Drawing the Line

Drawing the Line: The Father Reimagined in Faulkner, Wright, O'Connor, and Morrison

Doreen Fowler
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Drawing the Line
    Book Description:

    In an original contribution to the psychoanalytic approach to literature, Doreen Fowler focuses on the fiction of four major American writers-William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Flannery O'Connor, and Toni Morrison-to examine the father's function as a "border figure." Although the father has most commonly been interpreted as the figure who introduces opposition and exclusion to the child, Fowler finds in these literary depictions fathers who instead support the construction of a social identity by mediating between cultural oppositions.

    Fowler counters the widely accepted notion that boundaries are solely sites of exclusion and offers a new theoretical model of boundary construction. She argues that boundaries are mysterious, dangerous, in-between places where a balance of sameness and difference makes differentiation possible. In the fiction of these southern writers, father figures introduce a separate cultural identity by modeling this mix of relatedness and difference. Fathers intervene in the mother-child relationship, but the father is also closely related to both mother and child. This model of boundary formation as a balance of exclusion and relatedness suggests a way to join with others in an inclusive, multicultural community and still retain ethnic, racial, and gender differences.

    Fowler's model for the father's mediating role in initiating gender, race, and other social differences shows not only how psychoanalytic theory can be used to interpret fiction and cultural history but also how literature and history can reshape theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3400-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Uncanny Boundaries
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book begins with a seemingly simple, but endlessly complex, question: How and when is it permissible for one to say “we” so as to express solidarity with those of different ethnic, gender, and sexual configurations? As Barbara Christian rightly reminds me, when I say “we,” I pose the threat of speaking for others and co-opting their story (“Race for Theory” 11–23). The problem of a common subject position is the dilemma that interpreters of literature face as they explore literature of cultures not their own. To deal with the problem, it has become standard practice for scholars to...

  5. 1 Beyond Oedipus: William Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust
    (pp. 21-48)

    Read for its latent meanings,Intruder in the Dusttraces the cause of racial lynchings to a model of identity formation based in exclusionary tactics. At this symbolic level, the novel’s two central developments, the mob frenzy to lynch Lucas Beauchamp and the murder of Vinson Gowrie, appear to be driven by an oppositional, either-or logic. Disguised by doubling and distanced by undeveloped characters and a convoluted plot, the novel’s project is to mount an inquiry into the fundamental problem at the crux of the psychoanalytic master narrative of identity, namely, that the boundaries that support self-identity—in particular, white,...

  6. 2 Crossing a Racial Border: Richard Wright’s Native Son
    (pp. 49-71)

    Richard Wright’sNative Sonhas long been read as a powerful indictment of the warping effects of racial oppression in America. While the fiction’s status as one of America’s foremost racial protest novels is uncontestable, still the widely accepted interpretation that it denounces racial victimization and condemns a “white American society” that drives Bigger to “a futile, murderous, and self-destructive rebellion” (Kinnamon, “Native Son” 70) leaves unanswered questions.¹ Specifically, Bigger Thomas does not think that the murders of the white woman and the black woman are “futile, murderous, self-destructive” acts. On the contrary, Bigger goes to his death feeling empowered...

  7. 3 Flannery O’Connor’s Prophets
    (pp. 72-92)

    Flannery O’Connor famously insisted that the subject of her fiction “is the action of grace in territories largely held by the devil” (Mystery118). While, as James Mellard notes, O’Connor largely has “had her way with critics” (“O’Connor’sOthers” 625), her interpreters have been hardpressed to reconcile the signature violence in her fiction with traditional religious beliefs. When called on to explain the violence in her fiction, O’Connor always insisted that violence enables the action of God’s grace: “I suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it,...

  8. 4 “Nobody Could Make It Alone”: Fathers and Boundaries in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
    (pp. 93-110)

    Toni Morrison’sBelovedexposes the societally sanctioned, institutionalized terror tactics used by white slave owners to rob black women and men of subjectivity and agency. As the novel begins, the ex-slave Sethe and her daughter, Denver, are still experiencing the psychological wreckage inflicted by slavery some years after slavery has been abolished. Sethe and Denver are living isolated from the community in a house haunted by what appears to be the ghost of the baby daughter whom Sethe killed eighteen years earlier. Mother and daughter seem to be on the edge of madness. In the words of Barbara Schapiro, they...

  9. 5 Cross-Racial Identification in Blackface Minstrelsy and Black Like Me
    (pp. 111-140)

    In the preceding chapters, I exploredliteraryrepresentations of the father figure’s role in setting boundaries; in this last chapter, I propose to look closely at twoculturalexamples of fatherly mediation in setting a boundary between white and black racial identities in America. My objective is to distinguish between an authentic blurring of cultural differences that enables a multicultural community and border crossings that solidify societal hierarchies of dominance and subjection. Because, as Hortense Spillers, Dana Nelson, Patricia Williams, and numerous other theorists have contended, black and white are interdependent racial identities, the production of racial identities requires a...

  10. Conclusion: Bridging Difference
    (pp. 141-144)

    We think of a boundary as a place that distinguishes identities by shutting out. But this is a popular misconception. A boundary is the middle, a mysterious, dangerous, two-in-one place that differentiates between the one and the other precisely because it is both the one and the other. It is not exclusion but doubleness that forms a boundary; and when we draw a boundary, we always occupy a threatening, liminal, in-between space; and we always experience a cross-identification with the other.

    The idea that doubleness distinguishes cultural identities seems paradoxical. Doubleness seems to be tantamount to indeterminacy. The double is...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 145-158)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 159-168)
  13. Index
    (pp. 169-174)