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Canned food litters much of Faulkner's work, including Pylon, The Sound and the Fury, "Barn Burning," and If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem to name a few, and according to food historian John T. Edge, salmon croquettes made from canned salmon were Faulkner's favorite food. (1) The presence of canned food in Faulkner's work and personal life is not particularly surprising given its growing hold throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century on an American food industry increasingly characterized by developments in commodity production and global markets. By the twentieth century, canned food and the mass production of cheap commodities it denoted became hailed in the United States as an emblem of Western civilization, technological and global innovation, and economic prosperity; the endless popping of spinach cans in Popeye cartoons served as a particularly memorable tribute to canned food in American popular culture at this time. However, despite such endorsement of commodification during Faulkner's lifetime, references to canned food and other commodities in Faulkner's If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, as well as to money, labor, and food more generally, do not commend advances in food production; rather, they reveal more sinister intersections among money, labor, commodification, and the need to eat in the twentieth century.

In contrast to studies of literature celebrating Southern dining and setting scenes of wholesome living, communal bonding across racial and political differences, and regional Southern pride, (2) Faulkner's If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem focuses on disturbing characteristics of commodification and the role that food in particular plays in encapsulating the dehumanizing nature of global capitalist mass production. Also, while Faulkner scholars continue to struggle to understand how the two narratives in If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem fit together, more often dealing with one or the other, this focus on commodification, and the distinct role that food plays in a market society, invites significant and overlooked connections between the two stories.

As Marx argues, commodities take on a peculiar nature because market capitalism is driven by profit, and the value and nature of all commodities, including food, get determined not by any inherent quality in things themselves, but by the amount of labor that goes into producing a commodity to sell and generate profit on the market; (3) consequently, qualities that we should value, such as nutrition in the case of food, get sacrificed by a market system that favors goods that can be mass-produced cheaply and generate maximum returns. At the same time, individuals become conditioned to want these cheaply produced goods, regardless of quality. (4) By the same token, satisfying labor is forfeited for labor conditions and exploitive labor relations necessary for producing products as cheaply as possible.

In addition, as Marx and others point out, since commodities will only be distributed to those with money to buy them, goods are not produced primarily to meet people's needs, often creating overproduction, waste, and scarcity. A number of economic thinkers have recognized how this is especially significant when it comes to food, demonstrating that while abundant amounts of food are produced, not everyone at all points in time can afford to buy it. Since distribution is based on volatile and changing markets, not ongoing need, those with more money at any given time can buy more food; but if there is more food than the market can absorb, it is wasted. As Lugi Russi explains in Hungry Capital: The Financialization of Food, hunger is the result of the process of "turning food into just another tradeable commodity mobilized on financial markets" and the "extraction of value from the food chain in order to carve new spaces for corporate profit" (930). Such an understanding undercuts the myth that a food crisis results from overconsumption in certain parts of the globe or from overpopulation in other parts by pointing out that neither of these scenarios impact buying power, which ultimately dictates whether people eat or not. As A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi says in Hungry for Change: Farmers, Food Justice, and the Agrarian Question,
   [f]or most of our history, being a member of a community has
   brought with it a right to an elementary amount of food; this has
   been true for even very poor communities. It is only in the past
   four centuries that food slowly became something to be bought and
   sold to the highest bidder. (157)

Many scholars critical of market capitalism also demonstrate how reducing food to a commodity sold on the market coerces people into wage labor necessary for capitalist profit and keeps whole regions of the world beholden to capitalist centers. As Senator Hubert Humphrey, who represented Minnesota from 1949-1964 and from 1971-1978, frankly declared, food can ensure global as well as local cooperation with the forces of capitalism because people must work in order to eat; in Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications, Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley quote him as saying:
   I have heard ... that people may become dependent on us for food. I
   know that was not supposed to be good news. To me that was good
   news, because before people can do anything they have got to eat.
   And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and
   to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it
   seems to me that food dependence would be terrific. (387)

As Michael Perelman in The Invention of Capitalism puts it, from the beginnings of the development of capitalism, "[t]o make sure that people accepted wage labor" measures were actively advocated to remove people from the land and "deprive [them]of their traditional means of support" (2). These measures restricted "the viability of traditional occupations in the countryside to coerce people to work for wages" (3). As a result, people gradually no longer had the right or means to directly produce their own food, and their right to eat became tied instead to reliance on money, cheap inferior commodities produced halfway across the globe, wage labor, or, alternatively, the state.

If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem is centrally concerned with the connections between money, labor, commodification, and the need to eat; food becomes an especially charged commodity in the novel, and suggests Faulkner's insightful awareness of how market capitalism and the state bar individuals from producing food through their labor. Throughout "Wild Palms," Harry and Charlotte's efforts to shun unrewarding wage labor result in complicated relationships with both money and food, which as a commodity operates oddly and unnaturally, divorced from its organic nature, and sold on the market. The convict's relationship to food and labor in "Old Man," on the other hand, reminds us of the inherently rewarding nature of work and the organic and plentiful nature of food, both of which get obscured by the global dimensions of capitalism. Read together, the threads of the novel demonstrate the impact of replacing access to the natural and agricultural resources to produce one's own food with both the market and state charity.

At the beginning of the novel, a petty bourgeoisie doctor takes a bowl of gumbo to his economically troubled neighbors who struggle, throughout the novel, to have enough money to buy food: "[t]hey had only twenty dollars," the doctor reflects, "[a]nd that was three days ago" (499). Despite this seemingly kind act, and the fact that gumbo is traditionally thought of as a dish evoking rich communal ties and nourishing regional life, the offering of this particular bowl of gumbo immediately points to something insipid and rotten in the state of foodways. Despite the family's poverty and the deprivations of the Depression, the food apparently goes largely unwanted; what is emphasized is waste: "the staling odor of gumbo" (501), "an enormous quantity of it, enough for a dozen people" (499), and "the staling smell of gumbo now cold in the big earthen pot on the cold stove" (496). The labor that goes into making the gumbo is even viewed negatively because the doctor's wife knows it will go undesired and unwanted. It is
   made with that grim Samaritan husbandry of good women, as if she
   took a grim and vindictive and masochistic pleasure in the fact
   that the Samaritan deed would be performed at the price of its
   remainder which would sit invincible and inexhaustible on the stove
   while days accumulated and passed, to be warmed and rewarmed and
   then rewarmed until consumed by two people who did not even like
   it. (499)

These images clearly evoke the simultaneous waste and need for food directly tied to scarcity during the Great Depression and economic crises in general. (5) While the gumbo itself is not a commodity being sold on the market, the doctor and his wife can afford to buy the food necessary to make an amount of gumbo they will never need or desire while Harry and Charlotte live in constant fear that they won't have enough money to eat.

The doctor also makes a point of telling Harry that the gumbo isn't "soup" (501), possibly explaining why Harry and Charlotte, despite their need for food, also leave it "sitting uneaten ... on the cold stove" (505). The remark calls to mind the widespread soup kitchens of Depression-era America that many farmers and poor folk reviled for their association with charity and dependence on the state. (6) Also, the fact that the doctor and his wife, "the donors of the gumbo[,] were not only neighbors but landlords too" (496) stages a caustic and contradictory act of offering aid within the context of exploitation inherent in the relationship between renters and property owners; the doctor's wife resentfully offers the gumbo while nagging her husband over whether or not he will get paid by the renters. This attitude is similar to that underlying state aid implemented in 1930s New Deal programs that Marxists criticized for their encouragement of dependency on both the state and the ruling class for food and other necessities rather than a move toward social and economic freedom.

In addition, the fact that the doctor and his wife "did not even like it [the gumbo]" (499) and preferred "the tuna, the salmon, the sardines bought in cans, immolated and embalmed three thousand miles away in the oil of machinery and commerce" (500) suggests how market mechanisms have intruded into these people's consciousness. This popular taste for consuming readily available, manufactured, overprocessed, and undernourishing mass-produced food over a rich and complex dish usually prepared with fresh locally sourced fish points to the market exploiting the senses and capitalizing on tastes that meet the needs of a global economy.

Furthermore, it is also significant that the doctor gives his neighbors the gumbo "as if the bowl contained nitroglycerin" (500), in part indicating the doctor's awkward manner, but also linking the consumption of food to something hazardous and to the barren, non-operating mine Harry and Charlotte go to later in the text. Both food and the mining industry in the first half of the twentieth century become associated with the exploitation of labor and disregard for human health that are both necessary to create cheaper goods. Since by the 1860s nitroglycerin had been used as an active ingredient in the manufacture of explosives, mostly dynamite, especially employed in mining industries despite the danger it posed to workers, this reference becomes especially poignant and indicative of the destructive nature of an economy that prioritizes profit over human health. (7) Just as the innovative use of nitroglycerin in mining increased profit but threatened human life and limb, innovations in processed food involved adding chemical additives to food with little or no regulation. (8)

The references to canned food provided by the commissary at the mine, bought and consumed by Harry and Charlotte, and given out by the Red Cross to flood victims in the "Old Man" sections of the novel also draw attention to the reality that food, processed with chemicals, packaged in tins, and transported long distances, is not only favored but can also be sold at a lower price than food extracted and produced locally. This creates not only a society that values inferior food products, but also one filled with grocery stores like the one "owned by a Portuguese ex-fisherman" (498-99) selling canned food, an image that highlights both disregard for nutrition as well as the replacement of local and skilled trade by global mass production. Similarly, Charlotte's hopes of making a living through fulfilling handcrafted art are dashed; the market for her art remains limited and her craft and unique productions are replaced by selling cheaper mass-produced goods in a department store.

The constant references to tinned food throughout If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem also intimates global regional economic exploitation. As the editors of Tin and Global Capitalism, 1850-2000: A History of "The Devil's Metal" document, "the trouble with tin was that the metal was only found in economically viable deposits in a few countries, predominantly in the southern hemisphere, while the main centers of consumption were in the industrialized north" (7). References to the "rich stagnant air" of New Orleans "already impregnated with the smell of sugar and bananas and hemp from the docks" (518) signals the global movement of commodities from South to North while at the same time moving labor from North to South.

Food takes on an especially ominous and menacing character for Harry and Charlotte. Harry and Charlotte's obsession with the price of food suggests the role that commodity fetishism plays in the logic of economic globalization. Unlike in the case of homemade food that denotes the time and effort of labor, mass-produced food only denotes a price tag (an exchange value) and obscures the labor process and complex social relations that go into producing it. (9) While Harry describes the food that McCord provides as "not so bad," he questions himself thinking "[o]nly I dont know whether it actually is not foul ... that what I taste is not this at all but the forty or fifty cents it represents" (565). Food, money, and subsistence become so inextricably linked for Harry and Charlotte that Harry refers to tasting not food but money. What makes the food good or bad has nothing to do with any inherent quality in the food itself but rather with how much it costs; money and use value have become one in Harry's mind. At the same time, Harry sees the forty or fifty cents as representing some property of the food itself rather than the global social relations of production based on exploitation and inequity that make cheap mass-produced food possible. These social relations of production that the money actually represents remain conveniently hidden.

Separated from its organic nature and use value, food as a commodity traps Harry and Charlotte in a fiction of mapping out their existence by the exchange value of cans. Harry purchases exactly a "hundred dollars worth of food" (562), a phrase repeated several times, and reduces the consumption of his "hundred dollars in grub" (562) to a subtraction from a ledger that he comes to fixate on until "they would exhaust food and money both" (571): "It became an obsession with him ... [and] he now thought constantly of the diminishing row of cans and sacks against which he was matching in inverse ratio the accumulating days ... he could count the cans and know exactly how many days more they would have left" (571). This kind of accounting reflects the subjective nature of diminishing resources under capitalism whereby direct production of food outside of wage labor is discounted and precluded from Harry's mind. It emphasizes the way in which Harry has become conditioned to think about food, the way in which his most basic needs are constructed in terms of commodity consumption; he is completely unable to imagine any alterative to purchasing food on the market.

Allusions to the restricted access to natural resources and the need to buy food run throughout this thread of the novel. Faulkner references "wives and daughters of cattle and timber millionaires" (576) turning the natural resources of the forests and lakes into enormous profits through privatization; this reminds us of hunting laws and private property that reduce consumers of food either to the market, to the kind of unrespectable reliance on nature encompassed by images of hillbillies subsisting on wild animals, or to elite back-to-nature type projects that remain limited to primitive types of hunting and gathering. Despite their attempts to avoid such work, Harry and Charlotte remain dependent on wage labor at department stores and writing mindless pulp fiction, another can-like mass-produced commodity; this relates directly to their need for food and therefore to the creation of a proletariat by removing workers from the land. (10) Charlotte and Harry must return to wage labor when they find themselves, in Harry's words, "on that snow-bound Wisconsin lake with nine dollars and twenty cents' worth of food between [them] and starving" (589). Harry also explains that the men who continue to work at the mine even though they are not going to get paid do so because "[w]here would they go, and what would they do when they got there? There's plenty of food for them here to last out the winter" (629). This scene echoes the infamous real-life 1902 United Mine Workers Strike, when, as Mark C. Carnes and John A. Garraty testify to in The American Nation: A History of the United States, "the coal companies ... shut down the mines and prepared to starve the strikers into submission" (590).

While Harry and Charlotte strive to disavow wage labor and reliance on money, they are unable to because they need money to buy food. If Faulkner describes "Wild Palms" as a love story, it is one quite literally saturated with money--the need for it, the lack of it, and the spending of it. Charlotte, like Harry, reduces their fundamental existence and ability to eat to a ledger:
   "You will make this much a month," she said. "And it costs this
   much for us to live a month. And we have this much to draw from to
   make up the difference." The figures were cold, incontrovertible,
   the very pencil marks had a scornful and impregnable look; ... Then
   she wrote down a date beside the last figure; it would be in early
   September. "On that day we wont have any money left." (553)

By so starkly reducing the couple's everyday existence to a record of economic accounting, Faulkner draws attention to the effect on consciousness of having to rely on money to live, to meet basic human needs such as eating. At the same time, despite this intricate detailing of money coming in and going out, the couple never seem to be able to buy the right amount of food. There always seems to be either not enough of it or too much of it, again echoing Russi's point that tying food consumption to buying power will always ensure that people either have too much food and waste it, or will not have enough of it; when Harry and Charlotte are "eating the meal which none of them wanted" (579), it is because they had money and they "always had the wrong amount of it ... either none or too much" (581).

Finally, in the "Wild Palms" thread of the novel, Faulkner locates a material crisis of life-reproduction within the boundaries of social relations that reduce the whole of human existence to the economic. This is tragically demonstrated by Charlotte's abortion; it is necessary because, as she puts it, she can starve and Harry can starve, "but not it" (634). Perhaps in part because of scholarly enthusiasm to read the topic of abortion in the novel as indicative of Charlotte's liberation from control over women's bodies, critics have neglected to consider that Charlotte's decision is one based entirely on money--or lack of it. Her explicit statement that the couple won't be able to afford food for the child dramatically defines the constraints of the couple's fantasy to resist choices and decisions based on money. This is by no means meant as an anti-abortion argument, but rather one that acknowledges the extent to which their lives and the lives of their children remain dictated by money. Since currency and commodification remain the driving force in their society, Charlotte and Harry's attempt to resist the need for money and create a better model of society is impotent and futile.

This thread of the novel suggests that the problem with renouncing money for higher values such as love and freedom is that in doing so, the characters find that they cannot escape the conditions that force them to buy food on the market. Despite their best efforts, especially Charlotte's, the couple in "Wild Palms" is unable to repudiate money and the hold it has over their lives because of the ideological structures that make money and commodification so intrinsic to every human activity, including eating. The capitalist system has ensured and convinced them that the only way they can feed themselves is through buying power; they remain trapped by the logic of capitalism that demolishes the natural fundamental right to eat, and that enslaves them to the market. The "Wild Palms" section of the novel, then, shows the failure of imaginary resolutions to the real material conditions of capitalism that remain unchanged and deny the basic right to eat outside of wage labor or charity. This section of the novel might also be read as a critique of Roosevelt's rhetoric in the 1930s that condemned the worship of money and advocated pursuing the creative and fulfilling aspects of production while at the same time doing nothing to change the underlying exploitive structures of capitalist economics. (11)

In "Old Man," Faulkner emphasizes the dehumanizing nature of state-supplied food by likening the convicts to feeding cattle "herded into line ... and [receiving] each a bowl of stew, a mug of coffee, [and] two slices of bread" with "their backs turned to the rain as sheep and cattle do" (540). While it might be tempting to interpret this as anti-Marxist in nature, we should remember that state-imprisoned labor implicit in the conscripted labor of "Old Man" is a far cry from a worker state that Marx envisions in which workers would produce and distribute food rather than finding themselves alienated from its production.

The juxtaposition of "Wild Palms" and "Old Man" emphasizes that despite capitalist ideology of free labor there is little difference between the alienating and coercive labor of free-market capitalism and the labor of state-controlled convict workers that Faulkner describes in the following passage:
   [T]he land they farmed and the substance they produced from it
   belonged neither to them who worked it nor to those who forced them
   at guns' point to do so, that as far as either--convicts or
   guards--were concerned, it could have been pebbles they put into
   the ground and papier-mache cotton- and corn-sprouts which they
   thinned. (513-14)

If the state forces these convicts to labor with the use of guns and gives them food and shelter to meet their basic needs in return, the market coerces Harry and Charlotte into mind-numbing wage work in order to buy food on the market. The tall convict in "Old Man," however, is thrust by natural disaster outside the perimeters of normal social order and experiences a temporary bond to his natural environment. The child's birth in "Old Man" diverges strikingly from Charlotte's abortion, the convict's intense struggle with the natural force of the river, and with survival through hunting his own food, which incites a moral and physical experience that contrasts vividly to the spiritual wasteland of "Wild Palms."

The convict becomes, momentarily, as removed from the contours of capitalist relations as Harry and Charlotte become from the natural environment. Canned food distributed to the homeless in "Old Man" invades the natural environment in an alarming, unworldly, and uncanny manner, as evidenced for example by the can that "contained a pint of beans or tomatoes, something hermetically sealed and opened by four blows of an axe heel, the metal flap turned back, the jagged edges razor-sharp" (650). The organic nature of food is entirely eradicated in this image while the nourishing essence of food is transformed again into a physical danger.

When the convict hears the woman crying "' [t] he can! The can in the boat!' He did not anticipate what she could want with it" (650) and "returned with the wood and the dead rabbit" (651). This again evokes Marx's point of how our senses are conditioned by the social relations of history, that what is edible is not a homogenous biological response but something manipulated by material conditions. While Harry and Charlotte's neighbors prefer canned food to fresh food, the convict doesn't even recognize the cans as food and prefers wild animals (in some cases raw), food that polite society deems unpalatable. When the canned food, which the convict refers to as "rocklike objects" (653), quickly runs out, the convict sustains himself as well as the woman and child with rabbits and even snakes, which ironically "did them no harm" as opposed to the fish that "gave them both a rash" (654), perhaps insinuating the pollution of commercialism, mass production, and waste. Later the convict eats meat while the woman eats from the can, "the rice, a semi-liquid mess violent with pepper" (668). On another occasion the convict comes across a dead hen and "had eaten some of it raw" (605).

Faulkner also presents the extent to which we become conditioned to underestimate the amount of food available. While the convict remains cut off from the means to produce and distribute food in more sophisticated ways through farming and agriculture, he still manages to feed himself and the woman without access to money or charity; of course he does so as an escaped fugitive, not within the perimeters of any socially acceptable means to feed oneself outside of the market or charity. Like Harry, the convict rejects an offer of charity by a doctor on the steamboat that takes him and the woman to Louisiana. He tells him, "[n]o.... I aint got any way to pay it back" (664), indicating again how charity may undermine a natural drive towards individual responsibility.

I am not suggesting that Faulkner idealizes the convict's lot, but instead that in juxtaposing his story with that of "Wild Palms," he demonstrates the ways in which money dislocates man and food from the natural environment and fundamental drives. In contrast to Harry and Charlotte, who obsess about where their next meal is coming from, the convict goes "without food for twenty-four hours" (604) and is so focused on his labor of driving the skiff that he doesn't have time to eat. The convict is driven by a purpose beyond his individual need. This said, the convict remains as "circumscribed by [his] environment" as Harry and Charlotte are bound by theirs, but in accepting his lot in all its simplicity the convict does "better than he had ever done" (675). He participates in "hard and unceasing travail not to gain future security, a balance in bank or even in a buried soda can for slothful and easy old age, but just permission to endure" (668) and "to eat and live" (668), basic and fundamental human rights that allude the privileged and free in "Wild Palms."

In "'Fluid Currency': Money and Art in Faulkner's If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem," Mason Golden notes that when the convict comes into contact with the alligator hunter, he is quickly seduced by money and "money suddenly becomes a motive, apparently for its own sake" (735). It is true that rather than focusing on the alligator as a source of food, the convict becomes fixated on getting his share of the money for the hide. We are reminded again of the way in which the market dictates value; in this case the alligator has more value on the market as hide than food. However, the convict remains more concerned about getting his "share" (676), than getting any money, and "as two children divide sticks they divided the hides, separating them into two piles, one-for-me-and-one-for-you, two-for-me-and-two-for-you" (676). While primitive in nature, Faulkner presents a situation in which the convict is less alienated from the relationship between labor and the product of that labor than workers who participate in the kind of wage labor that Harry and Charlotte are forced to do; the convict reasonably calculates that given his share in the labor process, he is entitled to half the value of the product whatever that market exchange value turns out to be; unlike wage laborers who are commodities themselves, the convict here controls the commodity of the alligator hide and understands the relationship between his labor and the commodity he produces, in contrast to wage labor under capitalism, where the relationship between labor and product is mystified and hidden. Even though the convict never actually gets any money from the alligator hunter, he doesn't seem concerned about it and seems to enjoy for its own sake: the more direct relationship between labor and product that allows him to demand an equal share of the market value of the commodity he and the alligator hunter produce.

It is also significant that the convict trades fairly with the Cajun who doesn't even speak his language, has plenty to eat without waste, enjoys his labor realizing that for seven years "he had been permitted to toil but not to work" (673), and even realizes he "had done forgot how good making money was. Being let to make it" (672). In contrast to the coercive labor manifested both by the conscripted labor in "Old Man" and alienated wage labor based on the need not to starve, Faulkner describes a more organic relationship between labor and production in the "ritualistic victorious pantomime" (673) of alligator hunting. Working with the Cajun provides an alternative both to the market and to charity, and reflects the kind of labor described by Marxists as that not reduced to the economic, but as Terry Eagleton describes, involving "[n]ature and human agency ... ideas of social cooperation and individual self-fulfillment" (121), or as Faulkner puts it, "the being allowed to work and earn money, that right and privilege which he believed he had earned to himself unaided, asking no favor of anyone or anything save the right to be let alone to pit his will and strength against the sauric Protagonist of a land ..." (677). For a moment, the convict seems to enjoy a flash of freedom finding his own food and trying to earn some money on his own terms before he is driven back to state charity and finally, due to state corruption, back to the coercive conscripted labor of prison.

While the two narratives in the novel, then, tell stories of two classes separated by a gulf of difference, Faulkner shows the ways in which, read together, the characters provide an insightful commentary on the relationship between money, labor, and commodification, as well as the role that food plays in both staging and shaping those relationships. The dramatic juxtaposition of eating processed, canned food versus wild animals raw exhibits an extreme version of the limited choices offered under a market economy. If the convict relies on either the state or his primitive natural environment for food and remains a "toy and pawn on a vicious and inflammable geography" (605) being "dragged violently along" (606) and powerless in the face of "the inventiveness and innate viciousness of that medium on which his destiny was now cast" (605), Charlotte and Harry seem as impotently carried along by their need to purchase cheap non-nutritional food on the market.

If the convict is trapped in a primitive response to food and his environment, Harry and Charlotte are unable to escape their reliance on money in any meaningful way because they remain tied to the need to purchase a steady and readily available source of food. While Harry and Charlotte battle the commercial world in order to eat, the convict either battles the natural world for food or is dehumanized by a state system providing food and subjecting him to a corrupt legal system that sends him back to prison on trumped-up charges. If the convict's sense of purpose and direction is mechanistic, Harry and Charlotte's decisions remain dictated by the logic of the capitalist market that takes on an organic life of its own, creating like the flood, "the limitless liquid plain" (540) that drowns Harry and Charlotte's dreams as well as ultimately their lives. The two stories in the novel, then, inform each other and reveal the nature of an economic system that privileges production for profit over all else, including people's basic need and right to eat, and that alienates workers from meaningful labor and the means to produce their own food and ways of existence.

Read together, "Wild Palms" and "Old Man" emphasize how market capitalism alienates and estranges individuals from their ability to satisfy their needs by appropriating nature to produce food through their labor. Faulkner presents both the market and the state as complicit in perverting man's natural and social need and ability to mix his labor with the land and produce food. Faulkner suggests how the market and the state function as mediating and alienating powers between us and everything, including the food needed to sustain and nourish us both individually and socially, separating us and estranging us from nourishment, our labor, and ourselves.

University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley


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Smith, Robert W. Spotlight on America: The Great Depression. Teacher Created Resources, 2006.

(1) See John T. Edge's "Eating Salmon Croquettes with William Faulkner"

(2) See for example John Egerton's classic Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, in History. Egerton begins: "[a]ccents and attitudes and life-styles may change, but fondness for Southern food persists; for many people, it lingers in the mind and on the tongue as vividly as the tantalizing aroma of barbeque on the pit hangs in the air and penetrates to the core of thought and remembrance" (2). If outside forces have corroded Southern identity, Egerton argues, "its food survives--diminished, perhaps, in availability and quantity, but intact in its essence and authenticity" (3) and brings people together regardless of racial and political differences. However, also see Writing in the Kitchen: Essays on Southern Literature and Foodways edited by David A. Davis and Tara Powell that extends and complicates images of food in Southern literature and culture. Also see The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region by Marcie Cohen Ferris who explores how food denotes racial and class tensions and conflicts within the South, and To Live and Dine in Dixie: The Evolution of Urban Food Culture in the Jim Crow South by Angela Cooley who looks at the racial, class, and gender implications of segregation in public dining places in the Jim Crow South.

(3) Marx calls this socially necessary labor. See Marx, Capital Volume One, in which he states "[w]e see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production" (129). In An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory, Ernest Mandel explains this socially necessary labor as the amount of labor in production necessary to balance production with both buying power and the desire for that production; if "more labor is expended than is socially necessary" then that labor
   is socially wasted labor, which no longer finds an equivalent on
   the market-place and is consequently producing unsaleable goods. In
   capitalist society, when goods are unsaleable it means that an
   investment of human labor has been made in a specific industrial
   branch which turns out to be socially unnecessary labor, that is to
   say, it is labor which finds no equivalent in buying power in the
   market-place. (21)

(4) See Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in which he explains how our senses are not spontaneous biological responses, but are shaped and altered by history and social relations under capitalism. Just as the eyes are altered by the production process, it follows that taste will be altered by the mass production of food. Marx says "[t]he forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present" (109).

(5) Profit under capitalism is driven by scarcity, usually artificial scarcity, which allows producers to charge more for their products. Overproduction drives down prices, negating profit, and forcing producers to cut wages, workers, and production, resulting in economic crises and depression. As Ernest Mandel puts it in An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory, "capitalist economic crises... are not crises of scarcity" but "crises of overproduction. The unemployed die of hunger not because there is too little to eat but because there is relatively too great a supply of foodstuffs" (52). As Mandel further explains,
   [g]oods which do not find buyers not only do not realise their
   surplus value but they do not even return their invested capital.
   The slump in sales therefore forces businessmen to suspend their
   operations. They are therefore forced to lay off their workers. And
   since the laid-off workers have no reserves, since they can only
   subsist only when they are selling their labour-power, unemployment
   obviously condemns them to the starkest poverty and precisely
   because the relative abundance of goods has resulted in a slump of
   sales. (52-53)

(6) See The Great Depression by Robert W. Smith in which he records that while "communities set up soup kitchens" during the Great Depression, "accepting charity from others was considered terribly shameful" and "many would not take charity from local groups, the government, or churches despite their families' needs. Others accepted help but felt forever scarred by their need. Some fathers even committed suicide out of a deep sense of shame" (11).

(7) In "'The Miner's Dread to Use it': A Comparative Study of the Introduction of Nitroglycerin on the Lake Superior Copper and Iron Ranges, 1865-1880," Terry S. Reynolds documents the accidents and injuries resulting from the introduction of nitroglycerin in American mining.

(8) See The Food and Drug Administration edited by Meredith A. Hickmann in which she documents that the hazards of food attracted particular critical attention during the 1930s. "The Great Depression of the 1930s created a market for cheap, inferior products" (35), Suzanne Junod reports, bringing to the forefront the shortcomings of the 1906 Food and Drugs Act, and "food adulteration continued to flourish because judges could find no specific authority in the law for the standards of purity and content which the FDA had set up. Such products as 'fruit' jams made with water, glucose, grass seed, and artificial color undercut the market for honest products" (Janssen 28) and due to clever advertising "consumers had no way of knowing that products were of low quality" (Junod 36). Jams, Junod continues, "were not the only consumer products caught in a downward spiral in which the incentive was to make products worse" (36) and it wasn't until 1938 that "[a]ddition of poisonous substances to foods was prohibited" (Janssen 29).

(9) See Marx, "The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret," in Capital, Volume One, in which he notes that "[i]n the same way, the impression made by a thing on the optic nerve is perceived not as a subjective excitation of that nerve but as the objective form of a thing outside the eye ... the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material [dinglich] relations arising out of this" (165). Hence, "value by labour-time [socially necessary labor: labor necessary to meet demand] is therefore a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities [exchange value]" (168). He thus comments in a note that "[t]herefore, when Galiani said: Value is a relation between persons ... he ought to have added: a relation concealed beneath a material shell" (167). In other words, "[i]t is ... precisely the finished form of the world of commodities--the money form--which conceals the ... relations between the individual workers, by making those relations appear as relations between material objects, instead of revealing them plainly" (169).

(10) Such reliance on the market for food also evokes the history of the accumulation of capital from the enclosure acts of the 1700s to the ongoing destruction of indigenous farming today in regions such as Latin America and elsewhere.

(11) See FDR and Fear Itself: The First Inaugural Address by Davis W. Houck. In his First Inaugural Address, FDR proclaims "[t]he measure of [our]restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit. Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievements, in the thrill of creative efforts. The joy, the moral stimulation, of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profit" (4).
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Author:Miles, Caroline
Publication:The Faulkner Journal
Date:Sep 22, 2016

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