Printer Friendly

Trying emotions: unpredictable justice in Faulkner's "Smoke" and "Tomorrow." (Special Issue: William Faulkner)

Faulkner's "Tomorrow" and "Smoke" address several related issues. Both stories present Faulkner's well-known and recurrent character Gavin Stevens as working lawyer and professional individual, as young defense counsel in "Tomorrow" and experienced County Attorney in "Smoke." Both stories are legal dramas(1) in which notions of justice, law, legal strategy, ethics, community, personal pain, truth, and language and silence are examined. Though sharing several aspects and structures, the stories are also opposites of sorts: in one a possibly unethical legal victory, in the other a possibly unethical but temporary legal defeat. Intense and privately held emotions are central to each story but function to the opposite effects of victory and defeat. The relentless but formally unacknowledged presence of individual emotion unexpectedly disrupts the legal space and its presumptions, protocol, and proceedings in "Tomorrow" but is calculatingly used to create the possibility for continued legal proceedings and the corroboration of phantom evidence in "Smoke." Hidden and encoded emotion thus defies and temporarily explodes in "Tomorrow" that use of law and its procedures that it establishes in "Smoke." The collision on the one hand and alliance on the other of legal procedure and emotional energy suggest Faulkner's concern not only with law and its supposed objectivity and dubious improvisations but with the status of truth and justice in the midst of community and in community's most contentious arena, the court. Certainly Faulkner seems to challenge the notions that law and emotion are separable. While he demonstrates in these two stories that each has claims and limiting effects on the other, he also suggests their endless, never fully discerned or discernable interaction.

I

"Listen, Porfiry Petrovitch. You said just now you have nothing but psychology to go on. . . ."

"Ah . . . Perhaps, too, even now I am hiding something from you?"

--Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (1866)

Don't trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer.
 --Vicki Lawrence, "The Night the Lights Went
 Out in Georgia" (circa 1978)


"Smoke," as its title indicates, centers around a legal bluff constructed by Gavin Stevens, the Yoknapatawpha County Attorney, at the inquest into Judge Dukinfield's murder. The bluff is fascinating and possibly unethical because it is not merely a part of his argument and case but the entirety. In fact, the bluff can work only by being exposed as such but in that revealing in turn revealing the murderer, Granby Dodge, present before the Grand Jury but not accused of any crime. Stevens' technique of manufacturing evidence for its eventual discrediting in order to support a rambling but possible story certainly disturbs the narrator, a member of the Grand Jury, despite the killer's exposure as strategic result:

Because [Stevens] had a plan, and we realized afterward that, since he could not

convict the man, the man himself would have to. And it was unfair, the way he did

it; later we told him so (|Ah,' he said. |But isn't justice always unfair? Isn't it always

composed of injustice and luck and platitude in unequal parts?')(2)

An issue that immediately arises out of the story is the presentation of law and legal technique as dubiously self-legitimating, self-authorizing. As a provisional fiction attempting to establish first itself as authority and then what it hopes to explore as factual, objective, the logical product of considered procedures, legal technique in "Smoke" exposes itself by exposing the difference between law and ethics, practice and aim. However, "Smoke" also explores the consideration of, or concession to, the use of any means necessary to achieve a just end. As Judson Watson III observes, "the rhetorical value of Gavin's performance outweighs its truth value" and only by "dissimulation and indirection [does] Gavin remain in control of his audience" (pp. 357, 359). Joseph Blotner points out that Gavin's technique is clear entrapment but offers nothing further on its legal and social implications.(3) The story is wonderfully poised by Faulkner, then, between justice almost thwarted by Granby's nearly undetected orchestration of Judge Dukinfield's homicide and justice suspiciously achieved, between the cost of unanswered illegal activity in the world at large and that of shifting principles in the legal space.

The story itself seems contemptuous of law's methods, structures, judgments, and images. Judge Dukinfield, whose murder in his courthouse office is linked by Gavin to what seemed only the accidental death of Old Anse Holland, whose will Dukinfield is to rule on, is the highest ranking legal official in the town. Yet Judge Dukinfield possesses "that sort of probity and honor which has never had time to become confused and self-doubting with too much learning in the law" (KG, p. 11). The narrator describes him further, and with great admiration, as having "little knowledge of the law and a great deal of hard common sense; and for thirteen years now no man had opposed him for reelection" (p. 11). As the highest court official in a story ferociously concerned with law the Judge spends most of his time sleeping in his office. He has supposedly "lived long enough to learn that the onus of any business is usually in the hasty minds of those theoreticians who have no business of their own" (p. 12). Law mediated through personality in this instance is patient, avuncular, asleep, secure and supposedly securing in the confidence of its own unquestioned position.

The Judge thereby exists in "Smoke" as a willful parody of his own judicial office, cutting through its potential pomp, solemnity for its own sake, and scripted role-playing with his particular human reality. He and his office are also unwittingly parodied by the janitor, Uncle Job, who "assumed public office concurrently with the Judge" (p. 13) because he had been a family servant. The narrator states that "[n]ow and then we would stop and talk to [Uncle Job], to hear his voice roll in rich mispronunciation of the orotund and meaningless legal phraseology which he had picked up unawares, as he might have disease germs . . ." (p. 14). The discourse of the law as Faulkner presents it here seems altogether comic, easily mimed, but underneath also contagious, possibly incapacitating, and thoroughly capable of speaking itself independently of conscious, examining spokespeople. Both unsettling and absurd, Uncle Job suggests law as its language only, automatic, free-form and misfiring.

As images of each other, with "two frock coats made by the same tailor and to the Judge's measure" (p. 12), and as twin personifications of the community's perception of its judgeship, Dukinfield and Uncle Job paradoxically suggest both the power of the law to recreate in its own image all that it comes in routine contact with and the weakness of those images beyond surface and belief in their own ceremony. The janitor, the narrator reports, "reproduced" legal phraseology "with an ex-cathedra profundity that caused more than one of us to listen to the Judge himself with affectionate amusement" (p. 14). The law, then, visibly appears, can be "reproduced," hits certain marks and cues of language and gesture, and is present because it seems to be. Uncle Job as legal image suggests Faulkner's presentation of law as part, maybe mostly, masquerade, one perhaps curiously unaware of its own posing. And Faulkner's inclusion of the judicial janitor in his story further subtly suggests both amusement and doubt regarding that other spectacle and grand illusion of "Smoke," the case for the State: the techniques by which the State seems to be making a case in Gavin's address and through which it ultimately makes the case for itself and all its own self-inventing techniques.

If in "Smoke" there is an ethical compromise to achieve an end, the apparatus and staging of that compromise seem to be the bureaucratic violence of law itself. For example, the unnamed narrator who speaks in the communal "we" throughout the story, thereby implying the possibility of a recognizable community standard, feels himself miserably implicated through legal technique in some sort of wrongdoing and cruelty, some administrative dirty trick:

When I look back on it now, I can see that the rest of it should not have taken as

long as it did. It seems to me now that we must have known all the time; I still seem

to feel that kind of disgust without mercy which after all does the office of pity,

as when you watch a soft worm impaled on a pin, when you feel that retching

revulsion--would even use your naked palm in place of nothing at all, thinking,

|Go on. Mash it. Smear it. Get it over with.' But that was not Stevens' plan. (p. 24)

The "we" that the narrator employs frequently in the story evokes notions of community and inclusion, an emotional image of shared concerns and identity. But this hope is undermined, or at least threatened, by his anxiety about the effects of Gavin's legal technique, a technique employed, one presumes, on behalf of the community, the ultimate judge of fairness and worth of its own laws and legal system. In "Truth and Justice in Knight's Gambit," W. E. Schlepper thereby overlooks much textual richness and complication when taking comfortably for granted two important considerations that are the source of much of the story's tension. Schlepper first observes that there is a case of "perfect justice" in "Smoke" and later that the story presents "a close-knit community whose members agree on all important issues."(4) The narrator's earlier remark to Gavin that his strategy is unfair, however, raises the question of different standards of justice within a single community, especially concerning legal methodology and determinations of truth. The difference of standards and of opinions about something as central as the establishment of evidence within the inquest also successfully undercuts notions that law operates and applies uniformly, and thus convincingly, and that all interests and concerns of members of a community will be represented and aired by a mechanism as pervasive as law, which supposedly functions on behalf of ideas about community.

Against Schlepper's reading, undercurrents in "Smoke" strongly suggest that law is capable of indifference to the community it still manages to serve. Gavin's glib answer to the narrator and jury member's reservation, after all, avoids any real defense of his own lawyerly ideology. Moreover, the community's sense of itself and restoration are effected only through Gavin's strategic untruth, which is based on rhetoric alone, the use of which tactic Watson too readily praises (p. 366). Contrary to an unclouded resolution, the use of strategy, deception, and rhetoric as the chief tools to restore law, order, and justice precipitates an unsettling sense at the end of "Smoke" that much of what this community wants to accept about itself, its foundation, and its vision is grounded in faulty belief, unproven proposition, and complaisant self-deception.(5)

In "The Violence of the Masquerade: Law Dressed Up as Justice," Drucilla Cornell argues that law is a "machine," one of whose primary functions is "to erase the mystical foundations of its own authority."(6) Drawing on other Critical Legal Studies commentary, Cornell examines myths of legality and legal culture and "the violence inherent in being before the law" by addressing the dangers of the law's potency "to keep coming in spite of its critics and its philosophical bankruptcy. . . . Once it is wound up there is no stopping the law, and what winds it up [are] its own functions . . ." (p. 1049). Faulkner's "Smoke" is perhaps an example of the law's self-winding onslaught though in a cozy, folksy setting and with a neatly tied outcome. The fact that the legal space in "Smoke" creates itself as it goes along because of no other way to proceed, however, puts a disturbing social edge on a small-town story. Here the State seems dangerously post-modern, post-knowable in its artful presentation of what is absent, feigning the substance and content on and against which it moves to enact itself.(7) Problematically, Gavin's procedural and legal deferrals until evidence produces itself, rather than is produced, and to which procedure and law can then properly apply themselves, can justify themselves in retrospect only. And indeed, "Smoke" does not attempt to resolve the tensions and contradictions it offers between the cost of justice achieved as a legal long-shot and all the conjurings and long-shots that we hope are justice.

Certainly Gavin's play on Granby's rampant but concealed emotions at the inquest is crucial to an understanding of the story and to Faulkner's exploration of law, since law always hopes for detection and revealing, particularly the self-revealing of those individuals before it. In fact, "Smoke" is very much a story about the play and interplay of emotions under legal scrutiny, emotions over issues as wide-ranging as property, family, personal error, accusation, and murder. Both violent and muffled emotions characterize the turbulent relationship between Anselm Holland, whose last will and testimony gives rise to "Smoke's" subsequent layers, and his two sons, one mirroring the father's violent emotionalism, the other declining ever to show emotion, to reveal an inner self. The personal qualities of confidence, faith, and emotion, and especially the individual's hope for emotion's containment, accordingly characterize all the story's legal action and aspects. Judge Dukinfield's taking an "overlong time" to validate a simple will is "fresh proof that Judge Dukinfield was the one man among us who believed that justice is fifty per cent legal knowledge and fifty per cent unhaste and confidence in himself. . . (p. I1). The land in question in Holland's will comes to him through his wife, Cornelia Mardis, whose life "we believe . . . had been worn out by the crass violence of an underbred outlander" (p. 3). Granby Dodge, the unaccused murderer and cousin-in-law to the sons, is a "man of infrequent speech who in his dealings with men betrayed such an excruciating shyness and lack of confidence that we pitied him" (p. 19). And of Granby's next probable victim, Virginius, the son enriched by the will and emotionally unlike his father and brother, unlike anyone in the story except, notably, the lawyer Gavin, the narrator says, "You didn't know what he was thinking at the time, any time . . . . no man in the country ever saw Virginius lose his temper or even get ruffled . . ." (p. 6). Presented and played with throughout the story, the personal quality of containment marks those such as Dukinfield, Gavin, and Virginius who eventually have either all the legal power or all the legal success; the failure of containment, in both the act of murder and his subsequent demeanor, delivers Granby into that process of the fullest containment of the legal subject, criminal conviction.

But despite the multiple fusions of property, criminal, inheritance, and even tax law and emotion in "Smoke," the foregrounding of emotion is most relevant to the story's legal ploy itself. Granby commits himself to guilt when he fails to privilege his logic over his emotions in a legal setting. Had he thought more carefully, perhaps in a more abstractly legal manner, or at least continued to show no emotion, indulged longer "that excruciating desire for effacement with which we were all familiar"(8) (p. 28), he might have outlasted the bluff, waited until the smokescreen cleared. For the greatest test of evidence is to verify whether in fact there is any. To conduct before trial such a test of the possibility of smoke in a sealed brass box is to destroy immediately the evidence, or its possibility, by looking; to proceed to trial with untested evidence is to risk having none. But Granby's last-minute panic and fear do not consider the logic of such a proposition, the questionable substance of the unspoken claim against him. Instead, he gives evidence against himself at the trial of emotions, not an inquest, that Gavin has been conducting all along, moved so irreparably by the urgency of what Watson calls the "keen sense of fundamental theatricality of forensic procedure" (p. 356).

The chief value in analyzing "Smoke" is not to conduct a reader's legal-aid defense for Granby, responsible for two murders and plotting with unimaginative rat poison the third for his own land gain. His unmitigated guilt and the necessary punishment to restore order, justice, and community are not at issue in the story, but merely facts of the plot. The exploration of how justice can or cannot achieve itself -- or how justly justice is pursued -- and how, possibly, the legal system seems capable of collapsing in on itself to achieve its ends, or, conversely, to produce itself in order to produce its by-products of verdict and seeming catharsis, are, I think, the story's fascinating concerns. In "William Faulkner: Author-At-Law," Joseph Blotner cites Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes's observation that "lawyers spend a great deal of their time shovelling smoke' " (p. 277). In Faulkner's story, this activity casts clouds over the whole legal enterprise.

II

In a thousand pounds of law there's not an ounce of love.

--English Proverb in Andrew and Jonanthan Rush, Devil's

Advocates: The Unnatural History of Lawyers (1989)

The feeling grew until the atmosphere in the courtroom was exactly the same as

a cold February morning, when the mockingbirds were still . . . .

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

In "Tomorrow" law and its workings are disrupted by unexpected emotional presence in a manner opposite to how the anticipation and creation of emotional presence are played upon in "Smoke." In "Tomorrow" the hung jury that leads to a mistrial in Gavin's first court case results from Stonewall Jackson Fentry's refusal to vote for the defendant Bookwright's acquittal for the murder of Buck Thorpe. Fentry's shrouded biography and emotional life are the subject of most of Tomorrow," as Gavin at twenty-eight attempts to find out why his first trial, which "everyone believed' would be a "mere formality"(8) results in a temporary and seemingly inexplicable defeat. The story has a series of narrators-within-narrators as the reader and Gavin are taken farther from the courtroom, farther into Fentry's personal life. Faulkner's involved combination of courtroom drama and personal biography, each its own complicated story of identity and emotions, suggests the impossibility of the separateness of law and feeling, procedure and personality, in all of the story's several dual identities: Fentry as jury member and private, personally wronged individual, Gavin as professional defense counsel and personally bewildered student of human nature and character, and, finally, the Yoknapatawpha community itself as a group of sworn court officials, jury members, and witnesses and as private residents, neighbors, family, employers and employees, and individuals experienced in love, pain, hope, and defeat. Attempting to sort out and rebalance the explosion of the personal in Bookwright's actions, law in this story collides with that particularly personal aspect of Fentry's life that will not allow the authority, intrusion, or even examination of law in and of itself.

Throughout "Tomorrow" Faulkner probes the volatile mixture of the legal and the emotional. Ironically, Gavin's defense of Bookwright for shooting Buck Thorpe in both self-defense (p. 86) and an attempt to stop him, an already married man, from eloping with his daughter, raises to the jury, to his client's presumed advantage, the issue of emotional inscrutability and the ultimately unfathomable nature of private motive. Unknowingly, however, Gavin is also anticipating and even explaining the problem that will confound, not serve, him as trial lawyer in the person of the jury's twelfth man, Fentry. For Gavin's defense of Bookwright and arguments for acquittal at this point are also an unintentional defense of Fentry's choice to vote against acquittal on solely emotional, not legal, grounds. In typical and taut Faulknerian cross-purpose and crossfire, Gavin's rather rambling legal argument for his client speaks simultaneously on behalf of Fentry's peculiarly personal argument against:

|And that's what I am talking about-- . . . about us who are not dead and what we

don't know-- . . . human beings with all the complexity of human passions and

feelings and beliefs, in the accepting or rejecting of which we had no choice, trying

to do the best we can with them or despite them--this defendant, another human

being with that same complexity of passions and instincts and beliefs, faced by a

problem-- . . . .(p. 87)

"Tomorrow" 's intermingling of law and emotion is not only confined to the structure of the courtroom, Gavin's defense argument, or the trial's unexpectedly hung jury. Gavin's curiosity regarding the personal life of Fentry compels him to drive to the barren outskirts of the country to meet the individual, to question personally this former member of the lost court case. Failing that, after being driven off Fentry's dirt farm by shotgun, he proceeds to question neighbors and former employers. His methods, though for private consideration, are those of his legal training: gathering evidence through investigation, witness, and testimony. The significance of a legal structure or framework persisting in the story after all that is formally legal has concluded suggests Faulkner's presentation here and in much of his fiction of the unofficial trials that are always proceeding in small communities of particular members and of the nature of community itself. The difference now, however, is that, for a change, Gavin listens rather than speaks, witnesses anecdotal evidence and personal testimony in the community rather than presents observations to silent others in the juridical space.

Where his silence as a learning listener serves him as both lawyer and developing individual, Gavin fulfills what Richard Weisberg sees as this Faulkner character's departure from a long line of nineteenth- and twentieth-century lawyer-figures. According to Weisberg, Gavin "becomes the first major literary lawyer to develop positively as a human being in the direction of, and not in rebellion against, his professional strengths. Gavin gradually learns the primacy of silence over language in all vital human affairs."(9) Whether one agrees with Weisberg on the posing of silence as the ultimate human response is perhaps not as important here as this particular fictional attorney's silence standing for the beginning of an enlightenment, one that allows him to understand better that initially baffling character, the tenaciously silent Fentry. And often in Faulkner, as in law, silence is a powerful value, a response sometimes as good and as capable as any other possible. Silence in the face of law, whose movements and enactments are characterized by flurries of engaged, rigorous written and spoken activity, may be seen as a countervalue, a personal statement of sorts meeting all the other attempted institutional inscriptions challenging it. If in the discourse of law, as Christopher Norris observes in his chapter "Suspended Sentences: Textual Theory and the Law," "[n]owhere else do words take effect with such drastic and . . . such arbitrary force,"(10) then Fentry's silence in the story may be a response representing less arbitrary values, ones less self-conscious and arguable than those needful of speech to support them.

Perhaps the clearest reason for Faulkner's suggesting the confounding of law in the story in the face of an emotional counterargument, one articulated only and paradoxically in Fentry's guarded silence, is the substance of the trial itself: the complicated relations of parents and children. There are three parent-child relationships in "Tomorrow," and each involves the three principal courtroom characters: Gavin, the defense counsel; Bookwright, the defendant; and Fentry, the jury's wild card. Gavin's maternal nephew, Charles, informs us that Gavin, the novice lawyer and Heidelberg Ph.D., has gone to the state-university law school only "at grandfather's instigation" (p. 85). This particular case is his because he has "persuaded grandfather to let him handle it alone" (p. 85). As the legal son, Gavin's courtroom loss now means handling personally his father, a judge himself:" . . . and grandfather said, |Well, Gavin, at least you stopped talking in time to hang just your jury and not your client' " (p. 88). The paternal judgment upon his legal ability continues when Judge Stevens chides, "Ask Judge Frazier to allow you to retract your oration, then let Charley sum up for you" (p. 88), a reference to Gavin's teenage nephew, Chick Mallison, who, when older, is himself a law student in Faulkner's The Mansion, the last novel of the Snopes trilogy. Similar to the concerns of Horace Bonbow and Temple Drake forming the complicated network of legal fathers and their offspring operating in Faulkner's insidious trial novel Sanctuary, Gavin's concerns about what happens in court cannot ever be professional only. Gavin may always feel a son to legal father(s) and a lawyer himself only secondly.

Bookwright and Fentry also contribute to "Tomorrow"'s legal and parental swirl by feeling themselves most characterized as fathers, especially fathers prepared to face the workings of law armed only with that identity. Ironically, in the unspoken legal showdown between these individuals underneath the bureaucracy of the trial, as defendant and unacquitting juror, their adversity hinges on their identity and sameness as fathers of jeopardized children -- Buck Thorpe, the abusive, reckless man who tries to elope with Bookwright's daughter and supposedly shoots her father, being Fentry's former surrogate son. Fathers and law are always a complicated issue in Faulkner, as John Duvall points out. Duvall argues that Faulkner's texts often make "the law a silent partner in the father's desire to control his daughter's desire."(11) In "Tomorrow," as the legal process applies itself to Bookwright's and Buck Thorpe's fatal struggle over the unnamed woman who is daughter to one man, prospective runaway lover for the other, social as well as emotional claims on woman form the legal center. Opportunistically characterized in the trial as a "victim needing the protection of all good fathers in much the same way that Eustace Graham constructs Temple Drake as victim in Sanctuary's courtroom" (Duvall, p. 79), "Tomorrow' 's daughter-lover becomes the female object laden with male ideological values that are at the heart of traditional community. The trial now may be seen as the formal fighting of men over women as valuable property. The fact that the assistant to the D.A., the lawyer charged with the responsibility of prosecuting Bookwright, chooses not to make a case but "merely rose and bowed to the court and sat down again" (p. 88), suggests there is little convincing argument to be made in Jefferson for daughter as self-contained lover, as willing romantic accomplice, against the overwhelming case of the defense that the role of daughter is a young woman's only recognizable identity, and so a daughter paternally defended excuses any actions of the father.(12) As Duvall further points out, Bookwright's daughter, presumably the only eye-witness to the killing, also has an important legal identity. Her legal significance is quickly undermined, however, for she "is not called to testify; neither named nor allowed to name, the female is completely silenced by the law" (p. 79).

There are, of course, different registers of masculine ethics in the story, however self-serving the various ethics may be. The same configuration of loyalty, love, and perceived duty that ties Bookwright and Fentry together, and also pits them against each other as fathers, is contrasted by the exploitive masculine ethics of the already married Buck Thorpe and his absentee biological father, the man who abandoned the unnamed pregnant woman Fentry marries even though he knows she will die giving birth (p. 100). A cyclical theme ungovernable by law thereby emerges: Buck Thorpe the child grows to manhood to attempt to reenact the emotional, social hurt that is perpetrated against his mother and results in his birth. His attempted repetition of a wrong that he himself should have grievance against, however, is too subtle and unquantifiable a transgression for a courtroom, though "the story was old and unoriginal enough" (p. 86). The emotional complexities of these arrangements, recurrences, cross-loyalties, and grievances are captured by Gavin at the story's end:

|It wasn't Buck Thorpe, the adult, the man. [Fentry] would have shot that man as

quick as Bookwright did if he had been in Bookwright's place. It was . . . not the

spirit maybe, but at least the memory, of that little boy . . . even though the man

the boy had become didn't know it, and only Fentry did.' (p. 105)

And once outside the courtroom and into the informal hearings and trials communities always enact for and about themselves, other subtleties emerge. Neighbor to and former employer of Fentry, Isham Quick observes that " |[o]f course he wasn't going to vote Bookwright free' " (p. 104), a recognition that extends from his earlier revelation that " |[w]hat I seemed to have underestimated was [Fentry's] capacity for love' " (p. 98). This imperceptibly besieged individual's sense of love, then, stalls what was supposed to be the clear-cut, violently presumptuous progression of law: "when the clerk read the indictment, the betting was twenty to one that the jury would not be out ten minutes" (p. 86). In fact, Duvall sees Fentry through his love playing a role that subverts patriarchal authority itself, not only by upsetting the law's inherent patriarchal claims on woman but by loving both "a woman whose sexuality breaches cultural limits and a child he did not father" (p. 78). Through his perhaps atypical--at least in the context of the story--masculine emotional capacity which defies male cultural prejudices, Fentry also confounds law, the enforcer of his culture. By loving the woman and her child, Fentry implicitly rejects ahead of time cultural assumptions to come in the trial and the ordering of relations it seeks to support.

Law's temporary disruption in "Tomorrow" clearly results from the inability to codify all the possibly present, abiding emotions rather than only those of Bookwright's and the supposedly homogeneous community's anger, to register somehow the range of possible identities being even indirectly represented without sacrificing the hope for an orderable world. This is always the challenge to law and other systems of judgment. The trial scene fails to account in its verbal strategies for the absence of strategy in unpresented motivations, especially those shaped by the presence of love, passion, and indignation in the quiet and inarticulate of this world. Quick's previous presumption about Fentry has partially been that "I reckon I figured that, coming from where he come from, he never had none a-tall'," a reference to the dismissive notion that love had been something for others "when the first one of [the dirt poor] had had to take his final choice between the pursuit of love and the pursuit of keeping on breathing" (p. 98). Like the resources of law, the possibilities of love here are presumed tied to sturdy personal economics and are therefore predictable, socially contained. This faulty premise also marks part of Gavin's legal presumptions in his apparent failure at jury selection and the presumptions of the legal enterprise in the story in general, an enterprise that bases itself on the ability to distinguish between true and false premises, relevant and irrelevant elements. But love in "Tomorrow" is underestimated in its ties to law and to other possibilities opposed or indifferent to law's self-involved negotiations, an underestimation that failed to see the court becoming an arena in which blood ties collide with the law's attempted scripting of other, more provisional identities. Schlepper's observation that Fentry is "torn between conflicting claims" (p. 369) as juryman, community member, and former father thereby wrongly implies that Fentry. regards these identities as equivalent. Rather, as legal and emotional wildcard, Fentry the outsider's love, duty, and personal psychological resources are simply not subject to the claims of jefferson community.

Faulkner's presentation of the intrusion and presumption of law is also addressed elsewhere in the story. Fentry's quarrel with law in Bookwright's trial may be seen as a form of revenge for his own previous victimization by the formal applications of the letter of the law, which intruded on his spare emotional life in the form of a letter. In Isham Quick's secondary narration within Chick Mallison's, the neighbor related what occurred twenty years ago, " |what I know now, what I found out after them two brothers showed up here three years later with their court paper' " (p. 99). Quick's account of the male relatives of the dead woman coming "|with the deputy or bailiff or whatever he was, and the paper all wrote out and stamped and sealed all regular'" (p. 100) describes Fentry's helplessness before the order of the court and its literalist interpretation of the idea of family, despite his already considerable emotional investment in the life of the boy, as well as briefly but no less intensely in the life and death of the mother, his wife and never his lover. Quick lends his personal verdict as a refutation of this court's ordering when he tells the brothers that other factors must be considered:

|You can't do this. She come here of her own accord, sick and with nothing, and

he taken her in and fed her and nursed her and got help to born that child and

a preacher to bury her; they was even married before she died. The preacher and

midwife both will prove it. . . . He raised that boy and clothed and fed him for

two years and better.' (p. 101)

The story's exploration of various types of legal violence -- the violence of law itself and also other types of violence that are legal -- is suggested by the Thorpe brothers' response to Quick's humane argument in defense of Fentry's surrogate fatherhood: "the oldest one drawed a money purse half outen his pocket. . . . |We aim to do right about that, too--' " (p. 101). The half-drawn Thorpe moneybag in this confrontation suggests the half-drawn Thorpe pistol (p. 86) in the confrontation with Bookwright. Faulkner thereby marks the equation of the violence inherent in both encounters, one enlisting law backed up with Thorpe commerce, the other supposedly outraging law backed up by Jefferson's communal standard. Faulkner implies that the violence which law justifies itself as protecting against is present, invoked, and legitimized whenever law operates in the first place. In the events of the Thorpe court order and the Bookwright-Thorpe murder trial Fentry has essentially lost a son twice.

If the legal claims on Fentry which batter him emotionally find their answer in his indifference to legal argument in jefferson's court, then a revenge of sorts on law has been enacted. Ironically, one of law's most important social functions is to interrupt the revenge cycle. When Fentry attacks the Thorpes "with the ax already raised and the down-stroke already started," Quick grabs the handle to stop the assault, the probable murder, and exhorts, " |Stop it, Jackson!' I says. |Stop it! They got the law!' " (p. 102). Here law prevents the possibility of a blood feud or perpetuation of personal wrongs that may wind out endlessly in an expanding network of repetition, retaliation, and revenge; law mediates and contains, sometimes with its own threats, the impulse for personally mediated justice and allows society to continue rather than be hauled into the vortex of repayment and vindictiveness of particular grievances. Fentry, however, allows the law to rule once but not twice on his emotional claims; his presence, actions, choices, and silence in the text eventually challenge law as, in the words of Christopher Norris, "that notion of a one-way flow of authority . . . as sovereign discourse" (p. 168).

The considerable presence of the intertwinings, fusions, tensions, quarrels, and oppositions of law and emotion in "Smoke" and "Tomorrow" presents numerous questions for the Faulkner reader, as well as any one interested in the Critical Legal Studies movement or simply the depiction of law in literature. These stories, generally overlooked or underestimated by Faulknerians, show Faulkner's concern for law as richly and as challengingly as his major works of Sanctuary, Absalom, Absalom." The Unvanquished, Intruder in the Dust, Go Down, Moses, and the Snopes trilogy. (1) "Smoke" is a modified or quasi-courtroom drama since it is an inquest, not a trial, as Judson Watson III points out in " |Hair,' |Smoke,' and the Development of the Faulknerian Lawyer Character," Mississippi Quarterly, 43 (Summer 1990), 349-366. (2) William Faulkner, "Smoke," Knight's Gambit (New York: Random House, 1949), p. 24. (3) Joseph Blotner, "William Faulkner: Author-At-Law," Mississippi College Law Review, 4 (Spring 1984), 277. (4) W. E. Schlepper, "Truth and Justice in Knight's Gambit," Mississippi Quarterly, 37 (Summer 1984), 396, 371. (5) The proposition that no one would be able to pass the snoozing Uncle Job without his knowledge is a particular erroneous premise that has become part of Jefferson's mythology. The sheer illogic of the assumption, so widely accepted, is both amusing and central to a story exploring the content and use of law. If someone could (as did) pass Uncle Job successfully without his awareness, how would he or we know? The town knows that the Memphis hitman passed him on this particular occasion only because of the bullet hole in Judge Dukinfield's head. A community, Faulkner seems to suggest, is only as real as the depth and testability of its beliefs. (6) Drucilla Cornell, "The Violence of the Masquerade: Law Dressed Up As Justice," Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature, 11 (1990), 1050. (7) "Smoke" fascinates itself with dubious presentations, and not just the plausibility of reconstru throughout. Uncle job's supposed infallibility and the supposed evidence in the brass box are but two false arguments whose disproving also implies the rattling of other, more important community suppositions. As in "A Rose for Emily," but perhaps not as intensely, the safe and happy use of the Jefferson communal "we" is certainly jeopardized, at least for the present narrator, by all the issues and increasing pressures arising from the perils and possibilities of shaky representation in the story. And the purely speculative ongoing reconstruction of private, unwitnessed Holland family conversations (p. 6) only adds, on second reading, to that deep Faulknerian sense of anxiety about any and all representations, of insistent unsituatedness, and not to the trusty feel for what's going on up the road that the narrator presumably aims at. (8) William Faulkner, "Tomorrow," Knight's Gambit (New York: Random House, 1949), p. 85. (9) Richard Weisberg, "The Quest for Silence: Faulkner's Lawyer in a Comparative Setting," Mississippi College Law Review, 4 (Spring 1984), 197. (10) Christopher Norris, The Context of the Faculties: Philosophy and Theory After Deconstruction (London: Methuen, 1985), p. 192. (11) John Duvall, "Silencing Women in |The Fire and the Hearth' and |Tomorrow'," College Literature, 16 (1989), 76. (12) In fact, Thorpe's half-drawn pistol, witnessed only when the corpse is first viewed, is completely and unresolvably ambiguous, nothing new for central and crucial details in Faulkner. The possibility exists and could well be argued by the defense and accepted by the D.A. that Thorpe and not Bookwright was drawing a weapon in self-defense. Bookwright, after all, searches for Thorpe both armed and angry.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Mississippi State University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Lahey, Michael E.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:6412
Previous Article:Elements of the carnivalesque in Faulkner's "Was." (Special Issue: William Faulkner)
Next Article:Reconsidering Maggie, Charles, and Gavin in 'The Town.' (Special Issue: William Faulkner)
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters