FATHERLESS CHILDREN AND POST-PATRILINEAL FUTURES IN WILLIAM FAULKNER'S LIGHT IN AUGUST, ABSALOM, ABSALOM! AND GO DOWN, MOSES.
These three novels have in common their fraught examinations of patrilineage as the primary factor determining Southern identities and organizing relationships among Southern subjects. Each novel is deeply and urgently concerned with mixed-race identity and nonpatrilineal forms of filiation. A less obvious point of commonality involves the texts' tendencies to posit, but subsequently retreat from, alternative family configurations. In LA, AA, and GDM, these concerns manifest themselves in child-characters who serve as augurs of discontinuous and dissimilar Southern futures. I will suggest that in these novels imagined children and children not fully articulated as characters--child-figures to whom the reader lacks direct access, who do not speak for themselves, who accumulate layers of speculative and symbolic projection--represent ambivalent and sometimes contradictory incarnations of cultural difference. As overdetermined figures of fantasy, they encode social and textual anxiety about the direction of the postbellum South.
Faulkner originally titled both LA and AA "Dark House," a phrase that connotatively links patrilineage (the house) to race (darkness), and evokes "deeply ingrained familial and cultural structures that contain the seeds of the novels' major crises" (Polk 25). Given these associations, it seems strange that Faulkner did not use "Dark House" as a working title for GDM, as well. (3) In all three novels, mixed-race sons dispute and disrupt white patrilineal authority, troubling the seemingly absolute divisions upon which Southern histories, identities, and social structures rest. LA, AA, and GDM project unanswerable questions about the outcomes of unsettled familial and racial identifications onto fatherless children who threaten to "lead the way" to impossible, virtually unimaginable Southern futures.
The Future of Integration in Light in August
Perhaps no character embodies childhood predestination more fully than Joe Christmas in Light in August (1932); having been persuaded as a child of his unacceptable difference, the adult Joe can find no comfortable places and form no sustaining relationships. (4) Opening his depiction of Joe's childhood with the observation "[m]emory believes before knowing remembers," Faulkner explores the social regulations that warp Joe's self-concept and doom him to a solitary and estranged life (111). The novel places responsibility for Joe's condition squarely with his grandfather, the unhinged Eupheus "Doc" Hines, who, believing Joe's father to be part black, abandons the infant in an orphanage. Unable to allow his grandson to grow up unaware of his status as a mixed-race "pollution in God's own face," Hines remains nearby to ensure Joe lives a life of shame and separation (119). Faulkner traces the origins of Joe's alienation to the relentless gaze of his grandfather "watch[ing] him and hat[ing] him" (119), with the result that the orphanage dietician characterizes him as a "little nigger bastard" (114). (5) In Faulkner's world, as Philip M. Weinstein remarks, "you are who you are by virtue of how you have been called: what calls upon you you have internalized as you" (170). Joe's story suggests that as individuals encounter the cultural norms that determine their places (or lack thereof) in the social order, they take on prescribed identities whose origin they cannot identify, and thus cannot challenge or change.
However, the baby born to Lena Grove late in LA emerges as an imaginative alternative to predetermined models of Southern identity. On the morning Joe is killed, Lena gives birth (in a former slave cabin he recently inhabited) to a son Gail Hightower believes restores "luck and life" to a "barren and ruined" Southern geography (385). Joe's grandmother shares Hightower's equation of the newborn with renewal and second chances, insisting the baby is Joe Christmas: "'It's Joey,' she said. 'It's my Milly's little boy'" (376). This pronouncement connects the roaming Lena Grove to Joe Christmas's deterministic plot in ways that unsettle its inevitability and throw into question the continuity of Southern regulatory norms organized around absolute measures of racial difference.
Mrs Hines's misidentification of Lena's son echoes and extends a larger textual preoccupation with the meaning and function of names and naming. "In one sense," Andre Bleikasten observes, "Light in August is nothing less and nothing more than a hazardous unriddling of names." Faulkner illustrates "the tenuous, arbitrary relation of names to the named" through the unease Joe Christmas's name causes other characters and through the confusion circulating around Lucas Burch, Joe Brown, and Byron Bunch (Bleikasten 333-34). The novel opens with the pregnant Lena searching for Lucas Burch, her child's presumptive father. As she nears Jefferson, people direct her not to Lucas Burch but to Byron Bunch, who, when confronted by Lena, appears confused about his own identity: "I dont recall none named Burch except me," he informs her, "and my name is Bunch" (46). (6) But it quickly becomes clear that Byron is in fact acquainted with Lucas Burch, who he knows as Joe Brown.
Byron Bunch, Joe Brown/Lucas Burch, and Joe Christmas work at the Jefferson planing mill, and the "[t]wo fellows named Joe" are closely associated with each other (48). One observer remarks: "Brown aint going to be far away from where Christmas is at. Like to like, as the old folks say" (39). While both Joes are "stranger[s]" (32) in Jefferson, Joe Christmas's name (like Hines's stare) singles him out as more irremediably strange:
"His name is what?" one said.
"Is he a foreigner?"
"Did you ever hear of a white man named Christmas?" the foreman said.
"I never heard of nobody a-tall named it," the other said. (29)
Joe's name, which, as Byron observes, "is supposed to be just the sound for who he is," conveys its bearer's unquantifiable difference. It seems to constitute an "inescapable warning, like a flower its scent or a rattlesnake its rattle" (29). Of course, the signifier "Joe Christmas" does not originate with Joe himself; children do not select their own names, though Joe does choose to retain his when his foster-father attempts to change it. The name "Joe Christmas," bestowed on him as a joke at the orphanage, marks his strangeness and un-belonging--his lack of place in a social order built around clear, verifiable lines of patrilineage.
The name "nigger," which Joe can neither accept nor deny, is imposed on him first by Doc Hines, then by Joe Brown/Lucas Burch--neither of whom prove particularly reliable. Hines, obsessed with ferreting out "[b]itchery and abomination" (350), sees in the face of Joe's father "the black curse of God Almighty" and insists on his "nigger blood" despite the lack of evidence to support this conclusion (354). Brown/Burch continues to live with Joe Christmas in the abandoned slave cabin and to act as his bootlegging "partner" (48) long after Joe tells him "he was part nigger" (91); he only reveals Joe's secret to deflect suspicion about his own possible involvement in Joanna Burden's murder. The novel's repeated references to Hines's "fanaticism" (325) and to Brown/Burch's fecklessness emphasize the uncertainty of Joe's suspect racial status and reinforce the possibility that the "black curse" he bears is a function of others' fears and insecurities.
Nevertheless, the moment one Joe names the other "nigger," that identification becomes absolute and "inescapable." Byron notes Brown/Burch's confidence in the outcome of his racial outing of Joe:
"Accuse the white man that's trying to help you with what he knows. Accuse the white man and let the nigger go free. Accuse the white and let the nigger run."
"Nigger?" the sheriff said. "Nigger?"
"It's like he knew he had them then. Like nothing they could believe he had done would be as bad as what he could tell that somebody else had done." (91)
In this context, Mrs Hines's misidentification of Lena's baby might seem ominous, given the novel's insistence that individuals' identities and destinies are called into being by others' naming; if Joe Christmas can be called and made "nigger," perhaps Lena's child can be called and made "Joe Christmas."
However, in other contexts, transformations accomplished through misidentification lead to more promising developments. The life-bearing Lena, agent of change and renewal, arrives in Jefferson due to the Burch/Bunch mistake: "When I got close to town," she explains, "they kept a-calling it Bunch instead of Burch. But I just thought they was saying it wrong. Or maybe I just heard it wrong" (45). Byron's relationship with Lena initiates a productive unsettling of his confidence in who he is, culminating in his re-identification of himself as "just the one that calls [himself] Byron Bunch today, now, this minute" (402). Disassociating from the name that marks his place in Jefferson, Byron also disassociates from the discourses that name the unwed Lena a whore and her child a bastard. When he sets out to pursue a new life with them, he enters into an alternative family grouping and set of relationships that constitute the novel's only real source of hope. In LA, even as social naming practices related to race lock Joe Christmas into a fatal identity, the quirks and twists of individuals' mistaken identifications and moments of ambiguous signification introduce porousness and flexibility into what appear to be inescapable mechanisms of cultural predetermination.
This sense of mutability carries into Mrs Hines's misnaming of Lena's baby, which causes the new mother to feel uncertain about her son's identity and to turn to Hightower for clarity:
"[Mrs Hines] keeps on calling him Joey. When his name aint Joey. And she keeps on ..." She watches Hightower. Her eyes are puzzled now, questioning, doubtful. "She keeps on talking about--She is mixed up someway. And sometimes I get mixed up too, listening, having to ..." Her eyes, her words, grope, fumble. (387)
Hightower, however, does not respond to her puzzled, questioning appeal. Neither does he reassure her when she tells him Mrs Hines's "talking about" the newborn "like his pa was that ... the one in jail, that Mr Christmas" causes Lena herself to "think that his pa is that Mr--Mr Christmas too" (387-88). Listening to Mrs Hines's persistent and shifting misnaming--in which the infant mutates from Joe himself to Joe's son--Lena recognizes the potential for "talking" to reshape perception and create new realities, "like they say how you might cross your eyes and then you cant uncross" (388). Her confusion about the identity of her child invites the reader to entertain ambiguous--layered and simultaneous--filial relations. And, in the sense that no one offers a concrete contradiction to the "mixed-up" identifications of the infant as both Joe and Joe's son, both the child and the child's father remain "crossed" with Joe Christmas.
"It is exactly the ambiguity of the filial relationship," Sundquist notes, "that determines the burden of [Joe's] life" and represents "the trauma of the South . . . the threat that an invisible menace will become all too visible" (75). Positioning Lena as Joe's mother/lover and Joe--who may or may not be "part" black--as father/son, the novel projects a filial ambiguity that destabilizes binary racial identifications beyond the violent end of Joe's plot. In his association with Joe, who "never acted like either a nigger or a white man," the newborn encodes the continuation of the threat to the Southern social order seemingly resolved by Joe's lynching (331). The "parchmentcolored [sic]" Joe may be gone (115), but Lena's Joe-child, with his "terracotta face" (385), remains as an embodiment of on-going racial and filial uncertainty. (7)
In LA, the "threat" of miscegenation and its potentially invisible outcomes morph from one textual locale to another. Joe has sexual relations with white women throughout the novel, any one of whom could have borne his child. Joanna Burden mistakes menopause for pregnancy and Joe is castrated to ensure he will "let white women alone, even in hell," but the possibility of a Christmas family line imaginatively rematerializes in Lena's Joe-child (439). Confusion about the baby's identity offers a muted parallel to the confusion about Joe's possible drop of black blood, but also offers the possibility that racial and patrilineal ambiguity need not constitute a "burden" of difference and alienation.
LA ends with the still-unnamed Joe-child "just travelling" with his mother and Byron Bunch, a 1920s holy family drifting free of social surveillance (480). (8) It seems inevitable that with Lena and Byron as parents, this child will come into self-awareness in much different contexts than those that deformed Joe Christmas. Byron appears relatively timid and conventional at the novel's opening, a man who works at the mill on Saturdays to avoid "the chance to be hurt" (395) as well as "the chance to do hurt" (50). But, in love with Lena (44), Byron leaves the safety of his routine and dares societal opprobrium by moving her into his boarding house, then into the abandoned cabin. He steps further outside Jefferson's mores when he asks Hightower to provide Joe Christmas with an alibi for the night of Joanna Burden's murder (369). Casting aside his fear of hurting and being hurt to risk an unsanctioned relationship with Lena, Byron seems prepared to parent a child he did not father. As foster father and Joseph-figure, Byron will offer Lena's child a model of honor and justice tempered by compassion, of forbearance in the face of punitive cultural regulation.
In Lena, the child has a mother who lives outside the "either/or" "social imperative[s]" of Jefferson, with its adherence to "prevalent codes" of gender and racial identification (Bleikasten 326). She is the only character who refers to Joe as "Mr Christmas," never as "nigger," violating cultural expectation that white people not use "the honorific 'mister' . . . to address a black man" (Duvall, "Strange" 113). Closely connected to the natural world and presented as an amalgam of fertility goddess and Virgin Mary, Lena's serene presence offers an alternative to the crushingly rigid values undergirding Southern patriarchy. Lena's tranquility, Abdul-Razzak Al-Barhow proposes, is "strongly suggestive of a new order," an order in which her child might find or create alternate modes of identification (67-68). (9) Traveling an open road rather than the circular "street" traversed by Joe Christmas (321), the infant cannot be interpolated by the dominant social order, called by its names, installed within its predetermined places. Lena's Joe-child materializes as a symbol of unarticulated possibilities for integration, a "hazardous riddle" signifying a Southern future without racial absolutes.
This threat to the South Faulkner knows and understands (for all that he critiques it) might well have prompted his abrupt retreat from the omniscient third-person perspective he employs in the first twenty chapters of LA. The novel's twenty-first and final chapter is narrated by a "furniture repairer and dealer" (468), whose limited first-person viewpoint distances the reader (and Faulkner) from Lena and Byron. This new character perceives Byron's relationship with Lena as shamefully unmanning and attempts to ameliorate what he assumes is Byron's humiliation with his confident prediction that Lena will one day lose her freedom and "[settle] down" (480) within a traditionally ordered family, presumably one headed by Byron. But throughout LA, male outsiders have been consistently wrong about Lena, and the travelling furniture dealer has no inkling that Byron has joined her on the road in full awareness that doing so violates patriarchal codes. In any case, this unconventional family--with its nontraditional male/female, mother/father relations and its over-determined son--does not settle down. As the novel ends, Lena, Byron, and the baby move out of Faulkner's novelistic frame and away from the cultural order that cannot tolerate patrilineal ambiguity.
It is at the margins, Faulkner seems to suggest, that different family formations and differently formulated Southern subjects come into being. Situated outside the governing structures of the mainstream, margins offer space for development of "composite community" groupings in which "borders and dividing lines" are scrambled, where integration rather than separation is the operative principle (Loichot 118). But marginal spaces are also diffuse and transitory, distant and difficult to locate, unaccounted for in dominant discourses of identity and belonging. Because the traveling Joe-child's identity remains "mixed up," a function of cross-eyed confusion and "desperate fantasy" (Sundquist 75), and because he is a stranger, located beyond the purview of larger regulatory systems, the threat he poses to hegemonic ideologies of Southern identity is ephemeral, even phantasmic. LA gestures toward permeable familial and racial borders as the birthplace of alternative Southern futures, but, containing those alternatives within the marginal realm of imagination, also nullifies their potential to affect real change.
The Future of Race in Absalom, Absalom!
In Absalom, Absalom! (1936), published four years after Light in August, similarly imaginative and mixed-up familial associations overshadow child-characters who presage similarly ambiguous Southern futures. Set in 1910 but focused on the Civil War era, AA addresses the disastrous outcomes of Thomas Sutpen's "design," which the novel presents as model and trope for the white patrilineal South. Organized around inflexible categories of class, gender, and race, the design's logic reproduces the mechanisms through which the governing caste controls and polices difference. As the novel's narrators--Rosa Coldfield, Quentin Compson, Quentin's father Jason Compson, and Quentin's Harvard roommate Shreve McCannon--trace the causes and effects of the design's disintegration, they construct contending narratives about Sutpen's mixed-race descendants that propose different potential outcomes of diminished patriarchal control of Southern subjects.
"I had a design," Sutpen famously tells Quentin's grandfather General Compson. "To accomplish it I should require money, a house, a plantation, slaves, a family--incidentally of course, a wife. I set out to acquire these, asking no favor of any man" (329). Sutpen formulates this design as a result of his discovery during his early teens of his abject position in an American South where propertied white men command the lives of other men, black and white. Turned away from the front door of a grand manor house by a "monkey-dressed nigger butler" (288), the young Sutpen recognizes his placelessness in a locale "all divided and fixed and neat with a people living on it all divided and fixed and neat because of what color their skins happened to be and what they happened to own" (276). Because Sutpen's father owns nothing, the color of his skin affords him no real status or belonging. Poor white Southerners, Valerie Loichot notes, are aligned "with the oppressor by their color but by their class with the oppressed," and therefore appear as "neither-nor entities stretched between categories, rejected and perceived as inferior both by the white plantocracy and by the oppressed" slave class (127).
In combination with his poverty, Sutpen's whiteness invites the contempt of the "nigger butler" he perceives as a symbol of the privilege he lacks. It also invites the contempt of the master of the plantation, who, Sutpen suspects, sees his family "as cattle, creatures heavy and without grace, brutely evacuated into a world without hope or purpose for them, who would in turn spawn with brutish and vicious prolixity" (293). Refusing this predetermined future, Sutpen sets out to resituate himself in the Southern social order. Picturing himself at the head of a new, privileged Sutpen line, with "fine grandsons and great-grandsons springing as far as the eye could reach" (339), he anticipates engendering a different sort of future for "the amazed and desperate" child rejected at the front door of that Virginia manor (326).
Forty years later, the design seems to have come fully to fruition. Sutpen reigns with "baronial splendor" (45) over a hundred miles of Mississippi countryside. He owns "lock stock and barrel" "every stick and blade and hoof and heel" on his domain and has sired a son, Henry, to perpetuate his name and position (453). Sutpen's unbending and single-minded adherence to his design, however, has necessitated his rejection of his firstborn son, Charles Bon, whose mother might have been "part negro" (443). To accept this son, Sutpen informs General Compson (without explaining why), would constitute "a mockery and a betrayal of that little boy who approached that door fifty years ago and was turned away, for whose vindication the whole plan was conceived" (342). This denial of Bon, who appears at his own front door in 1859, leads to the loss of his imaginary grandsons, when Henry (their future father) disappears after killing Bon to prevent his marriage to their sister Judith.
His heir gone and Sutpen's Hundred reduced to "Sutpen's One" (210) by the Civil War, Sutpen resolves to start over, a project his sister-in-law Rosa Coldfield characterizes as "fierce vain illusion" (202). Swept into his "undertaking to restore his house and plantation as near as possible to what it had been" (200), together with Judith (Sutpen's daughter by Rosa's sister Ellen) and Clytemnestra (his daughter by an unidentified slave woman), the three become a "triumvirate mother-woman" that fulfills Sutpen's needs and receives "his gruff unspoken man's gratitude for the spartan ease [they] supplied, not to his comfort perhaps but at least to the mad dream he lived in" (202, 206). In her account of Sutpen's postwar efforts to reclaim "the arbitrary square of earth which he had named Sutpen's Hundred" (200), Rosa describes his plan to rebuild his domain and reestablish his patrilineage as "the bombast of a madman who creates within his very coffin walls his fabulous immeasurable Camelots and Carcassonnes" (199). Holding that the triumvirate mother-woman "shields and guards the antic fury of an insane child," Rosa recasts as irrational and delusory Sutpen's desire to reinstate familial and social orders organized around patrilineal privilege (202).
Rosa further challenges the validity of the design by pointing to its failure to limit and control familial relations. She tells Quentin that with Sutpen away at war, she and his daughters live "not as two white women and a negress, not as three negroes or three whites, not even as three women, but merely as three creatures .. . in whom sex was some forgotten atrophy like the rudimentary gills we call the tonsils or the still-opposable thumbs for old climbing" (193). In their wartime experience, sex and race--the fundamental criteria establishing Southern identities--become unnecessary and irrelevant, even flexible and transferable. Moving beyond the design's caste distinctions, the three women--white and black, slave and free--merge into "one being, interchangeable and indiscriminate" (194). Absent patriarchal enforcement, the design's delineations of difference and belonging cease to play a discernable role in their relations, and, left to their own devices, Clytie, Judith, and Rosa cross seemingly inviolable lines distinguishing raced Southern subjects.
The dissolution of Sutpen's order closely mirrors the future without caste dreaded by white men in the postwar South; not surprisingly, disquiet about designless Southern futures imbues the Sutpen story told by Mr Compson and retold by Quentin and Shreve. The Compson men seem fixated on the postbellum family constructed by Sutpen's daughters when, after his death, they welcome his mixed-blood descendants into his home. Choosing to become white and black co-mothers to Bon's son, Charles Etienne de Saint Valery Bon, Clytie and Judith recreate family in ways that render traditional models of patrilineage largely irrelevant.10 In response, the male narrators weave fantastical and anxiety-ridden plots around Charles Bon's son and grandson, at least in part to foreclose the kind of possibilities Rosa hints at in her story.
As Quentin and his father attempt to situate Charles Etienne in relation to white and black Sutpen women, they speculate about the internal dynamics of a racially mixed Southern family about which very little definitive information exists. They know for certain that Clytie traveled to New Orleans to retrieve the twelve-year-old Charles Etienne after the death of his "octoroon" mother (241), and that Judith ordered a gravestone for the child before she could be sure Clytie would return with him.11 Clytie brings Charles Etienne to live in his grandfather's house, where he grows to adulthood. After he is arrested for fighting at "a negro ball" (253), he leaves Jefferson for a time, marries a black woman, fathers a child, and then returns with his family to live on Sutpen's Hundred. Charles Etienne contracts yellow fever at the age of twenty-five, and Judith dies nursing him; he follows shortly thereafter. In 1884, both are buried in the Sutpen family cemetery where Judith buried Bon nineteen years prior. Clytie cares for Charles Etienne's son Jim Bond until 1909, when she sets her father's house on fire, killing herself and her brother Henry, who had returned home "to die" (464). In the narrative present, only one Sutpen descendant remains--Jim Bond, an "idiot boy lurk[ing]" and "howl[ing]" in the ruins of his great-grandfather's domain (469).
No members of the postbellum Sutpen family discuss its inner workings with General Compson, Sutpen's contemporary and source of most of Mr Compson's information. While repeatedly pointing to all that his father "did not know" and "could not say," Mr Compson nevertheless fills multiple and significant factual gaps with intricate imaginative detail. He focuses his account of postwar Sutpen family history on Charles Etienne, whose drop of black blood makes him a figure of ambiguity and conflict, and, for Mr Compson, a symbol of the painful confusion associated with indistinct racial parameters.
Mr Compson imaginatively inserts himself into Charles Etienne's journey from New Orleans to Mississippi, describing a "helpless and passive" (246) child "driven and herded by [Clytie's] stern implacable presence" (247) to his new home on Sutpen's Hundred. A figure devoid of agency or desire, Mr Compson's Charles Etienne submits while Clytie cares for him with a "curious blend of savageness and pity, of yearning and hatred," scrubbing him "with repressed fury as if she were trying to wash the smooth faint olive tinge from his skin as you might watch a child scrubbing at a wall long after the epithet, the chalked insult, has been obliterated" (248). His Charles Etienne also endures Judith's "cold unbending detached gentleness," which, Mr Compson claims, he finds "more discouraging" than Clytie's "fierce ruthless constant guardianship" (247). Judith's "every look and action" and "every touch of [her] capable hands," Mr Compson maintains, is "imbued with cold implacable antipathy" (247-48). Leaving unexplored the source of the "antipathy" and "fury" he attributes to Judith and Clytie, Mr Compson assumes the women's acquiescence to social norms that, according to Rosa (the only living witness), they have consistently resisted.
Charles Etienne's complete silence leaves the reader with no way to discern if he did indeed respond with "aghast fatalistic terror" (244) to Clytie's grimness or with dismay to "the impenetrable mask" Judith "used for a face" (252). Beyond the bare fact of his presence in Sutpen's house, the Compson men can offer few certainties. It does appear that the women attempt to shield or to hide their secret nephew from social scrutiny; it is "well known with what grim and unflagging alertness [Clytie] discovered and interrupted any attempt" outsiders make to speak with Charles Etienne (252). Less certain, however, is Mr Compson's claim that Charles Etienne sleeps on a "trundle bed" beside Judith's larger bed, while Clytie "with a sort of invincible spurious humility slept on a pallet on the floor, the child lying there between them unasleep in some hiatus of passive and hopeless despair" (247). Mr Compson could have no specific knowledge of the family's sleeping arrangements or, for that matter, about the tone and tenor of their daily interactions, as AA does not depict General Compson entering their household during those years. Even if General Compson was a regular visitor--which the novel does not suggest--he would have been received in the "dim shrouded parlor" in which he tells Judith that Charles Etienne has left Jefferson (256), certainly not in a bedroom. And it is hard to picture the "impenetrable" Judith and "implacable" Clytie volunteering such information.
The Compson men's speculative peeping into Judith's bedroom, accompanied by unfounded claims to knowledge about arrangements of bodies in beds, suggests the room's function as a nexus of anxiety about nonpatrilineal family structures. On the one hand, the trundle-bed configuration observes hegemonic status positions by preserving racial gradients on a hierarchical scale of most to least white:
Charles Etienne de Saint Valery Bon
On the other hand, the familial grouping of these differently-raced subjects in a single room subverts the separations that uphold racial hierarchy; the privacy of their shared bedroom offers opportunities for disruption of the rigid racial divisions upholding Southern social orders.
Notably, Rosa raises just such a possibility in the version of the Sutpen story she conveys to Quentin. As children, she reports, Clytie and Judith "slept together, in the same room but with Judith in the bed and [Clytie] on a pallet on the floor ostensibly. But ... on more than one occasion Ellen ... found them both on the pallet, and once in the bed together" (174). Judith and Clytie's palpable sisterhood--evident in their white and "coffee colored" "Sutpen faces" (169, 33)--and the antebellum border crossings that occur in their simultaneous occupation of pallet or bed defy the dogma shaping their father's "fixed and neat" domain. Rosa also tells Quentin that with Sutpen away at war, she, Clytie, and Judith slept "in the same room" (195). While she does not mention the location of beds and pallets in the space the women shared as "one being, interchangeable and indiscriminate" (194), her descriptions of rooms occupied by Sutpen's daughters controvert the hierarchical postbellum bedroom envisioned by Mr Compson.
Nevertheless, the male narrators make Judith's imagined bedroom the site of an equally imaginary "ceremony or covert catechism of identity" (Locke 12) presided over by Mr Compson, in which Charles Etienne comes to understand his place between Judith and Clytie as a function of racial rather than familial relationship. According to Mr Compson, Charles Etienne feels Judith and Clytie
thinking about him, projecting about him and filling the thunderous solitude of his despair louder than speech could: You are not up here in this bed with me, where through no fault or willing of your own you should be, and you are not down here on this pallet floor with me, where through no fault or willing of your own you must and will be, not through any fault or willing of our own who would not what we cannot just as we will and wait for what must be. (248-49)
Mr Compson's insistence on Charles Etienne's hopeless passivity and Judith and Clytie's acceptance of what "must be," their perception of his drop of black blood as "epithet" and "insult" that cannot be denied or obviated, suggests his need to see traditional racial designations left uncontested. That he also imagines the possibility of both women's unspoken resistance to racial predestination--"who would not what we cannot just as we will and wait for what must be"--betrays his fear of its subversion.
Since this reconstituted Sutpen family and its strange son-figure confront Mr Compson with the question of the form Southern families and futures will take in the absence of patriarchal regulation, his interest in their sleeping arrangements does not end with the trundle bed. (12) He goes on to announce that General Compson "did not know" if Charles Etienne "retired himself from Judiths bedroom or was sent from it, to sleep in the hall (where Clytie had likewise moved her pallet) though not on a pallet like her but on a cot" (249). Mr Compson then pursues Charles Etienne to the attic, where he spends unknown "hours" in "amazed and tearless grief," while Clytie sleeps below, "barring the foot of the stairs, guarding his escape or exit as inexorably as a Spanish duenna" (250). Mr Compson's construction of this nighttime movement around Sutpen's house--with its concern with where people sleep and in what proximity to each other, with who is situated above or below whom--serves as a kind of metaphor for his larger concern with where mixed-blood Southerners belong. Conjuring up Charles Etienne's unsettled and unsuccessful search for a comfortable resting place, Mr Compson imposes on the unknowable child the reassuring trope of the tragic mulatto, affirming irremediable alienation as the result of racial border crossing. (13)
Perhaps because certainties about the postbellum Sutpen family are so scant, Mr Compsons attempts to fit Judith, Clytie, and Charles Etienne into dominant racial categorizations are frequently contradictory and occasionally incoherent. For example, he tells Quentin his own father "did not know ... just which of them [Judith or Clytie] it was who told [Charles Etienne] that he was, must be, a negro, who could neither have heard yet nor recognized the term 'nigger'" (249), only to go on to assert "it was neither of them" (251). He follows his statement that Judith did not permit Charles Etienne "to pass himself for a foreigner" with the claim that she "certainly would not have driven him to consort with negroes" (251). Mr Compson then implies Judith does drive Charles Etienne "to consort with negroes"; in his story, Judiths enforcement of the one-drop rule stipulating he "must be" a "negro" appears to provoke Charles Etienne's Joe Christmas-like forays into the black community and his marriage to "a coal black" woman (257) Mr Compson describes with perplexed revulsion. While AA is clear that Charles Etienne could pass as a white man--in fact, General Compson advises him to live "among strangers" where he could "be whatever" he desires (255)14--he nevertheless comes back to Jefferson with his black wife and son to live on Sutpens Hundred. This choice would seem to contradict Mr Compsons implication that Charles Etienne resents Judith and Clytie for forcing him into the impossible position of a white-appearing black man.
Quentin's imaginative reconstruction of a confrontation between Judith and Charles Etienne upon his return to Sutpens Hundred picks up on this dissonant aspect of his fathers story. Wondering "what moral restoration she might have contemplated in the privacy of that house... what hurdling of iron old traditions since she had seen almost everything else she had learned to call stable vanish like straws in a gale" (260), Quentin attributes rejection of racial absolutes to Judith. His Judith explicitly renounces racial hierarchy as a construct of the past: "I was wrong'" he imagines her explaining. "I believed that there were things which still mattered just because they had mattered once'" Quentin pushes Judiths "moral restoration" even further when he imagines her first offering to raise Charles Etiennes son while he passes in the North (260-61), then proposing to present Charles Etienne to the world as "Henry's son" (261).
This brief installation of Charles Etienne as Henry Sutpens son is the last, and most provocative, in a series of speculative substitutions circulating around his parentage. When the "town and country" first see the "strange little boy" living in Sutpens house, they assume he is Judith's son; they think they "knew why Henry had shot Bon ... believing now that it had been a widow who had buried Bon even though she had no paper to show for it" (251-52). General Compson, however, initially suspects the "child might be Clytie's, got by its father on the body of his own daughter" (252). While these potential fathers offer increasing degrees of scandal, they also fit within the Southern logic of patriarchal ownership in which the purity of white sisters and black daughters carry much different cultural values. But Quentin's speculative positioning of Charles Etienne as Henry Sutpen's son pulls unthinkable mutations of relation and filiation into the gaps of his father's tragic mulatto story. The idea of the part-black, "womanish" (250) Charles Etienne as Henry's son reinstates unacceptable difference in the place of the patrilineal design by raising a crucial question: What sexual relationship of Henry's could have produced him?
Mr Compson's earlier descriptions of Charles Bon and Henry Sutpen's intense friendship and of Bon's role as Judith's fiance attribute the primary love relationship not to Bon and his "absolutely impenetrable" (157) half-sister, but to Bon and his adoring half-brother. "Henry loved Bon," Mr Compson insists, "repudiat[ing] blood birthright and material security for his sake" (110), and Bon, he tells his son,
could not have wanted Judith without Henry since he must never have doubted but what he could marry Judith when he wished ... because ... it was not Judith who was the object of Bon's love or of Henry's solicitude. She was just the blank shape, the empty vessel in which each of them strove to preserve, not the illusion of himself nor his illusion of the other but what each conceived the other to believe him to be--the man and the youth, seducer and seduced, who had known one another, seduced and been seduced, victimized in turn each by the other, conquerer vanquished by his own strength, vanquished conquering by his own weakness, before Judith came into their joint lives even by so much as girlname. (148)
Mr Compson's narrative of seduction and conquest draws homosocial union dangerously close to homosexual union, and the male narrators' reconstructions of the Sutpen story strongly suggest they believe Henry's most central and sustaining bond is with Bon, that Bon is the person Henry most loves. Using Judith's voice to install Charles Etienne as Henry's son, Quentin does indeed make her the "empty vessel" of the Bon-Henry union--she delivers Charles Etienne as its phantasmic issue. Further, when his imagined Charles Etienne rejects Judith's offer to "tell them that you are Henry's son" Quentin's Judith continues to pursue this subversive revision of familial interrelation. Quentin's fantasy of Judith cajoling in a "voice soft and swooning, filled with that seduction, that celestial promise which is the female's weapon: 'Call me Aunt Judith, Charles'" (261) indicates his sense of the monstrous yet seductive nature of the family he has her propose. For Quentin, so deeply invested in the Bon-Henry relationship yet fully vested in white Southern ideologies of race, Charles Etienne comes to represent multiple forms of difference, unspeakable affiliations created by incest, homosexuality, and miscegenation. (15) Like Joe Christmas, Charles Etienne functions as a "hazardous riddle" composed at cultural border crossings, a puzzle Faulkner's novel cannot solve.
Also like Joe Christmas, Charles Etienne's death only partially neutralizes the threat he poses to the patrilineal status quo. He remains a cipher at the heart of the design, and AA ends with renewed speculation about his "saddle-colored" son Jim Bond, described as an "idiot negro" and "nigger Sutpen" (268, 471). Having noted that if Bond was asked "if he was Charles Bon's son he not only would not have known ... he wouldn't have cared" (269), Shreve envisions Bond as the metaphorical father of a postpatrilineal future. This fatherless Bond presages racial consolidation, a world without "fixed and neat" identities. As "the Jim Bonds ... conquer the western hemisphere," Shreve declares, "they will bleach out ... But it will still be Jim Bond; and so in a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings" (471). Standing Sutpen-like at the head of a new world dynasty, Shreve's Bond emblemizes not just a postpatrilineal future, but a postracial future of universal African heritage. (16) Shreve's odd phrasing--"I who regard you" seems strange, given that neither Shreve nor Quentin will "regard" anyone "in a few thousand years"--reflects the alienation of white men considering a future produced by the loss of race and patrilineage as fundamental certainties generating quantifiable identities, orderly family lines, and stable social orders.
For the present, Jim Bond and his unrelenting howl remain in Sutpen's place, indefinable and uncontainable. "Of course you cant catch him," Shreve remarks to Quentin. "And you dont even always see him and you never will be able to use him. But you've got him there still. You still hear him at night sometimes" (471). Bond's elusiveness and abject status as an "idiot negro" might seem to defuse or at least defer to "a few thousand years" the future he represents, but the narrators' in-depth and detailed attention to the lives of the racially-indeterminate Bon and Charles Etienne demonstrate their anxious awareness that the point at which they will be unable to discern the race of those who "regard" them has already arrived. Nevertheless, the novel (rather flippantly, given what is at stake) avows that the male narrators' "inventions]," the scenes they "recreate," are "probably true enough" (419). Clinging to their truths, the narrators, like Sutpen, endeavor to "hold clear and free above a maelstrom of unpredictable and unreasoning human beings" (343) and to resist the currents of time and change their imagined Sutpen sons represent.
The Future of Family in Go Down, Moses
Faulkner's ambivalent engagement with potentially discontinuous Southern futures continues in Go Down, Moses (1942), published six years after Absalom, Absalom! and ten years after Light in August. The interconnected stories that compose the novel follow the descendants of Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin (old Carothers), founding patriarch of three families--the white McCaslin, white Edmonds, and black Beauchamp lines. In its conflicted exploration of intertwined networks of mixed-race kinship, GDM posits racially mixed filial relations as both outcome of and potential alternative to white patrilineal privilege.
Like AA, GDM positions a white patriarch as representative of Southern history and exposes the underside of that history by exploring the lives of his black and white children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. "The Bear," the longest and most complex story in the novel, "expresses the South's and Faulkner's lingering obsession with the legitimizing power of paternal blood" (Sundquist 135). The story scrutinizes the struggles of Isaac (Ike) McCaslin, white grandson and direct male heir of old Carothers, to assert a viable identity in opposition to the patriarch and thus to evade his inheritance of familial sin and guilt.
Against the larger cultural view of Carothers's creation of his plantation as the heroic inception of dynastic patriarchy, Ike views the McCaslin property as a "dark and ravaged fatherland" (298) of violence and exploitation. Where his cousin McCaslin (Cass) Edmonds sees Carothers's plantation as "something ... worthy of bequeathment for his descendants' ease and security and pride and to perpetuate his name and accomplishments" (256), Ike understands his grandfather's "translation" of wilderness into "profit" (254) as violence against the natural order. Not only does Ike reject old Carothers's claim that "the land was his to hold and bequeath," he insists his "grandfather [knew] better," and Carothers's lie, he tells Cass, demonstrates his "contempt for all his get" (25455). Redefining the McCaslin patrimony as a burden comprised "of old Carothers' doomed and fatal blood which in the male derivation seemed to destroy all it touched" (293), Ike rejects predetermined identity as the McCaslin heir.
As "The Bear" tracks Ike's decoding of the convoluted family history recorded in the McCaslin plantation ledgers, it offers prospects for a different kind of family and different Southern futures. The story circulates around Ike's repudiation of his grandfather's plantation and discovery of the unpardonable sins his grandfather committed against his children. The possibility raised by General Compson in AA--that Sutpen fathered a child on Clytie--emerges in its full horror in GDM, with Ike's realization that old Carothers fathered his part-black son Turl on his part-black daughter Tomey/Tomasina. (17) In his family's plantation ledgers, "that chronicle which was a whole land in miniature, which multiplied and compounded was the entire South" (293), Ike discovers that Carothers's rape of his daughter led to the suicide of her mother (a slave named Eunice), to Tomasina's death in childbirth, to Ike's father's ownership of his (more than) half-brother, and to a tangled family tree of silence and denial.
Noting old Carothers's bequest of a thousand dollars to Turl, Ike observes: "I reckon that was cheaper than saying My son to a nigger" (269). GDM follows the reverberations of Carothers's refusal to acknowledge his son through four generations of Ike's cousins, mixed-race descendants of old Carothers rendered invisible by the cultural and legal institutions that entrench white ownership and privilege as the foundations of Southern society. "Was," the first story in GDM, recounts Theophilus (Buck) McCaslin's hunt for Turl, his slave and brother, who has embarked on his bi-annual "escape" to the Beauchamp plantation, where he "hang[s] around Mr. Hubert's girl, Tennie, until someone came and got him" (5). Viewed through the eyes of the nine-year-old Cass, "Tomey's Turl" appears primarily as a familiar player in a familiar game. Cass hears Turl referred to as both Buck's "nigger" (10) and "that damn white half-McCaslin" (6), and also notes that Turl's skin is "supposed to be black" but instead is "not quite white" (29). However, the young Cass does not register the complexities of the relationship between "Uncle Buck" (whose name places him in the male line of descent) and "Tomey's Turl" (whose name obscures his position in the male line as well as his familial relation to Cass and Ike as their uncle). Rather than addressing Turl's dilemmas as slave and "half-McCaslin," the story focuses on the humorous intricacies of the game--Turl's "race" to evade Buck, and Buck's to evade Hubert Beauchamp's marriage-minded sister. This story, situated at the open of GDM and repeated as part of the McCaslin family "chronicle," both establishes and abets the larger cultural refusal to recognize Turl as a McCaslin.
Turl never collects old Carothers's thousand dollars, and he and his sons are never numbered among the McCaslin heirs. With Buck's death, ownership of the McCaslin property shifts to the family of Carothers's white daughter, headed by Ike's older cousin Cass Edmonds. Where "Was" defers explicit acknowledgement of Turl's parentage, "The Fire and the Hearth," the second story (and second longest story) in GDM, more directly confronts the shadow line of part-black McCaslins descended through Turl and his wife Tennie. The story addresses the conflicted and ambivalent position of Turl and Tennies son Lucas Beauchamp as both a direct male descendant of old Carothers and a property-less black tenant on McCaslin land.
Occupants of the plantation, black and white, are well aware of Lucas's "strain not only of white blood ... but of old Carothers McCaslin himself, from whom Lucas was descended not only by a male line but in only two generations" (104). GDM attributes to Lucas a self-contained confidence that appears to result from his simultaneous likeness to and difference from old Carothers. His name, recorded at his death in the McCaslin plantation ledgers as "Lucas Quintus Carothers McCaslin Beauchamp," incorporates his grandfather's middle names and surname, along with "three quarters" of his first name (281). "The Bear" credits Lucas with (somehow) "taking" the name "Lucius" and "changing it, altering it, making it no longer the white man's but his own," and proclaims that Lucas is "by himself composed, himself selfprogenitive and nominate, by himself ancestored, as, for all the old ledgers recorded to the contrary, old Carothers himself was" (281).
Although Lucas resists the ownership and defining authority of his white grandfather, he also understands his identity through Carothers's commanding position as founding patriarch. When Cass Edmonds's son Zack (now owner of the plantation) appropriates Lucas's wife, Lucas invokes his standing as old Carothers's grandson to reclaim her: "I'm a nigger, ... But I'm a man too. I'm more than just a man. The same thing made my pappy that made your grandmaw" (47). Throughout Zack's tenure, Lucas challenges his borrowed authority "with cold and deliberate calculation," referring to him "as Mr Edmonds, never as Mister Zack, as the other negroes did" (104), subtly calling into question his standing as an Edmonds proprietor of McCaslin land.
Zack's son, Roth Edmonds, fares no better. He broods over his reduced position in comparison to Lucas--"descended by a female line and five generations back" (104)--and is forced to "[eat]" the "bitter fruit" of "his heritage" as a "usurper" (114). Roth views Lucas as "more like old Carothers than all the rest of us put together, including old Carothers" (118), and muses that "even a nigger McCaslin is a better man" than the white men descended through the distaff Edmonds line (115). But while Lucas's blood relation to old Carothers affords him a certain intangible status, he lacks tangible means through which to exercise it and knows that "in the world's eye he descended not from McCaslins but from McCaslin slaves" (36). In Ike's assessment, Lucas and other black tenants on the former plantation are "still held in thrall '65 or no," and not even "another hundred years" would "set them completely free" (255). (18)
As a twenty-one-year-old disavowing his "rightful" place as owner of this locale, Ike attempts to alter the meanings of his blood relationship to old Carothers--his responsibilities as heir "direct and sole and white and still McCaslin even, father to son to son" (299)--by reformulating relations between children and patriarchs. Against categorizations of descendants as secondary, lesser men beholden to the patriarch's legacy and bound to perpetuate its "evil" (259) and "injustice" (261), Ike proposes a model of relationship that transfers accountability and moral agency to sons. God, he suggests to Cass, has a plan for them:
Maybe He knew that Grandfather himself would not serve His purpose because Grandfather was born too soon ... but that Grandfather would have descendants, the right descendants; maybe He had foreseen already the descendants Grandfather would have, maybe He saw already in Grandfather the seed progenitive of the three generations He saw it would take to set at least some of His lowly people free. (259)
Situating himself as the "right descendant" of old Carothers, Ike shifts authority from grandfather to grandson, making himself the origin of a "right" future.
In his designation of himself as representative and agent of the order God intended, Ike offers the first in a succession of unfulfilled possibilities for alteration of Southern social structures. Despite having identified himself as "the seed progenitive of the three generations ... it would take to set at least some of His lowly people free," Ike does not attempt to change the material circumstances of black sharecroppers on McCaslin land or to empower his disenfranchised Beauchamp relatives. He seems to understand the impossibility of curing "the wrong and eradicating] the shame" of old Carothers's sins against land and kin as justification for his disavowal of responsibility for current conditions. "Repudiating] the wrong and shame, at least in principle, and at least the land itself in fact," Ike eschews real agency (351). He does not acknowledge that his "principled" refusal to claim his patrimony in a new kind of way does nothing to "free" black laborers bound "for life" to his family's land (256). His relinquishment frees only himself.
Ike further justifies his refusal of his inheritance on the basis that doing so will benefit "his son" (351), an imagined son not yet born or even conceived. Essentially, he proposes a reversal of Sutpen's project to re-father himself as a master. Instead, Ike attempts to re-father himself by disclaiming the master position. Relinquishing ownership of the McCaslin land and envisioning his repudiation as the initiation of a "right" set of patrilineal identifications, Ike imagines himself as the head of a new McCaslin line. However, the first thing readers learn about the almost eighty-year-old Ike is that he is "uncle to half a county" but "father to no one" (3). And "The Bear" reveals that it is precisely because of his repudiation that his wife refuses to give him "that son [he] talk[s] about" (315). In "saving and freeing his son" from the "regret and grief" of old Carothers's patrimony, Ike "lost him" (351).
Late in his life, Ike finds himself faced with another opportunity to ameliorate the "regret and grief" of the Southern status quo; confronted with another mixed-race McCaslin son, however, he repeats Carothers's refusal to accept black family members, a gesture that parallels and renders even more meaningless his repudiation of the "wrong and shame" of the McCaslin legacy. In "Delta Autumn," an aged Ike meets a great-great-granddaughter of old Carothers and his daughter Tomey, the granddaughter of Turl and Tennie's long-missing son James Beauchamp, who the family refers to as "Tennie's Jim" in discursive denial of his McCaslin descent (361). Ike's unnamed kinswoman arrives at his hunting camp "in a man's hat and a man's slicker and rubber boots," carrying a "blanket-swaddled" infant (357)--her son with Roth Edmonds. The woman has come in hopes of re-establishing her relationship with Roth, who has left her an envelope of cash and a one-word message: "No" (356).
This descendant of Tomey and old Carothers resembles Lena Grove in her disregard of social convention and gaze of "bottomless and intent candor" (357). While she shows no interest in McCaslin money, she is well-versed in McCaslin history. She calls Ike "Uncle Isaac" (358) and traces Roth's relation to him through the twisted branches of the McCaslin family tree:
His great great--Wait a minute.--great great great grandfather was your grandfather. McCaslin. Only it got to be Edmonds. Only it got to be more than that. Your cousin [Cass] was there that day when your father and Uncle Buddy won Tennie from Mr Beauchamp for the one that had no name but Terrel so you called him Tomey's Terrel, to marry. (359)
The woman's emphasis on Turl's missing patronymic draws renewed attention to Carothers's refusal to acknowledge Turl as his son and to his white descendants' refusal to identify James Beauchamp as his grandson, and, by extension, to recognize her as a family member. However, her McCaslin story also emphasizes familial participation, positing an inclusive family by blurring distinctions among McCaslin, Edmonds, and Beauchamp. But when Ike realizes she is Turl's descendant, he refuses her view of family as "more than" a matter of white patrilineage, rejecting her as "a nigger" (361) and denying the family she wants to create with Roth.
Like Joe Christmas, Charles Bon, and Charles Etienne, Ike's unnamed kinswoman can pass as white. It is only when she mentions that her aunt takes in washing that Ike exclaims "in a voice of amazement, pity, and outrage: 'You're a nigger!'" (361). Telling himself "maybe in a thousand or two thousand years in America ... But not now! Not now!" he repudiates the family configuration she proposes and again defers difference to the future. Asserting "I can do nothing for you! Cant nobody do nothing for you!" (361), Ike clings to traditional Southern arrangements of identity and belonging.
Disavowing his kinswoman and the child who unifies McCaslin, Beauchamp, and Edmonds bloodlines, Ike fulfills his own prophesy in that his "escape" from the McCaslin plantation "he was taking with him more of that evil and unregenerate old man who could ... get a child on [his daughter] and then dismiss her because she was of an inferior race, and then bequeath a thousand dollars to the infant because he would be dead then and wouldn't have to pay it" (294). Like his grandfather, who refuses to say "my son" to Turl, Ike never says "my uncle" to Turl, "my cousins" to Turl's children and grandchildren, or "my kinswoman" to the mother of Roth's son. This choice, like his relinquishment of the McCaslin patrimony, ensures he will not "have to pay" the cultural price of composing a different McCaslin family chronicle. Passing along the patriarchal "No," Ike offers money in place of familial acceptance and deflects change to a future in which he will have no part.
When Ike touches the woman's hand with his "gnarled, bloodless, bone-light bone-dry old man's fingers," he connects with
smooth young flesh where the strong old blood ran after its long lost journey back to home. "Tennie's Jim," he said. "Tennie's Jim." He drew the hand back ... he said harshly now: "It's a boy, I reckon. They usually are"
"Yes," she said. "It's a boy." She stood for a moment longer, looking at him. Just for an instant her free hand moved as though she were about to lift the edge of the raincoat away from the child's face. But she did not. (362)
Even as Ike expresses longing for his "lost" cousin (for whom he searched in vain to deliver his share of Turl's inheritance) and an enduring affinity for "the strong old blood" running in the veins of Jim's granddaughter, he cannot welcome her and her child "home." In "Delta Autumn," the unnamed child of Ike's unnamed kinswoman embodies an undetermined and unpredictable McCaslin future. The infant whose face Ike does not see represents the continuing strength of his blood, a vital branch of his family tree that will grow beyond his control or witness.
Ike's adherence to his grandfather's law maintains the white patrilineal status quo and recoils from the possibility of an integrated McCaslin family in the present day. Marry "a man in your own race," he advises his kinswoman. "That's the only salvation for you--for a while yet, maybe a long while yet. We will have to wait" (363). Given the ferocity of Ike's characterization of her as "a nigger," his "we" seems disingenuous at best, and, like Shreve's elision of Bon and Charles Etienne in his postponement of racial indeterminacy for "a few thousand years," Ike's insistence on the need "to wait" smacks of willful blindness. The very existence of Ike's racially-indeterminate kinswoman and the child she had with Roth Edmonds nullifies his deferral of integration to the comforting distance of "a thousand or two thousand years." Ike demands his family wait for a future that has clearly arrived. And, as in LA, this future moves out of Faulkner's ambivalent narrative to journey beyond the reach of Southern regulatory control. The woman and her son--mobile, unfixed, and beyond easy racial definition--leave Ike and the novel with a "waft of light and . . . murmur of the constant rain" (363), heading northward to initiate a new family line. The patriarchal "No" will not predetermine his young kinsman's life, nor will it limit fresh possibilities for "the strong old blood."
Faulkner's Dark Futures
Child-characters invite readers to recall the expectation that children represent and will ultimately bring into being intelligible futures built on the preservation of established cultural norms. However, their presence in LA, AA, and GDM subverts this comforting view of futurity, "[alerting] us to the fantasies structurally necessary to sustain" Southern conceptions of "social reality" (Edelman 6-7). Sons of absent fathers, children in Faulkner's "mixed-blood" novels emblemize obscured and ignored manifestations of difference hidden at the heart of the patrilineal South and threaten the structures propping up its "social reality."
LA, AA, and GDM warn that families not organized around patriarchal authority harbor culturally unspeakable dangers to the continuation of Southern status quos. While Faulkner's overdetermined child-figures are products of imagination and fantasy, in the progression from LA to AA to GDM, their embodiment of hidden racial difference becomes less imaginary and more visible and viable. The uncertainties about the identities conveyed through paternal bloodlines introduced by Joe Christmas and symbolically resurrected in Lena's infant son in LA re-emerge in AA's inscrutable Charles Bon, Charles Etienne, and Jim Bond, and surface again to be recorded in the ledger of "half-McCaslins" in GDM. In each novel, Faulkner edges closer to confrontation with unrecognizable Southern futures, moving from Lena's imaginary Joe-child to the insistently-present Jim Bond as potential father of a new world order, and then to partly-black McCaslin descendants undeniably evident yet not openly acknowledged in the modern South.
Faulkner's symbolic sons gesture toward potential futures both threatening and tantalizing, but do not "lead the way" anywhere in particular. Charles Etienne dies without telling his story, and Jim Bond cannot be "caught" or "used"; Lena's Joe-child and Roth's unnamed son are on the road, situated within female-headed families, beyond the reach of Southern regulatory control. Homeless within Southern locales, their distance and inaccessibility enable Faulkner to both proffer and withhold the possibility of change. Although his mixed-race characters expose the South's agonized adherence to racial absolutes built on a lie of white patrilineal authority, the unknowability of these fatherless children spares Faulkner and his reader's direct confrontation with alternatively-imagined racial truths. Provocative figures of difference, Faulkner's mixed-race sons simultaneously extend and obscure the possibility of alternative futures, and their enigmatic remoteness endlessly defers the forms of integration they presage.
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Al-Barhow, Abdul-Razzak. "Focusing on the Margins: Light in August and Social Change." Southern Literary Journal 42.2 (2010): 52-72.
Berland, Alwyn. "Light in August: The Calvinism of William Faulkner" Duvall 11-23.
Bevis, Charlie. "Faulkner Reveals the Real Father of Lena's Baby in Light in August" Explicator 66.4 (2008): 219-21.
Bleikasten, Andre. The Ink of Melancholy: Faulkner's Novels from The Sound and the Fury to Light in August. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990.
Carden, Mary Paniccia. Sons and Daughters of Self-Made Men: Improvising Gender, Place, Nation in American Literature. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2010.
Clarke, Deborah. Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1994.
Cottrell, Beekman W "Christian Symbols in Light in August" Duvall 3-10.
Davis, Thadious. "The Signifying Abstraction: Reading 'the Negro' in Absalom, Absalom!" Hobson 69-106.
Duvall, John N. "'A Strange Nigger': Faulkner and the Minstrel Performance of Whiteness." The Faulkner Journal 22.1-2 (2006): 106-19.
--, ed. Faulkner and His Critics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010.
--. Faulkner's Marginal Couple: Invisible, Outlaw, and Unspeakable Communities. Austin: U of Texas P, 1990.
Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham: Duke UP, 2004.
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! 1936. The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1987.
--. Go Down, Moses. 1942. New York: Vintage, 1973.
--. Light in August. 1932. New York: Vintage, 1972.
--. The Sound and the Fury. 1929. New York: Norton, 1987.
Hobson, Fred, ed. William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: A Casebook. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.
Houston, Whitney. "Greatest Love of All" Whitney Houston. Arista, 1985. CD.
Ladd, Barbara. "'The Direction of the Howling': Nationalism and the Color Line in Absalom, Absalom!" Hobson 219-50.
Locke, Richard. Critical Children: The Use of Children in Ten Great Novels. New York: Columbia UP, 2011.
Loichot, Valerie. Orphan Narratives: The Postplantation Literature of Faulkner, Glissant, Morrison, and Saint-John Perse. Ed. A. James Arnold. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2007.
Polk, Noel. Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1996.
Sugimori, Masami. "Racial Mixture, Racial Passing, and White Subjectivity in Absalom, Absalom!" The Faulkner Journal 23.2 (2008): 3-21.
Sundquist, Eric J. Faulkner: The House Divided. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1985.
Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner: A Critical Interpretation. Rev. ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1992.
Visser, Irene. "Faulkner's Mendicant Madonna: The Light of Light in August." Literature and Theology 18.1 (2004): 38-48.
Weinstein, Philip M. What Else But Love? The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison. New York: Columbia UP, 1996.
(1) Edelman's No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive focuses on "the queer" as a figure of resistance to reproductive futurism based in the heterosexual couple. He argues that queerness "figures, outside and beyond its political symptoms, the place of the social order's death drive" (3).
(2) In The Sound and the Fury, for example, Faulkner announces the futures of the next generation of Compsons early in the novel through the perspective of the "idiot" Benjy. As a seven-year-old child, Caddy is impulsive, defiant, and willful, threatening to "run away and never come back" (12). Quentin, already the quixotic defender of family honor, fusses over her lack of ladylike comportment, while Jason calculates methods of profiting from their conflict. Coming of age in a crumbling postaristocratic household and unable to formulate useable alternatives to their parents' self-absorption and cynicism, the Compsons, as Andre Bleikasten observes, "[remain] true to [their] childhood[s]" (110). For more, see Bleikasten and Noel Polk.
(3) See Eric J. Sundquist for discussion of interconnections between the three novels. He observes that,
[l]ike the story that revolves around Joe Christmas, the story that revolves around Charles Bon was first entitled "Dark House," as though Faulkner had been moving toward the stunted, explosive encounter between Quentin and Henry Sutpen ever since Quentin's suicide, and had found his way through the mediating figure of Christmas, a figure neither black nor white who (as Faulkner would later say in a remark that also bears upon the case of Quentin Compson) "deliberately evicted himself from the human race because he didn't know which he was." (67)
Sundquist also points to connections between AA and GDM: "the black character executed for murdering an Illinois policeman in the title story of Go Down, Moses (1942) was originally named Henry Coldfield Sutpen, the grandson of Rosa Sutpen, one of Thomas Sutpens slaves" (131). The character of Ike in GDM, he notes, "evolved out of Quentin, who was Faulkner's original protagonist in 'Lion,' 'The Old People,' 'A Bear Hunt,' and the earlier story 'A Justice,' all of which fed into Go Down, Moses in less or greater part" (132).
(4) If Joe is Faulkner's fullest articulation of childhood predetermination, Gail Hightower, also of Light in August, is a close second. Hightower's psyche is shaped and inhabited by romantic stories of his grandfather's Civil War heroism; having been "born about thirty years after the only day he seemed to have ever lived in--that day when his grandfather was shot from [his] galloping horse"--Hightower abandons the living and retreats from engagement with the world (57).
(5) Joe himself does not know for sure if he is part black, and the novel never provides a definitive answer to the question of Joe's father's racial status. Olga W. Vickery remarks that "Joe is born into a myth created for him by others." She suggests that since
Millie's pregnancy is considered an unforgivable sin by Hines, he looks for a scapegoat who will bear the guilt and punishment. By calling her lover a "nigger," he can transform a commonplace seduction into the horror of miscegenation.... His reasons for regarding Christmas with malevolence and hatred remain personal, but his actions and statements help formulate that confused and violent myth which is Joe's particular agony. (69-70)
(6) Charlie Bevis suggests that the novel's description of Lena's earlier life with her older brother implies the possibility he is the father of her child (220). She lives with his family, and for "almost half of every year the sister-in-law was either lying in or recovering. During this time Lena did all the housework and took care of the other children. Later she told herself, 'I reckon that's why I got one so quick myself'" (LA 3). Bleikasten observes that the novel suggests "the identity of the father does not really matter and that there is no need to find him promptly. If it is not Burch, it will be Bunch" (278).
(7) For that matter, Joe Brown/Lucas Burch's "dark complected" appearance also facilitates racial ambiguity (50).
(8) For analysis of Lena, Byron, and the baby as a new holy family, see Beekman W. Cottrell, Alwyn Berland, Irene Visser, and Bleikasten.
(9) Deborah Clarke also identifies Lena as a figure of alternate possibilities, noting that in her "moaning wail" as she gives birth, Byron hears her "speaking clearly to something in a tongue which he knew was not his tongue nor that of any man," expressing "an alternative to the male symbolic discourse" (92). See also John N. Duvall's Faulkner's Marginal Couple.
(10) I make a similar argument about postbellum incarnations of the Sutpen family in my study Sons and Daughters of Self-Made Men. See especially chapter 4.
(11) While Mr Compson views this purchase as evidence that women lead "lives not only divorced from, but irrevocably excommunicated from, all reality" (240), my reading suggests the stone marks Judith's attempt to reorder the "reality" possible within the logic of Sutpen's design.
(12) This interest also suggests, as Thadious Davis observes, that AA is less about Sutpen and his family and more about the narrators themselves, "those occupants of a modern world (which is growing increasingly more complex) as they reveal and react ... to aspects of themselves which appeared long ago, were illuminated, and faded only to be dusted off and held up to the light at the time of an impending personal crisis" (76). In this modern world, Barbara Ladd notes, the Compson men lack the "political legitimacy" of their "heroic ancestors" in a nation that seems headed toward "race amalgamation" (237, 243).
(13) Masami Sugimori argues that the male narrators' "consistent use of 'the octoroon' in their reference" to Charles Etienne's magnolia-hued mother "translates her misleading skin color into a definite marker of racial mixture and thus suppresses the possible uncertainty of her race" (7). The white male "narrators' general lack of direct sighting" of allegedly mixed-race characters "allows them to treat racial passing solely in language and ignore the white-looking body and its subversive implications for their subjectivity" (9).
(14) It is General Compson himself who intuits that Charles Etienne is not white, based, ironically, in his stance of "furious protest, that indictment of heaven's ordering, that gage flung into the face of what is with a furious indomitable desperation which the demon himself [Sutpen] might have shown" (254). General Compson outs him as not-white in a Jefferson courtroom, interrupting the justice's "speech of indictment" on the responsibilities Charles Etienne bears as "a white man" (254) and provoking his outraged demand: "What are you? Who and where did you come from?" (255).
(15) See Duvall's Faulkner's Marginal Couple for the parallel homoeroticism of the Bon/Henry and Shreve/ Quentin partnerships.
(16) Bond's invisible presence invites symbolic projection, and Faulkner's critics have compiled a long list of possible meanings. For Weinstein, Bond serves as the "epitaph of a culture" (151), while Sundquist sees him as "a concentrated emblem of the sins of the fathers" (130). Davis suggests that Bond functions as "a metaphor for ... the unknowable, or the contradictions, inherent in southern life" (101).
(17) The dense, tangled structure of "The Bear" mimics Ike's laborious decoding of the relationships recorded in the ledgers, a distancing strategy that recalls Faulkner's shift to first-person narrative at the end of Light in August.
(18) Tracked through female descent rather than by the McCaslin name, Beauchamp men are denied the patronymic that defines manhood in the South. Other black men in GDM share this disenfranchisement. Rider, the physically powerful black man of "Pantaloon in Black," is a tenant on the McCaslin plantation, enmeshed in a system in which he is powerless. Samuel Beauchamp, the dead killer of "Go Down, Moses," is barred from McCaslin land by Roth Edmonds, who Samuel's grandmother describes as the "Pharaoh" who sells her grandchild into a life of crime by displacing him.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Carden, Mary Paniccia|
|Publication:||The Faulkner Journal|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
|Previous Article:||FAULKNER'S BEAUCHAMPS' WARWICK.|
|Next Article:||"PUT A MISSISSIPPIAN IN ALCOHOL AND YOU HAVE A GENTLEMAN": RESPECTABLE MANHOOD IN WILLIAM FAULKNER'S SANCTUARY.|