Theresa Towner's book Faulkner on the Color Line: The Later Novels is an ambitious piece of work that examines Faulkner's later novels, published after he was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, from a racial viewpoint. After receiving the Prize, Faulkner had no choice but to change from a private, "country man," "uneducated in every formal sense," to a public figure. Through reassessing his later novels, Towner argues that despite the pressure, dilemmas and heavy responsibilities he faced, the writer questioned his own racial view and found a new narrative technique, and that his later novels should be regarded as the very fruits of his personal struggle with America's racial problems.
Faulkner was under pressure for two reasons. First he was expected both to play a proper public role as a recipient of the Prize, and at the same time to write great works of literature. Second, the civil rights movements that had begun to evolve in the South changed the writer's locale for life, and turned writing into a second "battle" ground. Consequently, under pressure, a well-known "private" white writer had not only to write, but also make public lectures and speeches on racial and social problems.
Towner aims to give a "re-hearing" of Faulkner's works written at that time (his three collections of short stories, six novels, and public remarks on racial issues), that have been commented on as "a sermon," "moralistic," "discursive," or "just plain bad," and which, in Polk and Carothers' views, needed "informed and receptive explication". She demonstrates that these works by no means prove the decline of the author's creativity, and that despite the writer's admission that he was "tired," and was "written out," he in fact found a new writing technique because he was interested in the way "racial identity is formed and maintained" by language.
Towner's discussion of the relationship between Faulkner's creative work and racial identity is based on Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s view of race: "race" not as an objective term but "a fiction." a category "culturally made and maintained to the specific benefit" of some groups. She thinks that this conception of "race" is important when one examines Faulkner's works because he knew how people perform "pernicious acts of language" and also because his works reveal the process of transforming the artificial into the natural.
Chapter I ("Flesh and the Pencil: Racial Identity and the Search for Forms") shows examples of "racialized language," focusing on those Faulkner characters who suffer from race and the color line. Chapter II ("'How Can a Black Man Ask?': Orality, Race, and Identity") discusses Faulkner's presentation of Lucas Beauchamp's change of identity (from an object to a subject) by his ability to "define and express aloud [his] inner self". In Chapter III ("Finding Somebody to Talk to: Detention, Confession and the Color Line") Towner analyzes how Faulkner fused two different narrative styles (detective fiction and Bildungsroman) into a new style.
Chapter IV ("Snopes-Watching and Racial Ideology") examines the Snopes Trilogy, focusing on how Faulkner revised and incorporated some of his old stories into the Trilogy. The revision, in Towner's view, shows Faulkner's continuous exploration of the relationships between language, race and identity. In Chapter V ("Race and the Nobel Prize Winner"), Towner discusses Faulkner's public remarks and concludes with the view that Faulkner, a strong believer in individual reality, was not a moderate on racial issues as has been believed, but that he did his best when expected to work out a general solution to the difficult problem facing his country.
Towner concludes that Faulkner never chose to become a spokesman for black people; instead he was determined to expose "race," an artificial construct, and to describe many characters of different races and sexes, who had to live within the rigid and forced "racial constructions". In her view, as he questioned both himself and his way of life, Faulkner was able through writing to understand those on the other side of the color line. The study, which shows in detail how Faulkner continued writing from his own territory, using an artificial construct of language, will be very useful when we try to reread, reexamine and reassess his later novels.
Copyright (c)2002 Yamamoto Yoshimi