The speech provoked mixed reactions back home, as some believed Faulkner's life work had attested to the eternal despair, anguish, and defeat of mankind. Yet many of his most sympathetic characters had endured, characters such as Dilsey and the other blacks who lived on the great white plantations of the South. Many of them were defeated, like Joe Christmas, who, perhaps, remains Faulkner's greatest tragic hero. And still others, like Caddy and the Brundens, exhibited a life force that is suggested in Faulkner's remark in the Stockholm address. These fictional people became his most powerful and memorable characters, and exist for us because of their inherent need to act. They had a need to taste the unknown and a passion for experiencing change if not, indeed, affecting it. These are the characters we will examine in this study, to reveal their motivations and to relate those qualities of dynamism to Faulkner's own belief that life is motion and to be motionless is to be dead (Adams, 4).
Faulkner's own life exemplified this quality of dynamism; he wrote constantly but remained steadfast in the face of critical review directed towards his work. Yet the bulk of scholarship has little to do with the subject of this essay. Most of the early criticism was directed toward Faulkner's Southern tradition, and negative reviews were written about his treatment of the Negro in his novels. Later, a more technically oriented group of critics directed their attention to his use of time and counterpoint, which is the juxtaposition of one seemingly unrelated story with another, and his points of view, especially in The Sound and the Fury, a nearly flawless example of the stream of consciousness novel. With the publication of Sanctuary in 1931, came a wave of criticism directed towards sensationalism, and literary cries against Faulkner's use of violence and cruelty briefly became the norm.
Since there is an abundance of symbolism in Faulkner's writing, many reviews were concerned with his use of both mythical and Christian allusions, and still later, with the publication of Go Down, Moses, in 1942, his works were reviewed and analyzed for his theme of the ultimate destruction of the wilderness and his devotion to the land. After his death in the 1960's and during the 1970's, Faulkner was attacked by women's groups for the treatment of women in his writing. Thus, considering the enormous body of scholarship covering so many aspects of his works, relatively few works address themselves to the issue of dynamism in Faulkner's characters.
The few exceptions are Richard P. Adams' Faulkner: Myth and Motion, which is a thorough study of Faulkner's use of mythology and his allusions to Christ's passion and to Christianity. The other half of Adams' dualistic approach to Faulkner lies in his suggestion that stasis, in one aspect or another, appears in Faulkner's fictional characters as failure. Michael Millgate has touched on the subject of motion in Faulkner, in his The Achievement of William Faulkner, and Judith Wittenberg's Faulkner: The Transfiguration of Biography attempts to compare qualities found in Faulkner's most sympathetic characters to those which he most admired in his own experience. Another study by Karl E. Zink called "Flux and the Frozen Moment: The Imagery of Stasis in Faulkner's Prose," (PMLA, LXXI, June, 1956, pp. 285-301), discusses the imagery of stasis in some of Faulkner's works, suggesting primarily, that the "tableau vivant," as an image of stasis, is a means of dramatizing or heightening the significance of an event. Though Adams' study remains the most definitive of the four, his concept that motion is implicit in Faulkner's work allows him to discuss elements of theme, structure, texture and moral as parts of a whole, highlighting, as he does, the attributes of major characters which tend to categorize them either as successes or failures. If a major character is defeated in one way or another in Faulkner’s prose, Adams argues that he demonstrates stasis. It is with Adam’s assessment of the characters that I disagree most, rather than with his overall interpretation of the works.
In Flags in the Dust, a complete and uncut version of the novel Sartoris, published in 1929, the first of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County books, Adams has placed young Bayard Sartoris, the protagonist, in the same passive-static category as Horace Benbow. He has credited Narcissa, Horace's sister with the only elements of dynamism in the book with the exception of the vivid descriptions of nature and growth of vegetation in the countryside. It is true that Narcissa is antithetical in every way to the explosive Bayard; she is superficial and self-oriented. Even her name suggests self-love and a preoccupation with her own goodness. Bayard, on the other hand, seems to embody the principles Faulkner most admired: passion and a willingness to strive. It is the struggle, which is crucial to Faulkner's concept of a life fully lived. Bayard is the embodiment of this concept. He is as raw and eruptive as the changing dynamic earth rhapsodized during the intra-acts of prose in Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun. He is filled with forces which plunge him headlong into situations earning him the reputation of recklessness. He is reckless, but he has no death wish. We see the unpredictable and uncontrollable passions of Bayard as part of the motion which tends to sweep away the static obstacles in its path; they are juxtaposed with moments of calm, in which Bayard searches for comprehension and meaning. It is the struggle which redeems Bayard. The vigor with which he pursues everything in life is an enactment of the life principle, for the over whelming result is force. Even in his haphazard trysts with death, he actually seeks life through action, because he can not remain still.
That Bayard refuses to get caught up in the glamorous and outrageous escapades of his colorful ancestors, increasingly romanticized by Aunt Jenny during long evenings sipping toddies in the parlor, is, perhaps, the strongest evidence in favor of his dynamism. He refuses to go backward. He must always move forward. Yet he can not seem to purge himself of the complexities of guilt he feels over his twin brother's death.
This is evident when, just after arriving home from the war, he tramps up the steps to the front porch where old Bayard waits for him, and blurts, "I tried to keep him from going up in that ... little popgun " (44).
He drinks heavily in order to obscure the fact that he has survived in John's place. It is not that Bayard does not think highly of himself. On the contrary, he races around the countryside in his Roadster, seen as the symbol of his death wish to some critics, and places himself in similar physically challenging situations, not in order to be killed, or even to risk being killed, but to prove that he and he alone is in control. He wants to live, but he wants to live on his own terms. Nonetheless, he is not always on the offensive. His moments of impetuosity are contrasted with moments of civility and tenderness: with Simon, whom he has frightened badly by driving too fast, and when, in order to avoid a frightened child in his path, he chooses to be thrown from the wild horse he has ridden through the town streets. He has a lusty sense of humor, but exhibits a seemingly uncharacteristic romantic bent when he insists he and his drunken cohorts serenade the chilly Narcissa in the middle of the night.
There are moments in Bayard's story when he seems actually to have recaptured that elusive feeling of peace--at least one of contentment. Badly hurt with broken ribs after one of his car accidents, Narcissa has decided to sit with him to keep him company during the long summer afternoons, "'You won't drive that car fast again?' she asked... 'You'll break your ribs again.' 'Yes,' he agreed stroking her hair awkwardly...and he lay with his chest full of hot needles, stroking her dark head with his hard, awkward hand " (282). And certainly, his summer involvement with the arduous routine of the farm proves that Bayard was, at times, in harmony with the world and with the life principle symbolized by his interaction with the land,
For a time, the earth held him in a smoldering hiatus that might have been called contentment. He was up at sunrise, planting things in the ground and watching them grow and tending them... and (he) came in at mealtimes and at night smelling of machine oil and of stables and of the earth and went to bed with grateful muscles and with the sober rhythms of the earth in his body, and so to sleep...(228-229)
The peace he seeks continues to elude him, however. His excessive energy cannot be channeled into purposeful action; it is diffused and wasted. He becomes peripatetic, searching here and there for that which he will never find. Perhaps he understands this and ultimately decides to end his life. It is much more likely and more characteristic for us to believe that the thrill of the unknown and the challenge to his pride led him to agree to test the newly designed plane. In any case, he never returns home from the McCallums after the death of his grandfather, and runs off to fly a highly experimental and dangerous aircraft. He dies in the crash the same day his son is born. It is spring, the season for regeneration, and the Sartoris line is perpetuated.
By conventional standards, Bayard was a failure, but he failed spectacularly, whirling downward in a blaze of glory, seeking to fill that need for danger. He was a life force because his entire life shouted action. He charged the air around him, so that everyone who met him either loved or despised him; no one was indifferent about Bayard. And he was even able to shake the apathetic Narcissa temporarily out of her stasis – a feat never again to be accomplished. Before their marriage, Narcissa thinks of Bayard,
All of her instincts were antipathetic toward him, toward his violence and his brutally obtuse disregard of all the qualities which composed her being. His idea was like a trampling of heavy feet in those cool corridors of hers, in that grave serenity in which her days accomplished themselves... (158).
In Narcissa, we recognize the elements of destructiveness from a dangerous self-satisfaction and willingness to remain unchanged, unmoved. It is a foreshadowing of what she becomes in Faulkner's most sensational novel, Sanctuary. In Flags in the Dust, she is a watcher. She watches Bayard from afar and is mildly titillated, but considers herself too pure to be violated by a man. Like Isabella in Measure for Measure, she is obsessed with her own goodness, wearing white all the time to express her purity. Rather, it symbolizes coldness and a certain emotional sterility.
In early scenes from the novel, she is seen standing tall and serene in her white dress, watching Miss Jenny snip Larkspur and later telling Miss Jenny that there would be peace for her only in a world where there were no men (56). Narcissa remains untouched, unblemished by an active involvement in life and is referred to repeatedly by Faulkner as having, "an aura of grave and serene repose " (56), and by Horace, as, "Thou still unravished bride of quietness " (191). She is drawn to Bayard against her will, observing, "...his air of smoldering abrupt violence ... causing always in her that shrinking, fascinated distaste, that blending of curiosity and dread, as if a raw wind had blown into that garden wherein she dwelt " (77). Her marriage to Bayard and her association with the Sartoris clan is her only redeeming feature because she does bear the Sartoris heir. By this one act alone, Narcissa is at least partially redeemed as a positive force, perpetuating the aristocratic and chivalric race of Sartoris males, whose fate it was to die young and with glory.
To this end, she will protect her son, Benbow, raising him coldly and efficiently, shielding him from the passions and the past that are his heritage. It is easy to see how Narcissa evolves into the bigoted self-righteous sister of Sanctuary, who in her maddeningly smug cocoon, forces an innocent man, Lee Goodwin, to a violent and demeaning end.
Hovering quietly and ineffectively around Bayard and Narcissa, is Narcissa's well meaning brother, Horace, who in his passive pursuit of sterile relationships with married women, expresses his own destructive inclinations.
Horace is something of a poet, a sensitive young man, for whom Narcissa has a delicate, petulant concern. He returns home from the war at about the same time as Bayard, but his war experiences are limited to his work with the YMCA. Bayard is filled with memories of horror as a combat pilot having witnessed his brother shot down in spite of his attempts to save him. Horace returns with an exuberant fascination with the glass-blowing process he has seen in Venice. He's a decent fellow, who often prefers his artist's garret over the garage in his father's home, to the rest of society. "...he found himself suddenly quiet ... in the presence of the happiness of his winged and solitary cage. For a cage it was, barring him from freedom with trivial compulsions; but he desired a cage " (191). And he preferred the, "...still unchanging days..." (191).
Horace's main aspiration was idleness. He worked only because he had been educated for the law, and when his father died, he was the logical one to take over the case load, "All he wanted anyway was quiet and dull peace and a few women, preferably young and good looking and fair tennis players with whom to indulge in harmless and lazy intrigues " (193). Here, we see the difference between Bayard, who not only attacks life, but stretches his participation in it to the limits, and the other, Horace, who weakly allows it to happen to him.
Unfortunately, Horace lives on in Faulkner's fiction and becomes Lee Goodwin's ineffectual defense attorney in Sanctuary. As well meaning and sympathetic as he is, he barely escapes the wrath of the lynch mob, who are out to lynch Goodwin for the corncob rape of Temple Drake. I, for one, cannot abide Horace's inept and naive bungling of Goodwin's defense or his silence in the courtroom when Temple accuses Lee of the crime in a display of abject perjury.
The Sound and the Fury is still considered by many critics to be Faulkner's best work, though it was only his fourth novel in a prolific stream of works. In it, we meet Caddy Compson, said to be Faulkner's own favorite character. That Faulkner loved Caddy is obvious, as she surpasses all of his other characters in her dynamic approach to life. A true life force, she is the ultimate survivor in a world of chaos and destruction. Further, she is the only female in the works cited as well as others, who achieves the status of a fully-developed and sympathetic character, for Faulkner, as already mentioned, is notorious for his treatment of women. (Drusilla, in The Unvanquished, is another, though her exposure in the novel was of short duration.) The reasons are, for the moment, unimportant, but the criticisms are just: there are far too few vital, positive female characters in all of Faulkner's greater works, and even fewer in his lesser ones. Caddy is the exception and she is joined by Ben and Dilsey in the novel as positive life forces.
We never see Caddy directly; she is discovered through the eyes of two of her brothers: Quentin and Ben. Through Ben, we see the essential Caddy, full of love and self-sacrifice. In childhood she is as passionate in her love for Ben, and in her propensity for childhood pranks as she becomes later in life in her devotion to her alienated daughter, Quenten. She responds to Ben's need for order by indulging him in simple, sensual fantasies. And that Caddy "smells like trees," (61) is symbolic of her qualities of endurance and continuity--to Ben, cleanliness, purity, and therefore, order.
It is interesting to note that she is the only one of four children to reproduce. Yet Caddy is not the symbolic earth mother and fertility goddess that we find in Faulkner's later novels. She is a life force by virtue of her action--not merely the fundamental processes of propagation as are Lena Grove in Light in August, and Eula Varner in The Hamlet. It is here, perhaps, that the distinction may be made in Faulkner's statement that man not only endures, he prevails. (Blotner 2: 1366). Caddy, it would seem, prevails.
Through Quentin's eyes, Caddy is associated with the land and nature. On the day of his suicide, Quentin is assaulted with thoughts of Caddy at the branch, combined with the smell of honeysuckle, a device used by Faulkner to express Quentin's erotic infatuation with death and his incestuous feelings towards his sister. Before she seeks her lover in the woods, he sees her lying, "...with water flowing about her hips " (122). And after her rendevous, he wraps her body in mud hoping to convince her and himself that is was he who took away her virginity,”…I’ll make you say we did it...you thought it was them, but it was really me " (167). Even so, Caddy goes on meeting Dalton Ames, and Quentin thinks, "Why must you do like the nigger women do in the pasture, the ditches, the dark woods, hot, hidden, furious in the dark woods (sic) " (111).
That Caddy acts, albeit wrongly, is evident. But like Bayard Sartoris, she cannot do nothing; she must plunge headlong, at times, and by plunging, she thwarts the stasis that controls Quentin.
Quentin can not cope with Caddy's pregnancy and the humiliating annulment of her wedding because of it. He sees the decline of his family's wealth and prestige as a disaster. He is impotent in the face of his sister's promiscuity. Thus, there are external forces which control Quentin and he can not be compared to Bayard. Quentin kills himself quietly with considerable premeditated precision because he can not cope with Caddy's drive and with the change that surrounds him. Bayard engages in wild, impulsive acts, suspecting, perhaps subconsciously, that he may one day be killed in the process. There are no outward forces which control Bayard Sartoris, only his own internal conflicts.
In his novel Light in August, published in 1932, Faulkner presents us with one of his most tragic heroes, Joe Christmas. From the moment he is born, Joe becomes an antagonist to the life principle when his mother dies in childbirth and his father is murdered by his grandfather. With his very conception and birth, he is responsible for the death of two people. He never learns this, but he may sense it, through the inimical presence of his grandfather during Joe’s early childhood at the orphanage. The grandfather has killed the father because he suspects he has Negro blood and was a racist believing African Americans were anathema to humankind. Thus, Joe grows up believing that in some vague and unidentified way, he is evil. His adoptive father corrupts him further with his own repressive attitudes. Joe can not or will not change; therefore, bad things happen to him which he fully anticipates. When he feels threatened, and the cloud of doom hangs over him, he says, "something is going to happen to me, something is going to happen " (91). And then something does.
Yet in spite of his complexities, Joe is not a totally negative character. The single major image we associate with him is motion. After a bad beating in his youth, Joe steps from a dark porch and entered, "...a thousand lonely and savage streets." (209). And, "...from that night the street ran as one street ... into Oklahoma and Missouri and as far south as Mexico and then back to Chicago and Detroit ... it ran between the savage and spurious board fronts of oil towns..." (210-211). He is constantly moving, constantly searching for peace. During his week as a fugitive after Joanna Burden's murder, the simple pleasures of living another day become paramount and he feels that,
the air, inbreathed, is like spring water. He breathes deep and slow, feeling with each breath himself diffuse in the neutral grayness becoming one with loneliness and quiet that has never known fury or despair. That was all I wanted,' he thinks, in a quiet and slow amazement. That was all for thirty years. That didn't seem to be a whole lot to ask in thirty years "' (313).
Joe never finds that peace, however, and it is easy to find sympathy for this character whose sterile, unloving childhood helped to shape the course of his life.
As a child, often in a world of his own, he is repeatedly seen as monkish and Christ-like, as, "...he was looking ahead with a rapt, calm expression like a monk in a picture " (131). Monks are celebate and therefore sterile, and the association is an apt one.
And, "the boy's body might have been wood or stone, a post or a tower upon which the sentient part of him mused like a hermit, contemplative and remote with ecstasy and self-crucifixion " (140).
Self-crucifixion is the key, for Joe Christmas moves with martyr-like precision towards his destiny, until, in the end, he becomes a Christ symbol with his own murder and awful mutilation. Still, like all of us who are members of the human community, Joe had to make choices, decisions for which he, alone, would be responsible. He brutally murders Joanna Burden, the woman he both loves and hates, seeking, perhaps, the punishment he knows is inevitable. But he is not a cold, amoral Popeye out of Sanctuary.
During the week in the woods, as he continues to elude the sheriff and his men, we see Joe's suffering, his raw humanity and the dynamic will to survive. Even when he feels he will not, he forces himself to live off the land, knowing, "...he had to eat. He would make himself eat the rotten fruit, the hard corn, chewing it slowly, tasting nothing" (316).
But like Bayard, he is doomed and he knows it; he has chosen his path, and he must follow it to the end. Rather than passively waiting to be discovered, he grimly leaves the shelter and relative safety of the woods and begins the last leg of his long journey. He hitches a ride to Mottstown where he knows he will be apprehended for Joanna's murder, and he thinks, "They all want me to be captured and then when I come up ready to say 'Here I am Yes I would say Here I am I am tired I am tired of running of having to carry my life like it was a basket of eggs,' and they all run away. Like there is a rule to catch me by, and to capture me that way would not be like the rule says " (319).
And finally, having arrived in Mottstown, he realizes,
“…he is entering it again, the street which ran for thirty years. It had been a paved street, where going should be fast. It had made a circle and he is still inside of it. Though during the last seven days he has had no paved street, yet he has traveled further than in all the thirty years before " (321).
This is real tragedy! We are drawn to Joe, not only because of his humanity, but because of his inhumanity. His suffering becomes our suffering; his sins, our sins. His sacrifice is repeated in the deepest regions within all of us--within our souls.
In The Tragic Mask, John Lewis Longley, Jr. suggests that, "We unite with Joe Christmas because he is the modern Everyman. In a cosmos where the only constants are absurdity and instability, we have the right to expect anything except rationality. Any one of us could become the victim. His suffering far transcends the time and place and means Faulkner has used and comes to stand for everything that is grave and constant in the human condition " (13: 203).
In contrast to the dynamic suffering of Joe Christmas, Faulkner presents Gail Hightower in the same novel, who appears as his most useless and static character to date. Like Narcissa Benbow, Hightower is obsessed with goodness and confident in his own piety and salvation. He seeks perfection through meditation and passive suffering. In an attempt to escape the life cycle, he withdraws from it and sits and watches it go by through his dingy window. Though he is temporarily revitalized with his sudden and unwanted catapulting into the drama of Lena Grove and her baby, it is too late; he cannot recapture the motion of life. He discovers that all of those years of anemic piousness and the pomposity of self-righteousness are pale and sickly when compared to the robustness of the land and nature that now surrounds Lena and her new-born child. His slovenliness, the sagging skin, the unwashed, unclean odor that lingers about him, the green lamp shade next to the window from which he watches the activity around him, all suggest decay--even putrefaction.
There is just enough humanity left in Hightower to move him to offer an alibi in Joe Christmas' behalf, to the lynch mob led by Percy Grimm. “’Men’ he cried. 'Listen to me. He was here that night. He was with me the night of the murder. I swear to God--'” (439). But he was overcome in a moment by the fanatic Percy.
Hightower's antithesis is the earth mother-fertility goddess symbol Lena Grove, who opens this novel traveling along a country road, eight "...peaceful corridors paved with unflagging and tranquil faith and peopled with kind and nameless faces and voices" (4). She is the sole reason for Hightower's redemption, because he is the only person available to deliver her baby. He realizes, "...she will have to have others, more... that will be her life, her destiny. The good stock, peopling in tranquil obedience to it, the good earth..." (384).
Lena eventually finds the father of her baby, who runs from her and his responsibilities, but in the meantime, she has been befriended by a kind and lonely man who wants to marry her. The novel ends with Lena, Byron Bunch and the baby moving away from Jefferson towards a new life together. It is a simple, uncomplicated ending and beginning to an extremely complex story. But Faulkner has made it clear that Lena's "framing" of events both brutal and unnatural, will provide the affirmation of the life force necessary in so tragic a novel.
In 1940, Faulkner's novel, The Hamlet was published--the first in a trilogy about Frenchman's Bend and the Snopes family. The work has Faulkner's usual elements of tragedy but adds the bawdy frontier type humor seen in As I Lay Dying. Though not a major character in the novel, Jack Houston epitomizes Faulkner's concept of man's will to prevail. He leaves home at sixteen in order to avoid becoming fettered in marriage to the young woman who later does become his wife. He pursues a varied career in Texas for over twelve years, before returning to Frenchman's Bend to work the farm he has inherited from his father. He marries the girl of his boyhood, not only willingly, but now eagerly and when she is killed by the horse he has given her, he is filled with grief, "’I don't understand it,' he would say. 'I don't know why. I won't ever know why. But You can't beat me. I am strong as You are. You can't beat me '" (217). Thus, we understand Houston's will to overcome that which has temporarily rendered him motionless.
Later in the novel, as Houston lays dying from the shotgun blast of Mink Snopes' gun, he exhibits the dynamism with which he has lived his entire life. He wills the pain to start, for if he feels no pain, he knows he will die from the stomach wound. "'If I don't get the hurting started quick, I am going to die.' He willed to start it" (217). Unfortunately, Houston dies anyway, and his body is subjected to a macabre series of trials, both pathetic and funny, which Mink, in his eagerness to hide the crime, has authored. In the end, even its awful mutilation and decay have not reduced Houston's dignity. The reader can feel his ethereal presence, laughing and cursing as Mink connives and bungles his way into a frenzy and stuffs Houston's corpse inside a hollowed out tree trunk. Houston's faithful hound dog, in a display of tenacious loyalty, leads the sheriff to the hiding place and Mink is ultimately arrested.
Although Houston has succumbed to a senseless murder over a petty business confrontation, he emerges as representative of Faulkner's concept of the heroic. He is rash and passionate and never achieves success in the conventional sense; that is, as Horace Benbow and Gavin Stevens have. But in Faulkner's world, it is not what is achieved, but the manner in which one seeks one's path; it is the movement that is paramount. Like Bayard Sartoris, Houston generates strong emotions from his fictional antagonists and from the reader, and like both Bayard and Joe Christmas, he resorts to violence. In all three, violence becomes the force used to sweep away the stasis, leaving their paths clear for motion. It is not that Horace and Gavin Stevens are bad men. Rather, it is that they lack the courage--the force--to fail. Rather than risk failing, they risk nothing--and they remain motionless.
Still, Houston's rough, surly facade serves to hide moments of tenderness and sentimentality. After his wife's death, Houston avoids the light of the full moon and the way in which it shines through their bedroom window, "...as it had used to fall across the two of them while they observed the old country belief that the full moon of April guaranteed the fertilizing act " (216). His impatience with the half-witted Ike is almost fatherly, as when he stripped him of his befouled overalls and, "...found another stick and twisted it into the overalls and soused and walloped them violently in the water, cursing steadily, and drew them out and still using the stick, scrubbed them front down on the grass” (176).
Houston is gruffly in harmony with himself and his fellow man, the demented Ike, and his humanity is expressed through his patience and apparent understanding of Ike's need. Ike, however, is no mere fool to be laughed at for the sake of a literary diversion. He, along with Benji in The Sound and the Fury, plays a significant role in a major Faulkner work.
Ike demonstrates vigor in his passionate pursuit of Houston's cow, expanding his intellect and showing remarkable qualities of resourcefulness in order to protect and care for her. Ike's dynamism is revealed when he sees the wild fire from the upstairs window of his home and knows his cow is in danger:
He was upstairs sweeping when he saw the smoke. He knew exactly where it was--the hill, the sedge-and-brier overgrown hill beyond the creek. Although it was three miles away, he can even see her backing away from the flames and hear her bellowing" (168).
He descends the stairs which have always been a frightening obstacle to him and starts out for the meadow where he rescues the cow and has his run-in with Houston at the creek. Later, after the cow has been returned to Houston's barn, he kidnaps her and spends several days hiding in the pastures and woods, in something of a bucolic idyll described in Faulkner's most exalted, poetic language.
He must steal feed for her from a dark, forbidding barn, five miles from his home, and strange. He can not see where he is, "...but he does not hesitate. He finds the crib door and enters; his sightless hand which knows and remembers finds the feed-box" (186). Later, he feeds her, but only half, for the rest must be saved for another meal, and "...he removed the basket. It was not empty. It contained yet almost to the measured ounce exactly half of the original feed, but he takes it away from her, drags it from beneath the swinging muzzle... and hangs it over a limb, (he) who is learning fast now, who has learned success and then precaution and secrecy and how to steal and even providence." (183).
Perhaps it is brilliance which moves Faulkner to allow a so-called idiot to speak for his own concept of morality, one who is untainted by education and unfettered by the reasoning processes of intelligence; the simple-minded becomes child-like in his perception of life. In, Faulkner: Myth and Motion, Adams' suggests that, "...the supposedly simple mind, (Faulkner) shows, is not so simple after all, but it is less likely than the educated mind to obscure the dynamism of the world and of its own life" (117).
The characters discussed in this essay have all demonstrated dynamism in their lives. I have chosen them as examples, specifically because they would not be considered successes by traditional standards. They have come into Faulkner's stories eagerly, taking life in great bittersweet gulps, on its own terms. Someone once said that the task of the writer is to reveal how things are with us, be it horrors or joys. It seems that Faulkner has dedicated his life to this end. These characters are real, revealing the joys and horrors hidden in us all, and that is why they live so vividly in our memories. They live for us because the life force was inherent in their being, and in our minds they are still in motion.
For as Faulkner believed, to be motionless is to be dead.
Adams, Richard P. Faulkner: Myth and Motion. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1974.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: The Modern Library, 1929.
Flags in the Dust. New York: Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, 1973.
Go Down, Moses. New York: Random House, 1940.
The Hamlet. New York: Random House, 1964.
Light in August. New York: Random House, 1932.
Requiem for a Nun. New York: Random House, 1950.
Sanctuary. New York: Random House, 1931.
The Sound and the Fury. New York: The Modern Library, 1929.
Langley, John Lewis, Jr. The Tragic Mask: A Study of Faulkner's Heroes. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963.
Millgate, Michael. The Achievement of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1963.
Slatoff, Walter J. Quest for Failure: A Study of William Faulkner. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1960.
Thompson, Lawrence. William Faulkner: An Introduction and Interpretation. New York: Barnes and Nobel, Inc., 1963.
Warren, Robert Penn. Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentiss-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Wittenberg, Judith Bryant. Faulkner: The Transfiguration of Biography. Lincoln, Nebraska and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.
Zink, Karl E. "Flux and the Frozen Moment: The Imagery of Stasis in Faulkner's Prose". (PMLA LXXI (1956): 285-301.
Copyright (c) 2016 G. Sue McGhee
From a collection of essays "The Moving Finger Writes," by Sue McGhee