Southern Attitudes Against African Americans In William

Faulkner’s Fiction Essay, Research Paper


William Faulkner in his novels, The Sound and the Fury, The Intruder In The Dust, and Go Down, Moses written in 1929, 1948, and 1942 shows that Southerners treat African-Americans poorly not only in his fiction but as well as in history. In an attempt to create a saga of his own, Faulkner invented many characters from the historic South. He was known as a Southern American novelist and therefore set his fiction in imaginary Yoknapatawpha County during the times of slavery. The use of symbolism, dialect, and structure help to produce a racial theme in which evil and injustice of the world turn a white against a black . From Faulkner s point of view of Southern history, God created and man himself cursed and tainted. In other words, the whites brought the blacks to America and then turned against them.

In 1897, William Faulkner began his journey in the world starting in New Albany, Mississippi. He lived in nearby Oxford, Mississippi, nearly all of his life. Superficially Faulkner, is one of the most markedly regional writers, since the bulk of his work is set in the America deep South, drawing its inspiration from southern myths and traditions and the profound agonies of the southern racial and national predicament. # Faulkner peopled his mythical county, Yoknapatawpha, with the human beings whom he knew and with characters drawn from his own family history. # Everyone he met and everything he saw added more knowledge to his brain about the South. This knowledge transformed into some of his best novels ever. Three primary influences on Faulkner s writing were family legends passed down to him, Faulkner s apprenticeship and his brief association with literary circles in New York and New Orleans, and the Mississippi world in which the author lived most of his life.# As a child, William Faulkner was probably influenced by the Faulkner Negro nurse-mammy, Caroline Barr, to whom he later dedicated Go Down, Moses. Both Dilsey, of The Sound and the Fury, and Aunt Callie, of The Reivers, are at least partial fictional portraits of this loyal family servant.# Faulkner was not a so-called Redneck . He treated African Americans with the same respect that anyone should deserve. Faulkner s treatment of miscegenation is remarkably different from that of many authors who write on this subject. He does not make his mulattoes tragic because of their white blood, or pathetic because of their black blood, nor does he find that mixed blood makes them superior. His treatment of race, if his work is considered as a whole, is social; and his conclusions are based on pragmatic findings.# As a result, Faulkner s conclusions are written out in story form and his background information comes from the historical growth and subsequent decadence of the South. The human drama is then built on the model of the actual historical drama extending over almost a century and a half. All of the Southern background influenced Faulkner so greatly that his novels were only set in the South. Each person who reads Faulkner s novels can be able to live Faulkner s life as he lived it.

The setting and genre of Faulkner s works was dependent on his time period. Authors in history only wrote about their time period. In 1927 Faulkner s home state, Mississippi, dubbed the worst American state by H. L. Mencken after an exhausting statistical survey, became especially infamous for brutality in enforcing black subjugation through Jim Crow codes, lynchings, and economic exploitation (possibly because as of 1934 it was the last southern state with over fifty percent black population). Already known for violent resistance to change, it was the state most committed to the unabashed style and race baiting of redneck politics.# In relation to his novels, William Faulkner uses facts from the old South to create his characters and the entire plot structure. The story Go Down, Moses is a moral allegory that accuses the white man in the South of guilt and neglect in his treatment of the Negro, and suggests by its example that he must bear the burden of his guilt.# Because the society was so filled with tensions – varied, impersonal, obscure – the Negro became a scapegoat, a personified threat to long-cherished and conflicting values of white Southerners: individualism, localism, family, and a clan.# Southern life for every individual, black or white, was full of racism and cruelty. Faulkner used these lives to enhance his characterization of everyone. Faulkner s mythical and myth rich Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi, rather like Thomas Hardy s Wessex in the English midlands, gains validity with each revisit. The reader comes to know a society based on race, religion and family origin, and perhaps to appreciate the love-hate relationship many Southern writers hold toward their heritage.# An important element in Faulkner s education and in his special preparation for a literary career came from his friendship with a fellow townsman, Phil Stone. He suggested authors for Faulkner to read, tried to put him in touch with the literary movements of the day, and helped finance Faulkner s book of poems, The Marble Faun, which appeared in 1924.# Throughout Faulkner s career, there were many bumps to success. However, friends such as Phil Stone gave Faulkner the boost that he needed in times of despair. These friends showed him how to write during his time period.

The use of symbolism is used in all of William Faulkner s fiction. Faulkner connects his imaginary South to the real and racist old South. His stories about Negroes illustrate the means and define the nature of their survival.# In Intruder in the Dust, the dead Gowrie may be taken as the death of the promise of the old South, and he has become the factor that motivates its conscious action. The lynching that threatens Lucas may represent the effort of the South to avenge its loss and to save what is left of its past. In the minds of many Southerners, Lucas is mistaken for the evil he represents. By punishing Lucas many people feel that the doom of the South can be averted.# This brings up the question: did Faulkner have interest in the society of his world as a whole rather than in a particular situation? Lucas is an example of Faulkner s moving from the particular to the general in Negro characterization and symbolism. At first Lucas is a person and then he becomes a symbol for a race. The creation of his character historically and socially and the use that Faulkner makes of him in Intruder In The Dust, support the contention that Faulkner is primarily a moralist and that his Negro characters are consistent with his moral theory and dependent upon that theory for their particular existence.# Faulkner s Negroes are human beings; only in the surface matters of food and clothing and daily occupation are the white characters any different from the Negro slaves who supported them – the same sweat, the only difference being that on the one hand it went for labor in the fields. (Quote from Absalom, Absalom!)# Faulkner did in fact look at the world as a whole and he demonstrated that in his novels. However, some of the characters from William Faulkner s novels came straight from Faulkner, his friends, and his relatives. In Faulkner s novel, Sartoris, the epitaph he had chosen for John Sartoris, a pilot who dies in the novel, was I bare him on eagles wings and brought him unto me. In 1935, when Faulkner s youngest brother, Dean Swift Faulkner, died crashing the airplane Faulkner had sold to him, the same epitaph was used on his gravestone. Faulkner felt tremendous guilt over the death of his brother Dean. He had sold the airplane to Dean, and he had encouraged him in his flying. At the time of Dean s death, Faulkner was writing Absalom, Absalom!, a novel in which the central mystery concerns the murder of a brother by his brother. According to Faulkner s nephew, James Faulkner, the church that Thomas Sutpen rode fast to – and in which he was married – in Absalom, Absalom! is the same church, College Hill Presbyterian Church, in which Faulkner married Estelle Oldham Franklin in 1929. Anyone who reads these novels can realize that what they are reading is Faulkner s life in the old South and his different relationships with people.

William Faulkner s use of dialect in all of his novels, notably The Sound and the Fury, greatly influenced writers as well as his readers. Come on. Luster said. We done looked there. They ain t no more coming right now. Lets go down to the branch and find that quarter before them niggers finds it. # Don t you know it ll take more than a eighteen year old nigger to make Queenie run away. She older than him and Benjy put together. And dont you start no projecking with Queenie, you hear me, T.P. If you dont drive to suit Miss Cahline, I going to put Roskus on you. He aint too tied up to do that. # The dialect used in this novel proves that the characters in this novel were not educated. When Faulkner inserted his dialect into the novel, he did not use correct grammar rules in order to show that how these characters were talking was not educated. Didn t Mr Jason say for you all to be quiet. Eat your supper, now. Here, Versh. Git his spoon. # Faulkner also wrote the character s dialect using the old Southern dialect. Hush up. T. P. said, trying not to laugh, Lawd, they ll all hear us. Get up. T. P. said . . . # Aint you got better sense than to let them come around here. # People not only use this country accent but other accents as well. Each region in the world has its own accent. William Faulkner used the Southern accent to show that the setting was in the heart of the South.

The structure of a Faulkner novel or story is a means of revealing character. Faulkner s writing style was very original during the time in which he wrote. He chose to write The Sound and the Fury using the stream of conscious of his characters. He also chose to have more than one major narrator. Another technique employed by Faulkner was the rearrangement of the different sections of the novel in time – flashbacks in time are also incorporated throughout the individual sections. The combination of the different writing techniques allows the reader to see into the minds of the major characters in the novel. Angela Ulmer commented I found The Sound and the Fury to be a novel well worth the amount of time I spent reading it. At first, I had a difficult time comprehending the story because of Faulkner s organization of the novel. However, near the end of the novel the story really started to come together. I began to appreciate Faulkner s techniques because they were very unique and different compared to most other novelists. Faulkner s complex plots and narrative style alienated many readers of his early works, but he was recognized later as one of the greatest American writers. William Faulkner s plot structure for The Sound and the Fury is split up into three parts. The first section is told from the point of view of Benjy Compson, a thirty-three-year-old idiot, and recounts via flashbacks the earliest events in the novel. The second section recounts the story from Quentin Compson s perspective. Section three is told by the third Compson brother, Jason, and is set on Good Friday. This novel also has unexplained time shifts and run-on prose. This explanation shows that William Faulkner experimented with different types of plot structure. In Absalom, Absalom!, the story is told by a variety of narrators at a variety of times. Making sense of the various narratives will be the primary difficulty for any reader, just as it is for Quentin and Shreve. Yet it is the use of varying, even conflicting, narratives that gives the novel its power. Were the Sutpen story told in a simple, linear, narrative form, it would be gothic, perhaps melodramatic. By forcing the reader to participate in creating the Sutpen story, the revelations, the anguish carry emotional weight. All of Faulkner s novels had different experimentations of a plot structure so that it emphasized how complex the old South really was.

William Faulkner has many universal themes in which they can be symbolized by the toll taken of white Southerners treatment of African Americans. In Light in August (1932), prejudice is shown to be most destructive when it is internalized, as in Joe Christmas, who believes, though there is no proof of it, that one of his parents was a Negro. The theme of racial prejudice is brought up again in Absalom, Absalom! (1936), in which a young man is rejected by his father and brother because of his mixed blood. Faulkner s most outspoken moral evaluation of the relationship and the problems between Negroes and whites is to be found in Intruder in the Dust (1948).# Generally, in all of Faulkner s novels, the theme is the decay of the old South, as symbolized by the Sartoris and Compson families, and the emergence of ruthless and brash newcomers, the Snopeses.# These characters can be symbolized by any part of the old Southern history. The white characters symbolize the racism and the black characters can symbolize the African American race. In Sanctuary, the theme of Southern degeneracy is only a contributory motif, playing its part in the triumph of evil and injustice, which is the central theme of the book.# In Intruder in the Dust, Old Man Gowrie, being human and weak, blames the Negro for most of the evils of his condition. When the Negro (he thinks) becomes the instrument of the death of his son, all of his fury and hate are unleashed.# Old Man Gowrie symbolizes the South and the Negro symbolizes his race. The South built up its racism against African Americans when the American government freed them from slavery. By examining the theme in the long short story, The Bear , the destruction of the wilderness and by critically analyzing the values that end it and survive it, we will see that Faulkner has in this work been constant to his simple, humanistic outlook. But an examination of the method will show that Faulkner has adopted here the characteristics of allegory and essay and that several participants in the action are emblems rather than characters – a situation which never occurs in the work of the previous two decades. Old Ben, the bear of the story, is a manifestation of the essential wilderness; the hunting of him is a ritual, in which all the participants have set roles to play like actors on a stage. This symbolization shows the destruction of a part of nature for something that can be easily avoided just as the destruction of the old South and slavery.

William Faulkner s characters can be compared to the old South by analogy and metaphor. In his early work, Faulkner approaches the creation of myth. That is to say, his characters are so convincing and universal and so recognizable that they attain the stature of archetypes while retaining the complexities of human beings. Their actions evolve into metaphors about the nature of human experience. Now, Faulkner has moved from the presentation of archetypal images to he presentation of disguised ideas. Faulkner s characters have obtained his private identities of himself and people he knew. That Will Be Fine, a story which first appeared in 1935, illustrates perfectly Faulkner s attitude towards past and present. A Rose for Emily appeared in 1930. Emily, a figure from the past, grows to a middle age without marrying. She is a symbol of the past as well as a fully realized pathetic figure. When all hope for marriage seems to be past, she is seen in company with a man who symbolizes the New South, the present. These representations of past and present help the reader to see that Faulkner bases all of his novels on the past and present of the South. In the controlling and shaping generation, the image of the past is represented in The Sound and the Fury by Mr. and Mrs. Compson and Uncle Maury. It is not the present corrupting the past which is here revealed, but the false values of the Old South which distort and destroy the present. The absence of authority, the chaos visible here in the smallest matters, extends significantly to the world of moral order. The Old South destroying the present can be compared to African Americans by the freeing of the slaves and the Southerners reactions towards it destroyed how the African Americans would be able to live in the American society.

The structure of all of William Faulkner s novels shows that Faulkner cannot stay away from writing about the South as a whole. Intruder in the Dust pretends to be a novel in the murder-mystery genre. As in the case of the other later novels, the thin narrative veneer fails to obscure the all too obvious fact that the developing consciousness of the characters and a play with philosophical abstractions are the central concern. In this case the attempt to write for all levels of perception and appreciation leads to failure all around. There are three distinct areas of treatment: the purely narrative, the race-relations theme, and, arising out of the latter, the humanistic theme. This last concern is the primary motivating one of the novel. It was conceived first and then dressed in a contrived plot. However, writing of a geographical area that he knows best, where the emotional climate is tense with the overwhelming problem of race relations, Faulkner finds himself unable to avoid social commentary and the explicit presentation of a point of view. As with the other novels published between 1948 and 1954, two basic faults of style become obvious in Intruder in the Dust. One is actually a structural fault; the other is a stylistic fault which amounts in fiction to a breach of good taste. In the first place, the failure of manner and matter to emerge as a unified conception from the author s imagination leads to a breakdown in the effort to sustain a coherent and credible narrative. Whereas in the most effective literature we find the story level and the symbolic implications sustaining each other, here the levels or ranges of connotation intrude upon each other. Requiem for a Nun and Intruder in the Dust are both murder stories in the most general sense. They are both characterized by sententious monologue, didacticism, overt moralizing, and a circuitous style. Both novels fail to present skillfully wrought or feasible plots: the plot is often summarized and always sacrificed to its presentation. It is even more significant that in both these novels a Negro makes a sacrifice in order to challenge and assist the integrity of his white neighbor; in each novel the heroic Negro is mostly seen in jail; each is forced into his predicament by the white man s wickedness; both stories are sent in Jefferson. In these novels, African Americans are shown trying to improve their social stand in the world but the white Southerners are holding them down.

William Faulkner contributed many ideas to the Southern history. His universal theme of the toll taken by white Southerners towards African Americans emphasized how cruel people can really be. All parts of his writing influenced readers as well as important literary writers. This writing also made it possible to view the history of the South at different perspectives. Faulkner s novels, as a whole, contributed much to the Southern history.


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