Volume II, Number 2, Fall 2006

"Constituting Elements of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha: Mirroring of the Actual in the Apocryphal" by Biljana Oklopčić

Biljana Oklopčić is a lecturer at the Department of Foreign Languages, University of Osijek, Croatia. She has a PhD degree in American literature. Email: biljana.oklopcic@os.t-com.hr.

This paper will attempt to discuss elements that contributed to the creation of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha. To achieve this, attention will be paid to a complex net of cultural, race, class, and gender relations which have been the basis of Faulkner’s South. His South has been presented, in contrast to its historical picture that is based on facts and is, therefore, more or less objective, unquestionable, and unchangeable, in a more fictional and subjective way; it is a reminiscence inscribed in the writer’s memory as his main source of inspiration.


Faulkner’s literary work was written during the time period when Southern intellectuals, unlike their Northern counterparts, possessed a very strong regional awareness of the U. S. South as their creative refuge. The reasons for such a discrepancy within one and the same country can be looked for in the history of the U. S. South that, after defeat in the Civil War and falling behind in general tendency of industrial and capitalist growth typical for the U. S. North, remained aside and painfully aware of its isolated status within the country. Far away from the ‘center’, from which it differed in many major social and cultural values, the U. S. South gave its writers

a generous and often obsessive sense of the past. The rest of the country might be committed to commercial expansion or addicted to the notion of progressive optimism, but the South, even if it cared to, was unable to accept these dominant American values, it had been left behind, it was living on the margin of history – a position that often provides the sharpest perspective on history. (…) It was this crucial advantage of distance, this perspective from the social rear that was the major dispensation the South could offer its writers. And it gave them something else: a compact and inescapable subject (Howe 1975, 357-358).

As a Southerner, Faulkner was constantly influenced by the U. S. South, its history, and the impact of that history on Southern present. The U. S. South also gave him something else: a hope of universal deliverance, and a source of inexhaustible literary inspiration. To quote him:

I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and that by sublimating the actual into the apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top. It opened up a gold mine of other people, so I created a cosmos of my own (Stein 1963, 82).

For Faulkner, the very existence of universal Southern present is unquestionable since “there is no such thing as was – only is. If was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow” (Stein 1963, 82). Driven by such an impulse he created a world describable as “a kind of keystone in the universe; that, small as that keystone is, if it were ever taken away the universe itself would collapse” (Stein 1963, 82).

The method Faulkner used to create his keystone in the universe was never a historical one. Instead, he “talked to people” (Cantwell 1963, 57). According to Malcolm Cowley,

the pattern was based on what he saw in Oxford or remembered from his childhood, on scraps of family tradition, on kitchen dialogues between the black cook and her amiable husband, on Saturday-afternoon gossip in Courthouse Square, on stories told by men in overalls squatting on their heels while they passed around a fruit jar of white corn liquor; on all the sources familiar to a small-town Mississippi boy – but the whole of it was elaborated, transformed, given convulsive life by his emotions; until by simple intensity of feeling the figures in it became a little more than human, became heroic or diabolical, became symbols of the old South, of war and reconstruction, of commerce and machinery destroying the standards of the past (Cowley 1980, 131).

For someone who used only local or personal experience as a creative impetus, Faulkner managed to create the picture of his South which, in its universality and complexity, did not differ much from the real model. But, although Faulkner’s South, according to C. Vann Woodward,

represents the supreme creation of the Southern renaissance, it is not history in any usual sense. And it is not unlikely that the Faulkner critics have gone astray in thinking of the Yoknapatawpha novels as Southern history in microcosm, or as representing any very consistent ideas or theories about Southern history. In the universality of their meaning they are more, and in their immediate application less, than that (Vann Woodward 1960, 34).

Faulkner created his South following the well-known model of Southern history. In his paper “Faulkner’s History: Sources and Interpretation” Don H. Doyle calls this historical process

a three-act morality play that portrays, first, the Old South dominated by the honorable but flawed slave master aristocracy, then the crisis of Civil War and Reconstruction, which destroys the foundations of the old ruling class, followed by the New South, which witnesses the rise of a new calculating class of urban entrepreneurs (Doyle 1997, 7).
Using his artistic freedom of expression Faulkner usually modulates or does not consider given historical data at all; but the basic construction of three-turning-point history (rise-fall-reconstruction) is more than obvious in his novels. The first point in the historical development of the U. S. South, which could generally be defined in terms of rise, is presented by the Old South. As a Southerner, Faulkner did feel nostalgia for the Old South. But he did not idealize the plantation myth or the plantation aristocracy. Instead he defended “moral order – a code of personal dignity, courage, honor and integrity” (Miller 1963, 204) that, in his opinion, had to be freed from rigid formalism, unnecessary violence and sins of slavery. And although Irving Howe argues that “nowhere in Faulkner’s work is there a copious and lively image of the Old South” (Howe 1975, 42), so that it “remains forever a muted shadow, a point of reference rather than an object for presentation” (Howe 1975, 42), it could nevertheless be said that Faulkner “captured wonderfully the sudden genesis of government and economy on the cotton frontier, a process driven by land greed and accompanied by no small amount of swindling” (Doyle 1997, 9).

The next, second, point in the historical development of the U. S. South, which could basically be defined in terms of fall, is presented by the Civil War and Reconstruction. It could be said that

in the author’s canon the Southern struggle from 1861 to 1865 is the major turning point, forming the watershed between the Old South of the planter-aristocrats – the Sartorises, Sutpens and Compsons – and the postbellum South dominated by the Snopeses and Popeyes (Miller 1963, 204).

When Faulkner wrote about the Civil War, he used the self-created characters and historical data as well: e.g. Faulkner’s great grandfather Colonel William C. Falkner was the model for the character of Colonel John Sartoris. His descriptions of the Civil War, Southern front-line and Southern home-front are not exaggerated. They are response not only to Southern military defeat but also to the destruction of principles that formed the core of Southern society. The war caused the instability of labor market, cut off financial and food resources and destroyed economy and traffic system as well. Faulkner reflects this situation in images of his South: Jefferson was thus burnt down during the war, the majority of surrounding plantations, including Sartoris’s, were destroyed, and those that survived, had to cope with the lack of money, food and labor, with uncultivated and impoverished land. Faulkner contributed to the creation of Southern Civil War history in one more way. He presented it not only from men warriors’ perspective but also from a perspective of women, children and slaves who were left behind, at home-front. Faulkner’s novel Absalom, Absalom! depicts masterfully the Civil War period from the home-front point of view: Judith Sutpen joined

the other women – there were wounded in Jefferson then – in the improvised hospital where (…) they cleaned and dressed the self-fouled bodies of strange injured and dead and made lint of the window curtains and sheets and linen of the houses in which they had been born; there were none to ask her about brother and sweetheart, while they talked among themselves of sons and brothers and husbands with tears and grief perhaps, but at least with certainty, knowledge (Faulkner 1972, 125-126).

Judith’s aunt Rosa Coldfield contributed to the war in a different way: she wrote “the odes to Southern soldiers (…) a thousand or more” (Faulkner 1972, 83), whereas Judith’s grandfather Goodhue Coldfield protested against the war: “he mounted to the attic with his hammer and his handful of nails and nailed the door behind him and threw the hammer out of the window” (Faulkner 1972, 82). This segment of Southern population, as it can be seen from the previously given examples,

was active supplying men, uniforms, arms, and moral support. The Confederate home front was exposed to invasion and massive destruction of property and the liberation of slave property. It was at the home front, not the battle field, that the South was defeated, something Faulkner (…) fully realized. It was here that the deepest tensions within Southern society, between rich and poor, masters and slaves, men and women all came to the surface under the pressure of war, massive death tolls, conscription, invasion, and slave rebellion (Doyle 1997, 13).

The Civil War was followed by Reconstruction. The U. S. South, as the loser in the war, was facing economic and political break-down. Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha went through the same experience. The war left traces on Thomas Sutpen’s and General Compson’s plantations. The former did not manage to rebuild his plantation and was forced to open a shop to survive. He used to spend many afternoons there “curs[ing] the store empty of customers” (Faulkner 1972, 183) who were as impoverished as the land during and after the war. After his death Judith, his daughter, “ran the store herself (…) until she found a buyer for it” (Faulkner 1972, 186). The latter “put the first mortgage on the still intact square mile to a New England carpet-bagger in ‘66” (Cowley 1977, 708). It was also a period when defeat and reconciliation with the Union were slowly but inevitably accepted. On national level Reconstruction was marked by redemption and forgiveness; on regional level Reconstruction meant the beginning of a fierce campaign for white supremacy and almost a century long period of segregation and racial violence. In Faulkner’s literary work Reconstruction is somehow the most problematic period. There are not so many characters and events depicting it: only Burdens – grandfather and grandson both named Calvin, “killed (...) over a question of negro voting” (Faulkner 2005, 187) because they were “Yankees. Foreigners. Worse than foreigners: enemies. Carpetbaggers. (…) Stirring up the negroes to murder and rape. (…) Threatening white supremacy” (Faulkner 2005, 187); and Sartorises – Colonel Sartoris, “an ex-slaveholder and Confederate soldier, (…) and a town hero” (Faulkner 2005, 187) who “had to kill (…) those two carpet baggers” (Cowley 1977, 168) in order to keep an African American, “old Cash Benbow from becoming United States Marshal” (Cowley 1977, 165). Reconstruction

remained the one period in Southern history he avoided and seemed unable or unwilling to attack. (…) It was more than just the creative problems of plot or character; it was the subject, the history, and all that it meant for what the South was that made Reconstruction so difficult—especially for the probing and sometimes heretical mind of William Faulkner—to reassess (Doyle 1997, 27).

The last, third, point in the historical development of the Southern society, which could be defined in terms of reconstruction, is marked by the New South when, owing to rapid urbanization and industrialization inspired by belief that history should be forgotten and that economic development should be paid more attention than politics, race and class segregation grew even worse. Faulkner’s new South became home for a class in growth – lawyers, judges, bankers, shop owners. He presented it in characters of Manfred De Spain, banker and mansion owner; Judge Drake; Horace Benbow, who “was a lawyer, principally through a sense of duty to family tradition” (Faulkner 1964, 149); Will Varner, who “owned the store and the cotton gin and the combined grist mill and the blacksmith shop” (Faulkner 1956, 5). The New South also became a refuge for the people who did not get used so well to the new situation: white and black share croppers. They were ruined by the low cotton prices and great dependency on landlords and shop keepers. Whereas some of them “were challenging the power of the planters and townspeople, many were also quietly rising economically and socially, abandoning the washed-out land and endless drudgery of rural life for opportunities in the town” (Doyle 1997, 30). One of these innumerous families who tried to change their status after the Civil War and Reconstruction was the Snopes family. Unlike the rest of families who did not manage to change anything, the Snopeses succeeded in achieving their design. They became the synonym for global breakthrough of white lower class who cared only for profit and status and for whom the end justified the means.


As a Southerner, Faulkner was influenced by traditional Southern values of family and community. He was convinced, according to his biographer Joseph Blotner, that “character came out of family. (…) Environment was important too, he granted, but it was mostly a matter of genetics. (…) He also used what would later be called the South’s concept of the ‘extended family’” (Blotner 1974, 197). The story about his South is actually a story about generations of families of different race and class origin that are situated in a typical Southern community with its own problems, vices, virtues, and particularities. By using such kind of narrative structure Faulkner followed the well-known pattern of genealogical novel which places one or more families in time and space and depicts their origin, growth, and fall. With a family as a main source of poetic inspiration he joined in the mainstream of world’s novelists and dramatists such as Emile Zola with his Rougons and Macquarts, Thomas Mann with his Buddenbrooks, John Galsworthy with his Forsytes, Roger Martin du Gard with his Thibaults, Miroslav Krleža with his Glembays…

Family, as a basic social unit, is the key stone of Faulkner’s world. Consequently, the traditional system of values, family pride, and legacy of glorious past are the main motives that determine actions and behaviors of majority of his characters. Each Faulkner’s family is usually presented in four stages that could, according to Olga W. Vickery in her paper “The Contours of Time,” be called “elemental being, doing, thinking, and remembering” (Vickery 1986, 261). The first stage, that of simple and natural living, described the life of a family, or at least some of its members, in colonial wilderness, and their attempts to cultivate it. With cultivation and civilization of land the ground for the second stage was prepared. Plantations were built and dynasties were founded. The third stage, a stage of thinking, followed. It was characterized by distancing from action and domination, and by withdrawal in thoughts and metaphysics. This generation was interested in abstractions and universal principles of tradition that they had inherited; it was interested in theory, but failed when practical solutions should have been applied. The last stage was the stage of remembering. This stage, in the majority of families, denoted the end, or destruction, of family as a traditional institution. The most, or at least some, of these stages can be found in the stories about the Sartorises, Compsons, Sutpens, McCaslins, Snopeses and Bundrens.


Besides using the model of Southern history and the traditional institution of family as main creative principles, Faulkner’s fiction relies on some other elements of the actual structure of the U. S South. One of them is the determinant of race which is not seen as an essential, or biological, part of a person’s identity but rather as a social construct or product. Although sometimes ambivalent, Faulkner’s attitude to race could be described as more tolerant, more acceptable, and more positive than the one that at that time represented the mainstream of Southern race ideology. His concept of race was mainly based on the paternalistic study of black and white race and its social-economic definition. According to Joseph Blotner, Faulkner blamed undeveloped Southern economy for discrimination and bad living conditions of Southern African Americans. He thought that these problems were based on “the fear that given equality before the law, the hard-working Negro would ‘take the white man’s economy away from him’” (Blotner 1974, 604). Faulkner found discrimination shameful, and believed that the freedom of speech and action should first be exercised at home. And despite the prejudices, which he as a Southerner had, Faulkner believed that “’when the white man is driven by the old inherited prejudices to do things he does, (…) the whole black race is laughing at him’” (Blotner 1974, 679).

Faulkner’s literary work also follows this principle because it is based on the idea of guilt and debt. He distinguishes between various kinds of debt and this

differentiation is highlighted in his fictional approach to slavery. Faulkner’s classic critics rightly point to the way that slavery acquires a central significance in Faulkner’s fiction as the original ‘sin’ or ‘crime’ which must be expiated by contemporary white Southerners, the sin which is the source of the South’s woes, its ‘curse’ or ‘doom’ (Dussere 2001, 40).
Slavery, with the main emphasis on dehumanization and objectification of a human being, was, for Faulkner, a curse which affected not only the land but also the people. It became one of the dominant motives in much of his fiction. Absalom, Absalom! thus ends with Jim Bond, “the scion, the last of his [Sutpen’s] race” (Faulkner 1972, 376), who comes from a family Sutpen rejected and forgot because he “_found out that his [great grand]mother was part negro_” (Faulkner 1972, 355). In Go Down, Moses Ike McCaslin, “not only the male descendant but the only and last descendant in the male line and in the third generation” (Faulkner 256), repudiates the inherited land and money because he feels that “this whole land, the whole South, is cursed” (Faulkner 1973, 278). The curse was started by the first McCaslin who sexually abused his own mulatta daughter “because she was his property, (…) because she was old enough and female, (…) and get a child on her and then dismiss her because she was of an inferior race” (Faulkner 1973, 294). There is also Light in August with Joanna Burden whose family was killed because they fought for the civil rights of Southern African Americans. Like Ike McCaslin, she also experiences the entire racial history of the U. S. South as an inescapable curse “in which, we lived, all white people, all other people“ (Faulkner 2005, 190). The curse takes the form of an African American – “the black man who will be forever God’s chosen own because He once cursed Him” (Faulkner 2005, 191).

Faulkner’s attitude to the Southern concept of race in terms of guilt and debt indicates that he did not agree with the traditional Southern race ideology. Furthermore, he showed the origin, development, and preservation of that ideology in his fiction. His Absalom, Absalom! shows that racial intolerance was not something that was genetically inherited but something that was culturally passed from generation to generation, from man to man… Racism in the U. S. South, as Faulkner explains it on Sutpen’s example, functioned as a reward which had been given to the poor whites by the upper class in order to lessen social inequalities. By giving poor whites freedom and the right to vote, and by giving African Americans better living conditions, the upper class deliberately created tensions in order to draw attention away from actual social and economic problems. The whiteness became a common property of poor and rich whites, united them on some abstract level, and created in the lower class the false sense of unity with the upper class. Identification with the upper class excluded any possibility of identification with African Americans and assumed racial violence and racial intolerance as an act of both loyalty to own race and distinction from black race. Faulkner thus shows that

the hatred of blacks by poor whites begins as hatred of upper class whites. (…) Black slaves, thus, become an abstraction to poor whites, whose reactions and behaviors have more to do with repressed anger toward the upper class, the reification of this repression and the displacement of the anger than they do with anything black people say or do (Railey 1999, 46).

The inseparable part of white South’s guilt lies also in the legalized sexual abuse of African American women during the antebellum days. The Old South, having based its entire economic and social structure on the institution of slavery, lived by double standards and used them to (il)legalize miscegenation. On the one hand, miscegenation was perceived to be the most rigid sexual taboo since the rumor of only one drop of black blood could ruin white Southerner’s social status. On the other hand, it was used as an apology for legal and unpunishable sexual abuse and exploitation of African American women the planters assumed to have right on. Again Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! gives an insight into this situation: Thomas Sutpen, having learned in his earliest youth all about the value system on which the white South based its status and power, abandoned his first wife, a daughter of a rich Haitian planter, and their son because she was partly black. Sutpen made this decision because she could ruin his plan, his design to infiltrate the Southern upper class society. For the same reason, for fear of miscegenation, Henry, Sutpen’s son from the second marriage, killed his half brother Charles. He was not a brother for him; he was “_the nigger that’s going to sleep with [his] sister_” (Faulkner 1972, 358) – unless he stopped him. Following the same pattern of behavior Henry’s sister Judith took care of the son of her mulatto half brother and his octoroon lover, but she never accepted him as a family member. This relationship is illustrated in sleeping arrangements in Judith’s room. Charles Etienne was

sleeping in the trundle bed beside Judith’s, beside that of the woman who looked upon him and treated him with a cold unbending detached gentleness more discouraging than the fierce ruthless constant guardianship of the negrees who, with a sort of invincible spurious humility slept on a pallet on the floor (Faulkner 1972, 197).
These distinctions were also present in the way Charles Etienne addressed her. Judith allowed Charles Etienne to call her aunt (”_Call me Aunt Judith, Charles_” (Faulkner 1972, 208) because she was driven by a noblesse oblige principle, a way of behavior that was common for the plantation aristocracy of the antebellum South. This principle obliged her to behave to African Americans, among whom was also her mulatto nephew, as parents would behave to their children – patronizingly paternalistic.


Since the saga of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha follows all principles that are the basis of every real and fictional world: geographical location, historical roots, population structured in families whose genealogy could be traced for decades, or centuries in some cases, the existence of races characteristic for the U. S. A., it has been defined by the determinant of class as well. But since Faulkner’s literary work takes family for its basic unit and main social institution, the class in Yoknapatawpha is present in its most elementary forms. However, it could be distinguished among three main classes in Yoknapatawpha: the planters’ class, the middle class, and the poor whites’ class.

Faulkner divides the planters’ class into old aristocracy: the ancestors of a few European noblemen or commoners whose origin can be traced for centuries and whose representatives are the Sartorises; and new planters, plebeians, who acquired their plantations by fraud or plunder and whose representatives are Thomas Sutpen, McCaslins and Compsons. Deprived of privileges given to the old aristocracy and driven by a consuming desire to obtain things that represented the core of social success in the Old South – land, slaves, house, and a respectable wife, they were forced to use violence, cruelty, and craft to acquire their plantations, cultivate them in Southern wilderness and establish their dynasties. Their brutal nature and their ruthless conduct helped in creation and preservation of Southern value system; they made the institution of slavery reality. Morality and humanity were, in such design, of little importance.

Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha is also populated by picturesque representatives of the middle class. The majority of them are wealthy middle class men: there are Will Varner, a wealthy shop owner, lawyers Gavin Stevens and Horace Benbow, commercial traveler V. K. Ratliff, judge Drake, Northerners Burdens; the rest belongs to the category of Southern Yankees. Southern Yankee, usually of poor white trash origin, can, in some aspects of his life, be compared to the class of new planters. He was also driven by desire to acquire land and property, wealth and power that were, more or less, out of his reach and was prepared to do anything to get what he wanted. Thanks to his intellectual and manipulative abilities and his stubbornness and diligence, he managed to reach higher social and political status which was supposed to be a privilege of a few richest men in the region; in that way he surpassed the ancestors of respectable local families who lived in aristocratic poverty. Faulkner probably found the model for this segment of Southern middle class in the representatives of Southern poor whites: James Vardaman and Theodore Bilbo who attacked the traditional standards of behavior and education characteristic for upper, ruling, classes. The Snopes trilogy, with its emphasis on the development of capitalist ideology in the U. S. South, depicts the rise of the most famous Southern Yankee in American literature: Flem Snopes. Flem Snopes thus started his career as a shop assistant in Will Varner’s shop. By skillfully using vices, passions and greed of people around him, and simultaneously hiding his own, Flem climbed slowly on the social ladder and finally became a respectable bank president.

The last class group in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha is the class of poor whites or poor white trash. The Bundrens, Tulls, Armstids, Lena Grove and many others are some of them. Unlike the Compsons, Sutpens and Snopeses, poor whites, who are masterfully presented by the Bundren family in As I Lay Dying, are people who can be understood and sympathized with. The Bundrens are, unlike the Compsons, able to respect the code of honor, and, in doing so, they rise above the usual level of behavior and thinking typical for their class. In being human and caring they proved their ability for dreams and aspirations. And in paying respect to their mother’s last wish they proved their ability to keep promise given to her.


There is one more element of Yoknapatawpha’s structure that should be paid attention to: gender. Since the basic unit of Yoknapatawpha’s social structure is family based on male and patriarchal authority, woman has in it an inferior, but clearly defined role: she presents property on marriage market and functions as the means of preserving her husband’s family name. During antebellum period “Southern white womanhood … [was] marked by fear of male violence and yet dependence on male authority, by male adulation as ‘better than human’ and male degradation as ‘less than man’” (Goodwyn Jones 1997, 56). The misogyny of sexual and gender relations in the Old South was even more visible on the example of Southern black womanhood. African American woman had two, or even, three, functions: as a slave she worked in the fields or in the house; as a mother and a slave she, by giving birth to her children, made new property for her master; as a woman she was forced to satisfy sexual needs of both her master and her husband. “For the white man, the Negress was the female animalized and his white woman was the female spiritualized. It was as if the planter were trying to make up to his white woman for his faithlessness and duplicity” (Backman 1965, 602). Women, black and white alike, were forced to live together; they were tied by miscegenation of their masters and separated by race and class laws of the Old South. White Southerners knew that and lived with that although it was against the proclaimed Southern principles of honor, pride, family, and decency.

After the Civil War, and with the abolition of slavery, open sexual transgressions of white Southerners became less obvious. They were replaced by other problems: doubts in Southern masculinity and worry about chastity and sexual purity/safety of white women. The first problem was caused by defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War. Military defeat was equalled with sexual defeat of Southerners as men, with their demasculinization. When they went to war, they were actually going to defend innocence and chastity of white Southern womanhood that symbolically stood for innocence and chastity of the white U. S. South. The military defeat, as an act of demasculinization, questioned also the honor and loyalty of the Southern woman. In order to regain their masculinity white Southerners had to restore their honor by some ritual actions among which was the return of their wives, sisters, and daughters on the pedestal where they had been held before the war. Southern women

in their loyalty, purity and submissiveness proved essential in cushioning the shock of defeat for their men and to restoring the status quo in gender relations. Once reestablished, the patriarchal system resisted change. The war generation transmitted these values to their sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters (Dobbs 1997, 371).
Although the Southern woman willingly slipped again into her historically determined role, some changes in her sexual and cultural role were inevitable. She was not satisfied with man’s perceptions of her any more since he tried to control her female being and put her in the role that he, as a creator of representative power, created for her. This discrepancy, expressed in Quentin Compson’s question: “Why couldn’t it have been me and not her [Caddy] who is unvirgin” (Faulkner 1954, 96), becomes one of his main existential problems. He did not manage to match reality (“_Women only use other people’s codes of honour_” (Faulkner 1954, 217) and half-forgotten codes of Southern past (“I protect women (…) from themselves” (Faulkner 1954, 119) in the person of his sister Caddy and committed suicide. This slippage is also present in the character of pregnant and unmarried Lena Grove. Although men try to create the appropriate role for her, she did not want to have
any idea of finding whoever it was she was following. (…) she had [n]ever aimed to, only she hadn’t told him yet. (…) she had just made up her mind to travel a little further and see as much as she could, sine she (…) knew that when she settled down this time, it would likely be for the ret of her life (Faulkner 2005, 380).

She had her own plan and her own way of thinking and acting which was completely different from the one men wanted to force her into.

The second problem of the post-war period, which was also the product of racist campaigns of white extremists in the U. S. South and which can also be traced to the first half of the twentieth century, was the myth of the black beast or the black rapist who, with his uncontrollable sexuality, presented a constant threat for white Southern womanhood. The Southern woman was again the means, or the object, of restoring and preserving Southern masculinity in racial context. Faulkner illustrates this segment of gender-race relations in his Light in August where the relationship between Joe Christmas and Joanna Burden violates the taboo against miscegenation.

Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha is home of women of all ages, colors, and classes. Having been born and brought up in conservative, patriarchal, and traditional region Yoknapatawpha’s women are either wives and mothers, or spinsters. When constructing the first category of women characters, wives and mothers, Faulkner used typical gender determinants of the patriarchal and traditional U. S. South which required of a Southerner to possess “money, a house, a plantation, slaves, a family – incidentally of course, a wife” (Faulkner 1972, 263). To be a good mother and a wife woman had to possess only two qualities: racial purity and chastity – they were necessary to preserve the continuity of male hierarchy. Turned into a simple being, or a kind of a stereotype, a woman as a wife and a mother was deprived of ability to think and to be an individual. As a wife/mother stereotype the Southern woman could not subvert or transgress gender defined boundaries. It is therefore

not surprising, then, that the wives in Faulkner’s novels are shadowy, unreal figures. Usually they die young in childbirth, like Mrs. Zack Edmonds, or waste away, like Gail Hightower’s mother. Colonel Sartoris, Major de Spain, and General Compson are vividly and vibrantly alive even in memory; their wives, on the other hand, are scarcely mentioned before they sink into the anonymity of the past (Vickery 1986, 288).

The second category of Faulkner’s women characters are women who can develop and show their strength and identity only in absence of their fathers, brothers and husbands. This type of woman, who does not want to be defined and categorized by the patriarchal standards, often ends her life tragically or finds the final affirmation of her attitude in death, social isolation, sexual transgression, or promiscuity. She is too powerful for her small town community; her main offence is transgression of sex and gender codes and therefore she has to be silenced. The new, different, woman is presented in characters of Drusilla Hawk – brave and loyal woman warrior who dressed and thought like a man during and after the war; Joanna Burden – a woman who lived alone und ran her business like a man; Temple Drake – whose sexuality, when she was with Red, was gender transgressive because of its aggressiveness and lust uncharacteristic for the Southern concept of white womanhood. Unfortunately, each of these women characters ends up silenced by death or by a marriage vow. Only the characters of older women, like Miss Jenny Du Pre, Miss Rosa Coldfield and Miss Habersham, who are old enough not to be the physical threat for the male patriarchal system, are allowed to show their individuality, strength, and determination and be emancipated when it does not endanger the system in which they live.

Works Cited

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  • Blotner, J. 1974. Faulkner: A Biography. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club.
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