The Image of Hell, the Myth of Family, and the Paradox of Narrative
in William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Oe Kenzaburo


     How does an author's reading experience influence his or her own writing? In one of her interviews in 1993, Louise Erdrich says: "Faulkner is probably an influence on any writer, but yes, I do love his work and I read it over and over, especially The Hamlet and Absalom, Absalom! It probably points toward an interesting academic question---that is, how white Southerners and Native American writers might partake of a similar (contained, defeated, proud, undefeated) sense of history, and of place. Strange bedfellows." (Chavkin, 220). This paper will trace the legacy of Faulkner's work for Toni Morrison and Kenzaburo Oe--two figures among the generation of writers who followed him--as well as explore the means by which the reader traces the echoes and overlapping features among these writers. First, we will consider the dominant images in their novels, then pursue the myths of blood and family which form the forcible dynamics of their stories. Further, we will examine how the narrators of these works become embroiled in the difficult issue of "how to tell the truth," as a reflection of the turmoil which writers feel when telling their stories. Without doubt these three questions are meticulously intertwined. 

     As is well known, Toni Morrison wrote her master's thesis at Cornell University on suicide in Faulkner and Virginia Woolf, but she is not always happy about admitting Faulkner's influences on her novels.1 Whether she likes it or not, many scholars have found that reading Faulkner and Morrison collaterally reveals new meanings and sheds light on the outstanding structures of both of these authors' works. So far, two comparative studies2 of Faulkner and Morrison have been published; in addition, some reviews of Paradise, Morrison's new novel, mention its connection with Faulkner's novels.3 As I have written previously4, in writing the character Sethe in Beloved, Morrison responded to the pains and sufferings of Faulkner's female slave Eunice in "The Bear."  I'll not repeat this argument here. My point is that Morrison, either consciously or unconsciously, replenished the work of her predecessor by filling up a certain void or lack in his stories. 
     Oe Kenzaburo often quotes Harry Wilbourne's "grief" in The Wild Palms ("If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem"), and mentions that his imagination has always been greatly stimulated by what is "feminine" in Faulkner's novels.5 Oe was already reading Faulkner in 1955 when Faulkner visited Japan, and read the American author most intensively preceding his writing of The Silent Cry (1967).  Moreover, in his memorable essay, "Darkness Beyond the Printed Words" (1969), Oe writes enthusiastically about how he became absorbed in Faulkner's novels. He confesses how he was bound heart and soul by the voice of the village storyteller: when he, in his childhood, listened to her words, he was filled with "the voices, cries, and flames" of the revolt in the first year of the Meiji Dynasty, and "all the noises and motions, and 'the sound and the fury' of the rice riot"(22). The boy Oe's imagination is easily associated with Quentin Compson's childhood situation, which we read about at the beginning of Absalom, Absalom!: "His childhood was full of them; his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth. He was a barracks filled with stubborn backlooking ghosts still recovering...from the fever..."(7). 
     Oe confesses to the impact which his reading experiences of Faulkner's characters had on him. He says: they "exist in the darkness beyond the printed words" and "I expect I will experience over and over these indomitable characters who in a pathetic and sterile way endeavor to self-combust by pushing themselves to the utmost level of passion. Thus I take myself into the crowd of people in the Yoknapatawpha Saga who, obsessed by strange passion, sensitively and aggressively seek to discover the meaning of their lives and deaths"(204). 
     Oe finds from Faulkner's characters that people gifted with intense passion are destined to meet with huge suffering, and insists that in his imagination Faulkner's stories of "people of 'passion', a happy fusion of sufferings and enthusiasm"(205), are inextricably tied with the world of his home village in Shikoku. 
     From Oe's remark, we know that either consciously or unconsciously, writers' reading experiences naturally lead them towards a legacy from the works of other authors which settles heavily in the depths of their creative imaginations. How, though, is this textual legacy expressed in their own work? We will start by tracing shared images in the novels of Faulkner, Morrison, and Oe.  The motifs of incest between Taka and his idiot sister and their suicides parallel the relationship between Quentin Compson and Caddy in The Sound and the Fury and Henry Sutpen and Judith in Absalom, Absalom! 
     In Quentin's monologue in the second chapter of The Sound and the Fury, what occupies his mind on his way to the moment of drowning himself is his strong incestuous love for his sister Caddy. He imagines himself engulfed by the "clean flame" of Hell with his sister. They will be sent to Hell as a result of committing the horrifying crime of incest, and there will be nobody else in Hell but themselves(see SF 90,133,134).

If it could just be a hell beyond that: the clean flame the two of us more than dead. Then you will have only me then only me then the two of us amid the pointing and the horror beyond the clean flame...(SF 133, also see 90 and 134)
     While Quentin's incest is "real" only in his confession of this act to his father--"I have committed incest I said Father it was I it was not Dalton Ames"(SF 90)--Taka actually rapes his sister in The Silent Cry. The mentally impaired sister needs protection from somebody: she does not even know how to reject her brother's violent sex. Taka inculcates his weak sister with the belief that "they are a specially chosen couple...neither of them will and should be interested in other people for love"(390). But out of fear that his sister may possibly tell their uncle or aunt about their secret relationship, Taka threatens his sister by showing her a print of "medieval punishment of burning at the stake." He emphasizes that "if somebody knew about their incestuous relationship, both of them would have to undergo painful suffering...and if they are cautious not to let anyone know about their secret, they as brother and sister can live together for the rest of their lives without getting married to anyone else"(392). 
     Quentin's fantasy of the forbidden crime of incest and subsequent punishment by the clean flame reveals not only the horrified pictures of his imagination; it also reveals a romantic dream in which he and Caddy will be alone in hell, isolated from the interfering world and purified by the clean flame. However, in Taka's case, the print of burning at the stake symbolizes not only his utmost fear of punishment, but also the fact that he himself is an instrument of torture who threatens his mentally impaired sister. In The Silent Cry, Taka is always terrified when he sees the picture of hell in the village temple which his great-grandfather designed for his own brother, while Mitsusaburo (hereafter referred to as "Mitsu"),Taka's elder brother, finds "comfort"(444) in the red color of "the river of flames" and "the woods of flames in hell"(119,434-35). Therefore, Quentin's romanticism for the hellish flame is close to the comfort which Mitsu takes from the hellish red. In fact, Quentin is closer to Mitsu than to Taka in that both of them take action through words rather than deeds: Mitsu simply observes and contemplates what his brother or his suicidal friend do, and Quentin can make his fantasy of incestuous desire a reality only by desperately confessing to his father. 

     Next, we find a salient shared image in the scenes of storytelling in Morrison and Faulkner.  In Morrison's Beloved, Denver and Beloved retell Sethe's story.

Denver was seeing it now and feeling it---through Beloved. Feeling how it must have felt to her mother. Seeing how it must have looked. And the more fine points she made, the more detail she provided, the more Beloved liked it.... The monologue became, in fact, a duet as they lay down together, Denver nursing Beloved's interest like a lover whose pleasure was to overfeed the loved....  Denver spoke, Beloved listened, and the two did the best they could to create what really happened, how it really was... (78)
The way Beloved and Denver work together in reproducing Sethe's experiences reminds us of the scene in Absalom, Absalom!, in which Quentin and Shreve endeavor to reproduce Sutpen's story.
...both thinking as one, the voice which happened to be speaking the thought only the thinking become audible, vocal; the two of them creating between them, out of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking... (243) did not matter to either of them which one did the talking, since it was not the talking alone which did it...but some happy marriage of speaking and hearing... (253)

     In both novels, the speaker and the listener are described as a lover and the loved, and their act of telling is compared to "a duet" or "a marriage." Furthermore, the narrators of both scenes are trying to "create" what really happened out of the fragments of what they have heard. Eventually these scenes overlap each other in the reader's mind, though Morrison instantly denied the possibility of any influence from this scene in Absalom, Absalom!, when I asked about it in my interview with her.6 
     The shared images and the metaphors I have mentioned--incestuous relationships between brother and sister, horror of hellish flames as a result of sin, and the tableau of narrators presented as lover and loved--leads us to the myth of the family inherent in the works of Faulkner, Morrison, and Oe. Absalom, Absalom!, Beloved, and The Silent Cry have important historical events in their respective backgrounds; namely, the Civil War and the collapse of the South, slavery, and the peasants' revolt, which coincidentally occurred in Japan around 1860. All three are deeply involved in historical fact; but at the same time, each novel descends into the stories of individuals and individual families. If we add The Sound and the Fury and Morrison's Paradise, this group of novels appears to envisage the collapse of families caused by an excessive persistence of blood relations and family ties, which is sometimes followed by a vision of their regeneration. 

     Moreover, the dead family's ghosts come back from the past to the present time in each of these novels.  In Absalom, Absalom!, Thomas Sutpen's family and Charles Bon are summoned from the Civil War time into Mississippi in 1909 and a dormitory room at Harvard University in 1910. In addition, Quentin Compson, one of the principal narrators of the Sutpen stories, is indisputably a ghost of the man who committed suicide in The Sound and the Fury, published in 1929. Quentin, "still too young to deserve yet to be a ghost but nevertheless having to be one for all that," has to listen to Rosa Coldfield, "one of the ghosts which had refused to lie still...telling him about old ghost-times," in her musty closed "office" in "the deep South dead since 1865 and peopled with garrulous outraged baffled ghosts"(AA 4). 
     In Beloved, all of the Africans who lost their lives in the Middle Passage, as well as the ghost of a baby killed by her own mother in 1855, come back to this world in 1873. They were victimized by the atrocious institution of slavery. Close to the end of Paradise, the ghosts of the women at the Convent murdered by the patriarchal leaders of Ruby, the all-black community, visit each of their dear family members. In Oe's The Silent Cry as well, the ghost of the 1860 (the year Man'nen) riot leader strongly dominates his descendants' desire to also become heroes in their community. Both the brother S and Taka align themselves with the heroic figure of their great-grandfather's brother, the leader of the peasants' revolt in 1860: the brother S is murdered in the Korean community outside their village right after the termination of World War II, and Taka becomes the ringleader of a modern-age revolt which plunders the super-market, which is owned by a Korean. Furthermore, it is firmly believed in the valley village that that ghosts called "Goryo" live in the deep valley forest, an "other-world" which bodes ill for the village people. Every summer the Buddhist invocation to worship those ghosts is celebrated with much enthusiasm at the Bon festival. At the end of the novel, the heroic "ghosts" of the Nedokoro family, such as the great-grandfather's brother and the brother S, invite Taka--who commits suicide--to join them. In addition, to this group of ghosts we should add the ghost of Hightower's grandfather's, which he envisions every night at the window of his house in the back street of Jefferson. 
     Ghosts in literature and in the visual arts are essential elements of the definition of "Magical Realism." Lois Parkinson Zamora argues: "Some literary ghosts serve their creators as carriers of transcendental truths, as visible or audible signs of Spirit. Other ghosts carry the burden of tradition and collective memory: ancestral apparitions often act as correctives to the insularities of individuality, as links to lost families and communities, or reminders of communal crimes, crises, cruelties"(Zamora 497). Here we will focus on how the spirits of dead people strongly dominate their living descendants, and how these ghosts appear in the present time in order to reaffirm the bond, specifically the blood ties, between close family members. Charles Bon in Absalom, Absalom! is often described with images of absence--he is a "shadow" or an "unsubstantial" being--but his ghost has the most poisonous effect on Thomas Sutpen. According to Quentin's and Shreve's reasoning, what Bon wishes to obtain is his father Sutpen's recognition of their blood relationship; if the father had recognized their blood relation even by a slight sign in his eyes, the son would never have tried to marry his half-sister Judith. However, Sutpen's idea of untainted family, which insists on the purity of white blood, causes him to reject Bon's desperate wish for the recognition of their shared blood. Thus Quentin endeavors to solve the mystery of the Sutpen tragedy in terms of family, blood and racial relationships in the American South. 
     The pursuit of family or "home" is a crucial desire of slaves and the descendants of slaves, all the more because the ability to create "family" was out of their control during the time of slavery.  In Beloved, pregnant Sethe with her three children succeeds in her attempt to escape from the slave plantation, deceptively called "Sweet Home," but her husband Halle fails to join her and his whereabouts remain unknown. At Baby Suggs' (Halle's mother's) house, Sethe enjoys a kind of peaceful "family" life for four weeks. But when she is pursued by slavecatchers acting under the Fugitive Slave Act, she instantly decides to kill all of her four children, and succeeds in killing one.  She prefers her children to die rather than be condemned to the miserable, inhuman life of a slave back at the plantation. Eighteen years later, the dead homeless child comes back to this world to confirm her mother's love and to reaffirm her lost family ties. If Beloved represents all of the African lives lost in the Middle Passage, as Barbara Christian contends (Christian 364), Beloved's family would include all the African people who were forcibly deprived of their home, Africa. 
     In Paradise, Toni Morrison further develops the theme of black people searching for a home.  The founding fathers of the all black town Ruby migrate to Oklahoma from the deep South and attempt to build a paradise of their own, which turns out to be an extremely exclusive community isolated from the outside world, where the citizens are strongly united by virtue of their coal-black skin and their blood relationship. The townspeople preserve their identity only by repeatedly telling episodes of the bravery of their founding fathers and heroic stories of the community's past. The community's fathers, clinging to the status quo by resisting any influence from the changing outside world, attack the threatening (to them) Convent 17 miles away from the town and brutally murder the group of free women there who had been seeking to create their own home, in order to protect their closed "paradise." Ironically, far from salvaging the community from the invasion of outside influences, their reckless murder spree functions as sheer violence leading to the decisive destruction of a community which had been gradually collapsing from the inside. Consequently, in Paradise Morrison depicts for the first time the limitations of all black communities and the rote memory of their ancestors, by describing the collapse of the homological family and the community of blood relatives, though we perceive a glimpse of hope for resurrection of the community in the future at the end of the novel. The patriarch's worship of pure black blood is apparently as destructive as Thomas Sutpen's worship of pure white blood. 

     Walter Benn Michaels, at the beginning of his illuminating book, Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism, points out Faulkner's strong focus on family ties, specifically on the bondage of blood, and proceeds to develop the concept of nativism which can be defined in John Higham's words as: "intense opposition to an internal minority on the grounds of its foreign (i.e. 'un American') connections"(Michaels, 2). At the inception of the book, Michaels points out that "(T)he Reverend Shegog's Easter sermon in the fourth chapter of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury (1929) repeats and interlaces that novel's twinned fantasies about language and family" (Michaels, 1). Inspired by Michaels' association with the theory of nativism, we could refer to The Silent Cry's villagers' exclusion of others and worship of pure Japanese blood as the reason why the villagers' persistent hatred and prejudice against the Koreans inspires the modern age rebellion of looting the super-market owned by a Korean. 
     Michaels contends that when Quentin Compson insists on confessing to his father that he committed incest with his sister Caddy, who lost her virginity and is pregnant, he desires to take her back and keep her safely in his family forever (see Michaels 1). Now let's turn our attention to Quentin's false confession of incest to his father.

I have committed incest I said father it was I it was not Dalton Ames ... (SF 90) wanted to sublimate a piece of natural human folly into a horror and then exorcise it with truth...(SF 203)

Quentin's love for Caddy is restricted to his desire for incest, and he has to create a fictional truth in order to salvage the predicament of his sister's pregnancy. Quentin is desperate in his endeavor to transform his words into truth; this will occur only if his confession is believed--authorized--by his father. 
     With a special focus on Quentin's strategy--his recourse to the power of words--in his efforts to repair the breakdown of his family, we will compare Taka's false confession in The Silent Cry that he "raped and murdered the village girl" to Quentin's desire to change fantasy into truth through the words: "I have committed incest." Taka tells his brother Mitsu that he has raped and murdered the village girl, and through the act of telling he seeks to transform his false confession into truth, and identify himself with his violent and heroic great-grandfather. However, Mitsu makes a keen-sighted analysis of Taka's intention.
"---you're hoping to punish yourself for the incest and the death of an innocent person that it brought about; and you're hoping that the people here will install you among the valley 'spirits,' so that you're remembered as a man of violence."  (The Silent Cry, 240)
Both Quentin and Taka attempt to realize violent acts and self-punishment through their "true" confessions but they inevitably reveal thereby the reverse side of our efforts to "tell the truth." As an epitome of their continual efforts to find possible ways of telling the truth, Faulkner, Morrison and Oe respectively assign the narrators of their novels a proposition of how to tell the truth, which is the fundamental issue underlying the narrative act. As a consequence, their novels naturally take the form of meta-narrative, with the essential theme of the writer's struggle of how to tell the truth woven into their novels. Hereafter we will examine the structure of meta-narrative in the novels of Morrison, Oe, and Faulkner. 

     In the scene of narration by Beloved and Denver quoted above, the narrators are retelling the story of Denver's birth based upon the previously told stories of her mother Sethe; we may therefore regard their act of narration as "creation" in words. However, Denver knows that "[S]he never told me all of it"(76, and "You never told me all what happened"[36]) and that what Sethe told her daughter was pieces and fragments, because Sethe and "Baby Suggs had agreed without saying so that it was unspeakable; to Denver's inquiries Sethe gave short replies or rambling, incomplete reveries"(58). 
     Paul D, shocked by the newspaper clipping Stamp Paid has shown him, pushes Sethe to tell the truth about the murder of her baby.  However, circling and circling the subject, Sethe never comes to the main point of the story (161-62).

Sethe knew that the circle she was making around the room, him, the subject, would remain one.  That she could never close in, pin it down for anybody who had to ask.  If they didn't get it right off---she could never explain.  (163)
Thus Sethe admits that the truth can never be explained in words, "[B]ecause the truth was simple.... was No. No. Nono. Nonono. Simple"(163). Therefore Paul D "caught only pieces of what she said"(161), and her decisive words: "I took and put my babies where they'd be safe"(164).  Naturally we notice instantly the many holes, lacks, and omissions in her narrative: the true story is beyond explanation and is never explicitly described beyond the simple, but emphasized repetition of "No." 
     Paul D cannot understand Sethe's violent response to the slavecatchers and leaves 124, but he in turn becomes obsessed with the untold dark memories "in that tobacco tin buried in his chest"(72):  the offensive pain of the "iron bit" (69, 70, 71) in his mouth, and the inhuman sexual torture practiced every morning by the prison-guards in Georgia (107-08). Thus for most of the former-slaves in Beloved, the story is concluded with "unspeakable thoughts, unspoken"(199). It is a story of revealing the "impossibility of telling" in which they, like Sethe, either tell their stories only out of  fragmentary memory, or entirely give up relating their experiences because they simply cannot explain them in words. 
     Neither mother nor daughter can share their memories or desires, after Sethe recognizes Beloved as her daughter who comes back from the other side. Now Sethe, Beloved, and Denver respectively declare that each "owns" their beloved daughter, or mother, or sister.
Beloved, she my daughter. She mine. See. She come back to me of her own free will and I don't have to explain a thing.  (200)
Sethe is filled with joy to have her daughter back home and is relieved to know that she doesn't have to "explain a thing" any longer. Beloved says: "I am Beloved and she is mine"(210, 214), and Denver makes sure that "Beloved is my sister"(205) by likewise insisting: "[S]he's mine, Beloved.  She's mine"(209). These declarations of ownership should be a powerful prologue to the restoration of lost family members. However, Toni Morrison makes it clear in a video interview that the mother and the daughters are not professing their love for each other; rather they are expressing nothing but "unspeakable thoughts, unspoken, done as soliloquies".7 In her soliloquy Beloved recalls Sethe's earnest inquiry: "Tell me the truth. Didn't you come from the other side?" (215). Here Sethe implores her daughter to "tell the truth," though she well knows the difficulty or impossibility of telling the truth.  The reason why Beloved comes back to this world is to find her family and join her mother: "I am looking for the join... I am alone… I want to be the two of us... I want the join... I wanted to join. I tried to join.... I wanted to join her in the sea..."(213-14). Beloved is the story of the repressed desires of both mother and daughter; the mother wants to tell why she had to kill her daughter but cannot, and the daughter wants to hear from her mother why she had to be killed but cannot. 
     Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury is deprived of language from the moment of his birth, but he makes futile efforts to say something to the Burgess girl he will subsequently assault:  "I was trying to say, and I caught her, trying to say, and she screamed and I was trying to say and trying..."(SF 60). We find Taka's similarly futile effort to "try to say" in The Silent Cry. Chapter 8 of the novel is entitled: "Shall I tell you the truth?", a phrase quoted from "Toba," Tanigawa Shuntaro's poem.
"I was thinking about the absolute truth which, if a man tells it, leaves him no alternative but to be killed by others, or kill himself, or go mad and turn into a monster. The kind of truth that once uttered leaves you clutching a bomb with the fuse irretrievably lit. What do you think, Mitsu---is the courage to tell others that kind of truth possible for ordinary flesh and blood?" (The Silent Cry 156-57)
In the English translation, the title of the chapter is "Truth Unspeakable" (141), which might easily lead us to associate it with the "unspeakable thoughts, unspoken" in Beloved. Taka's truth is about the suicide of their sister, as Mitsu was afraid to imagine. Taka, who has barely survived through lies, false memories, and escape into dreams, seems to abandon his life by telling the truth about his sister's death. 

     In fact we readily notice the mysterious enigmas at the center of all three novels: Beloved, The Silent Cry, and Absalom, all of which have their principal narratives coincidentally set around the 1860's, as already mentioned. Why did the slave mother kill her own baby daughter? What is the desire of the daughter's ghost who came back from the other side after eighteen years? What was the fate of the leader of the 1860 peasants' revolt? What compelled Taka and Mitsu's sister to commit suicide? Why does Thomas Sutpen forbid the marriage of Judith to Charles Bon? The narrative structures of these novels circle around these mysterious questions, leaving them for the narrators and readers to grapple with. 
     Sethe in Beloved gives up telling the truth to Paul D, since it "cannot explain," and Morrison herself directs the reader to focus on each character's monologue. However, the doors to the unspeakable truth are inexorably shut to all of them. In Absalom, the four narrators: Rosa, Mr. Compson, Quentin and Shreve, cannot find their way out from the labyrinth of their narrative. As a consequence, the novel closes with several incomplete stories hung suspended, which makes the reader unable to decide how much of each interpretation is true or false. 
     Rosa, compared to Cassandra(AA 15) whose prophesies were fated never to be believed, tells her story like a dreamer; her talking "seemed partake of that logic-and reason-flouting quality of a dream"(AA 15). Rosa, the only narrator who participated in and observed the Sutpen tragedy, cannot answer her own questions and drops herself into the maelstrom of the mystery; she cannot help but keep asking, "Why? Why? and Why?"(135), for almost fifty years. Mr. Compson, in trying to solve the mystery of the Sutpen stories, says in a frustrated manner: "It's just incredible. It just does not explain. Or perhaps that's it: they don't explain and we are not supposed to know"(80).   He finally has to admit the lack of meaning in the story.

Yes, Judith, Bon, Henry, Sutpen: all of them. They are there, yet something is missing.... (80)
     The narration of Quentin and Shreve, like a "happy marriage of speaking and hearing"(253) as quoted above, appears to enthusiastically pursue the truth of the tragedy, but in the process their narration gradually retreats back into where language, the medium of narration, does not function at all. For their narration goes far beyond a "happy marriage" of the narrator and the listener, and they come to identify themselves with the characters they are talking about. When Henry is panting, Quentin is "panting himself"(275). Not only that, Shreve becomes identified with Charles Bon: "They both bore it as though in deliberate flagellant exaltation of physical misery transmogrified into the spirits' travail of the two young men during that time fifty years ago"(275). Thus Quentin and Shreve travel with Henry and Bon, and think with them:
So that now it was not two but four of them riding the two horses through the dark over the frozen December ruts of Christmas eve: four of them and then just two---Charles-Shreve and Quentin-Henry, the two of them both believing that Henry was thinking He (meaning his father) has destroyed us all... (267)
     These four people are now interchangeable with each other beyond time and space: "Four of them there, in that room in New Orleans in 1860, just as in a sense there were four of them here in this tomblike room in Massachusetts in 1910"(268). Furthermore, when it comes time for the narrators to conjecture about this most unfathomable mystery, their difficulties are compounded:
They were both in Carolina and the time was forty-six years ago, and it was not even four now but compounded still further, since now both of them were Henry Sutpen and both of them were Bon, compounded each of both yet either neither... (280)
It seems obvious that the narrating voice will vanish into nothing as long as the narrating subjects and the narrated objects become identified with and compound each other.  The ghosts appearing from the past will directly speak and act without the medium of the voice of the narrators. This aspect of narration, described as a "happy marriage," eventually exposes the paradox of narrative by revealing the ultimate impossibility of the narrative act when the narrators are excessively buried in the enthusiasm of telling. 

     As shown above, Faulkner, Morrison, and Oe never fail to fix with their unflinching gaze the tragic situation of human beings thrown into a historical trap, and seem to put forth the difficulty or impossibility of "telling the truth" of the human experience as the principal theme of their fiction.  Morrison explains her deep interest in Faulkner's novels in relation to her "desire to find out something about this country and that artistic articulation of its past that was not available in history," and she is impressed by "what art and fiction can do but sometimes history refuses to do" ("Faulkner and Women," 296). Morrison also admires Faulkner because he has a special "gaze" towards reality.

"And there was something else about Faulkner which I can only call 'gaze.' He had a gaze that was different. It appeared, at that time, to be similar to a look, even a sort of staring, a refusal-to-look-away approach in his writing that I found admirable." ("Faulkner and Women," 297)
Morrison, as a writer, follows Faulkner in her efforts to "tell the truth" without looking away from "the unspeakable thoughts" of her anguished characters, who can never fully express that truth.  Morrison is destined to write with a strong emphasis on the difficulty and impossibility of telling the truth, thus repeating the dilemma at the end of Beloved: represented by the phrases: "It was not a story to pass on"(274, 275) and "This is not a story to pass on"(275), which can be interpreted to mean either that the story cannot be passed on to others, or that the story should not be forgotten.8 
     When Mitsu, the narrator of The Silent Cry, compares himself with his brother Taka, who bravely chose death by telling the truth, he is overcome by a sense of defeat. He says to himself: "I suddenly realized in terror that I still hadn't grasped the 'truth' which, as I hanged myself, I would cry aloud to those who went on living"(269). Quentin Compson in Absalom overlaps himself with Henry Sutpen by the medium of his incestuous desire with his sister Caddy, and eventually propels himself straight into an enigma through his passionate efforts to solve the mysteries of Sutpen's tragedy by projecting it onto the issues of blood relations and family ties, and the inescapable racial issue of blood. However, compared with Quentin, who in his childhood was dropped into "the dungeon"(SF 198) by his parents and felt lost and destroyed, and descends into the "caverns and the grottoes of the sea"(200) as if it were his fate, Mitsu seems to end up happier by far when he finally decides to work as interpreter for a party of big game hunters in the African veldt, and gives up the ceremonial act of "contemplation" of the square hole dug for the septic tank (The Silent Cry, 1-3). 

     In an interview with Hertha D. Wong, Louise Erdrich eloquently comments on Faulkner's talent as storyteller and his distinct American character as a writer: "As for Faulkner, I guess I can't really pin down what his influence is. I think one absorbs him through the skin. He is just such a wonderful storyteller. He is so much of an American writer" (Chavkin, 38). In addition to Faulkner, Erdrich cites among her favorite writers Gabriel García Márquez, and Toni Morrison (Chavkin, 232-33) who also found Faulkner an admirable aid to the process of building a successful writing career. It's not too much to say that the chains of "American" themes and paradoxical narrative originating in Faulkner's novels have found new expression in a worldwide network of writers, working beyond the differences of ethnicity, time, and gender, who endeavor to give a voice to the silent cries of those dropped into the lightless dungeon of history.


1. See Toni Morrison, "Faulkner and Women," 296. 
2. These two books are: Philip Weinstein, What Else But Love?  New York: Columbia UP, 1996, and Carol A. Kolmerten, Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Wittenburg, eds., Unflinching Gaze.  Jackson: U of Mississippi P, 1997. 
3. Above all, Louis Menard cites Faulkner's novels in his review of Paradise in The New Yorker.  See The New Yorker, Jan. 12, 1998, 80. 
4. See my paper: "Let the Yellowed Pages Tell Their 'Grief'," Eureka, Vol. 29, No. 15.  Tokyo: Seidosha.  98-105. 
5. See Oe Kenzaburo and Tsushima Yuko, "A Dialogue: Imagination and What is Feminine." The World, No. 478, 1985.  Tokyo: Iwanami Publishing House. 136-52. 
6. Fujihira, Ikuko. "The Muse of Memory--Toni Morrison as Artist." Gunzo, Vol. 49, No. 1. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1994.  407. 
7. "Profile of a Writer: Toni Morrison," RM Arts, 1987. 
8. See my book: The Patchwork Quilt in Carnival Colors: Toni Morrison's Novels. Tokyo: Gakugei Shorin Publishing House, 1996, 243-47.


Chavkin, Allan, and Nancy Feyl Chavkin, eds. Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris. Jackson: U of Mississippi P, 1995. 
Christian, Barbara. "Fixing Methodologies: Beloved." female subjects in black and white.  Ed. Elizabeth Abel, Barbara Christian, and Helene Moglen. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: U of California P, 1997. 
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage International, 1990. 
---.   The Sound and the Fury. The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage Books, 1987. 
Michaels, Walter Benn. Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1995. 
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. 
---.   "Faulkner and Women." Faulkner and Women. Ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986. 
---.   Paradise. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. 
Oe, Kenzaburo. The Silent Cry. Trans. John Bester. Tokyo, New York,  and London: Kodansha International, 1974. 
---.  Humans as Fragile and Collapsible: The Darkness Beyond Printed Words.    Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993.  Available only in Japanese. 
Zamora, Lois Parkinson, and Wendy B. Faris, eds.  Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community. Durham and London: Duke UP, 1995.

Copywright (C) 1999  Fujihira Ikuko