| Intertextual reading — not just comparing one work
with another, but considering what aspect of a text is inherited, or illegitimately
responded to, by others’ texts — is one of today’s trends in Faulkner’s
studies. Margaret Donovan Bauer’s William Faulkner’s Legacy: “what shadow, what stain, what mark” is a fine addition to this trend. Bauer, who is not satisfied with the
examination of Faulkner’s echoes or continuous influences in his contemporary
and following writers, draws readers’ attentions to the unwritten aspects
or the blank spaces in Faulkner’s works that have been neglected previously
Bauer considers almost all the white male narrators of Faulkner’s works show their own limitations in their perspectives; they mainly focus on the romantic, knightly southern gentlemen’s conflicts as their central concerns, making the marginalized people’s agonies stereotypical ones or just blanks in their narratives. Bauer re-examines Faulkner’s white male liberal prototypes, who feel too powerless to give any actual changes to the oppressive situations of African-Americans and women in the South, in order to criticize some following authors for their work’s skillful inheritances of these male-oriented positions, and to praise the others for their effective revision of these marginalized characters.
Let me sum up each chapter’s argument in Bauer’s work. In the early part of first chapter, Bauer compares Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930) with Donald Barthelme’s post-modern experimental novel, The Dead Father (1975) and points out that both works are narrated under arrogant patriarchal perspectives. Though these novel’s narrative styles are hardly comparable, the main plot of Barthelme’s work (i.e. the dead father’s long journey for his own burial by his sons) echoes the main action of Faulkner’s novel (i.e. the dead mother’s cross-county journey with her family for her own burial). Bauer pointed out Barthelme’s novel’s theme is the same as Faulkner’s one: the main male character’s strong will to inherit and continue the patriarchal domination of his predecessor. Though Faulkner seems to have located Addie Bundren, the dead mother, at the central position of all issues of his novel, it means that he writes the female character as the novel’s main villain who causes all troubles to her family. Faulkner focuses his interest much more on her sensitive white male children’s concern and conflicts, pretending to have a female character at its center. Addie is female but treated as the patriarchal ruler in this novel; the eldest son’s main issue is how to inherit her paternalism. Barthelme inherits not only the main plot from Faulkner’s novel, but also borrows its ironical strategy. In The Dead Father, though Barthelme condemns the dead father’s patriarchal arrogance, he offers no more positive images of women than does Faulkner; the male-oriented perspective is still preserved in this post-modern novel.
The same criticizing pattern is refrained by Bauer in the same chapter’s later argument on Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer-prized, popular “Wild-West” novel, Lonesome Dove (1985). Like Faulkner who could not shake off his idealistic approval of the Old South, McMurtry cannot fully revise the Old West, no matter how much he pays “lip service” to the “politically correct” recognition of the white man’s dominant role in the Old West tales. In spite of its post-modern appearance, Lonesome Dove, is a novel which does not offer any revision in its picture of the traditional West.
The second chapter is an investigation of African-American novelists, whose works have been influenced by Faulkner’s works but still try to give realistic voices to the marginalized. The main comparison is Earnest Gaines’s A Gathering of Old Men (1983) and Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses (1942). This comparison reveals that even “the best type of liberal Southerner,” Gavin Stevens, has limited understanding of African Americans. Borrowing the technique of Go Down, Moses, Gaines depicted more complex African Americans in his tragicomic stories, though Gaines’ characters are mainly male, and sometimes too heroic.
In the third chapter, Bauer examines the contemporaneous resemblances between Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936) and Zola Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). These works’ main characters (Thomas Sutpen and Joe Starks) both represent the typical Southerners’ self-destructive patterns; whether they are white or black, they tried to realize the Old South’s ideal life anachronistically. Their stubborn pursuits of the old values lead to their selfish arrogances and tragic fates. Recognizing the coincidences of the numerous parallels between these two novels, Bauer argues that such comparative readings suggest the sterility of southern idealists. Sutpen and Starks are both so caught up in their aspirations that they are blind to the bad effects of their selfish treatments to others — this comparison also reveals the ironical fate of a black man (Starks) who survives till the early-20th-century modern age to achieve the southern white gentlemen’s ideal life. Still, at the end of her novel, Hurston seems to let the future rest in the female characters’ hands, and Bauer evaluates it.
In the fourth chapter, in contrast to the contemporaneous resemblance of Hurston’s novel to Faulkner’s one, Bauer sets Toni Morrison’s The Song of Solomon (1977) as a recent conscious re-vision of Absalom, Absalom! Morrison’s main renovation is the protest to the white-male oriented values: on the contrary to Quentin who regards the information of male characters is more accurate than of female ones, Milkman in The Song of Solomon regards the women he talks to as more reliable narrators than men. While General Compson’s excuse for Sutpen’s desertion on his first wife and his crucial misdeeds to his children on the basis of Sutpen’s “innocence” shows Compson’s unconscious desire to continue their white-male oriented social system in Absalom, Absalom!, Morrison’s work clearly describes the innocence as a sin, which was inhuman and therefore unworthy.
The fifth chapter’s contrast Lee Smith’s Oral History (1983) with several of Faulkner’s novels suggests that the southern culture should not be regarded as a white-male oriented monolithic one. Smith’s characterization of Richard Burlage as the quixotic prototype like Quentin Compson illuminates how great a role these would-be knights actually give the oppression rather than salvation to the southern ladies. In fact, ladies are destroyed in these romantic idealists’ narratives.
The same is true of southern couples, argues Bauer in the sixth chapter. Bauer traces how the depictions of domestic rape in the southern literature have worked for the sake of the male, examining from plantation fiction (Gone with the Wind) to several contemporary southern novels, especially focusing on Elizabeth Dewberry’s Many Things Have Happened Since He Died, and Here Are the Highlights (1990). Depicting a husband’s domestic rape and violence from his victimized wife’s point of view, Dewberry reveals how the husband’s selfish attitude accuses his victimized wife as if she is the cause of his agony. Such a mindset has already been shown when Faulkner focuses on Horace’s distress. Faulkner’s text critically depicts Temple’s deed as if it is the main cause of Horace’s agony.
In the later part of this chapter, Bauer comments on Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides (1986) to explain that Conroy’s depiction of a rape of his sensitive male character is a simple-minded return to the anachronistic white-male conflict: it is merely the sensitive white southern man’s expression of agony regarding their impotence.
Yet, the opinions of the characters in the last chapter of Bauer are distinct from these impotent southern white gentlemen. Bauer mainly compares Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” (1930) with two author’s works. One is Faulkner’s contemporary author, Ellen Glasgow, the other is our contemporary, Tim Gautreaux. Bauer explains how these novels — Glasgow’s The Sheltered Life (1932), and Gautreaux’s two novels, Same Place, Same Things (1996) and Welding with Children (1999) — show the marginalized people’s frustration against the socially empowered white men who are wringing their hands helplessly in the face of the social injustice. Glasgow, a southern white aristocrat but a woman, and Gautreaux, a southern white man but not an aristocrat, share this frustration because both of them belong to the marginalized group. On the contrary to Faulkner’s short story that does not assume the white gentlemen as the central subjects to criticize, Glasgow’s novel clearly criticizes the southern respective male community which ultimately drives a woman insane. Such impatience with the romantic idealists is shown in Gautreaux’s works in a different way. Gautreaux puts his male “blue-collar” protagonists in a position to aid some young unmarried women in distress — but in contrast to Faulkner’s male character, Gautreaux’s character accepts responsibility, and willingly helps others. They believe there is something they can do.
Rather than focus on the close examination of Faulkner’s white male characters’ complex psychology, Bauer chooses to summarize these white southerners as helpless cowards. She criticizes writers like Donald Barthelme, Larry McMurtry, and Pat Conroy as their characters are still concerned with father-and-son conflicts or the white gentlemen’s self-centered agonies, as much as Faulkner’s ones. On the contrary, she approves of Ernest Gaines, Zola Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Lee Smith, Elizabeth Dewberry, Ellen Glasgow and Tim Gautreaux, for their complements of what is not written in Faulkner’s works, not being frightened by the “shadow,” “stain” and “mark” of Faulkner’s legacy. Though her recapitulations of Faulkner’s impotent male characters seem too simple, Bauer’s uniqueness is her view of Faulkner’s legacy: she considers it as spaces or blanks in text that were not written by Faulkner. Bauer’s work suggests that Faulkner’s texts do not include all the southern aspects, and some ambitious writers in the South recognized that “the southern story remains incomplete” and have tried to give “voice or attention” to these untold aspects and areas.
Copyright (c) 2007 Koichi Fujino