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Comprehending Faulkner's humor.

"Out with it," Varner said. "What do you think about it?" "You mean what I really think?" "What in damnation do you think I am talking about?" "I think the same as you do," Ratliff said quietly. "That there aint but two men I know can risk fooling with them folks. And just one of them is named Varner and his front name aint Jody." "And who's the other one?" Varner said. "That aint been proved yet neither," Ratliff said pleasantly.

--The Hamlet (30-31)

FAULKNER DESERVES RECOGNITION AS ONE OF AMERICA'S GREATEST humorists, for the hundreds of humorous characters, scenes, incidents, moments, and indelibly memorable passages that appear throughout his work, but although he commented intermittently on humor--both his own and others'--from the beginning of his career until the end, (1) we have, as yet, no comprehensive assessment, description, or taxonomy of his humor. "The largest problem," according to Hans Bungert, "results from the absence of a fully satisfactory theory of comedy or theory of humor" (141). (2) An even larger problem, perhaps, is the assumption that there is, or ought to be, a unified field theory of humor that can or should organize each of Faulkner's humorous plots, character types, devices, or tropes into a single coherent exegesis. Comprehending Faulkner's humor, however, most frequently means comprehending a particular moment in a particular text; attempts to isolate a single theory to explain all of Faulkner's humor, like attempts to isolate a single theory to explain all of anything else in Faulkner, are inevitably reductive and unsatisfactory.

Thadious Davis offers a relevant argument for dealing with Go Down, Moses, suggesting that the text comprehends aspects of genres that ought not to be seen as mutually exclusive:
 The question of genre for Go Down, Mases does not have to be
 answered in either-or/neither-nor terms. In fact, if claims of
 unity are dissolved by an attention to the reader as
 self-authorized to create a reading experience out of engagement
 with the text, and if claims of fragmentation (that is, story
 sequence) are suspended by an attention to the configuration of
 games marking the text as both contest and contested site, then
 momentarily at least Faulkner's authority over his text becomes
 bounded and the issue of its genre transgressable. (11)

Similarly, if we can comprehend Faulkner's humor in both/and rather than in either/or terms--it may be orthodox and subversive (as Jason Compson's section of The Sound and the Fury most assuredly is); it may be "funny" to some readers and appalling to others (as As I Lay Dying often proves to be); it may be, in places, conventional "high" comedy (as in Philip's courtship of Melisandre in "My Grandmother Millard") or, in other places, "low" comedy, as when, in the same story, the Yankees upset the privy that Melisandre is occupying); and it may be direct and blunt (as in Ikkemotubbe's rescue of David Hogganbeck from the cave in "A Courtship") or mock-epically eloquent (as in the mudhole episode of The Reivers)--if we can see the range and variety of Faulkner's humors, then we may be able to go beyond partial and reductive readings of his myriad humorous texts.

In what follows we shall contend that, as already established ably by several hands, elements and instances of Faulkner's humor are clearly, splendidly descended from American humorous techniques and texts and are both alternately and simultaneously derivative of European sources as well. His humor, by turns and at once, both endorses and undercuts the prevailing hegemonies within the societies he depicts, and in consequence, his humor is seldom easily isolated within his complexly inscribed texts. To advance these contentions, we propose to consider aspects of humor theory in general and of important notions of American humor, and to see what these ideas may contribute to our reading of Faulkner's comic and humorous texts.

In Philebus, Plato lays the foundation for all subsequent discussions of humor when Socrates describes "the ridiculous" as "that species of the genus 'badness' which is differentiated by the opposite of the inscription at Delphi."

Protarchus: "You mean, 'Know thyself,' Socrates?"

Socrates: "I do. Plainly the opposite of that would be for the inscription to read, 'By no means know thyself.'" (1129)

Not to know one's self, then, is to be ridiculously ignorant, clearly a vice. Plato goes on to differentiate between two classes of those who do not know themselves: "those who are strong and powerful and those who are the reverse" (1130). Among modern analysts of the subject, Henri Bergson, a special favorite of Faulkner, observes that "a comic character is generally comic in proportion to his ignorance of himself. The comic person is unconscious. As though wearing the ring of Gyges with reverse effect, he becomes invisible to himself while remaining visible to all the world" (71). Thus, from the beginning to the present, Western humor theory emphasizes the incongruity between what an individual is and what he ought to be, and acknowledges that humor may treat of both the powerful and the powerless. Thomas Hobbes' famous remark on laughter similarly assumes a condition of incongruity: "the passion of laughter is nothing else but a sudden glory" arising from the "sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmities of others, or with our own formerly: for men laugh at the follies of themselves past, when they come suddenly to remembrance, except they bring with them any present dishonour" (54-55). Hobbes here articulates the concept that individuals may laugh at themselves, an important element of our current understanding of what it means to have "a sense of humor." Sigmund Freud emphasizes the ways that humor manifests "hostile aggressiveness": "By making our enemy small, inferior, despicable or comic, we achieve in a roundabout way the enjoyment of overcoming him--to which the third person, who has made no efforts, bears witness by his laughter" (122). His use of the term "enemy" further emphasizes the difference between those who ridicule and those who are ridiculed. More recently, Jacques Lacan has extended and modified Freud's analysis by treating humor as a linguistic means of masking the expression of the repressed.

Additionally, Faulkner's humor in general and in several particulars has been convincingly argued to derive from the traditions and techniques of the American Southwestern humorists, and Faulkner himself acknowledged his indebtedness to these predecessors. (3) But Faulkner also often insisted that his work in general, and, by inference, his comic and humorous work in particular, was influenced by European traditions, especially mentioning Cervantes, Shakespeare, Balzac, and Dickens. (4)

In their description and analysis of American humor, Walter Blair and Hamlin Hill describe two distinct types of humorous writing:
 Some humor, whoever wrote it, tended to exalt traditional
 values. It upheld order over disorder, decorum over unbridled
 license, and a rigid social hierarchy over the fluid
 egalitarianism of the frontier. Whether written by an author on
 the Atlantic Coast, in New England or the tidewater South, or a
 "Southwesterner," its biases were essentially conservative and
 restrained. It might use a vernacular character either as a sorry
 example of lawlessness or as a mother-lode of common sense. It
 might make tolerant fun of the self-importance and erudition of its
 pedants. But, in spite of almost limitless modulations, it
 essentially championed a moral and predictable universe. It was

 Humor of the opposite sort--humor which was
 anti-Establishment--was also written by authors of both the East
 and the West. Some of the time, at least, it was the work of a
 terrified prude who recorded his shock and indignation at the wild
 and raucous characters he described. This subversive humor
 portrayed indelibly drawn characters whose code of behavior
 affirmed disorder, violence, and amorality. Its author (as
 distinguished from its narrator) was fascinated and charmed by the
 moral chaos its main characters embodied and the dangerous logic
 with which they supported it. (162-63)

All writers, in this formulation, seek either to endorse and protect or repudiate and subvert the rights, privileges, powers, values, and manners of those who hold power. These two types of humor are identified as tendencies of "the opposite sort." The humor of a subversive writer attacks the established, espousing the cause of the dispossessed, the disinherited, the disenfranchised, and, generally, the disempowered, while an orthodox writer's humor (a term we prefer to "reputable") defends and articulates the protocols and perquisites of the establishment, those who number among the possessed, the inherited, the enfranchised, and the empowered. We submit, however, that this distinction, useful as it is in sorting out the varieties of American humorous writing, may also have much broader applications. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, for example, ridicule each other, while Cervantes ridicules them both, balancing the good Don's absurd reliance on chivalric romances as a guide to daily living with Sancho's allegiance to his many proverbs. Shakespeare, similarly, makes good broad fun of the linguistic ineptitude of Dogberry, Verges, and the Watch, but constructs his plot to reveal that these men have, in fact, uncovered the villainy, while the refusal of the privileged to listen patiently to them results in much ado about nothing. So, if, as Blair and Hill demonstrate in their discussion of Washington Irving, a writer may produce both orthodox and subversive texts, as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle" respectively demonstrate, we suggest that a writer may employ both orthodox and subversive humors within a single text. It is here, we shall argue, that Faulkner takes his place with his European masters and with his American predecessors.

In fact, he offered a seamless comprehension of both traditions in his interview with Jean Stein in 1955:
 My favorite characters are Sarah Gamp--a cruel, ruthless woman, a
 drunkard, opportunist, unreliable, most of her character was bad,
 but at least it was character; Mrs. Harris, Falstaff, Prince Hal,
 Don Quixote and Sancho, of course. Lady Macbeth I always admire.
 And Bottom, Ophelia, and Mercutio--both he and Mrs. Gamp coped with
 life, didn't ask any favors, never whined. Huck Finn, of course,
 and Jim. Tom Sawyer I never liked much--an awful prig. And then I
 like Sut Lovingood from a book written by George Harris about 1840
 or '50 in the Tennessee mountains. He had no illusions about
 himself, did the best he could; at certain times he was a coward
 and knew it and wasn't ashamed; he never blamed his misfortunes on
 anyone and never cursed God for them. (LG251)

Nevertheless, the insistence on Faulkner's indebtedness to American humorous traditions has such a long and respectable pedigree, beginning with Faulkner himself, that it deserves respectful attention. "Faulkner," says M. Thomas Inge, "is so thoroughly in the American grain as a comic writer and draws so heavily on the entire body of distinctively American comic techniques and forms that an understanding of American humor is almost necessary to a full appreciation of his comic talent." "The entire canon of Faulkner's works," he concludes, "is invested with the spirit of American comedy" ("Faulkner as Humorist" 3). Daniel Hoffman, analyzing "Was" as a comic opening to Go Down, Moses, begins by identifying the story as "Restoration Comedy out of Li'l Abner: the woman-shy old bachelor, the huntin'-gamblin' country squire, the mincing overaged coquette; add for good measure to this seamless patchwork of stereotypes the scheming servant familiar in Commedia del'Arte. But the venue is Dogpatch, or somewhere like it" (107). Although he refers to Restoration Comedy and the Commedia del'Arte--he might also, noting Miss Sophonsiba's insistence on calling the Beauchamp domain "Warwick," have acknowledged Dickens--Hoffman proceeds to discuss "Was" as "Faulkner's appropriation of the folktale plot told in 'Uncle Adam and His Cow'" (119). "Was," in his reading, is "a comic love story," and also the story of "a hunt, a quest, and a wager," but he goes on to argue that this comic opening serves as a "prelude to the darker themes in Go Down, MoseY' (110, 127). Thomas L. McHaney, reviewing Faulkner's indebtedness to American tall tale traditions, connects Faulkner's practices with the humor of A. B. Longstreet, Johnson J. Hooper, George Washington Harris, Henry Clay Lewis, Thomas Bangs Thorpe, and Mark Twain, as well as with the writings of Emerson, but he also argues that Faulkner's tall tales are "carefully filtered through a consciousness created by absorbing Conrad, Eliot, Freud, Frazer, Bergson, Einstein, Joyce, Jung, Anderson, Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse" (116). What Faulkner discovered was "a good modernist tool" in the tall tale, McHaney concludes, with "its rhythms, its fund of distancing devices (narrators within narrators, ironic voices, self-interruptions, false innocence), its deliberate exaggeration to get to the truth, and its appropriateness to his own place and experience" (133).

In "Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke," Ralph Ellison shows how the Negro assumes a theatrical role of servility, not only to mask his aggression and fear but also to show "the sheer joy of the joke; sometimes to challenge those who presume, across the psychological distance created by race manners, to know his identity" (55). Ellison locates this sort of masking throughout American cultural history, citing Benjamin Franklin, Lincoln, Hemingway, and Faulkner as practitioners. Faulkner's masking in his personal life, of course, has long been noted, (5) and Faulkner, as we hope to show, employed this mask not only for African American characters, but also for women, Native Americans, Jews, and poor whites. In Walter Taylor's reading of The Reivers, for example, Ned McCaslin exploits and increases the distance between himself and the white men who presume to condescend to him--from the mudhole farmer and Butch Lovemaiden to Col. Linscombe and Boss Priest--in order to maintain such freedom, dignity, and pleasures as he currently enjoys. Laying aside the mask of servility, he can make his proud and, to many, disturbing assertion: "If you could just be a nigger one Saturday night, you wouldn't never want to be a white man again as long as you live" (291). Thus Ellison's formulation has special relevance to Faulkner, bur Faulkner not only created African American characters who changed the joke and slipped the yoke long before Ellison wrote his analysis, he also adapted this figure to a wide range of Others. The servant who jokes about himself for his own benefit and, sometimes, at the expense of his master, also has distinguished avatars outside of American sources, including Quixote's Sancho Panza, Lear's fool, and Pickwick's Saro Weller, to name some of Faulkner's most frequently mentioned comic influences.

The trickster, another characteristic figure in Faulkner's humor, derives not only from identifiable American folklore and literary sources bur from virtually all cultures and all times. Peddler types such as Par Stamper and V. K. Ratliff are tricksters in the American grain. Faulkner's tricksters range from wily "servants," such as Tom-Tom and Tomey's Turl of "Centaur in Brass" and Ernie of "Fox Hunt," to Lucas Beauchamp, who disdains the servant role bur remains a witty and successful trickster. Rakes such as Skeets MacGowan, Lafe, Lucas Burch, and Manfred De Spain, and villains, such as Jason Compson and Flem Snopes, are consummate tricksters, as are murderers such as Ernest Cotton, Ikkemotubbe, Crawford Gowrie, and, perhaps, Linda Snopes Kohl. Other female tricksters include Miss Quentin in The Sound and the Fury, Narcissa Benbow in "There Was a Queen," and "Granny," Rosa Millard, in The Unvanquished. While many, perhaps most, of Faulkner's tricksters may be shown to derive from specific or general American prototypes, they may also be understood to originate in a timeless and international multi-cultural tradition (Jacobs 307-09 and Carothers 224-27).

So, while Faulkner's humor is thoroughly based in American traditions and conventions, it also derives from English and Continental sources, and although individual moments in his fiction can be identified as either "orthodox" or subversive, his overall sense of humor is truly comprehensive, and humor itself--and the comic vision toward which it tends--is an inextricable part of his fiction. Similarly, Faulkner's humor is consistent with a primary tradition of humor theory, beginning with Plato and extending through Hobbes and Freud. By identifying as ridiculous those who fail to know themselves, Plato posits the notion that humor manifests itself in incongruity, between what an individual believes and what he is, between what he says and what he does, between what he says and what he thinks, between what he wishes for and what he achieves, or between and among any of the other human "discrepancies and contradictions," as Faulkner called them. Plato's distinction between humor directed at the powerful and that directed against the powerless anticipates Blair and Hill's differentiation between orthodox and subversive humors in American literature, which, in turn, enables some important perspectives on Faulkner's humor. When Hobbes follows Plato in locating laughter in our "sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmities of others," he adds that men may laugh at "the follies of themselves past," an important aspect of Faulkner characters such as Ratliff in The Hamlet and Gavin Stevens in The Town. In "A Bear Hunt," Ratliff tells on himself the story of how the African American Ash and the nameless Chickasaws subvert his joke on the white Lucius Provine, who consequently thrashes Ratliff (the trickster tricked): "Well, they got him offen me at last and got him quieted down, and then they washed me off and give me a drink, and I felt better. But even with that drink I never felt so good but what I felt hit was my duty to my honor to call him outen the back yard, as the fellow says" (CS76). When, in The Town, Manfred De Spain thrashes Gavin Stevens, Stevens's brother-in-law chides him:
 "You fool," Father said. "Dont you know you cant fight? You dont
 know how." "Can you suggest a better way to learn than the one I
 just tried?" Uncle Gavin said. (76)

Freud's humor of "hostile aggressiveness," directed toward an "enemy," relates the humorist, the humorist's enemy, and a "third party" (the reader), who endorses with his laughter the humorist's attack on the enemy, as in the case of Mrs. Littlejohn's imprecation followed by her striking of the wild pony that has invaded her boarding house, "'Get out of here, you son of a bitch,' she said. She struck with the wash-board; it divided neatly on the long mad face and the horse whirled and rushed back up the hall" (Hamlet 335). James M. Mellard has applied Lacan's theory of humor as a linguistic displacement of the repressed especially to Sanctuary, arguing that Fonzo and Virgil Snopes's escapades in Memphis comprise "a metaphoric representation of the metonymic displacement of the sexuality--if not the violence--that remains hidden behind the signifiers of Sanctuary's text" (210). (6) And, as we shall suggest, Jason Compson's entire monologue in The Sound and the Fury can be read as a similar displacement of his rage against his mother.

In summary, Faulkner's humor follows perhaps the first and greatest tradition of Western humor theory, the tradition of illustrating and enjoying the illustration of human folly by pointing to the incongruities of the individual. In doing so, however, it encompasses a number of apparent incongruities itself. Faulkner's humor is neither exclusively orthodox nor exclusively subversive. He makes orthodox jokes along the lines of gender, race, and class; and he makes subversive jokes on each of these subjects as well and he can make both kinds of jokes in the same text. He was well-versed in American humorous traditions, and he drew extensively and exquisitely on both written and oral forms of his native heritage, but he was also well-read in the range of Western literature and he drew subjects, themes, forms, and allusions from European traditions as well. His humor is seldom "mere," appearing all by itself and for its own sake; it emerges, rather, as an inseparable part of his myriad texts. When one sees, as Faulkner did, beyond the ostensible antinomies of "American" and "European," "orthodox" and "subversive," "serious" and "comic," one may begin to comprehend Faulkner's comprehensive humor.

Two of Faulkner's humorous passages, extracted from their context in "The Fire and the Hearth" in Go Down, Moses, can be labeled as orthodox, racist jokes: the "Senegambian Montague and Capulet" quip of the Jefferson commissioner and Roth Edmonds's brusque "they were not married very hard" (62, 116). The earlier of these refers to the contretemps between Lucas Beauchamp, his daughter, Nat, and her prospective husband, George Wilkins. The commissioner asserts his own presumed superiority by making a literary joke at the expense of the black characters, who could not be expected to recognize the Shakespearean allusion, and thus he contemptuously denies the real and painful predicament in which the other three find themselves. The second passage refers to Carothers Edmonds's dissolution by flat of an alleged marriage between two of his black tenants. These jokes, however patently racist within their immediate contexts they may be, take on other meanings as the narrative proceeds. Lucas and George, in the first instance, adjust their aims and methods to avoid the jail sentences that Roth Edmonds and the commissioner have in mind for them, thus "slipping the yoke while changing the joke," without even the least hint of servility, while it remains for Nat, in the end, to turn the tables on George Wilkins, to whom Lucas Beauchamp remarks, "I don't give no man advice about his wife" (75). In the latter case, we must credit Roth Edmonds's allegiance to the traditional morals of his community as he attempts to dissuade Lucas from his determination to end by divorce his long marriage to Molly, with whom Roth shares a profoundly deep complex of personal history. Edmonds implicitly compliments the marriage of Lucas and Molly by comparing it to the relationship between Oscar and the woman from Memphis. Lucas and Molly's marriage, to Roth Edmonds, is not a casual, meaningless relationship to be terminated by his own pontifical judgment. True, his instinct to protect and preserve the marriage may derive from his own paternalistic version of noblesse oblige, but if this is a failing on his part, it is a failing that Lucas seeks to exploit for his own benefit when he asks, "Why cant you declare us voced like you done Oscar and that yellow slut he fotched out here from Memphis last summer?" (115-16).

No single text better illustrates the comprehensiveness of Faulkner's humor than the Jason section of The Sound and the Fury. This section serves as a virtual encyclopedia of Faulkner's humorous techniques, both orthodox and subversive, and its individual and collective achievement, fulfilled at last in the Dilsey section, can be best glossed through a wide variety of humor theories. Jason Compson makes dozens of wicked, mean-spirited jokes centered on gender, race, social class, or some combination of these. He repeatedly proclaims himself a moral man, at least the equal of his employer, Earl, and superior to his niece, his mother, and the rest of the Compson establishment. His famous diatribe begins as an imagined address to Earl and continues as a silent monologue, or soliloquy:
 "I reckon that conscience of yours is a more valuable clerk than I
 am; it dont have to go home at noon to eat. Only dont let it
 interfere with my appetite," I says, because how the hell can I do
 anything right, with that dam family and her not making any effort
 to control her nor any of them like that time when she happened to
 see one of them kissing Caddy and all next day she went around the
 house in a black dress and a veil and even Father couldn't get her
 to say a word except crying and saying her little daughter was dead
 and Caddy about fifteen then only in three years she'd been wearing
 haircloth or probably sandpaper at that rate. Do you think I can
 afford to have her running about the streets with every drummer
 that comes to town, I says, and them telling the new ones up and
 down the road where to pick up a hot one when they made Jefferson.
 I haven't got much pride, I cant afford it with a kitchen full of
 niggers to feed and robbing the state asylum of its star freshman.
 Blood, I says, governors and generals. It's a dam good thing we
 never had any kings and presidents; we'd all be down there at
 Jackson chasing butterflies. I says it'd be bad enough if it was
 mine; I'd at least be sure it was a bastard to begin with, and now
 even the Lord doesn't know that for certain probably. (229-30)

Jason first chides Earl for having a conscience that is too "nice," and he says he is "glad I haven't got the sort of conscience I've got to nurse like a sick puppy all the time" (228). He asserts that Earl's conscience makes him indifferent to his employee's need to eat, but we know that Jason has already been home and eaten dinner, and has lied to Earl about that (227). Jason has also used the trip home to deceive his mother and embezzle money from his niece. We know, further, that Jason is on the defensive because Earl knows that Jason has bought himself a car with the $1,000 Mrs. Compson meant to be invested in the hardware business. Jason, however, pretends elsewhere to his mother that he takes no pleasure or utility in owning the car: "I says you think I'd fool with that dam car at all if it depended on me. I says I can get along without one I've learned to get along without lots of things but if you want to risk yourself in that old wornout surrey with a halfgrown nigger boy all right because I says God looks after Ben's kind" (236). Thus, while Jason presents himself as a moral man, what he does contradicts what he says, and we see him at best as the sort of hypocrite he has just condemned ("If there's one thing gets under my skin, it's a dam hypocrite" [228-29]) and, at worst, as a criminal. Having dealt for the moment with Earl, Jason then turns to a bitter meditation on his family, giving first attention to his mother, whom he criticizes especially for "not making any effort to control" either Caddy or the girl Quentin. He expresses contempt for what he identifies as his mother's theatrical grief over Caddy's being kissed by a boy ("all next day she went around the house in a black dress and a veil and even Father couldn't get her to say a word except crying and saying her little daughter was dead" [229-30]). Caddy was "about fifteen then," and Jason imagines his mother's later penance for Caddy's eventual promiscuity: "in three years she'd been wearing haircloth or probably sandpaper at that rate" (230). One thinks here of Freud's "hostile aggressiveness" as Jason lashes out at his mother while holding himself blameless for his own present behavior towards his niece. Jason follows Freud's formula exactly; by making his mother and niece "small, inferior, despicable or comic," he enjoys his temporary triumph over them. The same process is at work on a larger scale when he extends the scope of his jeremiad against family pride to include the Compson servants and his unfortunate brother, "a kitchen full of niggers to feed and robbing the state asylum of its star freshman" (230). Here Jason revels in his own articulate humor, as Hobbes explains, taking pleasure in the sudden glory of his conception of eminency in himself, by comparison with the infirmities of the others. Paradoxically, he boasts of his own lack of pride, implicitly contrasting his own supposed realism with his mother's vain allegiance to her family's heritage: "Thank God you are not a Compson, because all I have left now is you and Maury and I says, Well I could spare Uncle Maury myself" (200-01). Having shown his contempt for Uncle Maury, Jason wonders how demented his mother might have become were there any actual hereditary nobility or democratic merit in her family.

It must be said here that Jason's rant is, in its own right, funny. He correctly identifies his mother's obvious faults and he exaggerates them to the point of absurdity, so that we may enjoy his wit while we simultaneously recognize that he himself has more, various, and deeper flaws than anyone he presumes to criticize. His niece, Quentin, is a case in point. Jason bullies her constantly, and although he has the argument of social decorum on his side, his hostility toward her is clearly part of his hostility toward his mother. In the name of propriety, for example, he has been following Quentin around this morning, "spying on her"; if her behavior is questionable, his behavior is unquestionably contemptible and mean. His hostility toward Quentin, however, is the residue of his resentment of his mother.

Among the most revealing incidents of Jason's day is his exchange with old Job, another employee of Earl's, immediately following his ironic boast that "I haven't got much pride" (230). Jason tells Job that the carnival people are taking money out of the community. "I don't begridge um," old Job responds.

"I kin sho afford my two bits."

"Two bits hell," I says. "That dont begin it. How about the dime or fifteen cents you'll spend for a dam two cent box of candy or something. How about the time you're wasting right now, listening to that band."

"Dat's de troof," he says. "Well, ef I lives twell night hit's gwine to be two bits mo dey takin out of town, dat's sho."

"Then you're a fool," I says.

"Well," he says, "I dont spute dat neither. Ef dat uz a crime, all chain-gangs wouldn't be black." (231)

Job's response here combines several of the best features of Faulkner's humor. Although the exchange begins in Jason's condescending and essentially racist abuse of Job, it ends, surely, as a prime example of "slipping the yoke by changing the joke." When he cheerfully admits his vulnerability to the appeal of the carnival, Job nullifies Jason's criticism, and by alluding to the racist proclivities of the dominant society, Job acts subversively to undercut the position of alleged moral authority from which Jason pretends to speak. Jason, Job implies, may be among the "fools" with whom he himself stands condemned, while Job's rejoinder may remind us that it is Jason who is the true criminal, and a candidate for the chain gang himself. Job's subtle disquisition on Jason's status as a fool becomes much more overt and direct in a later conversation:

"I been tendin to my business," he says. "Mr Earl knows whar I been."

"You may can fool him," I says. "I wont tell on you."

"Den he's de onliest man here I'd try to fool," he says. "Whut I want to waste my time foolin a man whut I dont keer whether I sees him Sat'dy night er not? I wont try to fool you," he says. "You too smart fer me. Yes, suh," he says, looking busy as hell, putting five or six little packages into the wagon. "You's too smart fer me. Aint a man in dis town kin keep up wid you fer smartness. You fools a man whut so smart he cant even keep up wid hisself," he says, getting in the wagon and unwrapping the reins.

"Who's that?" I says.

"Dat's Mr Jason Compson," he says. "Git up dar, Dan!" (250) The joke, then, is on Jason, who is just about the only one who doesn't "get it." Jason begins to harass old Job as a more or less reflex exercise in racism masking as paternalism, as he does elsewhere, though in a meaner, bullying spirit, with Luster. By the end of the exchanges with Job, however, Jason has been definitively rebuked.

Jason, of course, is by no means the only character in Faulkner's fiction who gets his come-uppance from an African American who "slips the yoke by changing the joke." In Faulkner's last novel, The Reivers, Ned McCaslin, as Walter Taylor has ably argued, sustains a lengthy and elaborate set of jokes on the whites who presume to be his superiors. Citing characters such as Simon Strother in Flags in the Dust, Ringo in The Unvanquished, and Lucas Beauchamp in Go Down, Moses, Taylor contends that Faulkner makes "the masking joker a focal point" of The Reivers (113). Taylor doubts that Faulkner was aware of Ellison's formula but, from the Faulknerian jokers who precede Ellison's essay, it is clear that Faulkner was drawing previously and independently on the tradition described by Ellison. In fact, this African American response, whether joking or challenging, to white oppression occurs many times among Faulkner's texts. In "Centaur in Brass," for example, Tom-Tom and Turl, having discovered that Flem Snopes has set them against each other, choose instead to collaborate and thus trick the white trickster who has stereotypically assumed his own superiority and their ignorance in his scheme to steal brass from the power plant where he is superintendent and they are firemen. Tom-Tom and Turl put the stolen brass, four wagon loads full, in the Jefferson water tower.

"'Why didn't you find it?' Mr. Snopes said.

"Turl didn't look away, this time. "'Because it ain't no brass there. That's the main reason.'

"'How do you know there ain't?' Mr. Snopes says.

"And Turl looked him straight in them eyes. 'Because Tom-Tom say it ain't,' Turl says.

"Maybe he ought to knew then. But a man will go to any length to fool himself; he will tell himself stuff and believe it that he would be downright mad with a fellow he had done trimmed for believing it. So now he sends for Tom-Tom.

"'I ain't got no brass,' Tom-Tom says.

"'Where is it, then?'

"'It's where you said you wanted it.'

"'Where I said I wanted it when?'

"'When you took them whistle valves off the boilers,' Tom-Tom says."

(CS 166-67)

The brass is in the water tower, useless to Flem, who resigns from the power plant superintendency and lives in his little house on a back street, "contemplating his monument" (168).

Faulkner rang myriad changes on this method by which African Americans could "slip the yoke." In addition to Simon Strother, Ringo in The Unvanquished, Tomey's Turl and Lucas Beauchamp in Go Down, Moses, and Ned in The Reivers, we think of such characters as Ash in "A Bear Hunt" and the wronged husband in "A Justice." But this was not a simple trick, repeated without changes. Ash, for example, slips the yoke on Lucius Provine, with help from the Yoknapatawpha Chickasaws: "I jest dodged him," Ash tells Ratliff, "and got dar first en told um he was a new revenue agent coming up dar tonight, but dat he warn't much en dat all dey had to do was to give um a good skeer en likely he would go away. En dey did en he did" (CS 78). In "A Justice," Craw-ford and Herman Basket, on instructions from Ikkemotubbe, build a fence to keep out Craw-ford, who has fathered a child on the African American wife. When the wife has another child, the wronged husband "flew back over the fence again and went into the cabin and came back. Herman Basket said that he was carrying a new man and that he held the new man up so they could see it above the fence. 'What do you think about this for color?' he said" (CS 359). Faulkner also shows black servants such as Jubal in "Mountain Victory," Elnora in "There Was a Queen," and the groom in "Fox Hunt" "slipping the yoke" by claiming hegemony with their upper-class employers, setting themselves above whites they consider beneath them. "Trash," says Elnora of Narcissa in "There Was a Queen," "town trash" (CS 729). In Intruder in the Dust, Lucas Beauchamp ceases to play the fool, ceases to make jokes, and slips the yoke of racist oppression by demanding that he be treated with dignity and respect. Even Ned McCaslin, the consummate and successful trickster, at one point abandons his mask of joking servility, objecting to the racist condescension of the white constable.

"There's somewhere you stops," Ned says. The constable became completely motionless, half turned.

"What did you say?" he said.

"There's somewhere the Law stops and just people starts," Ned said. (R 243)

To be sure, not all of the examples cited here are jokes; not all African American characters use humor to create for themselves the brief space of safety, dignity, comfort, or pleasure that they must struggle to achieve. In many of these cases, the humor of the situation is Faulkner's, and the reader's, rather than the characters'. Similarly, a few of the women are capable of making jokes to taunt their oppressors; the Memphis prostitute-come-to-Jefferson in "Uncle Willy"; Reba Rivers in Sanctuary, whose high-spirited introduction of herself to Temple Drake ranks with any of Mike Fink's "brags"; and Miss Sophonsiba, who flirtatiously banters with Buck McCaslin in the "Was" section of Go Down, Moses, demonstrate the range of possibilities. But more women characters appear grim and humorless in their battles with men, while the humor remains evident in the situation. Miss Mannie Hait in "Mule in the Yard" springs "immediately, as if by pure reflex, as though in invulnerable compact of female with female against a world of mule and man" (CS 251), but the humor inheres in the narrative voice: "To the cow the fog-born mule doubtless looked taller and more incredibly sudden than a giraffe even" (250-51). "Then for an instant its progress assumed the appearance and trappings of an apotheosis: hell-born and hell-returning, in the act of dissolving completely into the fog, it seemed to rise vanishing into a sunless and dimensionless medium borne upon and enclosed by small winged goblins" (251). It remains for old Het to articulate the comic denouement: "de mule burnt de house en you shot de mule. Dat's whut I calls justice" (264).

Native Americans who joke with and about their alleged superiors include not only the unnamed Chickasaws in "A Bear Hunt" but also those in "Lo!", Faulkner's seldom-discussed short story in which Francis (or Frank) Weddel (or Vidal) lays successful siege to an American President bearing strong resemblance to Andrew Jackson. In seeking to establish the Chickasaws' rights to a disputed river crossing in their territory, Weddel/Vidal, "the bland, obese mongrel despot and patriarch" (CS 393), performs the role of the masking joker to perfection. The masking extends to include elaborate and bizarre costuming, the interlopers wearing "beaver hats and new frock coats" but without collars or waistcoats, and no trousers, shoes, or socks (382). Weddel/Vidal's addresses to the President are couched in deference and obsequy. If his nephew has murdered a white man at the ford, he maintains, "then this nephew of mine should be punished. We do not think that it is right to slay white men like a confounded Cherokee or Creek." "Weddel or Vidal," he continues. "What does it matter by what name the White Chief calls us? We are but Indians: remembered yesterday and forgotten tomorrow." "We are," he concludes, "only Indians; doubtless these busy white men have but little time for our small affairs" (395-96, 396, 397). Eventually, Weddel/Vidal enjoys his triumph over the President, who exonerates the nephew and upholds the claim to the ford in a formal ceremony in the Capitol, with cannon, "law Latin," and Petrarch's sonnets thrown in for good measure (399). In the end, Weddel/Vidal writes from Mississippi to report that his nephew has apparently murdered yet another white man who has claimed the ford, "so now there is nothing for me to do save to bestir old bones and bring this rash boy to you for you to reprimand him" (402). The President, in a burst of legal power, cedes the right to the ford in perpetuity, with the stipulation that the Chickasaws stay on the western side of the river, and then, in a burst of military power, dispatches troops to enforce this version of the Removal.

Another trickster who outwits those who pay him is Ginsfarb in "Death Drag," a daredevil stunt man who appears with a group of barnstormers. Faulkner's depiction of Ginsfarb both presents and subverts a number of Jewish stereotypes, principally those of avarice and deceit. Ginsfarb rebels at having to perform his "death drag" stunt for considerably less than the hundred dollars he had demanded. When he learns that his fee is to be only sixty dollars, Ginsfarb refuses to switch back to the moving car, and plunges instead, miraculously unhurt, into a barn with a rotting roof. After this incident, a far more risky action than any of the advertised stunts, Captain Warren and others make up the difference between what Ginsfarb had expected and what had been raised. Satisfied now, Ginsfarb offers to complete the death drag stunt, but Captain Warren insists that the barnstormers leave immediately. Ginsfarb makes a point of his willingness to perform the stunt now. "I got witnesses I offered to swap" (CS204). The conclusion of the story humorously undercuts this apparently scrupulous gesture, when Ginsfarb tells a local boy to return the car to its owner, without paying the agreed-upon rental fee. Ginsfarb thus conducts himself simultaneously as a principled man of business and as a lying trickster. While he succeeds in gaining his desired fee for the stunt that he finally doesn't have to perform, he has also performed, gratis, a possibly fatal maneuver. Ginsfarb's "Jewish" character provides some stereotypical humor, but his behavior also shows him to be a man determined to receive from his employers the respect and emolument he believes are his due.

Among members of an inferior social class, poor whites and servants are also adept at the use of humor to escape, at least temporarily, the conditions of their oppression. The poor whites in "Fox Hunt" are contemptuous of the elaborate rituals and equipage of Harrison Blair's gentrified fox hunt:
 Wonder how a man rich as folks says he is ... is got time to hate
 one little old fox bitch like that. Don't even want the dogs to
 catch it. Trying to outride the dogs so he can kill it with a stick
 like it was a snake. Coming all the way down here every year,
 bringing all them folks and boarding and sleeping them, to run one
 little old mangy fox that I could catch in one night with a axe and
 a possum dog. (CS590)

The principal "humorist" of "Fox Hunt," however, is Harrison Blair's servant Ernie, "the valet, secretary, whatever he might have been" (599), who seeks to achieve a kind of masculine parity with or superiority to his employer. He does so, after a fashion, by undertaking an elaborate, cruel, mean-spirited, and offensive practical joke, of which Mrs. Blair is the unwitting victim, though Ernie aims to trick Blair himself and succeeds. He tricks Blair into believing that Steve Gawtrey, who will "eat your grub and drink your liquor and fool your women and let you say when" (600), owns a magnificent horse that he might sell to Blair, though Gawtrey owns no such horse. In his effort to persuade Gawtrey to sell him the horse, Blair makes Gawtrey a frequent guest, and thus throws Gawtrey together with Mrs. Blair. When Ernie suggests that Blair let his wife "do the talking" (601), he and Blair barely avoid a violent confrontation. Ernie continues to practice his ruse and, on the morning of the story, Gawtrey and Mrs. Blair consummate their relationship. The irony here is that Ernie is unaware of his triumph over his employer, and neither Blair, Mrs. Blair, nor Gawtrey know how they have been manipulated. Thus, Ernie's joke succeeds in a very limited fashion, and at the pathetic expense of Mrs. Blair; it is not a joke that either its victims or its immediate audience can comprehend, but it shows the lengths to which men like Ernie will go to escape the tyranny of their employers.

Jason Compson's tyranny, of course, is manifest in his formidable behavior towards everyone from his immediate family and servants to total strangers. His narrative, we may conclude, provides ubiquitous examples of his self-ignorance, his hypocrisy, his meanness, his bullying--all of which leave him, in the end, the most thoroughly and multiply tricked of all of Faulkner's tricksters. He hypocritically condemns his sister Caddy for earning money through prostitution, and he loudly condemns his niece Quentin's promiscuous behavior, but he keeps a prostitute of his own in Memphis and shows no qualms about embezzling Caddy's earnings from Quentin. All these contradictions are bound up in the same double standard that allows him to condemn in the Compson women what he condones in himself: "I've got every respect for a good honest whore because with Mother's health and the position I try to uphold to have her with no more respect for what I try to do for her than to make her name and my name and my Mother's name a byword in the town" (233).

Some of the greatest frustrations and reversals for Jason originate with his niece, Miss Quentin, herself perhaps the most obvious, frequent, and pathetic victim of Jason's tricks. Early in the section Jason upbraids Quentin for her truancy from school--"I want to know what you mean, playing out of school and telling your grandmother lies and forging her name on your report and worrying her sick" (184)--and her apparent promiscuity: "'Everybody in this town knows what you are. But I wont have it anymore, you hear? I dont care what you do, myself,' I says. 'But I've got a position in this town, and I'm not going to have any member of my family going on like a nigger wench. You hear me?'" (189). In spite of Jason's threats of violence, by that afternoon Quentin is once again "playing out of school" and secretly escaping Jefferson with a young man from the carnival. Jason follows the pair, attempting to surprise them, but after he crosses a muddy plowed field, tramps through unfamiliar woods and across ditches with weak legs, an exploding headache, the sun in his eyes, and a threat from a dog, Jason experiences a moment that is, for some readers, among the most satisfying in all of American literature:
 I had gotten beggar lice and twigs and stuff all over me, inside my
 clothes and shoes and all, and then I happened to look around and I
 had my hand fight on a bunch of poison oak. The only thing I
 couldn't understand was why it was just poison oak and not a snake
 or something. So I didn't even bother to move it. I just stood
 there until the dog went away. Then I went on. (241)

In this episode, Quentin and her companion discover Jason's spying and disable his car by letting the air out of one of his tires. They escape, taunting him by blowing their car horn repeatedly.

Jason's ultimate reversal, the consummate tricking of this criminal trickster, occurs in the final section of the novel when he learns that Quentin has made off with the money that he has been embezzling from her. Jason bitterly articulates the irony of his situation:

"What do you aim to do with that girl, if you catch them?" [the sheriff asks].

"Nothing," Jason said. "Not anything. I wouldn't lay my hand on her. The bitch that cost me a job, the one chance I ever had to get ahead, that killed my father and is shortening my mother's life every day and made my name a laughing stock in the town. I wont do anything to her," he said. "Not anything." (304)

And the impersonal narrator reinforces the irony and the source of Jason's rage in similar terms:
 then he thought of the money again, and that he had been outwitted
 by a woman, a girl. If he could just believe it was the man who had
 robbed him. But to have been robbed of that which was to have
 compensated him for the lost job, which he had acquired through so
 much effort and risk, by the very symbol of the lost job itself,
 and worst of all, by a bitch of a girl. (307)

Concluding his remarks at Stockholm, Faulkner distinguished between the poet's or writer's duty to write about the things that "lift the heart" and the poet's, writer's "privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past" (ESPL 120). Faulkner knew and believed, and practiced the belief, that humor was one of the means to lift our hearts. Humor, for Faulkner, stood among and inextricable from the other verities of which he spoke. The humorous voice among the voices of his fiction is not merely the record of human folly in Yoknapatawpha and beyond; it is among the props and pillars that helped Faulkner and his characters to endure and prevail. It was one of his greatest gifts, and it remains among his greatest gifts to us.

Works Cited

Arthos, John. "Ritual and Humor in the Writing of William Faulkner." Accent 9 (1948): 17-30.

Bergson, Henri. "Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic." 1900. Rpt. in Comedy. Ed. Wylie Sypher. Garden City: Doubleday, 1956. 61-190.

Blair, Walter, and Hamlin Hill. America's Humor: From Poor Richard to Doonesbury. New York: Oxford UP, 1978.

Bungert, Hans. "Faulkner's Humor: A European View." Fowler and Abadie 136-51.

Campbell, Harry Modean, and Ruel E. Foster. "Humor." Wilham Faulkner: A Critical Appraisal. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1951. 94-113.

Carothers, James B. "Faulkner's Short Stories: 'And Now What's to Do?'" New Directions in Faulkner Studies." Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1983. Ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1984. 202-27.

Collins, Carvel. "Faulkner and Certain Earlier Southern Fiction." College English 16.2 (1954): 92-97.

Cowley, Malcolm. "Introduction." The Portable Faulkner. Rev. and Expanded Edition. Ed. Malcolm Cowley. New York: Viking, 1946: vii-xxxiii.

--. "William Faulkner's Human Comedy." New York Times Book Review 29 Oct. 1944: 4.

Dabney, Lewis B. "'Was': Faulkner's Classic Comedy of the Frontier." Southern Review 8.4 (1972): 736-48.

Davis, Thadious M. Games of Property." Law, Race, Gender, and Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. Durham: Duke UP, 2003.

Eby, Cecil D. "Faulkner and the Southwestern Humorists." Shenandoah 11.1 (1959): 13-21.

Ellison, Ralph. "Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke." 1948. Shadow and Act. New York: Random House, 1972. 45-59.

Faulkner, William. Collected Stones of William Faulkner. 1950. New York: Vintage, 1977.

--. Conversations with William Faulkner. Ed. M. Thomas Inge. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.

--. Essays, Speeches & Public Letters. 1966. Ed. James B. Meriwether. New York: Modern Library, 2004.

--. Faulkner in the University. 1959. Ed. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1995.

--. "Foreword." Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles. Essays, Speeches & Public Letters 173-75.

--. Go Down, Moses. 1942. New York: Vintage, 1990.

--. The Hamlet. 1940. The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1990.

--. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962. Ed. James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate. New York: Random House, 1968.

--. The Reivers: Reminiscence. New York: Random House, 1962.

--. The Sound and the Fury. 1929. The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1990.

--. The Town. New York: Random House, 1957.

Fowler, Doreen. Faulkner." The Return of the Repressed. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1997.

Fowler, Doreen, and Ann J. Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Humor." Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1984. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986.

Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. 1905. Trans. and ed. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1960.

Hoadley, Frank M. "Folk Humor in the Novels of William Faulkner." Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin 23 (1957): 75-82.

Hobbes, Thomas. "Of the Passions of the Mind." 1640. The Elements of Law Natural and Politic. Trans. and ed. J.C.A. Gaskin. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Chapter IX.

Hoffman, Daniel. Faulkner's Country Matters." Folklore and Fable in Yoknapatawpha. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989.

Hoffmann, Gerhard. "The Comic and the Humoristic, the Satiric and the Grotesque Modes of Representation: Faulkner's Fusion of Perspectives in The Hamlet." Skei 139-63.

Honnighausen, Lothar. "'Pegasusrider and Literary Hack': Portraits of the Artist in Faulkner's Short Fiction ('Carcassonne' and 'Artist at Home')." Skei 275-80.

Inge, M. Thomas. "Faulkner as Humorist." Faulkner, Sut, and Other Southerners. Essays in Literary History. West Cornwall: Locust Hill P, 1992. 3-16.

--. "William Faulkner and George Washington Harris: In the Tradition of Southwestern Humor." Tennessee Studies in Literature 7 (1962): 47-59.

Jacobs, Robert D. "Faulkner's Humor." The Comic Imagination in American Literature. Ed. Louis D. Rubin, Jr. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1973. 305-18.

McHaney, Thomas L. "What Faulkner Learned from the Tall Tale." Fowler and Abadie 110-35.

Mellard, James M. "Lacan and Faulkner: A Post-Freudian Analysis." Fowler and Abadie 195-215.

Plato. Philebus. Trans. R. Hackforth. Plato." The Collected Dialogues. Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1978. 1086-150.

Rourke, Constance. American Humor: A Study of the National Character. New York: Doubleday, 1931.

Skei, Hans, ed. William Faulkner's Short Fiction: An International Symposium. Oslo: Solum Forlag, 1997.

Starke, Aubrey. "An American Comedy: An Introduction to a Bibliography of William Faulkner." Colophon 19 pt. 1 (1934): 1-12.

Tannen, Ricki Stefanie. Female Trickster: Post-Jungian Perspectives on Women and Humour in Popular Culture. London: Routledge, 2007.

Taylor, Walter. "Faulkner's Reivers: How to Change the Joke without Slipping the Yoke." Faulkner and Race: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1986. Ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1987. 111-29.

Warren, Robert Penn. "William Faulkner." New Republic 26 Aug. 1946: 234-37.

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University of Kansas


Independent Scholar

(1) See especially Faulkner's "Foreword" to Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles in 1926: "We have a priceless universal trait, we Americans. That trait is our humor. What a pity it is that it is not more prevalent in our art. This characteristic alone, being national and indigenous, could, by concentrating our emotional forces inward upon themselves, do for us what England's insularity did for the English during the reign of Elizabeth. One trouble with us American artists is that we take our art and ourselves too seriously. And perhaps seeing ourselves in the eyes of our fellow artists, will enable those who have strayed to establish anew a sound contact with the fountainhead of our American life" (ESPL 173-75).

(2) Constance Rourke's pioneering American Humor, for example, does not mention Faulkner, preferring to comment on earlier writers and almost exclusively on those who made humor the principal or exclusive object of their prose. Further, she stipulates that her project is to describe American humor and the American character "without attachment to abstract theory" (244, emphasis added). Bungert rightly implies a distinction between "theory of comedy" and "theory of humor," and we might add that descriptions, analyses, or alleged theories of humor tend to treat the terms humor, comedy, and laughter as more or less interchangeable. Gerhard Hoffmann, writing shortly after Bungert's essay appeared, discussed Faulkner's humor in the context of a range of theories from Aristotle to Lacan in "The Comic and the Humoristic." For a recent extended treatment of the trickster figure, see Tannen.

(3) In 1934, Aubrey Starke began the discussion by stating that Faulkner's comedy derived from both Mark Twain and Balzac. Malcolm Cowley, in "William Faulkner's Human Comedy," noted that Faulkner employed "two of the dominant trends in American literature from the beginning: that of the psychological horror story as developed by Hawthorne, Poe and Stephen Crane, among others; and that of realistic frontier humor, with Mark Twain as its best example" (4). Reviewing Cowley's Portable Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren acknowledged that "the most important strain" of Faulkner's humor derived from the frontier tradition, but he also noted other varieties: a "Dickensian" humor, a subdued humor "sometimes sliding into pathos" in the representation of the dialogue of the black characters, and irony (234). Arthos, Campbell and Foster, Collins, Hoadley, Eby, Wheeler, and Dabney have also noted Faulkner's use of American humorous traditions, culminating in substantial treatments by Inge, Hoffman, McHaney, and Taylor. For Faulkner's early acknowledgment of his debt to Roark Bradford, see LG 11.

(4) See, for example, Faulkner's comment at the University of Virginia: "the books I read are the ones I knew and loved when I was a young man and to which I return as you do to old friends: the Old Testament, Dickens, Conrad, Cervantes--Don Quixote. I read that every year, as some do the Bible. Flaubert, Balzac--he created an intact world of his own, a bloodstream running through twenty books--Dostoevsky, Tolstoi, Shakespeare" (LG 251). Among other examples, see also Faulkner in the University 50. "Life is not interested in good and evil. Don Quixote was constantly choosing between good and evil, but then he was choosing in his dream state. He was mad. He entered reality only when he was so busy trying to cope with people, that he had no rime to distinguish between good and evil" (252-53). Asked by a student to name his favorite Shakespeare plays, Faulkner is reported to have said that although Hamlet is "probably technically the best play," his own preference was for the Henry plays and A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Hal and Falstaff as his favorite characters (Conversations 78). In 1955, Faulkner told Cynthia Grenier, "I like the fact that in Balzac there is an intact world of his own. His people don't just move from page one to page 320 of one book. There is continuity between them all like a blood-stream which flows from page one through to page 20,000 of one book. The same blood, muscle and tissue binds the characters together" (LG 217). Comparing Sherwood Anderson unfavorably with Balzac and Dickens, he remarked, "He probably didn't have a concept of a cosmos in miniature which Balzac and Dickens had, that all he knew was this single man who was humble and ignorant and dreamed better than he was afraid he might ever reach" (FU232). He also commented on Dickens frequently throughout his career, reportedly telling an interviewer at the University of Virginia in 1931, "What is interesting in Dickens is not the way he takes things, but 'those people he wrote about and what they did'" (LG 18), and over twenty-five years later he observed, on the occasion of the publication of The Town, "There's probably no tribe of Snopeses in Mississippi or anywhere else outside of my own apocrypha. They were simply an invention of mine to tell a story of man in his struggle. That I was not trying to say, This is the sort of folks we raise in my part of Mississippi at all. That they were simply over-emphasized, burlesqued if you like, which is what Mr. Dickens spent a lot of his time doing, for a valid to him and to me reason, which was to tell a story in an amusing, dramatic, tragic, or comical way" (FU282).

(5) See, for example, Inge, "Faulkner as Humorist" 8; Watson; and Honnighausen.

(6) For a more general account of reading Faulkner through a Lacanian lens, see Fowler.
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Author:Carothers, James B.; Sheldon, Kimma Jean
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