny. Despite the fact that all its fights were carried with courage, bravery, heroism and honor, the war was an impossible one to win. But the defeat was not a shameful one because the soldiers did not lack one of the qualities required by a war. Unfortunately, Motherland faced fall with its fatal consequences, misery, ravaging by the conquerors, and loss of faith among the descendants. What followed was not an attempt to escape from the corset of the past which was trying to reach eternity. The Southern myth, not different from all the other ones, is not as much an attempt at historical description, but a voicing of the collective imagination, perhaps the collective will.
Every reader should first read Faulkner’s biography before eloping into his saga for a better understanding of the influence of his life had upon his literary career. His great grandfather, William Cuthbert Faulkner was a colonel during the Civil War and supervised the building of a railroad. The heritage of his family’s past played the most important role in his novels. He was not oblivious of what had happened; both time and space, past and present are conditions permanent in the novels as imaginative reconstructions.
An almost general characteristic of Faulkner’s saga is the fact that his writings are moments of a vast, complicated, but coherent mythology. This mythology starts from the real and mythical data of the both past and present history of the South. As it is known, the antic or popular myth may be achieved in an ideal, social space with no relation to time whatsoever. The essence of such myths is represented by the various ways of the relations between man and supernatural forces. In his attempt to recreate the myth of his homeland, Faulkner used his imagination and effort to the limit, but he could not ignore the consequences of the passing of time, of the present moment of writing upon the legend and therefore, the latter transformed itself into a modality of appreciation of reality and what could have become merely a vast parable of the South, tuned into a tormenting debate on the human condition in the present time.
The modern myth cannot fulfill itself anymore in an absolute time because man’s consciousness of time and of his actions which may defeat even this intangible limit infiltrates itself in the most abstract imaginative constructions and it often leads to suggestions regarding the social environment upon which it has effect and which, in its turn, influences time.
Faulkner’s saga is a dense and
versatile one, unfortunately there is an immitigable destiny for all of his
characters that cannot surpass the recollections of the past. All of his
novels, except A Fable and parts of The Wild
Palms have the same setting, a fictive land in northern
“I discovered that my
own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I
would never live long enough to exhaust it …” is
the most suggestive confession that suggests first of all the sources of a saga
which is deeply rooted in a reality which is known passionately and thoroughly,
a reality that could be dealt upon with lucidity and affection. This confession
reveals the writer’s strong conviction that the most precious and fecund
material of any work where one uses the imaginative process is a well-known
reality. The reality was his life spent in such towns as
The data that constitutes all his life experience was a start for Faulkner and used them as means of discussion of the most acute subjects concerning man’s moral problems in the present society interpreting them in the light of his own conception of reality. Reality transforms from an objective existence into the result of what occurred in the past and present, namely in time. The result is a mixture of human experience which coexists with the conscience, time is no longer a chronology but a never-ending attempt to establish the real moral values, time is also the director of a vast axiological mythology.
The force of his saga is given especially by its dramatic and passionate accent which springs from the myth and Faulkner struggles to recognize its charm and strength, the instability and the ambivalence of his position towards the real and unreal and conditions of maintaining a tense and unpredictable atmosphere. In this incessant debate in which the powers of reality and imagination are both confirmed and refuted, where man and his destiny, not only the one in the South, fight with against a hostile world seeking for confirmation of his own quality as a human being, to know and to confront the difficulties that are obstacles in the way of his confirmation, man takes shape in the plenitude of his tragic condition.
The pioneers of this land came towards the end of the first half of the nineteenth century, Thomas Sutpen, Lucius Quintus McCaslin who has established a plantation, Jason Compson who won from the Indians the square mile that will become the center of Jefferson and John Sartoris in 1837 being representatives of this period. The pioneers were driven by courage, ambition and will to create a prosperous society with immediate results.
The protagonists of his novels are members of the pioneering families. Nevertheless, Yoknapatawpha is populated with men from all the social levels: plantation owners, Indians, soldiers, slaves, and veterans of the Civil War and of World War I, II, exploiters, servants, pedlars, preachers, lawyers, farmers, doctors, college students. Only a few of them live in plantation houses which are the relics of another age and the rest, namely the majority, in wooden farmhouses. The emphasis regarding his characters is on the young generation, the agents of doom. It is of utmost importance that the readers be aware of the fact that all the young protagonists have similar backgrounds and they all deal with the transition from boyhood to manhood and face the responsibilities of the adult world. They are given life in the present only to live in the past, seemingly, Faulkner dooms them from their very birth and the reason lies precisely in the myth of the South with moral, social codes that had become over the years excruciatingly painful.
The characters that constitute the saga of the South were born here not long before the twentieth century and ever since childhood their lives wore the inescapable burden of the past. Nothing of their early life prepares them for what is about to come; moreover, when it is time to adjust and try to solve the problems of the twentieth century, they turn from sensitive, intelligent men into confused, agitated and unable to react in accordance with the realities of the present. Faulkner uses a mythological land, Yoknapatawpha which serves as a device for enhancing the symbolism between the characters that represent the South’s tragic moral flaw.
Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha mythology corresponds very closely to the archaistic legends of the South about a proud society compound to deal with the humiliation of defeat, and consequently fall caused by an external force. The writer does not dose the effects of the decline of his homeland and at the same time he does not draw back when it comes to admitting that the aristocratic South is responsible for its own degeneration, and that the subsequent misery and damage are consequences of inward decay. Impressively, he emphasizes the fact that past social ideals, however corrupt they might have been, are unquestionably superior to the debased values of modern life.
The balance between the past and the present is not a proper one, uneven in quality. The collective mind of the community tends to cling to the past, to what is familiar and to resist innovation or change. Still, the reliving of the past refuses to impose certain limits, to order the good from the bad, the meaningful from the destructive. The seam of appropriate response to new experience is becoming thinner and thinner underneath the overwhelming burden of fossilized traditions and rigid codes. An important issue concerning Faulkner’s work is the danger of confusing legend and history. The former is due to serve as a symbol of humanity and certainly not as a criterion of conduct or an absolute blueprint for behaviour. Unless the character is able to establish a correct relation to the past experience, the legend may become an obstacle between him and the present experience.
In origin legends are
attempts to clear up the confusion of and to impose a form on past events:
“Legends exist as the result of humanity’s efforts to order and channel its
imaginative energy into the primary and formidable task of heroically
liberating itself from its own shortcomings. If the individual recognizes and
accepts his humanity, he must be prepared to build his dream out of the
intractable materials provided by his own historical place and time.”
But if he becomes confused and mistakes the dream for reality, trying to
conceal their true nature, then his and the others’ humanity is prejudiced:
“Only by meeting life with a total human response, not an attitude, can man
aspire to the vision of an open society, which is the only truly human
Faulkner’s handling of history bears the agrarian myth of the South which
centers on the same idea developed throughout the Yoknapatawpha series. The
prevailing idea is that the region destroyed by the Civil War was an
For Faulkner the idea of myth lies in people’s actions and
behaviour. The essence of this myth is applied in the development of the
individual from childhood to maturity, the fall of man from innocence defined
as childish ignorance, weakness into the greater strength and possible wisdom
of maturity. When questioned if he liked better the New South, Faulkner
replied: “Well, the New South has got too many people in it and it is changing
the country too much. It’s –has- it gets rid of the part of
In a world where the only moral imperative is that men must change, the unforgivable sin is innocence. An increasingly complex appears, that is of feeling guilt and regret when having to choose from the various ways of changing. Human history is consigned to be shaped by the attitudes, actions, feelings and motives of individuals. The man who responsibly lives and moves, and thereby destroys the past and its glorification as he builds the future is cast away from the southern saga, and instead of bending every effort to get involved in the mechanism of a new era, the man becomes quasi-vegetative.
II.1 The Beginning of a Mythical Cruise
The year 1929 marks the beginning of Faulkner’s creation of a myth with the publication of the novel Sartoris, his first work of maturity and also the first one set in the Yoknapatawpha County. The novel as such was considered as, on the one hand of his weakest due to the story’s lack of continuity between elements, the book being episodic, and, on the other hand one of the most important in the evolution of the Southern myth leading the way to the masterpiece of the South, Absalom, Absalom!. Indeed, the critics did not appreciate the novel as they should have. Nevertheless, this did not discourage Faulkner, but, on the contrary, he continued exploring the myth of the southern aristocracy, of the local color, the myth of a world which lay on the verge of extinction. The action of the novel takes place in 1919-1920, but the story covers eighty years, from the burst of the Civil War to the 1920s.
This novel is the first step made by Faulkner in the direction of his concern with time and language. Time in Sartoris moves faster than ever, suggesting the change of generations; the end is extremely suggestive as the writer insists heavily on the inevitable movement of seasons with their associated human activities: “…then it was spring again. Miss jenny’s and Isom’s annual vernal altercation began, pursued its violent but harmless course in the garden beneath her window. […] Narcissa drove into town, saw the first jonquils on the deserted lawn blooming as though she and Horace were still there…But when the gladioli bloomed she was not going out any more save in the late afternoon or early evening, when with Miss Jenny she walked in the garden among burgeoning bloom and mocking birds… Miss Jenny still talking of Johnny, confusing the unborn with the dead.”
The action of Sartoris though concentrating on the year between Bayard’s arrival from the war back home and his death one year later is more about the mythos of the entire Sartoris family, the legend, history and tradition associated with the name. The history of the Sartoris family is an impressive one starting with John Sartoris, one of the pioneers of the Motherland who came there in the 1830s, bought land and built a house. In 1861 he became colonel of a regiment that he organized, but one year later the regiment deposed him. During the Civil War he participated with a unit of irregulars. After the war all that he built until that moment was ruined, but he managed to rebuild everything. One important event was his involvement in leading the county to resist the implementation of the govern’s new policies by killing several Northerners who were attempting to ensure the Negro right to vote and run for office. For those who wear the name of Sartoris a birth obligation is formulated since the owner of such a name has to live up to its traditions. To embody the ideas and ideals, courage, gallantry, honor, glorious, violent death, of the other Sartorises now dead. This obligation of the bearers of the name results also from the repetition of the names John and Bayard through four generations of Sartorises. Colonel John Sartoris was killed by his former railroad partner, his son Bayard met his death at the hands of a frightened cook while gallantly abducting a can of anchovies from the Yankeees. However, the twentieth century Bayard has not got the proper background to prove himself a true Sartoris, the world he lives in is apparently unable to accept his ancestors’ traditions. His brother Johnny dies during the war, a crucial moment for the living brother who has an endless desire to die. The twentieth century generation cannot maintain the vigor, glory, values, manners and beliefs of the legendary nineteenth-century ante-bellum South.
The past is presented
not only as a lost
The opening of the novel stresses the dominant figure of the Colonel who appears like: “the creatures of the prehistoric day that were too grandly conceived and executed either to exist very long or to vanish utterly when dead from an earth shaped and furnished for punier things” , but: “by losing the frustration of his own flesh he could now stiffen and shape that which sprang from him into the fatal semblance of his dream.”
Faulkner is concerned with the myth-making of his characters
being aware of the gradual separation of such myths from the truth of the
historical experience and this is reproduced in the description of Miss Jenny’s
storytelling: “It was she who told the
story of Bayard Sartoris’ death prior to the second battle of
comes home from the war in the spring of 1919 with a strong grief over his brother’s
death. War did not represent for him a chance to display his reckless gallantry
or for making dramatic gestures. He is a Sartoris, therefore, he cannot allow
himself to feel any desire for life; shortly after his arrival in
Perhaps the most representative example of character tore by his displacement is Bayard Sartoris, the grandson of Colonel John Sartoris. The latter stands for whatever South meant before the twentieth century, high moral and social standards. Moreover, he is a legend by himself who nursed his grandchildren on the unifying power of the Civil War legends. Bayard belongs to the new generation and to the modern era which is characterized by a decline in character and a deterioration of moral and social values. The reader may easily perceive that his displacement is a more complex one and consequently, its effects cause irremediable damage to Bayard’s conscience; in his case we deal with a dislocation of era, young Sartoris is part of that class descendants that are inherent victims of a war between the legend of the past and the reality of the present. Those men that belonged to the era Bayard was displaced from are described as perfect gentlemen; brave soldiers that treasured their honor the most and they were capable of protecting it with the price of their lives. Bayard is endowed with all the characteristics that were buried in the clay of the South, bravery, and courage, always prepared to fight for his Motherland, but always defeated.
The reader can feel, in every page of all the novels of Faulkner’s saga of the South the wrapping presence of an implacable space which absorbs all the characters in the same dark, cold, agonizing and solitary destiny. When they think about Motherland, the characters cannot stem the endless overflow of thoughts meant to sustain the principle that every man’s destiny is to be achieved only in the parameters of the Southern clay and in accordance with the accepted code of the Southern society. The displacement from the appropriate century causes to the young characters of the twentieth century not only physical and moral illness, but also physical as in most of the cases they act and react as disabled persons; their incapacity of surpassing the old days and creating a new society for themselves proves how clearly defined in their mind, soul and body is imprinted the tradition of their forebears. Thus, being incapable of formulating their own traditions and social code, they indulge in failing their destiny as modern men. The Faulknerean characters’ fallible nature throws a shadow of romantic gloom upon them and it is to be noticed the fact that every feeling of inward despair, violence and even the thirst for fatality are traits which recur in each generation that belongs to Motherland. The aura of fatality surrounding Bayard Sartoris is expressed almost solely by his self-consuming pride. His doom is not hastened by those who care about him or merely know him, but, on the contrary, they do everything they possibly can to save him from the imminent death. As it had been mentioned before, it is precisely his fallible nature which dooms him hopelessly, because the young flyer is destroyed by an inward despair, related symbolically to Southern tradition and his death cannot be prevented under any circumstance.
Bayard’s actions are palpable proves of his mental and physical illness; with the exception of a short period of time when he is lured from his fate by work on the family plantation, he repeatedly turns to the past, the only reality he recognizes which is a world peopled by young men like him whom he compares to fallen angels with a dramatic violence.
Sartoris has a great significance as a source book for Faulkner’s future development of myth, style, technique, it is the work in which he for the first time explored and discovered the geographical, historical, social and imaginative world of his mature fiction.
Faulkner’s attempt of myth making is continued with Absalom, Absalom! published in 1936, an unique fictional experiment, though extremely heavy to read. This is Faulkner’s greatest novel, one of the most remarkable of the century, a novel which combines the internal drama and a family tragedy with a social and historical richness that earlier novels had lacked.
In March 1935 when Faulkner wrote the first lines, the theme of the novel was perfectly shaped in his mind. The title of the novel sets connections to the Old Testament, Absalom is one of David’s sons, and his story is told in the second book of Samuel, a tale of incest, rebellion, revenge and violent death. Faulkner links here the decline of a social order to an infraction of fundamental morality. The title itself is just the consciously realization of the repeated failure: “As soon as I thought about the idea of the man who wanted to have sons and that the sons will bring upon him the destruction, then I thought about the title.” Absalom’s legend as a biblical text is merely one more of the numerous stories with sound and fury of the Middle Ages, brothers that rape their sisters, parents that chase away their offspring, relatives that slaughter each other. The equivalences are rather easy to establish, between the heroes of the novel and the characters of the Old Testament are suggestive relations: Sutpen is David, Henry is Absalom, Charles Bonn is Amnon, and Judith is Tamar. Faulkner was aspiring to write the epopee of the South which was on the edge of decline. Yoknapatawpha is a space which bores in itself tragedies, a Sodoma and Gomora whose warriors were competing in the name of slavery and under the latter’s curse.
Thomas Sutpen falls through innate deficiency of moral
insight, but the error he commits is socially derived. Events of modern history
are elevated through artistry to the status of a new myth. In his masterpiece
the readers can notice the extended symbolism, undoubtedly wandering whether it
was deliberate or not. Moreover, it is questioned the powerful effect the story
has upon the young characters, namely Quentin who feels that he reveals the
essence of the
At a certain moment, when there was much debate concerning the question whether Faulkner was or not a novelist, Leslie Fiedler suggested that he is mainly a short story writer and that only in Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury has Faulkner worked out genuine full-length narratives, but he commented on the fact that he achieved that thickness appropriate for a novel by revealing in a series of strict point of view accounts of the same experience the amount of narrative material proper to a short story.
We ought to take into consideration the fact that Faulkner
handles history and historiography as main tolls in telling a story. This being the case, a question that remains
without answer arises. The reader may wander if the story is about Sutpen, as
epitome of the Southern history or about the historiographer Quentin Compson.
When asked at
Furthermore, it is appreciated to a large extent the importance of Quentin’s participation in telling the story of this pioneer of the South; he is in fact the central intelligence whom, with the help of his Harvard roommate, Shreve McCannon, the story of Sutpen is narrated to us. Thus, it is not strange if one may interpret the novel as having Quentin as the protagonist. He is so intensely involved in the process of assimilating the material of the story, making something relatively coherent out of it that the resulting narrative becomes to a large degree the story of his own development in understanding and wisdom.
In Faulkner’s masterpiece Absalom, Absalom! we find examples of displacement of many kinds which in the end proves to be the source of the characters’ mental and physical illness. The major characters, namely Thomas Sutpen and his son, Henry Sutpen experience different ways of dislocation. Firstly, Thomas Sutpen suffers a geographical displacement which lies at the basis of his destruction, when as a young boy he descended from the mountains to a new society that nurtured conditions which fostered perpetual tensions of social status. It is not overrated if we dare call this as the first earthquake of Sutpen’s moral and mental equilibrium. Perhaps this was to be expected since displacement from a primitive community where superior were the strongest and the most courageous and not those who possessed many goods to a world: “where a few men had the power of life and death and barter and sale over others but they had living human men to perform the endless repetitive personal offices, such as pouring the very whisky from the jug and putting the glass into a man’s hand or pulling off his boots for him to go to bed…” may trigger incurable effects on one’s mind.
The geographical dislocation intermingles with the social one which is equally influential on Sutpen’s developing an insuperable state of mind which gradually challenges not only his moral, but also physical ability. Thus, a division of the country is being fixed in young Sutpen’s eyes when he sees the niggers that work in the field while they are watched by white fine men on fine horses. Unwilling to accept his condition, he admits that man can realize his dream of supremacy most successfully in the system and ritual of an organized society where white blood cannot be tainted with Negro blood.
The social code of the South becomes Sutpen’s as “both designs, Sutpen’s and the South’s, are based on concepts which deny human values in a large area of conduct and on social rather than natural definitions of the individual.” On a deeper level, the protagonist is somehow abandoning the immanence of the present time and is mostly driven by the historical past. An important episode in Sutpen’s fate is represented by his marriage to the daughter of a Haitian sugar planter who had Negro blood. This is in fact another suggestive example of displacement, but this time from the ethical code of the South that he shared and by which he was guided; a fatal episode which, in time, will breed erosion of the pillars on which lies Sutpen’s design. One of these pillars is Henry himself who, just like all young Southerners, is emotionally bound to the racial code with which he had been indoctrinated. Once displaced from it, though he has a feeling of relief, of liberation from a rigid world dominated by the religious and social code of a falling South, nothing can prevent the return to the same old design: “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children because the children, too, ironically and in their innocence, display the same blindness, choose again the same design, the tradition that negates or destroys life.’’
Henry’s gesture of killing his half brother Charles is the proof that human value is worthless in connection with the social value; having unthinkingly accepted the Southern code,
Henry chooses the easy way, that is of killing his brother rather than commit a violation of the Southern morality.
Thomas Sutpen is seen as the instrument of revenge against those who not long before allowed their weaknesses to provoke the destruction of the Old South. However, his design of establishing his own racial line fails principally due to the fact that his heir is human degenerated.
The novel is difficult to read, and it even becomes impossible to distinguish the facts from myth since the story is not told in a linear manner. There are four narrators, namely Rosa Coldfield is the least objective of the four narrators. She tells her story to Quentin Compson and she pictures Sutpen as an ogre, a villain: “demon and devil, somewhere in Virginia…I saw that man who – spring of all the evil and cruel things, he, who had survived all his victims-who produced two sons not only to destroys each other and his own kind, but also my kind and still I consented in marrying him and when old, Rosa sees him as: he was the light-blinded bat-like image of his own torment cast by the fierce demoniac lantern up from beneath the earth’s crust.”
In the case of Rosa we deal with a different kind of
involvement starting from her own father who consented to the marital alliance
that, according to her, represents the end of her sister Ellen: “…a blind stupid and romantic who did not even owned the plantation which after
all appearances had convinced our father…” The
part displayed by Southern Protestantism in lending support to caste ambitions
is depicted in Mr. Coldfield’s behaviour. Interesting enough is the fact that
Mr. Coldfield though denying slavery in theory he actually supported it in real
practice; his religiosity and the subsequent contribution to Negro-white tense
relationships may be described as a representation of all that was set forth on
this theme in Light in August.
Critics suggested that
The reader cannot confide in her story because her information is limited to whatever she heard about him as a child and her brief experience with him does not constitute serious, objective information. He represents in her eyes the main source of her family’s misfortunes, a demon that must be destroyed, even though she is aware of the fact that his ruin draws her family’s destruction as well. Miss Rosa’s conception of Sutpen is a rigid one just like her: “… sitting so bolt upright in the straight hard chair that was so tall for her that her legs hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children’s feet and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege and hearing-sense self-confound and the long dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration would appear, as though by outraged recapitulation evoked, quiet inattentive and harmless, out of the biding and dreamy and victorious past.”
She is one of those characters that brood over the events, repeating the details many times, and piling one hypothesis after another: “It was as though the sister whom I had never laid eyes on, who before I was born vanished into the stronghold of an ogre or a djin, was now to return through a dispensation of one day only, to the world she had quitted, and I a child of three, waked early for the occasion, dressed and curled as if for Christmas, for an occasion more serious than Christmas even, since now at last this ogre or djin had agreed for the sake of the wife and the children to come to church, to permit them at least to approach the vicinity of salvation, to at least give Ellen one chance to struggle with him for those children’s souls on a battleground where she could be supported not only by Heaven but by her own family and people of her own kind; yes, even for the moment submitting himself to redemption, or lacking that, at least chivalrous for the instant even though still unregenerate.”
The second narrator is Mr. Compson who provides the readers
with a more objective account of Sutpen’s history. In his turn, he had heard
the story from his father, General Compson. Mr. Compson describes the process
of acceptance of Sutpen by the inhabitants of
The third narrator is Quentin Compson who sees Sutpen as the typical representative of the South, mainly of the failings of Southern life and morality which he can recognize but from which he cannot separate himself. The process of shifting generational perception presented in the novel can be likened to Quentin’s ripple metaphor for the understanding of Sutpen’s story and the consequences of southern history: “Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading, the pool attached by a narrow umbilical water-cord to the next pool which the first pool feeds, has fed, did feed, let this second pool contain a different temperature of water, a different molecularity of having seen, felt, remembered, reflect in a different tone the infinite unchanging sky, it doesn’t matter: that pebble’s watery echo whose fall it did not even see move across its surface too at the original ripple-space, to the old ineradicable rhythm.”
The protagonist, Sutpen is remote, nearly a half century dead as the story takes place; the one who is always present is Quentin, he is present at Rosa Coldfield’s house in September 1909, just before his departure for Harvard, then back at his father’s house and finally, in the second half of the book in January 1910 in the tomblike chill of his room in Cambridge, Massachusetts trying to reconstruct Sutpen’s story with the help of the Canadian Shreve. Haunted by the Southern past as much as he is drawn to it, Quentin tells his story not with intellectual detachment but with a visceral commitment to the importance of what he is telling.
Quentin’s consciousness while listening to Miss Rosa’s reconstruction of the Sutpen family history is illustrative: “It should have been later than it was; it should have been late, yet the yellow slashes of mote-palpitant sunlight were latticed no higher up the impalpable wall of gloom which separated them; the sun seemed hardly to have moved. It (the talking, the telling) seemed to partake of that logic- and reason- flouting quality of a dream which the sleeper knows must have occurred, stillborn and complete, in a second, yet the very quality upon which it must depend to move the dreamer (verisimilitude) to credulity-horror or pleasure or amazement-depends as completely upon a formal recognition of and acceptance of elapsed and yet-elapsing time as music or a printed tale.”
In the Henry-Charles-Judith relationship a parallel to his
relationship to his own sister Caddy, and her lovers presented in The Sound and the Fury. Quentin and his
Harvard roommate Shreve so thoroughly project themselves into their
characterization of Sutpen’s sons that at one point they seem to become Charles
and Henry. Both Quentin and his father are the heirs of General Compson,
inheritors not only of his broad intelligence, but also of the altered social
status which settled in
The last narrator is Shreve McCannon who out of the four is the least involved in the events, therefore his telling of the story can be considered the most objective one, with no personal interferences. The myths constructed in the narrative of the novel are both colored by generational perception and by intimations of the real cultural and historical issues of the south. This is why Shreve is able to give the purely cinematic construction of the story. He is not directly involved with its implications and is not even a southerner.
Having been told Miss Rosa’s, Quentin’s and Compson’s versions of the story, he summarizes and reconstructs with ironic detachment what he imagines to have been Charles’ background. With Quentin, he creates a dramatization of the events prior to Henry’s murder of Charles.
The novel as a whole has a typical mythic structure with its hero, namely Sutpen whose history started with one important during his youth when delivering a message to a plantation house, he was not allowed by the Negro to go through the front door, but sent him to go around the back. This moment culminated also in his change of principles and judgments of life. If until the moment he moved from the mountains of Virginia, the young boy had never thought about the existence of superiority and inferiority between men, well, now he becomes aware that men were judged by other men by their possessions, money and number of slaves and definitely not by what they were: “because where he lived the land. belonged to anybody and everybody and so the man who would go to the trouble and work to fence off a piece of it and say This is mine was crazy .”
From this moment on, he has only one aim, that is of becoming
part of the social class that made him feel inferior and he adopted the
Southern social code as his guiding principle. For this to happen he had to
possess fortune, thus, he ran to the
The social code that guides the mythological pioneers of this Motherland appears from the very beginning when the monkey-nigger intervenes. Thomas rejects the lessons about his assigned class position in his rebellion from the social structure in the Tidewater. He does not, however, reject the lessons he learns about racism and racial identity. One lesson that le learns comes from what he sees while observing his sister; he noticed a certain look his older sisters and the other white women had when looking at niggers, not with fear or dread, but with a kind of speculative antagonism that was inherited.
The Negroes become the symbol of a land: “all divided and fixed and neat with a people living on it all and fixed and neat because of what color their skins happened to be and what they happened to own.” Not once does Sutpen deviates from his design. In his tragedy, one of the most striking recurrent patterns is represented by the theme of legal marriage, an obvious crux in a society that not tolerated relationship that assumed tainted blood. Usually the white man unquestionably accepts his natural superiority to the Negro and his right to use him for his profit and pleasure. Sutpen’s first crime against humanity is committed when he dishonors his legal tie to his first Haitian wife who had Negro blood, convincing himself that the claims of morality had been assuaged by a financial settlement.
Sutpen worships pure blood and he had never thought about feelings as he had never questioned his belief. It is this incapacity of his for feeling that had caused the death of Charles, the ruined future of Henry facing now impossible redemption or the impossible finding of a meaningful existential equilibrium.
He never questions his belief in the values of the idols of the South, the rejection of his wife and son expresses a rejection of himself as husband and father. Sutpen’s children share their father’s attitudes toward the relationships with Negroes that is they reflect the views of the class in which they have been reared. The conclusion revealed is that where caste rules prevail, intimate relationships between the superior race of the whites and those of tainted blood can be recognized neither by law nor by church: “The effect of such denial to those involved is vicious. Arbitrary rejection from those most binding of all ties, familial and marital love, breeds psychic outrage, and psychic outrage breeds personal revolt. The human psyche has its own mechanics of vengeance.”
Thomas Sutpen has often been viewed as a white supremacist, but we cannot say with certainty that he should be read as such: “Despite the fact that Sutpen’s allegiance to white supremacy is obvious in his treatment of Eulalia and Charles Bon, his interactions with those characters, as with most of his interactions with people of African heritage, reveal his ultimate liberalism. First, Sutpen feels as if his conscience is clear after buying off his first wife and their son. He does not recognize Bon’s need to be identified with his father; Sutpen feels no paternalistic responsibility. Also, in his interaction with his slaves, Sutpen wants somehow to demonstrate his superiority to them through fighting. He does not simply assume his inherent right to rule…Sutpen’s actions generally are consistent with an ideological heritage that does not assume inherent superiority.”
In 1833, one of the
first pioneers of the Motherland, that is the South, arrived in
Thomas Sutpen is a mythical figure, a giant, a man of enormous ambition and determination and finally, tragic stature, historically accurate yet transcending time and place. The ante-bellum Southern aristocrat, the cotton planter was crude, determined, courageous, and rough and started building his design without any important possessions or large sums of money, but with a strong capacity of hard work. Faulkner adds a certain ruthlessness and mythic proportions to his character.
Sutpen is South itself, his history is that of the South. When at the end of the war he finds himself in ruin, he does not give up struggle, but on the contrary, just like the homeland, he tries to rebuild his design and to set his family in order as if the war had never occurred. He is the pure reflection of the South with both its qualities as its flaws, vices that in the end are fatal. A fatal effect brought upon Sutpen’s design by his sons is the compromise of the Southern notion of male hierarchy and primogeniture. Sutpen’s own ability to put matters right through a new wife and a new heir is limited since he is old. He turns to Ellen’s sister, Rosa and asks her to prove the ability to further his design.
Miss Rosa, Quentin and Mr. Compson can be viewed as the creators of the Sutpen myth, each displaying his own version of the legend sprang out of his own psyche and they can even be described as three Greek dramatists composing tragedies that concern the same mythical figure, each of them having access to his predecessor’s interpretation and adding new insights and flourishes of his own.
It was suggested at a certain moment, after a profound analysis of Absalom, Absalom!, that no critic can deny the fact that the author’s investigation has as main concern the uncontrollable violence commanded by the subconscious stating that nothing else can possibly justify the limitless series of rapes, incest, mutilation, hermaphrodites, castration, parricide, lynching, necrophilia, the obsession of decay and of corpses that pollute his novels.
In a deep analysis, we become aware of the fact that the events described have much less violent load, less demonism than what the author is trying to induce. Faulkner’s desire is to create an apocalyptic vision even if the evolution of the narrative totally contradicts this.
Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, is a mysterious novel composed of voices that seem ultimately to coalesce not only with one another but also with the tale they tell, it moves inexorably toward fusion and decomposition, toward the moment when Quentin Compson breaks into Sutpen’s dark house. The novel resembles nothing so much as a dreamscape, with disguised meanings, that require decoding. Alternatively, the novel reads like a puzzle that all the narrators are trying somehow to solve and that each narrator pieces together differ fervently. It is a fluid and shifting fiction that resists categorization, and critics have variously categorized it as a novel about the South, about race, about incest, about miscegenation, about history, about myth, about language, about death.
Absalom, Absalom! described as Faulkner’s most powerful novel, displays structural techniques that were not only fundamental to an understanding of the modernist form, but also heralded much of what would come later. Gray, describing the layered complexity of the novel speaks about an investigation: “of the meaning of history; just what it is to be born, as Judith Sutpen puts it with a lot of other people, all mixed up with them, from the past, present and future. It is also an extreme instance of the narrative as process: in which an elaborate network of coinciding and conflicting voices and genres replicate historical experience-and register being in time as a fluid, inconclusive movement, a matter of collective debate and continuing revision.”
Faulkner had been the exponent of dream power. He managed an
incredible thing that is of dipping into his consciousness memories as into a
barrel, extremely confident that there he would find all the moving stories
since the beginning of time; also convinced that all human societies as well as
human souls are cast in the same mold. The content of the barrel seemed
incredibly inexhaustible and Faulkner was dipping deeper and deeper. Firstly,
he reached to his childhood dreams or memories, and then it followed the
memories concerning his family, their movement and the
Faulkner’s clearest example of mythmaking power is represented by The Bear, a story integrated in Go Down, Moses (1942). The story has five parts, but discussions of The Bear almost always include consideration of the fourth section, which Faulkner never published in any version of the story except that of Go Down, Moses: “The Fable of The Bear falls within the broad stream of the pastoral which courses through American writing, pastoral suggesting the conscious turn to simplicity as a desired way of life and the nostalgia for a time which could more fully realize that desire.”
The Bear was
righteously appreciated as one of the fundamental pillars of the Faulknerean
construction and of course, one of its heights. When toward the end of his life
lecturing in front of the students of the
The story, The Bear is in five parts and it supports the nature myth. This is recounted in Parts I, II, III, and V. The Bear is the story retold as a myth of the wilderness and a myth of initiation. From the very beginning the reader is introduced to the boy Ike McCaslin, sixteen of age whose experience in hunting is long for a child of his age: “He had already inherited then, without ever having seen it, the big old bear with one trap-ruined foot that in an area almost a hundred miles square had earned for himself a name, a definite designation like a living man:-the long legend of corncribs broken down and rifled, of shoats and grown pigs and even calves carried bodily into the woods and devoured, and traps and deadfalls overthrown and dogs mangled and slain, and shotgun and even rifle shots delivered at point-blank range yet with no more effect than so many peas blown through a tube by a child-a corridor of wreckage and destruction beginning back before the boy was born, through which sped, not fast but rather with the ruthless and irresistible deliberation of a locomotive, the shaggy tremendous shape. It ran in his knowledge before he ever saw it. It loomed and towered in his dreams before he even saw the unaxed woods where it left its crooked print, shaggy, tremendous, red-eyed, not malevolent but just big, too big for the dogs which tried to bay it, for the horses which tried ton ride it down, for the men and the bullets they fired into it; too big for the very country which was its constricting people.”
The hunt of the Sacred Beast, a Divine Totem is most probably the most ancient action in the repertoire of human stories; the pursuit of the supernatural creature defines the world of nature and of man. The huntsman who succeeds in his pursuit is marked for his entire life and immortality as a culture hero, a deliverer of his people.
The creature that appears like the monster of the legend is indeed “shaggy, tremendous, and red-eyed but not malevolent, but just big: It was as if the boy had already divined what his senses and intellect had not encompassed yet: that doomed wilderness whose edges were being constantly and punily gnawed at by men with plows and axes who feared it because it was wilderness, men myriad and nameless even to one another in the land where the old bear had earned a name, and through which ran not even a mortal beast but an anachronism indomitable and invincible out of an old, dead time, a phantom, epitome and apotheosis of the old, wild life which the little puny humans swarmed and hacked at in a fury of abhorrence and fear, like pygmies about the ankles of a drowsing elephant.”
The bear, the epitome and apotheosis of the wilderness, Old Ben is the symbol of the power and inscrutability of nature, namely, the god of the wilderness. Old Ben is presented as almost immortal, capable of unbelievable damage to human establishments. One of Old Ben’s hunters, Sam Fathers teaches Isaac the ways possible of capturing the legendary bear warning him that even the hounds are afraid of him, therefore only a great courageous dog could face the bear. Isaac sees Old Ben several times and at a certain moment he even has a shot of him, but instead of going after the bear he runs after the tiny dog that was sent after the bear. The Process of adaptation to the adult world is made on the background dominated by people whose only purpose is to enter those places where a time ago the wilderness reined, equilibrium and the mighty power of nature that for century was not disturbed from its destiny.
The group of hunters that pursue Old Ben are depicted as a band of priests, each performing his sacerdotal part in the mystery. Isaac, ten years old, is about to begin the process of becoming one of them; nevertheless at first he has to undergo through several stages as a novice and not a full member. Each novice has a guide and mentor, a sensible old man and in Isaac’s case, this wise old man is Sam Fathers: “He entered his novitiate to the true wilderness with Sam beside him as he had begun his apprenticeship in miniature to manhood after the rabbits and such with Sam beside him, the two of them wrapped in the damp, warm, Negro-rank quilt, while the wilderness closed behind his entrance as it had opened momentarily to accept him, opening before his advancement as it closed behind his progress, no fixed path the wagon followed but a channel nonexistent ten yards ahead of it and ceasing to exist ten yards after it had pas.
The Bear follows precisely the stages of a myth as a secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation: “The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: departure-initiation-return which might be named the nuclear unit of the myth.”
The hunter Sam Fathers is the son of a Chickasaw chief by a Negro slave woman. Consequently, his veins are filled with blood born out of wilderness; the man feels a strong affinity for the bear and several times in the story we find him reading the bear’s mind. The Bear is a myth and indeed like all myth it contains a series of events upon which the plot develops gradually, every following event being more intense than the previous one. One important event that Malcolm Cowley integrates it in a graded series that comprises actions which in the end lead up to the decisive moment when the boy first catches sight of the bear is a fragment from Part I of the story and it is about the moment when the hounds see the bear and their baying changes from a ringing chorus to: “a moiling yapping an octave too high and with something …in it which he could not yet recognize” Later, when Sam and Ike arrive home from the hunting, they find all ten dogs huddled under the kitchen and smell an effluvium of something more than dog.
The second event refers to Sam whose mystic knowledge of where the bear can be found is amazing. He leads young Ike into the woods and shows him: “the rotted log scored and gutted with claw marks and, in the wet earth beside it, the print of the enormous warped two-toed foot. Now he knew what he had heard in the hounds’ voices in the woods that morning and what he had smelled when he peered under the kitchen where they huddled” , it was the smell and the sound of fear.
The third event happened on the next morning when Ike was on a new stand with his loaded gun: “He heard no dogs at all. He never did certainly hear them. He only heard the drumming of the woodpecker stop short off, and knew that the bear was looking at him. He never saw it. He did not know whether he was facing him from the cane or behind him. He did not move, holding the useless gun which he knew now he would never fire at it, now or ever, tasting in his saliva the taint of brass which he had smelled in the huddled dogs when he peered under the kitchen …So I will have to see him, he thought, without dread or even hope. I will have to look at him.” Each of these three important experiences is more intense for Ike than the one that preceded it. The next event, that is the fourth is expected, its coming is built by the three anterior ones, and it will, of course, be even more intense and it will serve as a first climax of Ike’s novitiate as a priest of the wilderness. The hero, in our case Ike, ventures forth from the world of common day and of childhood into a region of supernatural wonder, fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Ike’s vision is special and it is of the bear, but in order for him to see the mythical creature a period of preparation is needed. The next important event happens in the midsummer of the following year when Ike and the rest of the hunters have returned to the camp in the wilderness. The young boy has a ritual of each morning after breakfast leaving the camp with his shotgun, a watch, a compass in order to hunt squirrels, but in fact he is in search of Old Ben. The first three days follow the same pattern, of him getting deeper and deeper into the wilderness, always alone, but, unfortunately he always return to the camp without having his special vision accomplished. On the third evening, when returning he met Sam who said that he had not seen it yet but perhaps it saw Ike and that it was the gun. On the fourth morning Ike left the camp before dawn, without having breakfast. He took only the compass and a stick for the snakes, leaving the gun behind. He was walking fast without making noise, ranging still farther into the wilderness. For nine hours he kept walking being attentive at everything around him, but without a sign of Old Ben, not even a trace. Then, he decided that leaving his gun behind was not enough. Isaac comprehends that in order to see the bear, to achieve a next level of understanding, he must neither be “hunter nor hunted: He had left the gun, by his own will and relinquishment he had accepted not a gambit, not a choice, but a condition in which not only the bear’s heretofore inviolable anonymity but all the ancient rules and balances of hunter and hunted had been abrogated. He would not even be afraid, not even when the fear would take him completely: blood, skin, bowels, bones, memory from the long time before it even became his memory.”
He still feels tainted, as only after abandoning every sign of human civilization he could communicate properly with nature; he still had with him the compass and the watch that he had used, but he hangs them both on a bush, and leans against the bush the stick he had carried as a protection against snakes: “He had already relinquished, of his will, because of his need, in humility and peace and without regret, yet apparently that had not been enough, the leaving of the gun was not enough. He stood for a moment-a child, alien and lost in the green and soaring gloom of the markless wilderness. Then he relinquished completely to it. It was the watch and the compass.”
Empty-handed, he continues his search. However, without these useful symbols of civilization he is lost in the region that he never fully explored. He follows Sam’s advice if getting lost; he makes a circular cast to cross his backtrack. But, as he cannot find it, he makes a wider cast in the opposite direction. Once again failure because Ike cannot see any trace of his feet or of any feet.
The sole instruction left for him to follow was to sit on a log and think the situation over. He does so and the passage in the book that describes the fulfillment of the boy’s vision has been described as one of the finest in Faulkner’s literature: “…seeing as he sat down on the log the crooked print, the warped indentation in the wet ground which while he looked at it continued to fill with water until it was level full and the water began to overflow and the sides of the print began to dissolve away. Even as he looked up he saw the next one, and, moving, the one beyond it; moving, not hurrying, running, but merely keeping pace with them as they appeared before him as though they were being shaped out of thin air just one constant pace short of where he would lose them forever and be lost forever himself, tireless, eager, without doubt or dread, panting a little above the strong rapid little hammer of his heart, emerging suddenly into a little glade, and the wilderness coalesced. It rushed, soundless, and solidified-the tree, the bush, the compass and the watch glinting where a ray of sunlight touched them. Then he saw the bear.”
This is Ike’s special vision, and due to his following to Sam’s instructions, the priest of the wilderness, he managed to find it. He has performed the magic ritual and it has produced the magical result, without the least taint of science or logic. He decides not ever to kill the bear. The true knowledge of this world can only have as a result the understanding of the relationship man-nature.
In the next passage the bear appears more than a flesh and blood creature, it is a vision touched with elements of the supernatural: “The Bear did not emerge, appear; it was just there, immobile, fixed in the green and windless noon’s hot dappling, not as big as he had expected, bigger, dimensionless against the dappled obscurity, looking at him. Then it moved. It crossed the glade without haste, walking for an instant into the sun’s full glare and out of it, and stopped again and looked back at him across one shoulder. Then it was gone. It didn’t walk into the woods. It faded, sank back into the wilderness without motion as he had watched a fish, a huge old bass, sink back into the dark depths of its pool and vanish without even any movement of its fins.”
Eventually, the hunters find a huge dog capable of bringing Old Ben to bay. The new dog, Lion is another mythical creature, is leading the pack. Sam manages to tame him a little bit by starving him in order to allow the others to touch him. When the creature realized that he has to cope with his owners he became active and led the hunters on Old Ben’s tracks. In Part II another graded series is no be noticed. On the first autumn of hunting with Lion, seven strangers appeared in the camp to watch the proceedings. Old Ben escapes that first autumn by swimming down the river. On the second autumn, more than a dozen strangers appear. Old Ben again saves himself, but this time with buckshot and a slug in his hide from General Compson’s double-barreled shotgun.
The climax is due to happen during the hunting of the third autumn and again strangers appear, more than forty: “so that when they went into the woods this morning Major de Spain led a party almost as strong, excepting that some of them were not armed, as some he had led in the last darkening days of ’64 and ’65.” What followed was a frantic chase that was impossible for some of the hunters who were left behind. Old Ben swam across the river with Lion after him and most of the other dogs and by only three hunters. Sam Fathers is one of those three hunters, but he cannot kill his own god, moreover, he is not armed. The other hunter, Ike had decided that he will never, in any circumstances, shoot the bear. Therefore, the only remaining hunter is Boon Hogganbeck, who has never been known to hit anything he aimed at and his gun is useless. However, he took with him a more primitive weapon, a knife.
One subject of debate among critics had been about a feeling that was widespread among woodland Indians that bears, being a special sort of animal connected with every old tribal ceremonies and traditions, should be killed only with a primitive weapon, such as a knife or an axe. The critics did not succeed in establishing whether Faulkner used this feeling on purpose in his story or he had just used it instinctively without any connection to the feeling reported by anthropologists. Lion, now in the woods not far from the river, leaps at Old Ben and sinks his teeth into his throat. Old Ben is powerful and holds Lion in both arms and then begins to rake the dog’s stomach with his foreclaws. Taking part in the scene, Boon becomes desperate at the thought that his dog might be killed, throws away his useless gun, flings himself astride the bear’s back and with his knife slits the bear’s throat: “… then the bear surged erect, raising with it the man and the dog too, and turned and still carrying the man and the dog it took two or three steps toward the woods on its hind feet as a man would have walked and crashed down. It didn’t collapse, crumple. It fell all of a piece, as a tree falls, so that the three of them, man dog and bear, seemed to bounce once.”
The bear’s death triggers several tragic events, Sam Fathers finds no other reason for living after his god’s death, Lion dies due to his wounds. The plantation is sold by Major de Spain to a logging company, saving out only the acre where Sam and Lion are buried. This is practically the end of the hunting camp, parties of the myth that surrounded this wilderness for many years.
Part V is a beautiful one showing Ike returning to this place two years later: “It had been harmless then …They would hear it going out, loaded, not quite so fast now yet giving its frantic and toylike illusion of crawling speed, not whistling now to conserve steam, flinging its bitten labouring miniature puffing into the immemorial woodsface with frantic and bootless vainglory, empty and noisy and puerile, carrying to no destination or purpose sticks, which left nowhere any scar or stump as the child’s toy loads and transports and unloads its dead sand and rushes back for more, tireless and unceasing and rapid yet never quite so fast as the Hand which plays with it moves the toy burden back to load the toy again. But it was different now. It was the same train…yet this time it was as though the train (and not only the train, but himself, not only his vision which had seen it and his memory which remembered it, but his clothes too…) had brought with it into the doomed wilderness even before the actual axe the shadow and portent of the new mill…and he knew now…that after this time he…would return no more.”
The plantation is his by inheritance, but he does not want it and gives it to his cousin McCaslin Edmonds. Isaac believes that this land cannot be owned. Obviously there are several points here that make reference to the history of the South, and to its destruction that was brought upon by man himself who tried to own the land, control the forces of nature. Nature cannot be owned and those who seek to exploit it never really have anything, although they may gain possession and use it for a little while. In Part IV it is made reference to the divine world, to the day God created the Earth, how he looked at it and said it was perfect, thus creating man with the purpose of being an overseer, his overseer on earth and to hold suzerainty over the earth and its dumb animals in His name, and not to transform himself in an owner, to hold it for himself and his descendants inviolable title for ever, but to hold it mutual and intact in the communal anonymity of brotherhood.
The two existing worlds, namely the divine and the human can be pictured only as distinct from one another, different as life and death, as day and night. The hero ventures from the known world where he obeys rules and codes into the darkness, there he accomplishes his adventure. Nevertheless and here is a Greek key to the understanding of myth and symbol-the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know. The whole sense of the hero is represented by the exploration of the new dimension, irrespective of him doing it out of his own will or not.
Another extensively used myth is the Christian one, especially in Light in August and the author’s intention of a comparison between ancient pagan and modern Christian religion is evident from his comments on the meaning of the title: “In August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and that’s all the title meant, it was just to me a pleasant evocative title because it reminded me of that time, of luminosity older than our Christian civilization. Maybe the connection was with Lena Grove, who had something of the pagan quality of being able to assume everything…And that was all that meant .”
Joe Christmas embodies not only the Christian myth but also
the Negro one and at a certain moment the two coincide. Joe was raised in an
orphanage until the age of five, he has no knowledge of his parents or their
background, but through the suggestions of the janitor he came to believe that
he had Negro blood. In the
Joe is compelled to assert himself as a white man and he even
taunts other white men into calling him nigger
just to get the opportunity to fight with them. Society cannot decide for
him whether he is white or not, black or not, Joe himself is unable to accept
himself as both, and he becomes the antagonist in both the Negro and white
worlds. To the social pattern of black and white is added the religious pattern
of the elect and the damned. Joe is seen in his confrontation with Joanna
Burden, to whom he is both a contrast and a complement. He met Joanna in Jefferson,
a forty-year old spinster and a descendant of
The violence between the two lovers is inevitable and culminates tragically, when Joanna’s act of raising the pistol and Joe’s use of the razor are both projected as shadows against the wall, for each sees embodied in the other that racial myth which has dominated their lives.
When Joanna’s house is in fire the entire community gathers there is a common feeling of fear which takes hold of all, a common consciousness which never manifested itself before: “Within five minutes after the countrymen found the fire, the people began to gather. Some of them, also on the way to town in wagons to spend Saturday, also stopped. Some came afoot from the immediate neighborhood. This was a region of negro cabins and gutted and outworn fields out which a caporal’s guard of detectives could not have combed ten people, man or child, yet which now within thirty minutes produced, as though out of thin air, parties and groups ranging from single individuals to entire families. Still others came out of town in racing and blatting cars…Among them the casual Yankees and the poor whites and even the southerners who had lived for a while in the north, who believed aloud that it was an anonymous negro crime committed not by a negro but by Negro and who knew, believed and hoped that she had been ravished too: at least once before her throat was cut and at least once afterward.”
An important element interferes here when the sheriff leaves the house in fire and goes to town, then the crowd does the same. In a reversal of the Old Testament story, the crowd leaves in search of the murderer believing that once captured, they will be set free of anguish and no threat will persist upon them anymore. The following passage in the novel uses a biblical language: “It was as if there were nothing left to look at now. The body had gone, and now the sheriff was going…So the hatless men, who had deserted counters and desks, swung down, even including the one who ground the siren. They came down too and were shown several different places where the sheet had lain, and some of them with pistols already in their pockets began to canvass about for someone to crucify. But there wasn’t anybody.”
Nevertheless, Faulkner deals here with the racial myth, which seems difficult for us to completely understand since the age is different. The protagonist of Light in August, Joe Christmas is both black and white in his behavior, as judged by mythic cultural standards, and in a town where everything abnormal must be extincted, Joe’a behaviour cannot be tolerated, thus he must be punished. Besides Joe, Percy Grimm, another character from the novel, who is a fanatical young deputy who pursued Christmas for his murder and once he caught him he castrated and shot Christmas. Grimm serves the myth; he is one of those characters mentioned at the end of a novel, but always present. Myth prompts such actions as Grimm’s sudden lynching of Joe Christmas to secure the myths themselves: “he ran straight into the kitchen and into the doorway, already firing, almost before he could have seen the table overturned…Grimm emptied the automatic’s magazine into the table; later someone covered all five shots with a handkerchief.
But the player was not done yet. When the others reached the kitchen they saw the table flung aside now and Grimm stooping over the body. When they approached to see what he was about, they saw that the man was not dead yet, and when they saw what Grimm was doing one of the men gave a choked cry and stumbled back into the wall and began to vomit. Then Grimm too sprang back, flinging behind him the bloody butcher knife. ’Now you’ll let white women alone, even in hell’, he said.”
To interpret such a racial myth assumes many opinions, then the drawing of a conclusion from all the interpretations which can only be expressed by the characters themselves. The most cerebral man in town, Gavin Stevens, the district attorney, makes a suggestion that the racial myth is amplified by the blood sub-myth: “It was not alone all those thirty years which [his victim] did not know, but all those successions of thirty years before that which had put that stain either on his white blood or his black blood, whichever you will, and which killed him. But he must have run with believing for a while; anyway, with hope. But his blood would not be quiet, let him save it. It would not be either one or the other and let his body save itself. Because the black blood drove him first to the negro cabin. And then the white blood drove him out of there, as it was the black blood which snatched up the pistol and the white blood which would not let him fire it. And it was the white blood which sent him to the minister, which rising in him for the last and final time, sent him against all reason and all reality, into the embrace of a chimaera, a blind faith in something read in a printed Book. Then I believe that the white blood deserted him for the moment. Just a second, a flicker, allowing the black to rise in its final moment and make him turn upon that on which he had postulated his hope of salvation. It was the black blood which swept him by his own desire beyond the aid of any man, swept him up into that ecstasy out of a black jungle where life has already ceased before the heart stops and death is desire and fulfillment. And then the black blood failed him again, as it must have in crises all his life. He did not kill the minister. He merely struck him with the pistol and ran on and crouched behind that table and defied the black blood for the last time, as he had been defying it for thirty years. He crouched behind that overturned table and let them shoot him to death, with that loaded and unfired pistol in his hand.”
The myth of the Negro was created surely by the plantation ethos of the old South and the mind of the South established that within its boundaries the Negro: “occupied the position of a mere domestic animal, without will or right of his own.”
The supremacy formula of the white southerners could not
allow for any interference of innocence and simplicity, and these were the
traits of the Negroes. Faulkner’s most powerful representation of the Negro
myth with its racial violence was in the story Dry September, which tell the
story of Will Mayes, a black night watchman at Jefferson ice plant who is
accused of raping a white spinster, Minnie Cooper. She is his only accuser as
no other evidence can be discovered. Four white men wait for Will in the dark
to take him in the woods and lynch him: “They
didn't move until vague noises began to grow out of the darkness ahead; then
they got out and waited tensely in the breathless dark. There was another
sound: a blow, a hissing expulsion of breath and McLendon cursing in undertone.
They stood a moment longer, and then they ran forward. They ran in a stumbling
clamp, as though they were fleeing
something. ‘Kill him, kill the son, a
‘Not here,’ he said. ‘Get him into the car,’ ‘Kill him, kill the black son!’ the voice murmured. They dragged the Negro to the car. The barber had waited beside the car. He could feel himself sweating and he knew he was going to be sick at the stomach.
‘What is it captains?’ the Negro said. ‘I aint done nothing. 'Fore God, Mr John.’ Someone produced handcuffs. They worked busily about the Negro as though he were a post, quiet, intent, getting in one another's way. He submitted to the handcuffs, looking swiftly and constantly from dim face to dim face. ‘Who's here, captains?’ he said, leaning to peer into the faces until they could feel his breath and smell his sweaty reek. He spoke a name or two. ‘What you all say I done, Mr John?’ Mc Lendon jerked the car door open.‘Get in!’he said. The Negro did not move. ‘What you all going to do with me, Mr John? I aint done nothing. White folks, captains, I aint done nothing: I swear 'fore God.’ He called anothername.
‘Get in!’ McLendon said. He struck the Negro. The others expelled their breath in a dry hissing and struck him with random blows and he whirled and cursed them, and swept his manacled hands across their faces and slashed the barber upon the mouth, and the barber struck him also. ‘Get him in there’ McLendon said. They pushed at him. He ceased struggling and got in and sat quietly as the others took their places. He sat between the barber and the soldier, drawing his limbs in so as not to touch them, his eyes going swiftly and constantly from face to face. Butch clung to the running board. The car moved on.”
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