The sounds of 'Sanctuary': Horace Benbow's consciousness.
Several critics have noted how Faulkner incorporates the triangular projections of men Is sexual desires upon prohibited women, as in Horace Benbow's repressed desire for his sister, Narcissa, in Sanctuary.(1) Other Faulkner novels that use the same structure are The Sound and the Fury, with Quentin's desire for Caddy, and As I Lay Dying, with Darl's for Dewey Dell. The difference in Sanctuary is that Horace's desires for women are magnified by the sounds Faulkner employs to emphasize Horace's nightmare of the realization of these desires. Diane Cox states that "Horace is prepared to believe that all women of his social class are thoroughly corrupt though they hide behind a facade of respectability ... [which is] largely a projection of his lustful feelings for his step-daughter" (p. 312). This does not seem to be the case of the younger Horace Benbow in flags in the Dust. When Horace first comes home from war, Narcissa affectionately greets him and they kiss at the train station passionately.(2) However, this love seems innocent and pure, for as they drive home together on a "windless afternoon in a world without motion or sound" (p. 151), Horace feels his "meaning of peace" (p. 151). These happy sounds, or lack thereof, continue when the "world's noises came only from afar and with only that glamorous remote significance of a parade passing along a street far away" (p. 163). However, the silence begins to break when Horace plays tennis with a young girl whose body inspires him with "a sort of ecstasy" (p. 173). He hears a "fugue of discontent" (p. 173), which is later replayed by Belle on the piano in the attic. Horace's peaceful silence is marred by the noise of sexual desire.
Little Belle is approximately the same age as Temple Drake, the character whom Popeye brutally rapes and who therefore becomes a sexual tool for Popeye. Although we never meet little Belle,(3) we know how she affects Benbow. He leaves his wife after hearing that Little Belle has another boyfriend--this time she has chosen a man who works on the railways. We also hear her conversation with Benbow when he calls her on the phone, for no real purpose but to satisfy his need to hear her voice. Little Belle stimulates Horace's desire and guilt so forcefully that he vomits after he studies her photograph. Her face in the frame seems to "breathe in his palms in a shallow bath of highlight, beneath the slow, smoke-like tongues of invisible honeysuckle."(4) Horace's involvement with the rape case of Temple allows these repressed sexual desires for Little Belle to surface, and he vomits when he connects the two.
A Lacanian reading of this text instigates the study and exploration of the concepts of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real orders. At this point in the novel Horace has moved into what Lacan calls the symbolic stage, in which his feelings for his sister force him to deal with the Oedipal complex, or incest taboo. In theory, the use and power of language usually quenches this desire. According to Madan Sarup, "Lacan feels that the apprenticeship of language is an alienation for the psyche."(5) From his parents the child hears the "no" that does not allow him to continue having sexual fantasies for his mother. In turn, Horace hears the "no" of his consciousness when Ins recognition of his incestuous feelings toward Narcissa and little Belle causes him to vomit.
Horace begins to realize his feelings after he encounters the imaginary stage, in which he struggles between duality and identification. Lacan suggests that the individual in this stage, usually infancy, tries to connect outside experiences with an inner idea of self, usually before acquiring speech. The imaginary stage, or the mirror stage, occurs when the infant separates himself from others around him and so disassociates his mirror reflection from others. Using this theory, we can say that Horace identifies Popeye as a mirror, reflecting and acting out his own desires. Finally, Horace's psyche struggles in Lacan's real stage when it confronts and identifies with the various sounds in the novel. This real stage includes the previous two stages, except that in addition, according to Lacan, there can be no language or verbalization of desire. Instead, sounds represent these emotions and desires: Temple's primal wailing moans and the "furious roar of the shucks" (p. 333). These sounds verbalize and announce for Horace what he cannot verbalize with language. Therefore, he exists in a dream-like world dominated by the magnified sounds and noises that scream of his libidinal desires.
The sounds of breathing and walking are prevalent and unavoidable in Sanctuary. Many characters have a distinctive manner of breathing and walking that identifies them and their connection to sex. For example, Reba, the owner of the Memphis whorehouse, has trouble breathing and therefore makes loud, gasping sounds. Her heavy breathing connects her to her heavy involvement with sex, since she does operate a whorehouse. Tommy whistles through his teeth when he breathes, and Ruby curses Temple in "whispers" and "sighs" (p. 235). It would seem that those who breathe the loudest have the strongest connection with and power over the libidinal drive, while those who do not have no power over their own sexual identity.
The same analysis identifies the sexual connection in the way certain characters walk The sounds of Tommy's shuffling feet are similar to his faint whisper of breath. Temple hears pounding footsteps both on the outside of the corncrib and in the whorehouse. Benbow hears the footsteps and the breathing sounds when he visits both places. The sounds of these footsteps contribute to Horace's and Temple's panic and fear. Popeye stomps his feet when he walks, and Reba lumbers loudly up the steps of her whorehouse. In the case of these two characters, the magnitude of the sounds of their walking designates them as beings of sexual power. The loud noises from their bodies correspond to the prominent roles they play in the sexual aspect of this novel.
These sounds ring loudly in Horace's cars, and in his consciousness because they recall the picture of Temple's rape on the mattress made of corn shucks. When Temple sits on the mattress, it emits a "faint dry whisper of shucks" (p. 227). But when Horace visualizes his own desires, and the actual thrusting action that takes place during Temple's rape, he hears the "faint, furious uproar of the shucks" (p. 333). The sound of the shuck mattress is a whisper like faint breath, but it can also be a loud, stomping "Furious" sound. This rhythmical, pounding sound presents the most vivid picture of Temple's rape, and therefore Benbow associates the rape with the loud beating sound.
Faulkner uses these sounds to allow the reader to hear the knocking in Benbow's consciousness that alerts him to his own sexual desire. He becomes aware of his desire for Little Belle, but wishes to repress and forget it. The pounding and whispery noises work on his mind, recalling for him the nasty rape of Temple. The methodical and sexual movements these sounds recreate speak of a sexual drive that is almost uncontrollable. These sounds work much like the sounds in Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart," in which the guilty protagonist hears the beating of a dead man's heart so loudly in his own head that he confesses to murdering the man. In the beginning of Poe's story, the protagonist hears the heart only faintly, like a whisper, but in the end, the pounding becomes so fierce that the narrator admits his guilt. Similarly, Benbow hears these noises and realizes that Popeye's desire for Temple mirrors his own desire for Little Belle.
The rhythmical noises that represent the sexual act contrast with another set of recurring sounds. These sounds are high-pitched noises, like those that come from the train whistles, bells, and bird songs. These high-pitched noises correspond to the high wailing sound that both Temple and Popeye make when confronted by the prospect of sex. Temple makes hers in a panic; Popeye's is made in the manner of orgasm. These wailings, represent a libidinal vocalization of a primal urge; ultimately they represent Benbow's id desires. When first confronted by Popeye, Temple produces an "eeeeeeeeeeeeee" sound (p. 248), a sound that she continues to make when she is with Popeye. Several times in the car to Memphis, and at the bar where Popeye shoots Red, Temple opens her mouth dumbly and wails a quivery and eerie, desolate sound. The noises remind the reader of Benjy's in The Sound and the Fury. A libidinal desire dominates both Temple and Benjy, and it takes over their other senses. Both characters have their uncontrollable wail gratified: Benjy holds a cushion, and Temple drinks large quantities of liquor. Also, Popeye whinnies over the copulating couple of Red and Temple in a high-pitched and barbaric vocalization of sex, power, and libidinal drive. Horace always notices high-pitched noises that recall to the reader's ear, and to his, these sexual calls: train whistles (little Belle's new beau works on trains), lone birds singing in the swamps, the bells at the whorehouse, and the screams at the fire.
The scene in which the jail and Goodwin burn in the fire creates a climax of sounds that brings all these concepts together. Horace's consciousness booms with the sound of the fire, the sound of gasoline, the screams and explosion of a man carrying a gasoline tank, and a multitude of accusatory voices threatening to throw him into the fire. But the focus of this scene, the fire itself, makes no sound to Horace's ears. As he watches an innocent man burn alive, he closes out the sound of the fire that "swirl [s] upward unabated, as though it were living upon itself, and soundless: a voice of fury like in a dream, roaring silently out of a peaceful void" (p. 384). Benbow can no longer hear the fire because it consumes him as it does Lee Goodwin. Struggling with his guilt, Benbow is at first engulfed in the sounds that remind him of his lust: the screams, the "panting shouts" (p. 384), and the "voice of fury" (p. 384) that so resemble the "furious uproar of the shucks" (p. 333). Once these sounds and feelings register in Horace's brain, the fire and the power of it consumes him. It is as though Goodwin dies for Horace's guilty conscience. Popeye, Horace's mirror, is also killed later in the novel.
The sounds of Sanctuary echo hollowly and mournfully throughout Benbow's consciousness, simply because he does not want to face his own desires. The sounds contain an aspect that makes them hollow--not because they do not hold meaning, but because they themselves give an eerie sense to the novel. William Rossky discusses the eeriness of Sanctuary in reference to nightmarish imagery. He claim that it is not "far wrong to describe the whole experience of agonized, stifled and unresolved terror in the novel as a kind of long soundless scream.(6) Along with this stifling scream, Rossky explores other nightmarish iniages, such as the shadowy image of Popeye, the chaotic motion of the novel (p. 74), and the "horror of human decay, the effects of Time" (p. 75). However, the most intense feelings come from the sound: "the sense of sound cut off, the strange and dreadful deafness of it ... makes these ordinarily ominous sounds more threatening" (p. 76).
The revisions Faulkner made in Sanctuary may have influenced the auditory effect of the novel to a certain degree. Michael Millgate explores the unrevised galleys of Sanctuary in the Massey Collection at the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia, and in the Harry R. Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas, stating that Faulkner tried to save as much of the original as he could without compromising the integrity of the whole revision process."(7) Millgate explains that many of the important revisions Faulkner made deal with a reversed order of Chapters III and IV, or a cutting of the "emphasis on the relationships between Horace Benbow and his various relations and friends" (p. 226). Apparently, the figures of Narcissa and Little Belle are "seen more clearly in their relation to Temple Drake and to a particular conception of Southern womanhood" (p. 226) in the revised edition.
In the first six chapters of the unrevised text, Millgate claims, Horace's persona is more detailed and therefore confuses the reader with "bewildering shifts in time-sequence and point of view" (p. 227). However, the major elements of the rape at the Old Frenchman's Place, and the relationship between Temple, Popeye, and Red are the same in both texts of Sanctuary (Millgate, p. 228). These statements would lead one to believe that the excising of the in-depth description of Horace and his life could have possibly drowned out any notice of the auditory tools that echo in Horace's head. With the revised version of Sanctuary, the reader is allowed to plummet into the dreamlike vision of Faulkner's novel. It is assumed that the feelings Horace struggles with become a realization for both Horace and the reader. In this way, the consciousness of Horace becomes more complex, and the sounds echoing and illuminating his suffering become more acute and vivid.
(1) Diane Cox, for one, discusses this in her essay "A Measure of Innocence: Sanctuary's Temple Drake," Mississippi Quarterly, 39 (Summer 1986), 301-324.
(2) William Faulkner, Flags in the Dust (New York: Vintage, 1974), p. 145.
(3) Little Belle appears in Rags as a young girl. She witnesses die affair between Horace and Belle (p. 213) and makes Horace very happy when she comes to live with him and Belle (p. 399).
(4) William Faulkner, Sanctuary. Faulkner: Novels 1930-1935, ed. Noel Polk and Joseph Blotner (New York: library of America, 1985), p. 333.
(5) Madan Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993), p. 25.
(6) William Rossky, "The Pattern of Nightmare in Sanctuary; or, Miss Reba's Dogs," in Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Sanctuary, ed. J. Douglas Canfield (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1982), p. 72.
(7) Michael Millgate, "Sanctuary (1931)," in William Faulkner: Critical Collection, ed. Leland Cox (Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1982), p. 224.
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|Title Annotation:||Special Issue: William Faulkner|
|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1997|
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