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Faulkner on the Color Line

Faulkner on the Color Line: The Later Novels

Theresa M. Towner
Copyright Date: 2000
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    Faulkner on the Color Line
    Book Description:

    A study of William Faulkner's final phase as a period in which he faced up to America's rigid protocols of racial ideology

    This study argues that Faulkner's writings about racial matters interrogated rather than validated his racial beliefs and that, in the process of questioning his own ideology, his fictional forms extended his reach as an artist.

    After winning the Nobel Prize in 1950, Faulkner wrote what critics term "his later novels." These have been almost uniformly dismissed, with the prevailing view being that as he became a more public figure, his fiction became a platform rather than a canvas.

    Within this contextFaulkner on the Color Lineredeems the novels in the final phase of his career by interpreting them as Faulkner's way of addressing the problem of race in America. They are seen as a series of formal experiments Faulkner deliberately attempted as he examined the various cultural functions of narrative, most particularly those narratives that enforce American racial ideology.

    The first chapters look at the ways in which the ability to assert oneself verbally informs matters of individual and cultural identity in both the widely studied works of Faulkner's major phase and those in his later career. Later chapters focus on the last works, providing detailed readings ofIntruder in the Dust,Requiem for a Nun, the Snopes trilogy,A Fable, andThe Reivers.

    The book examines Faulkner as he confronted the vexing questions of race in these novels and assesses the identity of Faulkner as the Nobel Prize winner who claimed on many occasions that he was "tired," maybe "written out." In his decision not to speak in the identity of the black people represented in his fiction, in his decision to write instead about the complexities of all racial constructions, he produced a host of characters suffering within the rigid protocols on race that had been enforced in America for centuries. As a private, white individual, he could never be other than what he was. Rather than attempt to reconcile Faulkner the public man with the private one, however, this study concludes that through his fiction Faulkner the artist questioned himself and came to understand others across the color line.

    Theresa M. Towner is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas in Dallas.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-096-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Chapter 1 Flesh and the Pencil Racial Identity and the Search for Form
    (pp. 3-28)

    In the 1950s, the very private writer William Faulkner entered a new and very public phase of his career. As the recipient of the 1949 Nobel Prize for literature, he toured the world at the request of the U.S. State Department; participated in literary and political gatherings in the United States and Europe; spoke from lecterns and in the press on racial, social, and economic issues; and in classrooms and interviews, even broke a long-standing and self-imposed silence on the subject of his own art. Some recognition had begun to come his way in the late thirties and early forties,...

  5. Chapter 2 “How Can a Black Man Ask?” Orality, Race, and Identity
    (pp. 29-47)

    Toni Morrison’s recent criticism speaks eloquently to the need for studies of American literature that “investigat[e] . . . the ways in which a nonwhite, Africanist presence and personae have been constructed—invented—in the United States, and of the literary uses this fabricated presence has served.” Her essays have sought to “avert the critical gaze from the racial object to the racial subject; from the described and imagined to the describers and imaginers” (Playing90); a “writer reading,” she has become a reader of “the fears and desires that reside in the writerly conscious” (17).¹

    By investigating the American...

  6. Chapter 3 Finding Somebody to Talk To Detection, Confession, and the Color Line
    (pp. 48-73)

    A great many readers have been troubled by the detective-story elements inIntruder in the Dust, and even more have dismissed Faulkner’s expertise in the genre as manifested inKnight’s Gambit. Yet expert he was, and fascinated by its possibilities for his fiction. In an intriguing moment in their interview, Cynthia Grenier asked whether Faulkner read detective stories. “Well,” he replied, “I like a good one likeBrothers Karamozov.” Not quite sure what to make of that answer, Grenier asked specifically aboutKnight’s Gambit:

    FAULKNER: Oh. I think you can learn a lot from Simenon’s stories. They’re so much like...

  7. Chapter 4 Snopes-Watching and Racial Ideology
    (pp. 74-118)

    Faulkner’s prefatory note toThe Mansionclaims thatSnopeswas “conceived and begun” in 1925, the year he lived in New Orleans and invented with Sherwood Anderson the kind of tall tales that appear throughout the three novels.¹ In late 1926 and early 1927, as he worked on the manuscript that would later appear asSartoris, Faulkner was also working on a piece he calledFather Abraham. He never completed the latter manuscript, which introduces the wealthy Jefferson banker Flem Snopes and describes, in flashback, his origins in a small village named Frenchman’s Bend. Central toFather Abrahamis the...

  8. Chapter 5 Race and the Nobel Prize Winner
    (pp. 119-144)

    I am well aware that my contention that Faulkner would have us take careful aim at color-struck racial ideology runs counter to prevailing commentary on the writer’s own racial beliefs and behaviors. Calling those beliefs “conflicted” perhaps runs the risk of characterizing them so broadly as to make them incapable of analysis, yet that word is the one that encompasses both Faulkner’s wish to protect Autherine Lucy’s life from the crowds in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and his reluctance to invite the half-black, half-Puerto Rican Juano Hernandez to a wrap party at Rowan Oak for the filming ofIntruder in the Dust...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 145-160)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 161-172)
  11. Index
    (pp. 173-179)