William Faulkner is often called a misogynist, and he might well deserve the name when we consider some passages in Sanctuary or Light in August. Many male characters in Faulkner's novels fear and repel blood, mire, or darkness, which they associate with women and the mystery of life and death. The coexistence of life and death represented by women, however, is common to all human beings: men as well as women contain death within life. It is convenient to describe the difference between men and women through the contrast of the rational and the irrational, or of language and body, but how much does Faulkner the male writer accept the binary concept and regard women as "the other," representing "the body"?|
Faulkner's apparent misogyny notwithstanding, Gail Mortimer, Deborah Clarke, Minrose Gwin and other critics with more or less feminist approaches point out the feminine in Faulkner's language. They discern the feminine quality in Faulkner's elusive and procreative language, whose roots they trace to the unconscious, which preexists the emergence of the language of the father. Compared with their approach, this paper discusses Faulkner's more stereotypical contrast of a male artist's language concerning the female body. We would, however, also examine the writer's relationship to the marketplace as an important factor influencing the discussion of body and the artist's gender identity.
In Faulkner's fiction, we often encounter a Medusa-like figure. Joan Heppleton in Flags in the Dust, for example, is lustful and "[c]arnivorous"(FD 292). She reminds Horace Benbow of an old tiger he saw in a circus as a boy. The young Horace, though fearful, was fascinated with the tiger's pink tongue. The tiger might devour him, but its tongue allured him. Joan, with her aggressive sexuality, reminds us of Medusa through her association with the old tiger.
Medusa, a beauty turned into a monster, represents the most fearful and abominable phase of a woman. Nevertheless, she has attracted artists since the days of Greek myth. With living serpents for her hair, Medusa is interpreted as a female sexual organ in Freudian psychoanalysis. As she petrifies those who see her, the eye contact with Medusa also suggests the power struggle among people, the artist and his/her object included. The monster represents the Other, as well as sex and death. Further, Greek mythologist Jean-Pierre Vernant explains that Gorgon (Medusa) is possessed, representing confusion, fear, and descent, while Dionysus, though possessed as well, represents ascent (Vernant 30). The demoniac energy of Medusa and Dionysus inspires the artist, but the artist should be able to govern that chaotic power. Perseus' victory over Medusa in the Greek myth indicates the final goal of an artist. After Perseus slays Medusa, her severed head ornaments Pallas Athena's shield to demonstrate the reign of Apollonian power and order. The painters in the Renaissance period were fond of drawing Medusa's head, partly because it showed the control of art over chaos.
Medusa's artistic significance invites us to interpret "Carcassonne," a poetic sketch Faulkner felt quite attached to, in the context of an ambitious artist struggling with Medusa. In this sketch, a tramp-poet lying in the attic of a canteen dreams of galloping on a pony up into the sky, while he also visualizes his body drowned in the sea. According to Greek mythology, Pegasus, the winged-horse, was born out of Medusa's slain body. The pony in "Carcassonne" can be associated with Pegasus, as well as a legendary horse in the medieval romance suggested from the title.1 Medusa represents the body which belongs to the poet but which he must disclaim in order to follow his artistic ambition. The poet challenges the physical limit and aims for the highest ideal with his language. But when the poet in "Carcassonne" ascends into the sky, he finally meets "the dark and tragic figure of the Earth, his mother"(CS 900). It is his reunion with his terrible mother Medusa, the body, which he left behind as a drowned body in the sea. The demoniac power of ascent and descent comes to a subtle equilibrium at the end of the sketch.
Theoretically, there is no difference between men and women for the Medusa-like confusion of life and death. In Soldiers' Pay, George Farr identifies himself with Medusa. Lovesick for Cecily, George hides near her house one night and, lying on the ground and looking up at the dark sky, sees the trees around him as "his Gorgon's hair"(SP 236). Nevertheless, Faulkner tends to represent Medusa in female characters rather than male. In The Sound and the Fury, Caddy Compson is often seen caught in a mirror. Admittedly, Caddy is not monstrous like Medusa, but women are too dangerous to confront directly. It is preferable to see her in a mirror and keep her under the control of the artist's vision. Perseus only sees Medusa reflected on the glassy surface of his shield in order to kill the monster. Quentin Compson is horrified at Caddy's loss of virginity, but he fabricates his imaginary incest with her.
Thus, Faulkner sees in Medusa the extremely fearful body, the co-existence of life and death, and associates it with women. As a male artist, he aims to control Medusa with his language. Faulkner, however, in the beginning of his novelist career also used the contrastive imagery of the male and the female to indicate the artist's confrontation with the book market.
In the beginning of his career, Faulkner dedicated Vision in Spring, a collection of his poems, to Estelle Oldham Franklin, and Helen: A Courtship to Helen Baird. His second novel Mosquitoes is also dedicated to Helen. In Mosquitoes, the novelist Fairchild says that a writer writes "with the ultimate intention of impressing some woman that probably don't care anything at all for literature"(Mos 250). To Faulkner, the book market he has just entered as a professional novelist may have looked as cold and whimsical as his sweethearts. Faulkner was influenced by Pre-Raphaelites and French Symbolists in the beginning of his career, and he was quite sensitive to the artist's relationship to the general public. Mosquitoes discusses this problem directly through the conversation of artists. In this novel Mrs. Maurier, a wealthy widow, invites a group of artists in New Orleans to her yacht party. The artists on the yacht criticize the marketplace which never appreciates art. Mrs. Maurier is unpopular among them because she, though ignorant of art, wants to play the part of a patroness. It is good to remember that "Carcassonne" also had a Mrs. Maurier in the early stage of the manuscript. In the beginning, Mrs. Maurier, not Mrs. Widdlington in the text, is the Standard Oil company executive's wife who patronizes the tramp-poet (Blotner 515, Skei 69-70). In Faulkner's early works, whimsical readers and the commercial market which tries to take command of the artists are often represented by women.
Thus, Faulkner uses women not only as a symbolic representation of Medusa, the abjectness of life and death, but also as a representation of the commercial marketplace. Faulkner's male artist-figure is in conflict both with the chaotic body and with the profit-oriented market. But the marketplace and the body, each of which is represented by women, are in opposition, too. Neither Caddy Compson nor Eula Varner wanted to trade their bodies in the marketplace. The matter is how independent they can be from the marketplace or how much they have to succumb to it.
When Faulkner comes to recognize that capitalist society is a huge system of its own, he stops assigning a woman's image to the market; rather, in order to cope with market society, he gradually learns to see his affinity for women, whom he saw before as the alien Other. A woman asserting her own physical existence in a mass-productive, profit-oriented society offers some suggestive model of protest for Faulkner, who seeks his artistic independence in market society. In the following, the relationship of the artist, Medusa-like body and the commercial marketplace is discussed based on "Carcassonne," Father Abraham, and As I Lay Dying, in order to examine the change of the symbolic meaning Faulkner attached to women in the first stage of his career.
Mosquitoes dwells on the self-conscious artists' complaints against the marketplace; Father Abraham, which Faulkner began after Mosquitoes, is the story of greed. Flem Snopes achieves remarkable success in Frenchman's Bend and will lead the Snopes clan to prevail in the New South. Faulkner, however, did not complete his original plan and turned to Flags in the Dust instead, leaving Father Abraham unfinished (Blotner 526-31). It indicates that Faulkner failed at this point to describe the financial success of a poor white with sufficient artistic confidence. Still, Flem Snopes continued to attract the author. Faulkner writes many short stories related to Flem, and finally fixes him in The Hamlet in 1940. In Father Abraham, however, we can already see the burgeoning theme of the contrast between the marketplace and women. Flem exploits Eula Varner's pregnancy to rise financially. Eula, who represents the fertility and plenitude of nature, succumbs to market society and Flem's relentless calculation.
In Father Abraham, the tragic Eula does not yet surface as in the Snopes Trilogy starting with The Hamlet. The story about Eula and the horse auction assumes a comic, pastoral tone. But Eula, who was the focus of men's sexual attention in the village, is hurriedly married to Flem to hide her pregnancy. She comes back from her one-year honeymoon in Texas with a too-well-grown baby, and the horse auction starts when Flem comes back later with a Texas man and spotted horses.
The men in Frenchman's Bend are excited at the auction, but they do not stop and think that their excitement might be related to their thwarted sexual desire for Eula. Eula's father presumably gave Flem the ownership of his general store to marry off his daughter. The men in Frenchman's Bend compensate their frustration of not having Eula nor gaining any profit from the scandal with their excitement during the auction bidding. The spotted horses come in April when "[p]each and pear and apple were in bloom"(FA 22), and the horses emit profuse life energy similar to Eula's. After the auction, however, the peasants fail to catch the wild ponies they bought. The horses rush out of the patch, hurt a couple of people and damage a building. The horses nullify the trade and refuse to be controlled by men. They defy the contract society and counterattack the market with their life-force, which was first represented by Eula's sexuality.
Horses are one of Faulkner's favorite images.2 In "Carcassonne," written earlier than Father Abraham, the tramp-poet rides into the sky on a horse, freed from the earth, the patroness and the commercial marketplace. The spotted ponies in Father Abraham, just like the pony in "Carcassonne," represents the artist's power of imagination which defies the control of market society. In "Carcassonne," the negative vision of the tramp-poet's dead body in the sea serves to inspire his ride to the sky. In Father Abraham, the spotted horses seem to inherit life energy from Eula and suggest liberation from modern market society.
Father Abraham, however, neither eulogizes the power of women nor assures the recovery of pastoral peace. In Father Abraham, a woman's life is hard pressed as ever, and gaunt Mrs. Henry Armstid is contrasted with voluptuous Eula. While Eula maintains her self-complacency, Mrs. Armstid is driven further into poverty due to the auction, with their horse gone astray and her stubborn husband heavily injured. As Eula turns into a symbol of fecundity, Mrs. Armstid may easily become Eula's opposite figure, "a figure of patient and tragic despair" (FA 44). Mrs. Armstid barely escapes the symbolization when she negotiates persistently with Flem about the lost horse. She remains to be a more realistic figure than Eula, with her "gnarled hand," appearing in "faded calico and a man's broken shoes" (FA 41).
The plight of women in the male-dominated market society must be treated in realistic detail as well as in a legendary form. Long before the story of Eula and the spotted horses is firmly established in The Hamlet and acquires the depth and perspective of social criticism and legend bound together, Faulkner explores in As I Lay Dying a woman's body and market society through the imagery of a spotted horse. We will now discuss Addie Bundren from As I Lay Dying in relationship to "Carcassonne" and Father Abraham.
As I Lay Dying is the story of the Bundrens who carry their mother's body on their wagon to be buried in town. The text has a dead body and a horse in common with "Carcassonne," and a woman, pregnancy, and a spotted horse in common with Father Abraham. In As I Lay Dying, not only the meaning of the mother's dead body, but also the artist's attitude to the Medusa-like body and to society, is at issue.
The episode of the spotted horses in Father Abraham is briefly mentioned in As I Lay Dying. Jewel's spotted horse is the descendant of the only horse caught after the fiasco of the horse auction. The peasants who gather at Addie Bundren's funeral say that only Lon Quick succeeded in catching the horse he bought. Faulkner wrote at least six versions of the spotted horses episode before the publication of The Hamlet, but only one of them, "The Spotted Horses", was published in 1931.3 Since Father Abraham was not published during Faulkner's lifetime, the reader is not yet familiar with the episode of the spotted horses at the publication of As I Lay Dying (1930). The peasants in As I Lay Dying, however, casually refer to the auction episode as a legendary anecdote. There is no mention of Eula, but Flem Snopes appears indirectly, already as a big shot. Namely, As I Lay Dying recognizes Flem Snopes and one of the spotted horses, even though there is no direct tie to Father Abraham.
At the center of As I Lay Dying lies the dead, corrupting body of Addie Bundren. Eula in Father Abraham is fecund and full of life energy, but silent. In comparison, Addie in As I Lay Dying speaks in death, and condemns the vague, deceptive language and the people who use it insensitively. Addie is closer to Mrs. Armstid than to Eula because of her hard life as a peasant's wife, and she asserts her subversive opinion after her death. Her anger is set towards her husband, who is quite obtuse to the ambiguity of language, but she is also contemptuous of Cora Tull, who believes herself to be a good Christian neighbor. These people never question the language they use, but manage to take advantage of their own ignorance: Anse believes he loves his wife and Cora praises her own Christian virtues. Addie falls in love with the minister Whitfield and tries to change the meaning of "sin," making it dangerous and radical as that word should be. Whitfield, however, wants to save his position, and his language in his monologue proves to be as evasive and manipulating as the other people's. The only way left for Addie to take "revenge"(173) on Anse and society is to ask him to carry out her will at her death. Admittedly, Addie cannot have known that the funeral journey would take such a long time, but she forces her inert husband to feel the burden of the promised words.
In As I Lay Dying, Addie plays the double role of Medusa and poet. On one hand, she represents a Medusa-like body, chaos of life and death put together, but on the other hand, she searches for the ideal language which clarifies the reality of things. Her position is somewhat parallel to that of the tramp-poet in "Carcassonne," who envisions himself as a drowned body in the sea and as an ambitious rider into the sky at the same time. Two of Addie's sons, Darl and Jewel, respectively represent her contradictory attitudes to language. Jewel insists on carrying out his mother's will to be buried in Jefferson, while Darl sees the meaninglessness of such effort, since each member of the family has his/her personal motive to go to Jefferson apart from Addie's will. In her monologue, Addie compares words to orphans, lost and looking for their parents in vain. Addie's severe criticism on the ineptness of language betrays, nevertheless, her will to pursue the ideal language. It is not clear which of her sons is qualified to assume the heroic figure of "Carcassonne." Is it Darl who always stares at the diversity between language and deed, and tries to get rid of his mother's corrupting body in a flood or by fire? Or, is it Jewel who respects her will and by all means saves her body from flood and fire?
The connection of the tramp-poet in "Carcassonne" to As I Lay Dying is not limited to Addie's attitude to language. The tramp-poet suggests that he is "the king of kings" and refers to "the woman with the dog's eyes"(CS 898) as his enemy. These words remind us of the title of the novel As I Lay Dying, taken from Agamemnon's words in Hades in Homer's Odyssey. Asked about the origin of the title, Faulkner quoted Agamemnon saying " 'As I lay dying the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyelids for me as I descended into Hades'" (Blotner 634-35). In "Carcassonne," the tramp-poet who imagines himself lying drowned in the grottoes of the sea or galloping into the sky, may be really dying. Rolled in the tar paper, he dreams himself as a dying king betrayed by a woman, and leaves the title behind for the novel As I Lay Dying.
Before writing As I Lay Dying, Faulkner wrote two versions of a short story titled "As I Lay Dying." These versions tell the episode of spotted horses based on Father Abraham, and suggest no connection to the title "As I Lay Dying." Presumably, however, Faulkner senses the supernatural power of the tramp-poet's horse in "Carcassonne" surviving and driving the spotted ponies in Father Abraham and in the two versions of "As I Lay Dying." The tramp-poet who rides high into the sky, though dying, visualizes the flood of spotted horses breaking out of the enclosed auction place. The dying tramp-poet who has lost his artistic battle against the market society pins his hope of artistic victory on the imaginative energy of the spotted horses in Father Abraham. The Medusa-like, destructive power of the poet's drowned body, which spurs him to ride into the sky, runs through the spotted horses galloping free from the auction in torrents. The tension of conflict between the artist and marketplace is inherited from "Carcassonne" through Father Abraham to As I Lay Dying through the horse imagery.
As we see above, however, Addie in As I Lay Dying not only symbolizes a poet and a Medusa-like body, but also reminds us of Agamemnon. Compared with the king of ancient Greece, Addie is "a private woman"(18) in the rural South. The inherited line of the artist figure from "Carcassonne" is twisted and transformed in As I Lay Dying in its privateness and gender. The tramp-poet in "Carcassonne" associates himself with Agamemnon or famous medieval knights of the crusades. He wants to be a hero acknowledged officially in society, though he may die privately in an attic. Addie, on the other hand, is a private woman, but she shocks people on the road during the nine days of her funeral journey into town. The ritual of funeral and burial serves to civilize and accommodate death to society, but the dead body corrupts and smells as time passes. Addie's rotten body refuses to be tamed, and her person invades into the public domain, claiming the power of death and forcing society to admit the irresponsible language it uses. To Addie, society is the accomplice of her husband, who is so insensitive to the inefficacy of language but who, nevertheless, can tacitly exploit its ambiguity to his advantage. She is an artist who refuses to conform to the customary use of language, a poet who will never be accepted as a poet-laureate of her community.
Addie's kinship to the artist-hero in "Carcassonne" indicates Faulkner's growing awareness that the artist is fundamentally anti-social. When Addie criticizes society for its tacit consent to people's manipulation and appropriation of language, she depends on her body as the most assuring, private core for her fight. Faulkner in As I Lay Dying is prepared to assimilate the artist's position with Addie's in spite of the gender difference. Indeed, the tramp-poet in "Carcassonne" leaves his drowned body and rides into the sky only to meet "his mother," the Medusa-like body.
It is good to remember, however, that Addie's way of thinking is undermined already by society, which estimates everything by way of accountable figures. Though she declares her trust in "the terrible blood"(AILD 174), her life betrays the fact that she has not always acted upon her physical instinct alone. She marries Anse because he has no relatives and owns his land. He is an independent farmer, though far from being affluent. Further, after the birth of Jewel, whose father is Whitfield, she says she gives birth to Dewey Dell and Vardaman to compensate her husband for the illegitimate child. She carefully estimates the financial condition of her husband-to-be, and uses her children to keep the balance sheet of her conscience.
Actually, Addie's contradictory mixture of body instinct and the businesslike thinking is inherited by her daughter Dewey Dell. Dewey Dell feels close to the earth, saying "I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth" (AILD 64). She is determined, however, to have an abortion in town. She is understandably at a loss, facing her mother's death and the unexpected pregnancy at the same time. But her mind is set to reach Jefferson, where her family will bury her mother and where she can have an abortion if only she can pay for it. W. Wadlington, J. T. Matthews and Kevin Railey demonstrate that the Bundrens are already a part of capitalist society. Addie and Dewey Dell are no exceptions.
The final destiny of Jewel's horse also indicates the dominance of capitalist society in As I Lay Dying. This horse is a descendant of the spotted horses which fled from the auction in Father Abraham. When Jewel sneaks out every night to work for Quick in order to buy his horse, Jewel's brothers, Cash and Darl, wrongly guess that Jewel is seeing a woman. They marvel at the woman's sexual power and stamina. There is no mention of Eula in As I Lay Dying, but Jewel's horse is thus associated with sexual fertility and the tall-tale tradition of Father Abraham. On the other hand, Jewel's horse is related to "Carcassonne," too. Jewel's close attachment to the horse is like that of the tramp-poet to his pony. The tramp-poet needs the pony to leave his drowned body and to go up into the sky. The horse represents freedom and escape from the earth. Darl suggests that Jewel's horse is his surrogate mother. Jewel needs it to become independent of his mother and to secure his freedom from his family. But in As I Lay Dying, Anse swaps Jewel's horse for a team of mules and wagon so as to continue the journey after they lost one in the flooded river. Anse sells the horse to Flem Snopes, who was responsible for the horse auction in Father Abraham. The horse in "Carcassonne" and the spotted horses in Father Abraham all represent the artist's poetic imagination struggling to go beyond capitalist society, but Jewel's horse returns to market society represented by Flem Snopes. Just as women in As I Lay Dying are already undermined by market society, the spotted horse surrenders to the marketplace.
A Medusa-like woman in Faulkner's fiction represents the co-existence of life and death, and although the chaotic energy is essential to art, a poet must be able to control Medusa through language. Faulkner in the beginning of his career also associates women with a market society, but capitalist society exploits women as well as artists. His awareness of conflict between language and body notwithstanding, Faulkner gradually acknowledges the closeness of his position to women as a subversive minority. Faulkner perceives that a woman's physical presence works as a potential disturbance against the control of a market society. Besides, the privacy Addie asserts through her body in society is fundamental to the artist as well. Faulkner recognizes in Addie the radical and personal core of an artist fighting against society. After As I Lay Dying, Faulkner's criticism of Southern society becomes more pronounced in Light in August and Absalom, Absalom!
Addie, however, is already contaminated to some extent by capitalist thinking. When the Bundren family meet the new Mrs. Bundren right after Addie's burial, John Matthews points out that the new Mrs. Bundren's gramophone represents the modern civilization in which the Bundrens are already involved (Matthews 76). In contrast with the end of "Carcassonne," where the hero meets "the dark and tragic figure of the Earth, his mother"(CS 900), the end of As I Lay Dying introduces a new mother with a gramophone. The meeting serves as a parody of an ambitious artist confronting his Medusa-like mother. Faulkner is fully aware that he is in the mass-productive machine age: market society easily turns a body into a reproduced copy by machine. By way of presenting a parodic image of mother embracing machine product, however, Faulkner shows his adroitness with verbal skills and suggests his artistic superiority over market society, and presumably, over women, too. As I Lay Dying shows his tentative reconciliation with women through his recognition of kinship between artsits and women for their radical privateness against society. But Faulkner seems to suggest that it is finally his language that prevails over women and market society.
The cover page of The Faulkner Journal xiv-1 offers the artwork of "Pegasus and Bellerophon" by John Sokol, partly inspired by "Carcassonne."
Takaki Hiraishi points out that the horse imagery serves as the polar opposite to the imagery of confinement in Faulkner (63).
For the discussion of the six versions of the spotted horses' episode, see Joanne V. Creighton, Kenzaburo Ohashi, Kiyoyuki Ono, Toshio Koyama, and Hisao Tanaka.
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Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
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-----. Father Abraham. Ed. James B. Meriwether. New York: Random, 1983.
-----. Flags in the Dust. Ed. Douglas Day. New York: Random, 1973.
-----. Mosquitoes. Intro. Frederick R. Karl. New York: Liveright, 1997.
-----. Soldiers' Pay. New York: Liveright, 1954.
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Tanaka, Hisao. "The Hamlet no Haitai." William Faulkner: Materials, Studies, and Criticism 2-1 (1979): 8-33.
Vernant, Jean-Pierre. La Mort dans les Yeux: Figures de l'Autre en Grece Ancienne. Hachette, 1985.
Wadlington, Warwick. As I Lay Dying: Stories out of Stories. New York: Twayne, 1992.
Copyright (c)2002 Tanaka Takako