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Reconsidering Maggie, Charles, and Gavin in 'The Town.' (Special Issue: William Faulkner)

In The Yoknapatawpha Country, Cleanth Brooks offers the marriage of Maggie and Charles Mallison as one example of "mature sexual love" in contrast to the many examples of "frustrated love or adultery" found in Faulkner's works. The Mallison marriage, Brooks says, is "the quiet background for much that goes on in The Town." As he compares Maggie and Charles's relationship to the courtly love of many of Faulkner's men and women, Brooks adds: "The Mallisons' relationship is not made unreal by hints of idyllic tenderness or of transcendent rapture. There is bantering and even bickering between husband and wife, but there is the sense of stability, full trust, and complete acceptance of each by the other."(1) Michael Millgate, writing about The Town in The Achievement of William Faulkner, implies an equally positive view of the Mallisons, singling out Maggie for praise as 'the family's energetic and cohesive centre."(2) The views of both critics seem accurate when examined against the first scene between Maggie and Charles in the novel; if other scenes are taken into account, however, the Mallison marriage comes to resemble a far less model relationship.

Studied in isolation, the initial scene between Maggie and Charles suggests a cohesive marriage enlivened by light-hearted bantering. Maggie appears to be the central figure in the family, sitting at the end of the table in the symbolic position of mistress of the house, across from her father with Charles and her twin brother, Gavin Stevens, on either side. The Mallisons' son, Chick, who narrates the account based on what he had been told, draws attention to Maggie's literal position in relation to Charles and Gavin as he notes twice that Maggie is "between them."(3) His repetition suggests her strong figurative position between them as well.

The dialogue which follows is humorous, but at issue is a real difference of opinion between Charles and Gavin: whether Maggie should call on Eula Snopes as a favor to her brother. Charles protests to Gavin, "No, by Jupiter. My wife call on that--" Then Gavin asks, "That what?" Maggie throws in a reminder that Gavin should have addressed Charles as "Sir." With Charles's second reference to "my wife," Gavin counters by redefining her as "my sister" (emphasis added). Maggie stops the argument -- "Boys, boys, boys," -- by demanding that each apologize (p. 47).

Although Maggie is still positioned literally between the two men and serves as peacemaker, she now confronts Charles directly. Her tone remains light, but with her words she allies herself with her brother, as she asks: "Even if Mrs Snopes is what you say she is, as long as I am what you and Gavin both agree I am since at least you agree on that, how can I run any risk sitting for ten minutes in her parlor?" Maggie chides: "Women are not interested in morals. . . . What they will never forgive is ... the way the Jefferson gentlemen look at her." Her words bring a hasty protest from Charles ("Speak for your brother . . .. I never looked at her in her life"), to which Maggie replies: "Then so much the worse for me ... with a mole for a husband. No: moles have warm blood; a Mammoth Cave fish -- " But Charles gets the final word: "Flem Snopes's wife, riding into Jefferson society on Judge Lemuel Stevens's daughter's coat-tail" (pp. 47-48). The scene concludes with the humorous tone with which it began, but a subtle change has occurred among the characters: despite the fact that Maggie served as mediator throughout most of the scene, by the end of the scene she has in fact taken a stand against her husband and for her brother. Because of the earlier emphasis on Maggie's position between Gavin and Charles, one must see this change as significant. Were there no further scenes between Maggie and Charles or no later references to some of the issues raised here to bring into question the soundness of the relationship, the bantering of Maggie and Charles would seem inconsequential and the tensions between them would indeed be typical of those between any husband and wife. Yet a close examination reveals undercurrents which Faulkner later shows have festered. These undercurrents recur in subsequent scenes between Maggie and Charles, where husband and wife seem progressively more hostile. If Maggie has indeed been the center of the family, her siding with Gavin sparks a rivalry between her brother and her husband that grows more tense.

In the first scene the speed and vehemence with which Charles protests that he never looked at Eula seem the stereotypical comic reactions of a man whose wife has caught him surreptitiously admiring another woman. But the scene does reveal (and early) that Charles has indeed noticed Eula's charms. In later scenes he openly refers to Eula's sexuality several times, in an obvious attempt to provoke Maggie.. Maggie's comparison of Charles to a mole and a Mammoth Cave fish appears to be her way of laughing at her husband's resulting discomfort, but her metaphors, however humorous, evoke undesirable qualities for a husband: the limited vision of moles and the coldness and blindness of Mammoth Cave fish. The metaphors do not recur, but throughout the novel the only evidence of passion between Maggie and Charles is the fact that they have a child, and the only other evidence that Charles is neither blind nor cold comes from his later comments about Eula and eventually her daughter, Linda.

Charles's reference to Maggie as "Judge Lemuel Stevens's daughter" seems simply the playful teasing of one who places little value on social status toward one whose background puts her in a socially prominent position. Yet it could also be evidence of Charles's lack of hereditary status. Although little is told of Charles's background, a man who feels himself socially inferior to his wife could react the way Charles does here, mocking what he lacks as a pretense that it does not matter. Charles's uneasiness over the thought of his wife's association with Eula, in sharp contrast to Maggie's self-assurance, reinforces the idea that he may lack Maggie's background and the social confidence which comes with it. Charles's continuous commentary on Maggie's status throughout the novel seems to be a further indication of his social insecurity.

Tension between husband and wife is not the only undercurrent in the passage. Chick begins his account of the dinner-table scene: "Maybe it was because Mother and Uncle Gavin were twins, that Mother knew what Uncle Gavin's trouble was . . ." (p. 45). Maggie, who has intuited that Gavin's trouble is his attraction to Eula Snopes, makes her offer to call on Eula as if he had confided in his twin; her intuitive response and Chick's explanation of it imply a close relationship that does not seem unnatural at that point. However, the distinction in terminology between Charles's "my wife" and Gavin's "my sister" later in the conversation suggests a rivalry between the two brothers-in-law over Maggie, perhaps resulting from a closer relationship than usual between brother and sister. If in fact a rivalry does exist, Maggie's decision to visit Eula over Charles's protest could signal an alignment of Maggie with Gavin. Such an alignment could fuel a rivalry and stimulate Charles's jealousy.

Chick's narration of the events which resulted from the dinner-table scene in fact suggests that Charles had become jealous of Maggie's behavior. Confused about why his father had kept Gavin informed of the social calls stimulated by Maggie's visit to Eula, Chick thinks: "The last thing Father was trying to do was to help Uncle Gavin, ease Uncle Gavin's mind. If anything, he was harder against Uncle Gavin than he had thought he was that first day against Mother going to call on Mrs Snopes; it was like he was trying to take revenge on Mother and Uncle Gavin both: on Uncle Gavin for even wanting Mother to call on Mrs Snopes, and on Mother for saying right out loud in front of Uncle Gavin and Gowan both that she not only was going to do it, she didn't see any harm in it" (p. 55). Chick's words indicate that Charles is disturbed not only by what he feels is the social impropriety of Maggie's decision but also by the fact that she openly had taken her brother's side against her husband's wishes. Charles's "revenge," as Chick calls it, is to attempt to provoke Maggie's jealousy, as one notes through Chick's account of his father's behavior: . . . Gowan said it was Father's mind that Mrs Snopes seemed to stay on now, more than on Uncle Gavin's. Almost any time now Father would walk in rubbing his hands and saying 'oh you kid' or "twenty-three skiddoo" and they knew that he had just seen Mrs Snopes again on the street or had just heard that another Cotillion or Byron Society member had called on her; if they had invented wolf whistles then, Father would have been giving one" (pp. 55-56). For someone who earlier protested that he "never looked at her in her life," Charles's behavior is a surprising reversal and seems an obvious attempt to make Maggie jealous in retaliation for her alliance with Gavin.

The next scene in which Maggie, Charles, and Gavin appear is also humorous, but what seemed like bantering in the earlier dialogue is more openly confrontational here. When Maggie announces, again at the dinner table, that Eula and Flem have been invited to the Christmas Ball, Charles addresses Gavin, repeating the themes of the earlier argument, Maggie as wife and sister and Maggie as daughter of a prominent family: "Well by godfrey, that puts you one up on Manfred de Spain, dont it? He's a lone orphan; he hasn't got a wife or twin sister who was one of the original founders of jefferson literary and snobbery clubs; all he can do to Flem Snapes's wife is--" (p. 56). Charles is deriding Gavin, but at the same time he is chastising Maggie for her behavior. Charles's comments are made more offensive because he makes them in front of young Gowan, knowing Maggie will be upset with the boy's hearing them. Charles's use of the words "wife or twin sister" echoes the earlier scene in which each man had defined Maggie by her relationship to himself, but Charles's repeating it here suggests he finds Maggie's role as "twin sister" troubling.

After Charles's attack, Chick notes a subtle change in Maggie's position: "Gowan said how until now Mother was always between Father and Uncle Gavin, with one hand on each of their chests to hold them apart. He said that now Mother and Uncle Gavin were both at Father, with Mother holding one hand on Father's mouth and reaching for his, Gowan's, ears with the other" (pp. 56-57). Verbally as well as physically Maggie is allied with her twin against her husband, saying, "Dont you dare," which, as Chick notes, is "the same thing ... just using another set of words" as Gavin's "Go on. Say it" (p. 57). Maggie's position here is not in the center of the family but clearly on Gavin's side.

Chick also observes at one point in the scene that Maggie, Charles, and Gavin stop "at exactly the same time" and look at Gowan "with exactly the same expression on their faces," despite the fact that, as Chick notes, "Mother and Uncle Gavin were brother and sister ... and Father wasn't any kin to either one of them" (p. 56). Although Chick does not imply that Maggie and Gavin's relationship is unnatural, his words serve as a reminder that blood kinship is in some ways a closer relationship than marriage.

Maggie also appears to back Gavin in his wish to exclude De Spain from the ball. When Charles says, "You cant do that," Maggie challenges, "Why cant we?" (p. 57). Showing his attitude toward someone of De Spain's position, Charles responds, "He's the mayor!" But Maggie, the judge's daughter, sees De Spain differently: "The mayor of a town is a servant. . . . He's the head servant of course: the butler. You dont invite a butler to a party because he's a butler. You invite him in spite of it" Spain's position seems another indication that Charles's background differs from his wife's.

Although Maggie tacitly supports Gavin's request to exclude De Spain from the ball, she in fact does not stop the invitation. Chick speculates that Maggie and the Cotillion Club included the mayor to show their independence from social rules. But Charles accuses Maggie of another motive: "You damned gals aint fooling me or anybody else. You want trouble. You want something to happen. You like it. You want two red-combed roosters strutting at one another, provided one of you hens is the reason for it" (p. 57). Charles's image refers to Gavin and De Spain strutting over Eula, but it also evokes the picture of Charles and Gavin strutting over Maggie. Guilty himself of trying to provoke jealousy, Charles may suspect that Maggie's motivation in siding with Gavin is to stimulate jealousy between her husband and her brother. The image of strutting roosters, with its sexual connotation, implies more than just a friendly rivalry.

The last exchange between Maggie and Charles in this scene concerns Gavin. Charles tells Maggie that she has wasted her effort in inviting Eula to the Christmas Ball because "Gavin dont know how to make trouble" (p. 58). When Maggie responds, "Gavin's a gentleman," Charles quips, "That's what I said: it aint that he dont want to make trouble: he just dont know how" (p. 58). Although Maggie does not say Charles is not a gentleman, her tone and his grammar suggest that he is not. Charles's grammar is not always poor, but his lapses come frequently enough to suggest they arc quite natural and acceptable to him. That they usually come in front of Maggie, who repeatedly corrects Chick's grammar, suggests Charles may purposely use them to irritate Maggie, perhaps to convince her that her more genteel speech is unimportant to him, perhaps to retaliate in another way for her closeness to her brother.

In the third major scene involving Maggie, Charles, and Gavin, the tension is obvious. When De Spain responds to Gavin's interest in Eula by driving past the house with his cut-out on, Charles becomes more vicious in his attack on Gavin, knowing that again each thrust will also hit Maggie. Well aware of what De Spain is doing, Charles uses every opportunity to antagonize Gavin. Charles corrects his father-in-law's observation "That's the second time today" by reminding all those present, "It's the fifth time today" (p. 60). Charles adds with irony, "He was trying to mash on the brake to go quiet past the house. . . . Only his foot slipped and mashed on the cut-out instead" (p. 60). Even Gowwan is aware of the embarrassment Charles is aggravating because in telling Chick about the incident he admits to being "ashamed, not of Uncle Gavin: of us, the rest of them" (p. 60). To Gowan the incident is "like watching somebody's britches falling down while he's got to use both hands trying to hold up the roof: you are sorry it is funny, ashamed you had to be there watching Uncle Gavin when he never even had any warning he would need to try to hide his face's nakedness when that cut-out went on" (pp. 60-61). Instead of reacting with sympathy, though, Charles further adds to Gavin's embarrassment and Maggie's agony by laughing.

Maggie responds here with real anger: "Charley! ... Stop it!"' (p. 61). Although Gavin has by this time left the room, Charles continues to taunt Maggie, and her posture becomes clearly adversarial: "Now Mother was standing right over Father with the stocking and the darning egg in one hand and the needle in the other like a dagger" (p. 61). Finally Maggie, who repeatedly rebukes profanity in others, can hardly restrain herself, as she addresses Charles with sarcasm: "Will you please hush, dearest? ... Will you please shut your gee dee mouth?" (p. 61). Charles's casual response to Maggie--"Sure, kid ... I'm all for peace and quiet too' (p. 61) -- shows no remorse or sympathy for the pain he has caused either Gavin or her.

The following day Maggie does little to ease the tension in the marriage. Although she recognizes the childishness of the behavior of all, including herself, in the cut-out incident, she does not prevent Gowan from putting tacks in the street to try to give De Spain a flat tire. She simply says, "But dont you dare let me see you doing it, do you hear?" (p. 64). She could mean for Gowan not to put out the tacks, but her words imply her tacit acceptance that he will and her further siding with Gavin. In the next encounter the animosity between Maggie and Charles is still apparent. When De Spain's tire is punctured, Maggie taunts Charles, knowing that he wants very much to own a car but will deny it vehemently. She sends Gowan and Top, the black houseboy, out to De Spain: "You and Top go out and help him so you both will learn something about automobiles when your cousin Charley buys one" (p. 67). Charles reacts as expected, with a hasty denial that is reminiscent of his earlier protest that he never looked at Eula: "Me buy one of those noisy stinking things?" (p. 67). His denial is readily challenged by Maggie's retort, which subtly challenges his manhood: "You'd buy one today if you thought Papa would stand for it" (p. 67).

Later in the scene Charles becomes increasingly provocative. When De Spain is invited for a drink while the mechanic changes the tire, Maggie tries to make excuses for Gavin's absence. Charles, though, must go to Gavin and invite him to join them. Not content just to humiliate Gavin with the invitation, Charles must also make Maggie uncomfortable with his comments to De Spain: "Gavin says to please excuse him. .. He seems to have heartburn these days" (p. 68). The pun is clear to Maggie as well as De Spain.

Although Charles's jealousy, his attacks on Gavin, and his needling of Maggie could result simply from Maggie's growing alignment with her brother against her husband, Maggie's behavior increasingly suggests that the twinship between brother and sister is an abnormally close one which could intensify the jealousy and exacerbate other marital weaknesses, like a lack of passion or Charles's feelings of inferiority to the Stevens family. Maggie seems much more concerned about Gavin than about anyone else in the family. Despite her willingness to help Eula be accepted by Jefferson society, Maggie worries about Gavin's attraction to Eula and tells Gowan, "You don't marry Semiramis: you just commit some form of suicide for her" (p. 50). After Gavin's abortive attempt to defend Eula's honor at the ball, Maggie gives him a rose, claiming Eula sent it. To Gavin's protest that Eula did not, Maggie says, "Then she should have!" (p. 77). While "half way holding to ... Gavin and half way beating him with both fists," Maggie cries in sadness and anger: "You fool! They dont deserve you! They aren't good enough for you! None of them are, no matter how much they look and act like a -- like a -- like a god damn whorehouse!" (p. 77). Maggie again is so upset over Gavin's pain that she resorts to profanity. When Gavin tries to bring charges against De Spain for the missing brass in retaliation for De Spain's affair with Eula, Maggie is by Gavin's side for support. She is never shown assisting Charles in these ways.

The second half of the novel again examines the relationship of Maggie, Charles, and Gavin as Gavin, recently home from the war, turns his attention to Eula's daughter, Linda. In the beginning of the first scene in which Maggie and Charles discuss Gavin's infatuation with Linda, the tone seems light; however, hostility soon emerges. When Maggie says Gavin is "just forming [Linda's] mind," Charles responds: "Form is right, only it's on Gavin's mind, not hers. It would be on mine too if I wasn't already married and scared to look. Did you ever take a look at her? You're human even if you are a woman" (p. 179). Charles's comments are more explicit than his earlier "oh you kid" and "twenty-three skidoo" in response to Eula, and his disparagement of Maggie as a woman seems designed to provoke her. Maggie's response, "Stop it," produces another taunt from Charles, who offers to sacrifice himself to Linda on the family altar" to save Gavin (p. 179). The passage is humorous to the reader, but not to Maggie, who says more vigorously, "Stop it! Stop it! ... Cant you at least be funny?" (p. 179). When Charles continues to taunt Maggie by making "a kind of undulating hourglass shape in the air" (p. 180), Maggie's anger is obvious as she stares at him "like a snake" (p. 180) and walks away.

In her response to the infatuation with Linda, as in her response to the infatuation with Eula, Maggie's concern for Gavin is obvious to Chick. When he suggests that thirty-five might be "the best age for a bachelor to buy ice cream and poetry for a sixteen-year-old girl," Maggie reacts with anger. Chick notes her response: "She didn't sound like a snake because snakes cant talk. But if dentist's drills could talk she would have sounded just like one" (p. 180). Her manner toward Gavin is vastly different from her manner toward Charles or Chick, though. As Chick observes when she approaches Gavin to discuss Linda: "But she sounded just like cream when she talked to Uncle Gavin. No: she didn't sound like anything because she didn't say anything. She waited for him to begin it. No: she just waited because she knew he would have to begin it" (p. 180).

In describing Maggie's intuitive response to Gavin, Chick hints for the first time that Maggie's feelings may be abnormally intense. Although he has repeatedly drawn attention to the closeness resulting from their twinship, Chick goes further here. At first he explains that Maggie knows Gavin's thoughts "because they were twins." With his next statement, though; he implies that they had to be closer than average twins for Maggie to read Gavin so well: "I mean, I assumed that because I didn't know any other twins to measure them against" (p. 181).

Since Maggie knows that the town is gossiping about her brother and Linda, she agrees to invite the girl to dinner to protect Gavin by giving an air of respectability to the relationship. But unlike the call on Eula, which was planned at the dinner table with Charles present, Maggie and Gavin arrange the dinner for Linda before mentioning it to Charles. Although we are not told of Charles's reaction to the plan, he behaves at the dinner with biting sarcasm. Linda, who arrived for dinner in a disheveled state, has gone to repair her torn sleeve when Charles begins: "Somebody been mauling at her before she could even get here? What's the matter, boy? Where's your spear and sword? Where's your white horse?" (p. 185). During dinner, as Matt Levitt blows a two-toned horn reminiscent of De Spain's cut-out, Charles cannot resist needling Gavin in front of Linda: "What's that I smell? ... Something we haven't smelled around here in ... how long was it, Gavin?" (p. 186). When Maggie protests Charles's "Joke," as Gavin describes it, Charles makes a conciliatory comment to Linda which Gavin says "at least ... didn't wear spikes like the joke did" (p. 186). But after Linda leaves, Charles ridicules Gavin: "You're losing ground. Last time you at least picked out a Spanish-American War hero with an E. M. F. sportster. Now the best you can do is a Golden Gloves amateur with a homemade racer. Watch yourself, bud, or next time you'll have a boy scout defying you to mortal combat with a bicycle" (p. 187). Charles finishes the attack with a reference to Gavin as "a white-headed old grandfather of a libertine," who, Charles adds sarcastically, wants "Just to form [Linda's] mind" (p. 187). Gavin's foolishness in dealing with Eula and Linda makes him an appropriate target of ridicule, but Charles's comments are cruel. His use of the wordsform and mind are also a reminder to Maggie of his earlier play on the same words (p. 179) to make her jealous and therefore become a subtle thrust at her as well.

After Flem Snopes tells Will Varner about Eula's affair and Varner comes to town to confront De Spain, Charles uses the occasion to taunt Gavin and Maggie again. He asks: "Where do you promote a man that's already president of the bank? ... Or maybe promote aint the word I want. . . . The one I want is when you promote a man quick out of bed-" The question is another pointed reminder to Gavin of Eula's affair with De Spain. And like Charles's earlier comment, which was made inappropriately in front of young Gowan ("all [De Spain] can do to Flem Snopes's wife is--"), this one is made in front of young Chick. Maggie's protests from "Charley" to "Charley!" to "Charles!" finally cut him off before he names "the word" that Varner will call his daughter, but Charles manages to say most of what he intended (p. 303). Although Charles could simply be careless about what he discusses in front of the young boys, he seems to be deliberately trying to provoke Maggie. Despite the hostile atmosphere in the family, Maggie continues to aid Gavin, taking his side, comforting him, and trying to protect him from gossip as much as she can. When he gets hit by Matt Levitt, she reacts as she had after the fight with De Spain. Chick recounts the scene: ". . . if dentist's drills could talk, that's exactly what Mother would have sounded like after she got done laughing and crying both and saying, Damn you, Gavin, damn you, damn you" (p. 194). Again the response seems an excessive one for a sister toward her brother, and her behavior could easily explain Charles's hostility toward Gavin.

As he struggles to understand what is happening when Will Varner arrives to force De Spain out of the bank, Chick thinks Maggie will not explain the situation to him simply because she wants to protect her son's innocence. Later he realizes that she had been protecting Gavin as well, or maybe even more. Chick reasons: ". . . she was Uncle Gavin's twin and if a boy or a girl really is his father's and her mother-s father-in-law or mother-in-law, which would make the girl her brother's mother no matter how much younger she was, then a girl with just one brother and him a twin at that, would maybe be his wife and mother too" (p. 305). In his long, complex attempt to understand his mother's relationship to her twin, Chick does not use the word incest. But the relationship he describes clearly has incestuous overtones, at least regarding Maggie. Chick's words and Maggie's actions imply that her feelings for Gavin go beyond those of a sister to become more like those of a mother or even a wife.

Through Chick's comments and Maggie's behavior, Faulkner shows a closeness between brother and sister not unlike other brother-sister relationships in his novels. The theme of sibling incest appears in the very early allegorical Mayday as the hero, Sir Galwyn of Arthgyl, achieves a kind of sexual union with "Little Sister Death" by drowning himself in the stream. As early as his second novel, Mosquitoes, Faulkner explores twinship with incestuous overtones in the relationship of Josh and Pat Robyn. Go Down, Moses and Flags in the Dust represent an exploration of twinship with overtones of both incest and homosexuality. Bayard Sartoris in Flags shows an excessive concern for and an almost wifely devotion to his twin brother, John, that are seen again in Uncle Buddy's treatment of his twin, Uncle Buck, in Go Down, Moses. Although Maggie's feelings lack the homosexual element, in The Town she shows the same concern and devotion seen in the male twinships of the earlier novels.(4)

Faulkner's portrait of Maggie also links her to the many non-twin brothers in earlier novels who have incestuous feelings for their sisters.(5) In The Sound and the Fury Quentin Compson's longing for his sister, Caddy, is more overtly sexual than Maggie's feeling for Gavin. Quentin's attraction to Caddy also provokes him to a jealousy that Maggie does not show. However, Faulkner depicts in Maggie a preoccupation with her brother that evokes Quentin's obsession with his sister. Like Quentin, Darl Bundren in As I Lay Dying is subject to jealousy over the relationship of his sister, Dewey Dell, to another man. But in his intuitive awareness of Dewey Dell's thoughts and feelings, Darl is a forerunner to Maggie.

Although the jealousy of the brother and the addition of a half-brother to the relationship set Absalom, Absalom! apart from The Town, the creation of Maggie is in a sense a later exploration of characters like Henry and Judith Sutpen. Like Henry's, Maggie's incestuous attraction is to a sibling who loves someone else. But Judith's feelings for Charles Bon, though developed before she realizes that she and Charles have the same father, are from sister to brother, like Maggie's.

With Horace and Narcissa Benbow in Flags in the Dust Faulkner comes closest to the kind of relationship he returns to in The Town. As has been frequently noted, the portrait of Gavin is very similar to the portrait of Horace, even to the extent that both men were accompanied overseas by Montgomery Ward Snopes during the war. The motherliness of Horace's sister, Narcissa, recurs in the portrait of Maggie. The sexual overtones of Horace's kissing and stroking his "Dear old Narcy" also recur in Maggie's holding Gavin and crying, "You fool! They dont deserve you."

Because of the humor of the passages involving Maggie and Charles, Charles and Gavin, or all three together, the light tone perceived early in the novel may influence the interpretation of later passages and cause the reader to overlook both the incestuous nature of Maggie's feelings and Charles's resultant jealousy. But as Maggie aligns herself more openly with her brother, the humor, noted primarily in Charles's words, becomes more sarcastic and cruel. As the novel progresses, Faulkner reveals a close brother-sister relationship, creating a triangular relationship similar to other triangles pervading his works. Like the earlier brother-sister relationships of The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! the one in The Town also results in a jealous triangle. But whereas Quentin, Darl, and Henry are each jealous of a third person, the sister's lover, the jealousy in the later novel is directed from the third person, Charles, to his wife's brother. Although Faulkner's inclusion of the incestuous aligns the triangle in The Town more closely with others involving brother and sister, the Mallison-Stevens triangle has links to non-incestuous ones like the Byron-Lena-Lucas relationship in Light in August or especially the husband-wife-lover relationship of Rat, Charlotte, and Harry in The Wild Palms.

In The Town itself the action focuses on the triangular relationship of Eula, Flem, and Manfred De Spain, with many other triangular relationships--Eula, De Spain, and Gavin; Maggie, Charles, and Gavin; Linda, Matt Levitt, and Gavin; and others--counterpointed against it. By drawing parallels, Faulkner shows more clearly the sterility and destructiveness of male/female relationships in the modern world. Jealousy and competition between the sexes; competition among men over a woman; lust between those not married; little evidence of passion between those who are; incestuous bonds; passion that fails to reach its natural end (the creation of a child) -- all kinds of failures of male/female relationships are explored through the various triangles in the novel.

Of all the relationships between men and women in the novel, only two present a contrast to the sterility of the others. Seen only briefly, these two relationships together suggest the kind of intense sexuality and mutual caring that a healthy marriage would have. The first, between Sally and Maurice Parsons, seems destructive because it includes violence. However, the violence, described after the fight between Gavin and De Spain, contrasts with the fight between the men. Like Gavin, Sally receives a black eye on the night of the Cotillion Ball, but hers comes from her husband, who is jealous because she received a corsage from an old beau. On the other hand, Gavin receives his black eye from a man protecting his honor; Gavin and De Spain's confrontation is a fight for possession. When Sally appears to be showing off her black eye, Ratliff says she is "proud she still had a husband that could and would black her eye; proud her husband had a wife that could still make him need to" (p. 78). Though violence in marriage hardly seems admirable, the sexuality of Sally, the passion between her and her husband, and the pride in their relationship are positive characteristics which contrast with the selfishness and sterility of the other couples.

A second image of a positive relationship comes in the description of Wallstreet Panic Snopes and his wife. Unlike other Snopeses (Ratliff does not think he really is a Snopes), Wall is honest and industrious, as is his wife. The two characters appear only briefly in the novel, but through Gavin as narrator Faulkner gives one vivid glimpse of their relationship, an image of her running through the streets not so much tense as fierce" (p. 147) looking for her husband to comfort him and be comforted, and "clinging to him in broad daylight when even sweethearts didn't embrace on the street by daylight" (p. 148). This image suggests a fierce, devoted love which disregards what others will think. Although only brief portraits, the descriptions of Sally and Maurice Parsons and Wall Snopes and his wife show lively sexuality and unfeigned devotion between man and woman.

The relationship of Maggie and Charles Mallison fails to offer the positive, healthy, loving relationship it seems to suggest in the opening of the novel, but after Eula's suicide one can see a slight change which may offer hope. Charles continues his taunts, even after he learns of Eula's death. With Gavin present, Charles tells Chick, who has lost his appetite, to eat or leave the table, adding that at least then he can offer an excuse for the boy's behavior: "I can always say you left suddenly for Texas" (p. 341). Charles's words to Chick are an indirect but cruel reminder to Gavin, also present, of the suicide of Eula, whose suitors had left for Texas when she eloped. Charles implies that just as the suitors left to suggest that they had fathered Eula's child, so Gavin could leave after her suicide to suggest he was her lover. Maggie is absent, but Gavin's abrupt departure from the table shows that Charles's comment has had the intended effect.

Charles remains the same, but Maggie's behavior before the funeral could indicate a change, at least in her perspective. When Gavin wants to conduct Eula's funeral himself, Maggie, for the first time in the novel, abstains from taking his side against Charles. Charles says, "We all admit you're a lot of things but one of them aint an ordained minister" (p. 343). As Gavin protests, Maggie stops him: "Gavin, at first I thought I would never understand why Eula did it. But now I'm beginning to believe that maybe I do. Do you want Linda to have to say afterward that another bachelor had to bury her?" (pp. 343-344). Even though Maggie's words show little direct support of Charles, they represent the only occasion when Maggie has seriously questioned the consequences of her brother's behavior. Faulkner leaves unresolved the conflict involving the three characters, but Maggie's words suggest that she at least has learned from Eula's death.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the relationship of Maggie, Charles, and Gavin in The Town, the triangle is a complex one. Like many others Faulkner creates, it is characterized by feelings and motives below the surface that only close examination can reveal. The Mallison marriage is not an example of "mature sexual love," and Maggie is not the family's "cohesive centre." Through subtle hints that reveal basic flaws in the marriage, incestuous overtones in the attachment of the wife for her brother, and the husband's jealousy and retaliation, Faulkner shows yet another example of a distorted male-female relationship in a Waste Land world. (1) Cleanth Brooks, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), pp. 206-207. (2) Michael Millgate, The Achievement of William Faulkner (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), p. 235. For similar views of the Mallison marriage and Maggie, see Elizabeth M. Kerr, "William Faulkner and the Southern Concept of Women," Mississippi Quarterly, (Summer 1962), 14, and Holly McFarland, "The Mask Not Tragic ... Just Damned: The Women in Faulkner's Trilogy," Ball State University Forum, 18 (Spring 1977), 37. (3) William Faulkner, The Town (New York: Random House, 1957), p. 47. (4) Miriam Carolyn Jones discusses the incestuous nature of Bayard Sartoris's and Uncle Buddy's feelings in "The Truth of Twinship: A Study of the Twins in William Faulkner's Novels," Master's Thesis, University of South Carolina, 1966, pp. 16-17 and pp. 35-36. (5) For a full discussion of the incestuous attachments of Quentin Compson, Darl Bundren, Henry and Judith Sutpen, and Horace Benbow see John T. Irwin, Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge. A Speculative Reading of Faulkner (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975).
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Author:Little, Anne Colclough
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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