Acta Structuralica

international journal for structuralist research

Journal | Volume | Article

A structuralist view on Faulkner

Sorin Alexandrescu

pp. 5

I. Introduction

1How might one go about writing a monograph1 on Faulkner today? First of all, by rereading the writer’s complete works and refusing to be daunted by the vastness of the criticism on them. We should then abandon ourselves to the endless suggestions of the text, daydreaming in its margins, tasting it, as it were without the prejudice of necessary and immediate “interpretation”. Only then do the brilliance of the images, the surprising behaviour of the characters, the sombre weightiness of the setting begin to vibrate, gradually, synchronically; separate voices begin to speak to each other, “chance” characters and phrases begin mysteriously to “come together”. In other words, the internal organisation of Faulkner’s work, its hidden structures appear only to an “innocent” reader released from the pressure of previous critical interpretation; only thereafter does he arrive at an analysis properly speaking, in which he will be able to sum up the impressions of his reading. But ultimately, this gradual approach to the act of criticism cannot achieve notable results unless it accounts for at least two factors: the analysis of Faulkner’s fiction as a unitary whole and a renewal of the critic’s tools and language, in order to be able to detect and formulate the organisation of this whole.

2It is at this point that appears our first divergence of previous interpretative methods. On the one hand, we abandon the sequential approach to the works argued for by Irving Howe Howe 1952 pub-229542 , be it in the chronological order of their writing (Olga Vickery) Vickery 1959 pub-229543 , be it in the order of some internal development (Cleanth Brooks) Brooks 1964 pub-229544 , and on the other hand, we abandon the tracing of a single path determined by a single problem, even if such a path leads through the totality of the works: a central myth (from G.M. O’Donnell O’Donnell 1960 82-94 pub-229546 to M. Nathan Nathan 1963 pub-229547 ), the co-ordinates of the tragic, or aspects of narrative technique. In other words, the critical approach we propose will always have in view the totality of Faulkner’s works, which it will cover several times, integrally, but at different levels, so that every time, the perspective on this totality will differ; but together these perspectives will configure the “totality” of the foreseeable problems to which Faulkner’s fiction gives rise. In this way, I hope, not only will we avoid getting bogged down in questions of detail, because we shall maintain a distance from the work, and this will continually appear to us as a unitary whole in comparison with such questions, but also we will avoid inadmissible generalisation of particularities. Having looked broadly at critical interpretation of Faulkner, we believe that its “difficulties” can be overcome only through a courageous approach to the totality of Faulkner’s fiction, beyond the endless detailing of the field of investigation. The monographs of the 1950s, culminating with those of C. Brooks and M. Nathan, analysed the works and the problems sufficiently; the “specialist” monographs that have developed in the 1960s tend to restrict the field to an even greater degree, as so do many separate articles on specific aspects. The results achieved are impressive and consequently they demand, in my opinion, a new, synthetic approach, whereby we might rebuild the grandiose edifice of Faulknerian narrative from the myriad glosses that obscure it. In this way, we will return, at a far higher level of documentation, to the “ambitions” of the earliest critics, such as O’Donnell O'Donnell 1960 pub-229546 , Cowley Cowley 1946 pub-229548 , Penn Warren Penn Warren 1960 109-124 pub-229549 , Sartre Sartre 1960 225-232 pub-229551 , Magny Magny 1948 pub-229552 who discovered the broad structural outlines, which have remained valid, and dominant, for all the subsequent works.

3In order for the new “synthetic ambition” to succeed, it requires, as I said, a new critical language and new critical tools. Otherwise, it runs the risk of merely “rearranging” older interpretations, regrouping the material without any real progress in knowledge of Faulkner’s world. As far as I am concerned, I have tried to achieve the desired increase of knowledge by drawing on elements of structural criticism.

4I have set out from the elementary principle that behind the process that is the “flow” of the work during reading and its gradual establishment for the reader, there lays a system realised by a certain number of invariables, which establish among themselves a certain type of relations. These do not appear as such during our process of reading the oeuvre of Faulkner, or even during the process of its creation by the author himself, but rather constitute a “hidden” reality upon which they rest. The analogy is with the situation in the field of language, where there exists a phonologic system resting on a limited inventory of phonemes and an auditory process formed by the flux of sounds reckoned to be variants of the invariable phonemes (likewise what happens in the fields of morphology, semantics, etc.). Our analysis therefore ought to proceed from the process of Faulkner’s fiction in order to arrive at the system that lies behind it. But in the case of the complex reality of Faulkner’s world, the search for a single system is illusory. As we go deeper into the text, the significations rapidly dissolve, endlessly branching away. The ambiguity of the literary work, which every type of structural analysis strives to highlight, does not allow the discovery of a single structure, of a definitive interpretation. As I said at the outset, we are unable to ascribe to this old and proud ambition of literary criticism, regardless of the “method” used by this criticism. To attempt a structural analysis does not mean to revert by roundabout ways to this old ambition; this means only to put forward a probable interpretation, among others ones that are theoretically equally possible. A structural analysis cannot be based on the generalisation of some particulars, but only on the discovery of structural elements of the work in question, that is, only on the discovery of its invariables, which strike up certain relations among themselves, whereby this work can be defined.

5Structure, as the totality of these relations, is not, however, a single structure in a literary work, because the signification of the work is usually an infinite continuum. By analysing it, we in fact traverse its successive layers, in which the same elements or different ones strike up different types of relation, as successive structures, which, let it be noted, do not negate each other, but rather complement each other. This compatibility expresses precisely their continuity in the infinite flux of meaning “contained” in a work, which thus enjoys an inexhaustible unity. In other words, to us the work is a system of systems of significations, owing both to our differing methodical viewpoints and to the work’s objectively endless latencies.

6This otherwise general principle in literary analysis is all the more valid in the case of Faulkner, whose work is both extended (we of course refer to the totality of the books he wrote) and, as we shall see, unusually ambiguous. In the present book,2 we shall examine this work without being excessively technical and always keeping within the limits of a moderate “structuralism” unallied to any particular “school”, and therefore always subordinate to an aesthetic analysis of the literary work. In attempting to apply these working principles, I have proceeded as follows: After a necessary opening chapter on the life of Faulkner and his personal, local and national context, I go on in the second chapter to describe the process of Faulkner’s work. But here I do not examine the chronological order of publications in which the process occurred, but rather the more meaningful order of the events narrated over the course of Faulkner’s separate novels and stories. This operation of reorganisation allows a configuration of the process as a rigorous chronicle of Yoknapatawpha County; the suggestions made by Cowley and Hoffman Hoffman 1960 pub-229553 have been wholly revised by means of a rigorous delimitation of the stages in the history of Yoknapatawpha. From the same viewpoint, the third chapter groups together Faulkner texts that are outside the Yoknapatawpha cycle. Both chapters can supply valuable information to readers familiar with only a part of Faulkner’s works and at the same time they constitute a comfortable basis for the analyses proper to be found in the chapters that follow.

7The fourth chapter, on the typological structure of Faulkner’s world descends into the first two systems, that of the cultures and that of the types of character to be found in Yoknapatawpha. Some of the suggestions made by Russell Roth, Olga Vickery, and Brooks have been incorporated within a far more comprehensive analysis (Roth’s three types of commentator have become variants of just one of the eight types of character we have found in Yoknapatawpha, namely the intellectual, and Olga Vickery’s concept of the code has been expanded in greater and more rigorous detail). The cultures and, in particular, the types of character have been established solely on the basis of the relationships between them and on the finite number of “semantic features” that constitute their defining code. The more technical aspects of the analysis have been moved to Appendix One, at the end of the book, in order not to inconvenience the reader on account of their rather daunting dryness. The structural analysis of each separate type is fleshed out with a historical-literary analysis thereof, which reveals its currency in American prose before and after Faulkner and as such the influences it has exerted or absorbed. In the fourth chapter, it was also originally my intention to analyse the typology of Faulkner’s themes and conflict. But since the length of this book was already considerable and since the structural analysis of themes and conflicts is especially difficult, I was regretfully obliged to abandon this subchapter; but in any event, Faulkner’s themes and conflicts are discussed subjacently in this chapter and those that follow it, albeit not as the main focus and not with structural rigour.

8The fifth chapter presents Faulkner’s tragic system by means of detecting a number of concepts correlated within a number of “subsystems” that I have analysed by analogy with the systems of ancient drama, of Greek and Christian tragedy; likewise, I point out other tragic elements that do not form part of a system, such as those to do with “social evil” and the pressure of the libido. The chapter closes with a brief overview of Faulkner’s comedy, a natural counterbalance to the tragic. In this way, a series of suggestions and questions raised by Faulkner’s critics, most of whom are attracted to an analysis of the tragic, are framed and resolved in the first systematic analysis, going beyond strictly specific emphasis a particular character or novel.

9The sixth chapter analyses Faulkner’s narrative art, setting out from the premise that it represents differing variants of constant narrative attitudes, namely approach to and recounting and organisation of narrated events in a unitary novel or short story. I have therefore discarded the traditional distinctions between the syntax and semantics, the vocabulary and architectonics of the novel. Two more difficult problems of analysis have been thus consigned to the Appendices of the book. I have dropped a special chapter on the diffusion of Faulkner’s works, not only because the problem is discussed throughout this book, but also because the information available to me has been incomplete in regard to Faulkner’s diffusion in Europe, with the exception of France. The book closes with the required conclusions, followed by appendices, indices and an English summary.

10This then is the construction of a monograph that attempts an interpretation, which, as far as I am aware, is new to Faulkner criticism (at any rate, new to the criticism known to me and quoted by me, which although obviously not exhaustive comprises the essentials of the existing whole), based on structural criteria (it is also thereby the first structural monograph on either a Romanian or foreign writer to be published in Romania) which, as I have said, developed logically merely from impressions formed during reading, without any pre-established plan or intention and without any express desire to “correct” previous critical interpretations, which in any event, for the most part, I deliberately read after I had “planned” my own work.

11 In speaking about the process of Faulkner’s work, we should “narrate” his texts one by one in order then to be able to take cognisance, beyond the process, of the potential systems we are looking for. However, I believe that such an ultimately schoolboy sort of approach would not allow us to move very close to the “area of systems”, due to the wholly random nature of the order in which Faulkner wrote (and, above all, published) his books, without any prior “programme”, rather like in the case of Balzac. On the other hand, given the obviously epic effect that the sum of Faulkner’s texts produces, I think it would be more useful if we reconstructed the epic, first of all breaking down Faulkner’s texts and the sequence of events in each, as the writer presents them to the reader, in order then to be able to reconstruct the real chronology of events, outside the randomness of the narrators’ associations and memories.

12In this way, our “intervention” in Faulkner’s text will be minimal, since rather than interpreting any event in the process (as we shall do later, as part of our analysis of the systems), it will merely redistribute the events according to how they are objectively situated within Faulkner’s texts. Without exception, this chapter will stick to the level of the process in Faulkner’s work. From the very start we shall therefore draw a distinction between the work’s two temporal planes: the immediate plane of the sequence of events as experienced, narrated or imagined by the various storytellers and the real plane of those events in the fiction, which is to say, their objective chronology in the fiction, as it transpires to the reader from corroboration of the various pieces of information capriciously presented by the storyteller and from comparison of these with (non-)convergent information transpiring from other texts. The first plane corresponds with the time of the story, the second with the real time (within the fiction) of the county. At the level of Faulkner’s work as a whole, the first plane becomes the integral sequence of the works, referring now to events of the last century, now to the modern period, in the order in which the author wrote and published the works; we examine this plane of Faulkner’s work in the second chapter of the present monograph. The second plane, the real chronology (within the fiction) of events, regardless of what point in Faulkner’s work they are situated, constitutes the real history (within the fiction) of Yoknapatawpha County; it is this plane that is examined in the present chapter. We will therefore provide the reader with the “subject” of works by Faulkner with which he may not be familiar, narrating them not in the order of their publication, but rather in the chronological order of the events therein relative to the “history” of the county as a whole. Even if some events in one and the same text are signalled in different places, the reader will easily be able to make the connection between them, following the bibliographical references in the footnotes.

13A different chapter in the book will present the Faulkner’s works that refer to events outside Yoknapatawpha County.

14Finally, the third plane of Faulkner’s work is the referential plane, that of the sequence of real events in history, rather than those in the fiction within the history of America, in other words, real events in history rather than the history of the fictional town of Jefferson and its county created by Faulkner. Beyond it there is the geographically real town of Oxford and Laffayette County in the State of Mississippi. Any attempt to reconstruct the real plane in fiction cannot ignore the constant references to the real plane in history. Precisely Faulkner’s differences and contradictions (the errors to be found in such a comparison indicate the percentage of the fiction from this viewpoint), i.e. the manner in which the writer has altered history in order to transform it into epic, into mythology3 seem to me to be relevant for our analysis.

15 As I said at the very beginning, my aim is always to analyse Faulkner’s work as a whole rather than the successive books that constitute it. In order to do so, in Chapter Three and, to an extent, in Chapter Four of my monograph, I put forward a preliminary arrangement of the material in accordance with the internal chronology of the “real within the fiction” level. But the analysis did not go beyond the syntagmatic plane of the level, which is to say, the level at which characters, actions, conflicts, events as they genuinely arise in Faulkner’s text combine with each other; but the order of these was (sometimes) altered when they were transferred from the level of the chronology of the works to the “real within the fiction” level of Yoknapatawpha County. By analogy with the situation in (any) language, where linguistic research distinguishes the syntagmatic plane (the combination of words within the process of communication) from the paradigmatic plane (the association of verbal forms due to particular morphological functions within the system of the language; for example, the paradigm of noun cases, verb tenses, etc.), structural research in literature distinguishes the syntagmatic level of the work, which I presented in Chapter Three, from the paradigmatic level, which includes the system(s) of cultures, characters, conflicts etc. From this viewpoint, it is no longer the continuity of the elements under analysis that is of interest, but rather their compatibility within the various categories we are establishing. In a given work or, in accordance with the “real within the fiction” level, at a given stage it is possible that character N might not meet character M. Analysis of the syntagmatic plane will not be able to present N and M together, but will present them only at its distant and separate points at which they appear. But on the paradigmatic plane, N and M are subordinated to one and the same type P; analysis of type P will then establish the relationship N/M. The situation is also valid in reverse: if N and M might occur in the same work or at the same stage, but they belong to different types, N will then figure as P1 and M as P2 in that text and it remains up to us to establish the relations between N and the terms N1 N2 … Nn within the framework of P1, respectively the relations between M and M1 M2 … Mn within the framework of P2, as well as the relationship between P1 and P2 as a whole. For example, Flem Snopes and Mink Snopes occur together at the Snopes stage, as well as in the novel The Hamlet, but they belong to different character types: the businessman and the “poor white”.4 On the other hand, by their similar behaviour, Vatch (Victory in the Mountains) and Popeye (Sanctuary), come under the same character type although living fifty years apart, in different historical periods.

16The problem is finding the criterion whereby to reduce so many characters to a number of fundamental types. In Faulkner’s work, the difficulties increase drastically because of the huge number of characters, for whom special dictionaries have been compiled, the same as for Balzac and Tolstoy characters. There are a number of rigorous possibilities, but they require extremely painstaking demonstration. For example, we might establish a number of “distinctive features”, the same as in logically developed transformational semantics, moving from the most general formulation to increasingly specific detail in the form of a branching structure. The characters might then be defined by their location on various levels of the branching structure, cumulating the meaning of the level in question, as well as all the distinct features implied by moving along the “branches” to the shared “trunk”. The fanatical Doc Hines might thereby be defined, at least on one side, by the following features (in order of progressive generalisation): religious hysteria — puritanism — religious values — ideal values — values. The method is hard to apply, however, due to the difficulty of finding a sufficiently comprehensive and at the same time nuanced logical schema. Moreover, the schema is quite redundant, with each “specific feature” implying all the previous features, which makes their inclusion in the schema pointless, not to mention the practical difficulty of defining hundreds of characters by the varying “alloying” of the same features. For these reasons, I have chosen a less rigorous but more efficacious method, thereby also avoiding excessive technicality in the discussion, which would be inappropriate for a book that primarily aims to extricate the major meanings of Faulkner’s work rather than to provide an exhaustive structural description of them.

17Examination of the stages of the Yoknapatawpha epic can relatively easily indicate to us their “mechanism” (system!) based on a specific cyclical recurrence of the same “moments” within the framework of three perfectly delimited, succeeding civilisations in the county. The “real within the fiction” level is therefore here structured according to strictly functional criteria, which are more rigorous and relatively distanced from the “real within history” level to which we referred in the same chapter Three.

18Fortunately, the three civilisations supply almost “by themselves” eight types of distinct character, which the structural analysis undertaken in Appendix 1 of the monograph confirms based strictly on the relations they strike up among themselves. In the fifth chapter of the monograph we shall limit ourselves to reproducing only the results of this structural analysis, after which we shall review the eight types with their various codes of behaviour, also providing a brief presentation of each type as found in other American writers.

II Typology of civilizations

19We have seen so far how (fictive) history unfolds in Yoknapatawpha County. A dramatic history riven by the catastrophe of the Civil War, marked by the collapse of the Chickasaw and Sartoris civilisations, but a history over which still hovers the hope of revival. We pointed out five stages in the life of Yoknapatawpha, but in fact the four stages of the nineteenth century—colonisation, aristocratic slave-owning society, war, and the “transition” to the next century (the final two decades of the nineteenth century)—constitute sub-stages of one and the same Sartoris-type aristocratic civilisation, described in its stages of origin (colonisation), foundation (up to the Civil War), crisis (the Civil War and “Reconstruction”) and decline (extending into the 1920s, when its final representatives die out, with the exception of a few McCaslins). Whereas earlier in the monograph we preferred to present events in a more detailed fashion, in order to make it easier to configure the “real within the fiction” level, here we shall describe the aristocratic period as a whole, in order to attempt a different, typological systematisation of a separate and well-defined type of civilisation. To this end, we shall look at the Chickasaw, Sartoris and Snopes civilisations as distinct socio-historical units, which broadly correspond with three distinct historical periods of Yoknapatawpha County.5

20But at least two questions immediately arise: if we accept the four sub-stages of the Sartoris civilisation, are we not then obliged to delimit the same (or other) sub-stages for the previous and following civilisations as well, in order to work consistently and avoid the risk of arbitrarily extending or restricting one of them (the Sartoris)? Further, how do we resolve the intersections between stages and the extension of the representatives of the one into another?

21In order to answer this question, we must recall that, although the chronology and dating of events in the county is, as we have seen, difficult, it can signal to us a certain evolution within the framework of each civilisation. The colonists in Jefferson were different on the arrival of Compson than they were on the arrival of Sutpen. There is a striking difference between the behaviour of Bayard Sartoris at the end of the Civil War and that during the First World War, not only because Bayard has aged, but also because the society in which he lives has changed. Always eager to grasp the spirit of the period, Faulkner differentiates the succeeding civilisations through subtle changes in the conscience and the behaviour of the characters. From the account of the events given in a previous chapter of the monograph, a certain process of “increase and decrease”, of “grandeur and decadence”, may easily be observed in each civilisation in the Yoknapatawpha County. The Chickasaw civilisation flourishes in the stories A courtship and A Justice although the act of buying black slaves means a “banishment from paradise”, as some of the Indians in Red Leaves vaguely intuit. The phenomenon of the crisis of the Chickasaw civilisation, beginning in Red Leaves, gradually worsens and will be described in other texts from the viewpoint of the colonists (the genealogy of the Compsons, Absalom, Absalom!, The Bear, Requiem for a Nun). It is hard to pinpoint the boundary between the moment of the crisis and that of decadence of the Indians. In the 1830s (1833), when Sutpen arrives in Jefferson, the Indians have already moved far from the town, requiring carts in order to travel there, and Sutpen buys land twelve miles away. Mohataha leaves the county for good not long thereafter (Requiem), and Francis Weddel founds the Plantation in the 1840s. The semi-assimilated Indians linger for a long time in the region (Victory in the Mountains, The Bear Hunt), but it is obvious that a long decadence commences around 1840, during which the Indians either perish, pushed farther and farther West, or are assimilated, declining economically and morally.6 The Chickasaw civilisation may therefore be subdivided into the same sub-stages as the Sartoris civilisation, with the same prolonged final decadence, but also the same transmission of their codes of values to the following civilisation.

22The Snopes period undergoes a similar development. Ab Snopes arrives during the Civil War, but the punishment he receives from Bayard Sartoris takes the wind out of his sails. After 1865, the “poor whites” gain an increasing numerical ascendancy in the district, and among them the Snopes element gradually develops and then stands out, less through Ab than through the next generation, represented primarily by Flem, who begins his lightning rise around the year 1900. We might regard the period from 1865 to 1900 as a slow “foundation” of the Snopes-type bourgeois civilisation, which reaches stability (its second sub-stage) between 1900 and 1920, when we witness the triumph of the Snopes clan. The “transition period” (1870-1900) therefore continues from 1900 to 1920, which for the aristocrats is a long period of decline. It begins with the “Reconstruction” and lasts up until the First World War, when the last of the aristocrats die off, with the exception of the McCaslin family. The two stages (1870-1900 and 1900-1920) cannot be unified for the Snopes bourgeoisie, however, since for them, 1870-1900 is a “foundation” stage, while 1900-1920 marks their consolidation on the ruins of the aristocracy (still dominant before 1900, although greatly weakened), i.e. their “stability” phase. It is for this reason that in our examination of the history of the county overall, we keep the two stages separate, both in Chapter Three, when describing the “real within the fiction” level, and in Chapter Five, when we draw up the table of civilisations (cf. Table no. 1). The period from 1920 to the present day, signals the dominance of the Snopes clan, but stability has given way to permanent crisis, not only because the Snopes way of life cannot ensure social harmony, as the Chickasaw and Sartoris ways of life once did, but also because we witness increasing pressure on the part of anti-Snopes forces. The death of Flem does not bring about the collapse of the Snopes civilisation, but it can serve as a signal of this imminent collapse.7 The “decadence” sub-stage does not therefore appear at the end of the table, but is merely suggested, as a promise, just as the “foundation” sub-stage does not occur in the Chickasaw civilisation, since it is lost in the primordial mists of legend, as the opening act of life in Yoknapatawpha. The blank areas at the beginning and end of the table of civilisations enlarge its temporal dimension toward infinity, toward the eternal time before and after the small fragment of life reconstructed by memory and Faulkner’s direct observation: beyond Yoknapatawpha lies America, and beyond that, mankind, in its endless flow.

23The problem of the intersections between civilisations is also resolved in this way, through analysis of their evolution through effectively similar moments. The broader relationship is as follows: for each civilisation, the sub-stages or middle phases, stabilisation and crisis (or just one of the two), coincide with the foundational phase of the consecutive civilisation and (or only) with the decadent phase of the preceding civilisation. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the midst of the stability of Indian society, the first white colonists arrive, the founders of the Sartoris civilisation. In the 1820s, 30s and later, the crisis of the Chickasaw civilisation, and then its decline, coincide with the stabilisation of the Sartoris-type slave-owning civilisation. The Civil War and the “Reconstruction” mark the crisis of this civilisation and the appearance of the first signs of the foundation of the next, the bourgeois, Snopes-type civilisation. The decadence of the aristocracy, up until around 1920, coincides with the (continuing) foundation of bourgeois society (up until 1900) and then its stabilisation (after 1900). This sub-stage and the following stage, the crisis of modern society, coincide with the emergence and then consolidation of opposition forces, which herald, probably, a different type of civilisation, yet to emerge, “founded” in theory only on the strivings and tumult of those strange “colonists” of a world that does not yet exist.

24The general relationship laid out above therefore formulates the play of historical forces confronting one another in Yoknapatawpha. The seeds of the new society always germinate in the old and its rapid growth means the demolition of the old framework of life that is no longer able to contain it, as well as the forging of a new social and political structure. On the other hand, weariness, the rigidity of the old social forms, which are unable to adapt to new conditions and no longer have the strength required to neutralise them from the outset, in their turn favour the pressure of the new forces, creating a kind of historical “void” in which they are precipitated. The act of vengeance on the part of Bayard Sartoris and Buck McCaslin is, in historical perspective, a desperate act of restoration, doomed not to last, however. Colonel Sartoris himself, after shooting the carpetbaggers, will engage in capitalist actions, rather than feudal actions, as he did before the war. Bayard himself becomes the director of a bank. Here we encounter a situation that repeats in almost exactly the same way another from the end of the Chickasaw civilisation. Issetibbeha, later Weddel, tried to cultivate the land using black slaves, the same as the white men, creating a “plantation”. Nor do the Indians accept their decline, their exit from history’s stage, but rather they attempt to compete with those who eliminate them, adapting their way of life. It is therefore now the moment to draw the conclusion that the sub-stages of interference between two consecutive civilisations mark two modes of reaction on the part of the defeated: a last show of strength or adaptation. The Indians of Yoknapatawpha do not resort to the first, but only to the second one (a behaviour at the “real within the fiction” level that is obviously at odds with the “real within history” level!). The slave-owning aristocracy tries both brute force (even after their crushing defeat in the war) and adaptation. However, it should be pointed out that in both cases, the adaptation is only superficial and ineffective precisely because it is unable to ensure the overall continuity of the old order. The Indians, like the Sartoris aristocrats, adopt the new economic structures or try to find a place for themselves within them, without abandoning their old moral and social code and without even understanding that it has become incompatible with the new mentality. When the young Bayard and Ringo, who are more practical-minded, warn her not to confront Grumby, Rosa Millard rejects the advice because she does not understand that the new social force she faces has a different moral code (The Unvanquished, Absalom! Absalom!). Others who likewise succumb are Colonel Sartoris (with lucid weariness), Major De Spain before Flem Snopes, and Saucier Weddel before Vatch (in Mountain victory). Adaptation is effective only when it also entails acceptance of the victor’s moral code. The Indians are not familiar with such examples, but the aristocrats are: Jason IV Compson becomes Flem Snopes’ business partner.

25But it is important also to underline another aspect: the failure to adapt socially and the political and economic disappearance of a force in its entirety go hand in hand with its survival through exceptional individuals with a high degree of durability. They survive in a hostile world, without abandoning anything of their code of life, which, having once been the code of a community is now the code of an individual. Sam Fathers, Joe Baker, and less so the partially adapted Boon Hogganbeck, among the Indians, Emily Grierson, Virginia Du Pré, and Ike McCaslin, among the whites, Lucas Beauchamp, Dilsey, and Elnora, among the blacks (the old blacks from the Sartoris period), represent such indomitable characters, who vehemently reject the new world; they are intractable, not absurd, but imposing, with the grandeur of undying moments of nature. Such characters represent the extension of one epoch into another and in fact ensure the continuity of the nation in Faulkner’s eyes. For, every time, these old folks pass down to the young the wisdom of ancient times, as a kind of rite of initiation into the mechanism of history. (There are also, of course, un-adapted degenerates such as Lonnie Grinnup, alias Grenier, the legendary first owner of the ruined Old Frenchman Place) but they do not form part of the discussion.) Paradoxically, therefore, non-adaptation signifies the real continuity, while adaptation, entailing abandonment of one’s own moral identity, means extinction. Faulkner’s traditionalism endows such characters with unexpected functions in the unfolding of history.

26Such are the comments that need to be made on the functionality of Faulkner’s historical periods. Their subdivision into identical phases, their single interpretation, the similar historical reactions of the people, the replacement of one civilisation by another, and the continuity of values are all indicative of a specific concept of history on Faulkner’s part, evoked in a cyclical development. Each civilisation undergoes the same development (“grandeur and decadence”) as the previous or succeeding civilisation. From the functional viewpoint, therefore, the civilisations are identical and move through the same phases. The history of mankind is conceived in large cycles, with their own social and moral systems, endlessly replacing each other according to the same laws. But in Faulkner this concept does not go as far as the aberrations of social Darwinism which was powerful in America at the end of the nineteenth century (and with which Faulkner was obviously familiar in his formative period, but which he interpreted in his own way), nor does it go as far as the theory of an absurd or nightmarish history, which obsessed some minds of the twentieth century. For Faulkner, history’s cyclical development means not only repetition, but also continuity and human progress, just as it also means man’s terrible battle with Time. The man/history relationship, like the nation/history relationship, is far too complex to be reduced only to its functional aspect, however. It implies a certain system of values and has a deep metaphysical substratum, which prohibit any hasty and unilateral conclusion. Because the tragic values of Faulkner’s works will be analysed in another chapter of the monograph, we shall for the time being dwell only on the first aspect of the concept of history, the functional, which allows an initial typological judgement of Faulkner’s work, connected, as it were, with the typology of civilisations. For the sake of clarity, we provide the following table:

27Some clarifications are needed. The year 1820 is taken to be the boundary between moments T1 and T2 because it separates the first wave of colonisation, during which the whites (from Habersham to McCaslin) were still isolated among the Indians, from the second wave (beginning with the arrival of Jason Compson), when the whites began to dominate the scene, gradually eliminating the Indians. We take the year 1840 to be the limit of moment T2 because in 1838, the consolidation of Th. Sutpen, the representative of the third wave of colonisation, was sealed by his marriage to Ellen Coldfield, and, on the other hand, also around 1840, Mohataha left the county, marking the end of the Chickasaw civilisation and the long decline that followed. The decline does not end in 1861, obviously, given that Indians still appear at the beginning of the twentieth century, and so, the “decadence” phase for the Chickasaws begins in 1840 and had no precisely determinable end. Nevertheless, we have given 1860 as the limit of moment T3, because this is when the “stability” phase of the Sartoris civilisation ends. For moment T4 we have given two series of years, marking the Civil War and the Reconstruction. The Reconstruction ends in 1877, but our chronology traces the internal reference points of Faulkner’s work, rather than historical reference points, whose synchronism it respects only in broad lines. For this reason, the “real” end of the “crisis” phase of the Sartoris civilisation is the death of Colonel Sartoris, the county’s “strongman”, which, in different Faulkner texts, varies between 1873 and 1878 Brooks 1964 450-451 pub-229544 ; after which, the Sartoris civilisation enters the “decadence” phase. This is why I have set the limit as 1875, the average of the probable years of death closest to 1877. It should be noted that in Chapter Three, I discussed the Civil War and Reconstruction separately, now grouped together within moment T4, and, the Reconstruction (1865-1875) and transition period (1876-1900) together. The reason for this is the different viewpoint of the research. In Chapter Three, I followed the syntagmatic plane of Faulkner’s work, where the uninterrupted flow of events is more blatantly stopped, between 1861 and 1900, by the final disaster of the war than by the seemingly imperceptible changes around the year 1875. Only on the typological level do the latter become visible, marking the transition from one phase to another one within the Sartoris civilisation – I mean this as a transformation in the (semantic) depth, invisible on the surface of the texts – namely in the transfer of power from Colonel John Sartoris to bank director Bayard Sartoris, seemingly his equal descendent. This is an example of the research going deeper, when it tackles the structure of a work beyond its narrative surface. For the other moments, T 5, 6, 7, 8, the dates seem less obvious to me and so, I will not dwell on them.

28If we follow the table, the “mechanism of history”, the repetition of the functional moments in each civilisation and their relationship in time appears more obvious. The shaded parts of the table signify historical absence, extinction, or the future emergence of each civilisation as a whole (and of all of them together, in the table as a whole), since isolated individuals will continue to represent them as we can see I another Table in my monograph. The differences between the “spirit” of the civilisations and their human value (at least for Faulkner) emerge in clear outline even in Table I. The founders of the Sartoris civilisation appear in the stable period of the Chickasaw civilisation, when the Indians were powerful enough to repel them. It is a kind of blatant, manly, honest challenge, whereby the Sartoris civilisation reveals its moral code during its very emergence; the same code will also function, as we shall see, at the individual level, characterising John Sartoris’ gestures toward Redmond, Redmond’s toward Bayard, Bayard’s toward Ab Snopes, etc. Their gestures are the same in their personal relations with the Indians (see David Hogganbeck’s gestures toward Ikkemotubbe, discussed in my next chapter) and even if Jason I Compson exchanges a horse for a square mile of land, his act is difficult to define as fraud when it is committed openly and the Indians genuinely place the same value on their land as the whites do on a racehorse. On the other hand, the founders of the Snopes civilisation emerge when the Sartoris civilisation is in crisis and then decline, as if they had first waited for the enemy to grow weaker before trying to lay him low. They insinuate themselves into the previous civilisation and undermine it from within, with a perfidy as characteristic of the “civilisation” as a whole as it is of its separate members, all of whom are unscrupulous, lacking in fair play and respect for their adversaries in their historical and individual actions. It is likewise important to note that the Chickasaw civilisation (as a whole) does not encounter the Snopes civilisation (likewise as a whole), as the former ceases to exists precisely when the latter emerges. Between these two civilisations at opposite ends of the table and in time can be found the Sartoris civilisation, the only one that is in contact with a previous civilisation, which it has vanquished, and with a succeeding civilisation, by which it is vanquished. Incumbent, therefore upon the Sartoris civilisation is the historic role of passing down to the present day the ancient code of life, which only it has known directly. This explains why, for Faulkner, the Sartoris civilisation assimilates some features of the vanquished, not directly, but diffusely, in the behaviour of its members; it explains why the aristocrats, albeit not to the same extent as the Indians, preserve an overall organic quality, a connection with the soil and the people who lived on it of old. On the other hand, the Snopes civilisation appears genuinely inorganic, devoid of any contact with the soil (it is a financial rather than an agrarian civilisation) or the Indians, who might have initiated it into the archaic rites of life. But the fact that the founders of the Sartoris civilisation emerge in the stable period of the Chickasaw civilisation enables a certain amount of peaceful contact between them and a smooth, natural transmission of values. Since the Snopes founders arrive at the height of the Sartoris crisis and decline, a harmonious exchange of values is no longer possible; hostility and enmity take root from the very start. These are the reasons why the Snopes civilisation appears artificial and inhuman, even in the table. Relations between individuals will be similar: none of the Snopes has contact with the Indian survivors, whereas the Indians were known and respected by the aristocrats. The decline of the Snopes clan appears likely, given its lack of the organic or continuity with the previous periods of the nation, but as we have said, Faulkner only looks forward to it, which is why a question mark appears in the table next to the years yet to be known (T8).

29The foregoing remarks facilitate, I hope, the engagement of typological analysis at the next level, that of the organisation of the characters.

III The typology of the characters

30The existence of three civilisations in Yoknapatawpha obliges us from the outset to classify the representatives of those civilisations, namely the Indian, the aristocrat and the businessman, as fundamental types.8 The human types with which the second one maintains historical relations present the same evidence: the Yankee and the Negro, to which we might add the half-caste, the product of racial mixing. Apart from these, there is a host of minor, episodic characters, including some who at times move from the background to the foreground. Such is the case, of the “freelancers”, traders, doctors, lawyers, priests, functionaries etc., who do not fall within the aforementioned categories, but who are not described distinctly enough to form separate categories by profession. But it is interesting that they occur here as early as the first wave of colonists (Dr. Habersham) and play a large part in the first public debates in the settlement of Okatoba (the trader Ratcliffe, Dr Peabody, jurist Stevens, cf. Requiem for a Nun). Their social role is henceforth that of social stability, establishment of the legal framework within which the rowdy colonists will be able to live. It should likewise be noted that Faulkner never deals with the internal problems of each separate profession, describing à la Balzac the working methods, business affairs and bank accounts of the merchant or lawyer. These characters are presented solely in terms of their social activity, that is, their relations with other characters, intervening in their lives, defusing social and individual conflicts by their words or deeds. From this point of view, they find themselves in stark opposition to both the rich planters and the businessmen (Ratliff is indeed the adversary of Flem Snopes in the local society). In the second place, and particularly in the modern period, such characters become raisonneurs, commenting critically on events (usually the ones they themselves narrate) and on the problems of the South in general. They represent the conscience of the South, experiencing from the inside, passionately, the conflicts in which the other types are mere protagonists. All these reasons lead me to classify the characters in question within the intellectual type, not because of their education and culture (only Gavin Stevens and, in part, Horace Benbow would meet this condition), but due to their social function, which is to mirror critically their epoch and to intervene actively in public life.9 The common denominator of these characters is therefore their defining, similar social function, rather than any of their individual features, specific to their profession. This character is thus differentiated from the others and likewise gives rise to interesting commentaries in regard to his role within Faulkner’s vision, in comparison with twentieth-century American opinion, which is almost obsessed with the role and the place of the intellectual in modern society.

31It should be made clear that the majority of the types we have presented include characters who have dramatic and problematic lives and who, in the margins of what happen to them, meditate on the fate of the type of which they are a part. For example, before committing suicide, Quentin Compson intensely experiences Caddy’s drama and his own ambiguous affection for her, but at the same time, this is part of the general drama of the aristocracy’s decline. Other characters who engage in such meditations are Indians, as they watch the escaped slave (Red Leaves), Negroes such as Lucas Beauchamp, “poor whites” such as Byron Bunch and Temple Drake, half-casts, and, perhaps, Flem Snopes himself. Despite the differences, the problematic of such characters have one feature in common, namely that the characters never go beyond the bounds of the fate and development of the type of which they are part. We have seen that the intellectuals are defined precisely by their meditation on the fate of the South as a whole, to be more exact, their meditation on the system of types as a whole as found in Yoknapatawpha county. Hence, too, the differentiation of behaviours, that is, of the functions that the aforementioned characters fulfil: the first act only to the advantage of their type, the others to the advantage of society as a whole, that is, the harmony between synchronic types. In theory, it is possible that a character might move from the category of one or another type of raisonneur to the type of intellectual proper. This is what happens with Linda Snopes, who moves from the “businessman” to “intellectual” type and probably (it is not stated as a fact in Faulkner’s text), Ratliff too who went from being a “poor white” to being an intellectual. For this reason, we may allow a category of characters that intersects with all the existing types, as a supply of intellectuals that is termed sui generis raisonneurs, but in order not to complicate our analysis, we shall not bring it under discussion as such, but rather will keep it for inventory purposes only, with the constitutive characters to be discussed under the types in question, as they preserve a strange and eerie similarity only ideally.

32Another group of characters is made up of the farmers from the hills, sometimes called the “poor whites”,, as we have already mentioned, in accordance with the terminology current in American prose and criticism,10 peasants, as Faulkner himself calls them in The Hamlet. They have no ambition to create large plantations, unlike the aristocrats; they do not use slave labour (in any event, few of them arrive before the Civil War) or employees, but work for themselves with their families on small plots of land. They are obviously distinct from the aristocrats (who only in the initial phase work their land themselves) and the businessmen, but through an alteration of their code of life, they can give rise to businessmen, such as is the case of Flem himself, the son of farmer Ab Snopes. Here we find the same situation—separation from an initial type and inclusion in another—as in the case of the aristocrats who become businessmen (Jason Compson) through adaptation to the Snopes world.

33Then there is a group of urban characters of no stable occupation, who work now here, now there, and who play an obvious background role in the narrative, but without fulfilling the function of critical commentary, or of theoretical generalisation, in other words, they do not have the personality of intellectuals. Whereas from the social viewpoint (the “real within history” level) the townsfolk should be differentiated from the peasants, from the moral and narrative viewpoint (the “real within the fiction” level), they are identified with each other, not only because Faulkner does not grant them a differentiated role, but also because both categories are endowed with the same code of life. The distinctive features of these characters, as well as their functions, that is, their relations with the other types, are always the same, which, I think, entitles us to mass them together within the same type, namely the poor white, a term broad enough to cover both townsfolk and peasants and which, in American literature, like the previous term, intellectual, is widely employed in order to facilitate the necessary comparisons.11

34Hitherto we have therefore identified the following types of character in Faulkner: the Indian, the aristocrat, the businessman, the Negro, the Yankee, the half-cast, the intellectual, and the poor white.12 This sequence of types seems to be formed according to different principles: racial (Indian, white, black, half-cast), political/historical (aristocrat, Yankee), economic (businessman, poor white, aristocrat), and yet more numerous criteria, if we take into account the fact that the types in question include men, women, children, adolescents, adults and the elderly. In fact, these criteria can be reduced to just one: their social function in Faulkner’s vision (the “real within the fiction” level), that is, their concrete narrative function in the writer’s work (the immediate level of the work). The differentiations mentioned belong to the “real within history” level, which does not concern us for the time being, but which we shall plumb when we analyse each separate type.As we shall see, what is essential for Faulkner is the system of values, the code of life, which each social force in the history of Yoknapatawpha County promotes. This code becomes the writer’s object of analysis, regardless of whether its proponents belong to different economic, social or racial categories at the “real within history” level. Just as each professional category of the “intellectual” type is presented not from the professional but from the social/moral viewpoint, so too the Indian or Yankee (in fact, all the types mentioned) is not described from the racial or political/historical viewpoint, but only from the viewpoint of their values, their specific code of life. We mentioned this fact in another chapter of the monograph, when we pointed out the alteration or transformation of history Faulkner undertakes in order to insert his characters within his literary vision. As a matter of fact, we may also observe the same thing if we compare the types in question with those found in other prose works of American literature.

35The ability to reduce different criteria to one single criterion enables a structural interpretation of the typology of Faulkner’s characters. In broad terms, we believe that in Faulkner’s work, all the oppositions between the characters are neutralised, with the exception of the moral oppositions, which are the only ones that have aesthetic resonance. As soon as professional, racial and religious features are treated solely from a moral angle, as moral values, it means that the characters are in opposition solely on the moral level and our examination can be reduced to that level. We will not provide examples here, but they will be highlighted during the course of the exposition. On the other hand, since the definition of types results more simply (and sufficiently) from analysis of the syntagmatic plane of Faulkner’s work, we do not deem it necessary to carry out an exhaustive structural analysis and we shall limit ourselves to applying its suggestions only in order to establish the relations between types.

36We shall tackle the typology of the characters in three successive stages. Firstly, we shall attempt to include under the eight fundamental types the most important characters in Faulkner’s work, that is, the characters with the most meaningful impact within the work and with the greatest narrative weight. Obviously, the around 1,400 characters Faulkner invented cannot all be taken into consideration,13 but we hope not to miss out any of the major ones and that the reader will easily be able to fit the (more or less) episodic ones into our schema. Then, in the second stage, we will define the types through their relations with each other (cf. Appendix 1), and the third stage will consist in establishing distinctive traits for the eight types, whose presence, absence or shading will configure the moral code of each type. After which we will proceed to analyse each separate type and thereby be able to compare their configuration in the work of Faulkner with the configuration of the same types in other American writers. The structural description of the characters will therefore end, as is natural, and even necessary, with a literary-historical interpretation thereof.

IV The Chickasaw Indian

37Although they appear in only four short stories and, via Sam Fathers and Boon Hogganbeck, a few other passages in different Faulkner’s novels and stories, the Indians constitute a perfectly coherent and autonomous world in Faulkner’s work. The exceptional meaningfulness of the characters and situations, whether described directly or via the narrators’ memories, enables an entire primitive civilisation to be brought to life, along with its moral code and function in the overall history of the county.

38The Chickasaw Indian is the only (type of) character in the system that does not entail any disjunction, regardless of the attitudes of the other types, collaborating with others on friendly terms, but which also does not have very many contacts with others, due to its historical disaster. But even so, the Indians display the highest human value, creating an integrated society and thereby passing down a rich spiritual heritage to succeeding civilisations thanks to lasting extra-historical human values.14 The Indians are tolerant toward the half-casts as they are the only ones who do not raise the issue of racial mingling, and their actions have an average index of intensity due to their reduced presence on the historical stage a record in the system, alongside the Yankees and half-casts, for which reason they enter into an oppositional relationship with the aristocratic types and the businessmen, who are the most active within the system. Through their interaction with the Negroes, in the context of whom they behave, significantly, as neutrally as do the first settlers, sharing the same form of paternalism, and above all in interaction with the aristocrats, the Indians trigger a mechanism of continuing tradition, whereby, in a diffuse way, they pass on their code to all the other types in the county. It is therefore obvious that Faulkner’s Indians are able to lend great density to human relations that are reduced from the historical viewpoint (because history belongs to the whites), compensating, through profundity, for their short presence in Yoknapatawpha. They have left deep, unforgettable traces, forever marking the consciousness and behaviour of their conquerors. In Faulkner’s eyes, the Chickasaw Indians earn their permanence not through desperate and heroically struggle (like the Sartoris aristocracy), such as American history and a large part of American literature and cinema teaches us, but through the intrinsic radiance of their way of life, which is so strong that it has been passed down from generation to generation to the present day. The Indians became legendary soon after their disappearance from public history, but during the time when some of them still physically lived among the whites, such as Sam Fathers, who in the 1890s initiated white adolescents into the mysteries of life, by virtue of a function that proves thus to be superior to the avatars of history.

39Later, in our century, long after Sam’s death, the white children are fascinated by the Indians’ huts, far from the farms and cities, which hum with the “fabulous” life of those “who dwelled or lurked there, sinister, a little sardonic, like a dark and nameless beast lightly and lazily slumbering with bloody jaws” Faulkner 1934 65 pub-229559 .

40The Indians live according to ancient rituals, but from their first contacts with the white man these rituals dissolve, they do not have the power to resist the new way of life. Strangely, the Indians are archaic in their behaviour, but not conservative, they apply an inherited code stereotypically, but they are open and even very susceptible to a different way of life and adopt it without painful straining. This paradox—immobility within the code, but its rapid adaptation to different external circumstances - explains their intensive relations with only three types: white colonists, Negroes and half-casts. Some of the features of their moral code can supply us with explanations for this situation. The Indians live unproblematically, that is, without questions and doubts as to the legitimacy of their way of life. The archaic nature of their customs lends them the bronze endorsement of “mythic time”, their situations and reactions seem to have been frozen at an absolute position. The Indians form a perfectly bonded community not only from the viewpoint of the forms of labour, distribution and jurisdiction specific to a primitive commune, but also because of the circumstance that all the individuals behave homogeneously, in an undifferentiated way when it comes to the shared code, with very minor differences only in regard to non-essential particularities. Hence their sublime indifference to their own fate: living outside history, they cannot conceive of history, i.e. of any change in institutions over time; life seems eternal to them and eternally the same, and as such, they do not think about responsibility for their own gestures. Otherwise, significantly, Faulkner’s text does not indicate the presence or absence of this trait - unlike it does with the aristocratic and businessman types - but only the fact that the Indians do not even pose the problem. The only constraint on their behaviour is that of the code; actions outside the code cannot be evaluated, in the absence of any equally firm criteria. Their energy functions only within the framework of the ritual world; outside a known system of situations and reactions, it becomes clumsy, abrupt, and might even seem savage to the whites (cf. the short story Lo!); hence their certain passivity within a world that is no longer theirs, the world of the whites (t 5). Ultimately, the Indians are innocents; they have no awareness of sin, and no knowledge of evil, because in their paradisiac world, no individual can harm another, since life is pre-established. Since property does not exist, nor does profit exist, nobody works for another, but all work for the community, i.e. for each other. Evil cannot penetrate this perfect world, and even death is merely a moment of life: when a chief dies, his dogs and horse are buried with him and his weapons, so that in the other world he will be able to continue exactly the same way of life. Significantly, even the slave is buried alive, because the slave is also regarded as an animal and in the other world he must continue to serve his master the same as he did on earth (cf. Red Leaves). Hence too the Indians’ amazement at the slave’s attempt to escape, that is, at his sense that he is confronted with a danger, with evil, when in the Indians’ eyes he is merely part of a ritual, and therefore part of life and truth. A phenomenon typical of the archaic mentality, respectively of assimilation of the unexpected into the schema of the immemorial rite! The other side of ingenuousness is however imitation, unselective acceptance of external facts, because there is no consciousness of the code, but only its automatic functioning. In the world of the white “grown-ups”, these Chickasaw children imitate their actions without being able to evaluate the consequences morally or politically/historically. In New Orleans, Ikkemotubbe learns crime, ambition and the thirst for power; he then murders his rivals, although his actual behaviour is still archaic: he informs his friends that he is coming home by means of a “written stick”, and he makes a concrete demonstration of the threat of poison by giving a little “New Orleans salt” to a dog, which dies instantly. The commentary is as follows:

I think you still believe that that puppy was sick, Doom said. Think about it. Herman Basket said that pappy thought. What do you think now? Doom said. But Herman Basket said that pappy still did not look at Doom. I think it was a well dog, pappy said Faulkner 1934 350 pub-229559 .

41Ikkemotubbe is a cruel man, but he has no awareness of cruelty. Likewise, imitation of the white man in regard to slave labour does not go hand in hand with an awareness of the fact that something fundamentally new appears in Yoknapatawpha. He provides Negroes to his friends in order to gain their appreciation, with the same naturalness with which he might offer them an object or an animal. Ikkemotubbe is the first arriviste in Yoknapatawpha, but this does not cancel out his structural innocence. The reckless curiosity of a child playing with fire also characterises the way in which he exploits slave labour in imitation of the whites. Instinctively sensing the muffled threat posed by the mass of Negroes, Issetibbeha takes counsel with the tribal chiefs. One of them says:

We must do as the white men do. How is that? Issetibbeha said. Raise more Negroes by clearing more land to make corn to feed them, and then sell them. We will clear the land and plant it with food and raise Negroes and sell them to the white men for money. But what will we do with this money? A third said. They thought for a while. We will see, the first said. They squatted, profound, grave. It means work, the third said. Let the Negroes do it, the first said. Yao, Let them. To sweat is bad. It is damp. It opens the pores. And then the night air enters. Yao. Let the Negroes do it. They appear to like sweating. Faulkner 1934 319-20 pub-229559

42The ingenuousness does not perish, even now, when the Indians discover profit (t 6), nor when they later “sell” their land to the whites because a racehorse owned by Jason Lycurgus Compson seems to them equal in value to a square mile of land. Another time, exactly like the Indians who will have greeted the first Spanish colonists two centuries previously, Man himself, Issetibbeha, buys a pair of red slippers, as items of great value, and his son, Moketubbe, murderously covets them his entire youth. I think that this permanent ingenuousness can be detected in all the moments of the Chickasaw period and it explains the paradox pointed out above: the Indians adopt some white manners, but not the whites’ moral code, because they instinctively preserve their own. They introduce slavery and the cultivation of the land in their community, they later even found a “Plantation”, but they scorn work, deeming it debasing, a baneful magic (cf. the above quotation) and do not host the individual activism indispensable to the farmer. The Indians are contemporary with the new Sartoris agrarian era, which they help to trigger, but they cannot understand it and they cannot genuinely adapt to it; from the primitive commune they pass straight into nothingness, in other words, into legend.

43Within the limits of their own civilisation, however, the Indians achieve values and a certain human beauty unsurpassed by any subsequent type in Yoknapatawpha, in the first place, a complete identity with nature, with the primordial jungle. Faulkner intuits that an ancient people does not view nature ecstatically (only townsfolk do so, on Sundays!), but quite simply dwells in its eternal rhythms; in other words, it becomes nature. Below is the portrait of Three Basket and Louis Berry (a simultaneous portrait, as the two resemble each other so closely that they might be the same person, equivalent specimens of the same species):

They were both squat men, a little solid, burgher-like; paunchy, with big heads, big, broad, dust-coloured faces of certain blurred serenity like carved heads on a ruined wall in Siam or Sumatra, looming out of a mist. The sun had done it, the violent shade. Their heir looked like sedge grass on burnt-over land. Clamped through one ear Three Basket wore an enamelled snuffbox. Faulkner 1934 313 pub-229559

44The Indians are described as their own gods, rudely hewn from stone, outside time. The following is a statement of how time for them flows not in units of measurement or according to the calendar, but by means of periodic interruptions of nature’s continuity:

And suns passed and then moons and then three high waters came and went and old Issetibbeha had entered the earth a year and his son Moketubbe was the Man. Faulkner 1934 362-363 pub-229559

45Suns and moons can be days and nights, high waters can be flooding of the Mississippi, but what is important is that the Indian lives by their rhythm, by infinite cosmic periods, rather than by the rationalised rhythm of the twenty-four-hour day, the rhythm of history, in other words, the time of the whites. It is with the same periodicity that the whiskey seller appears, a man integrated, although a white, into the rhythm of the river’s flooding, which allows him to reach the Indians by boat. Their names are nicknames that make analogy to animals and plants: Owl-by-Night, Log-in-the-Creek, Sometimes-Wake-up, Willow-Bearer. When the water is too low to allow the boat to return, it is tied to a stake by the shore: if the water reaches there within “two suns”, the boat can “whistle” and the people will see its smoke rising from behind the trees, while its “feet tread swiftly through the water” (obvious proof of the animism specific to archaic thinking).

46When an Indian kills a few white people, he recounts that he “filled” them with stones, throwing them into the water, and when he thinks himself ill, he stays at home and “sits with his feet in the Hot Spring so that the sickness in his back could return to the earth”, Faulkner 1934 353 pub-229559 a typical magical act of exorcism. This is what happens when the Man is poisoned by Ikkemotubbe and “behaves strangely” (not a euphemism, since the direct expression appears elsewhere, but with prudent reserve in the face of an obvious political murder), and the “doctor” arrives “to burn sticks”, again a typical act of appeasement of evil spirits.

47There is a fatal succession of events that people know nobody and nothing can avert. The account made by an Indian in the short story A Courtship of the boat’s arrival compares the event, i.e. the series of acts that comprise it, with the periodic regularity of natural occurrences; it is sufficient for the first act in the series to occur in order for all the others naturally to ensue:

Then we would begin to hear David Hogganbeck’s fiddle, and then the steamboat would come walking up the last of the river like a race-horse, with the smoke rolling black and its feet flinging the water aside as a running horse flings dirt, and Captain Studenmare who owned the steamboat chewing tobacco in one window and David Hogganbeck playing his fiddle in the other … Faulkner 1934 366 pub-229559

48But this perfect identification with nature resides above all in the rituals that accompany and express the key moments in an individual’s life. Above, we pointed to Issetibbeha’s funeral ritual. Marriage, too, or rather the initial phase of courtship, shares the same ritual character. Ikkemotubbe and David Hogganbeck see (an excellent term for the ingenuousness of the two love-struck men) Herman Basket’s sister at the same time and between them begins a contest in which the Chickasaw code is fully revealed.

49Firstly, love is not regarded as a strictly individual act, in the sense of a personal choice and acknowledgment of mutual feeling; the two men are fighting to “win” the girl without it ever occurring to them to consult her. Then, after Ikkemotubbe “sees” the girl, all the others who have “seen” her previously withdraw from the contest, because he runs, drinks and rides better than them. Each contestant interprets the situation through the eyes of the community, feeling proud that there is such a champion among the Chickasaw rather than sad that he is not that champion. The honour of the tribe comes before personal pride and Ikkemotubbe’s friends help him against Hogganbeck because, significantly, only a stranger, meaning somebody outside the tribal hierarchy of values, dares to challenge Ikkemotubbe. For the latter, the honour of the tribe is identical with his personal honour; he fights the white man both as a suitor and as a delegate of the community. The situation of being the favourite could have aroused Ikkemotubbe’s pride, prompting him to behave arrogantly and to abuse the prerogatives of a host, dishonestly doing away with his adversary. However, the Indian resorts to this act only after he has become familiar with the life of the white men in New Orleans; but as for now, before travelling there, he lives entirely within the horizon of the Chickasaw code. Ikkemotubbe’s pride does not arise because this is an individualising form of self-consciousness, which as yet does not exist for him; the Indians know only racial pride, apparent in the hieratic solemnity of their gestures, in their scorn for work and the negroes, whom they do not hate, but rather look down on, haughtily, in their measured, stereotypical speech, in the absolute dignity of their bearing. For this reason, Ikkemotubbe behaves irreproachably toward his rival, taking honour so far as to turn all the advantages of the terrain against himself out of the excessive but sublime scruple of making sure both men have an equal chance. Remarkably, the white man behaves identically, achieving a perfect symbiosis of codes, which the likes of Ike McCaslin will also later attempt, albeit too late.

50The trials are in themselves significant: Ikkemotubbe is unable to invent any situations other than those that are traditional; he is unable to modify the code. When he later breaks the code, through imitation of the whites’ behaviour, he will do so without any moral awareness of his action. But for now, the two innocents compete with each other in eating and drinking enormous quantities and in cross-country running.

We could fight for her, Ikkemotubbe said. But white men and the People fight differently. We fight with knives to hurt good and to hurt quickly. That will be all right, if I were to lose, because I would wish to be hurt good. If I am to truly win, it will be necessary for you to be there to see it. On the day of the wedding, I wish you to be present, or at least present somewhere, not lying wrapped in a blanket on a platform in the woods, waiting to enter the earth. Then my father said how Ikkemotubbe put his hand on David Hogganbeck’s shoulder and smiled at him. If that could satisfy you, we would not be squatting here discussing what to do. I think you see that. I think I do, David Hogganbeck said. Faulkner 1934 371 pub-229559

51The moment is significant. The white has adapted to Indian customs, but at a seeming impasse, he experiences an upsurge of his own mores and it seems natural to him to introduce them into the Chickasaw code. Ikkemotubbe nobly defends the purity of the code, which is based on honour (he rejects murder) and human respect, on manly struggle, but also on acceptance of defeat, on keeping every individual act at the centre of the community on the direct, affectionate, virile communication of thoughts and feelings, on the awareness of the power controlled by the humanity of the code, albeit conveyed with dignity. Thus, the desire to see David at the wedding is not an act of revenge or arrogance, but rather one that naturally assimilates him into the rest of the community, and his joy as bridegroom must be augmented by the joy of all the others who have honourably granted him precedence. The whole of the race to the dangerous cave, where the slightest sound might cause the mountain to collapse, the way how each man offers the other one his life and the woman (they shoot their pistols simultaneously and each shoulders the rock so that the other can get out) only confirms the nobility, the spiritual grandeur of the Chickasaw code, which temporarily becomes identical with the code of the first white colonists.

52But in accordance with tradition, the two do not count on the feelings of the girl herself, who, during their contest, chooses a third man. Her act is significant because it implies a moving away from the code, an individualisation of reactions that we would not have suspected on the part of an Indian woman, who otherwise is so very different from the future Sartoris “matriarchy”. Also interesting is that both the beginning and the end of the contest signify a deviation from the perfect regularity of the traditional series of acts, and the narrative is triggered and consumed when the deviant act breaks the preordained harmony: David Hogganbeck refuses to return with Captain Studenmare as usual after the fair because he has seen the girl, and the girl refuses to wait for the result of the competition, choosing the man she herself desires. Significant as a literary device, the act also has a wider importance: in Yoknapatawpha, things happen only when people move away from the code for various reasons, since otherwise automatic repetition of the code would have entrenched immobility. Thus, A Courtship marks a girl’s gesture of independence and the departure of an Indian chief among the whites; had he married the girl, he would probably have stayed at home and the entire subsequent development—the purchase of slaves, the sale of land, etc.—would not have happened or rather it would have happened differently, with different individuals and in different circumstances. A Justice marks the first racial intermingling: the Indians’ code does not forbid it, but quite simply does not foresee it, since the tradition is unfamiliar with it and nobody could have imagined such a possibility. Red Leaves marks the beginnings of racial tension and the first lynching of Negroes, at the time still a ritual act, and Lo! marks the overall decline of the Chickasaw Indians. Faulkner suggests even in this mythical period the impossibility of perfect immobility and its subtle dialectic with time as a factor of fatal change, of the alteration of one civilisation and the emergence of the next.

53For the time being, however, there is perfect fraternisation; the Indian and the white man discover and express their fundamentally human identity:

Don’t think about her, David Hogganbeck said. I don’t. I have already stopped. See? Ikkemotubbe said while the sunset ran down his face as if it had already been rain instead of light when it entered the window. There was a wise man of ours who said once how a woman’s fancy is like a butterfly which, hovering from flower to flower, pauses at the last as like as not where a horse has stood. There was a wise man of ours named Solomon who often said something of that nature too, David Hogganbeck said. Perhaps there is just one wisdom for all men, no matter who speaks it. Faulkner 1934 379-380 pub-229559

54Like nature itself, the Indians assimilate those who live among them. The whites and the half-casts are welcomed as brothers, if they accept the Indians’ code of life. We do not know how Sam Fathers lived among the Indians, but the large degree to which he assimilates their wisdom, the dignity with which he passes down the old truths to the young, as a priest or a prophet prove that he was perfectly assimilated by those to whom he was related only through his father. In the person of Sam, the Chickasaw virtues acquire an individual brilliance, which is all the brighter the less natural is the environment in which he lives. The ancient racial pride can be felt in the distance that Sam places between himself and the Negroes, as well as between himself and the white masters. It is the same distance toward Boon Hogganbeck, in whom he, the son of a tribal chief, can see only a plebeian, the son of an ordinary Indian woman even if his father is a white man that General Compson, Major De Spain and others welcome into their company. Sam is not arrogant, but rejects any hierarchy other than that of his people; for the first and last time, racial pride becomes individual pride. Only the giant bear, Old Ben, and Lion the dog, his contemporaries in an alien, conquering, but irremediably petty world participate in the same “pure” and incorruptible archaic nature; when they are killed, Sam himself perishes. On the day when it is decided that Ben should be shot, a strange shadow passes over Sam’s face. Only Ike McCaslin, the apprentice, understands:

He was only ten. It seemed to him that he could see them, the two of them, shadowy in the limbo from which time emerged and became time: the old bear absolved of mortality and himself15 who shared a little of it”. “Still Sam said nothing. The boy watched him while the men knelt measuring the tracks. There was something in Sam’s face now. It was neither exaltation, nor joy nor hope. Later, a man, the boy realized what it had been and that Sam had known all the time what had made the tracks and what had torn the throat out of the doe in the spring and killed the fawn. It had been foreknowledge in Sam’s face that morning. And he was glad, he told himself. He was old. He had no children, no people, none of his blood anywhere above earth that he would ever meet again. And even if he were to, he could not have touched it, spoken to it, because for seventy years now he had had to be a Negro. It was almost over now and he was glad. Cowley 1946 250 pub-229548

55The following is the conclusion drawn by Ike, who is still a child, but senses the closing of history:

It seemed to him that there was a fatality in it. It seemed to him that something, he didn’t know what, was beginning, had already begun. It was like the last act on a set stage. It was the beginning and the end of something, he didn’t know what except that he would not grieve. He would be humble and proud that he had been found worthy to be part of it too or even just to see it too. Cowley 1946 261 pub-229548

56Humility and pride, this is what Sam Fathers teaches Ike, and also courage, the superb, insane courage with which a little dog attacks a giant bear. And rejection of and scorn for a corrupt world, the strength to withdraw from its midst to a small hut, the way Sam himself, after the death of Joe Baker, the last Chickasaw and the last man with whom he can talk in the ancestral language, withdraws into a hut in the forest, where he will ask to be left to die, uttering the symbolic words, “Let me go home”. Cowley 1946 279 pub-229548 And primordial innocence, sinking into the jungle as if into bottomless water, the primal ocean, without weapons or compass, abandoning himself to an elementary feeling, for which he is rewarded when he glimpses Ben, the savage beast that now looks at him steadily; for an instant they are brethren, but the bear’s look is also imperious, as if he were dictating his destiny.

57Ike will renounce the McCaslin inheritance because Sam has revealed to him the meaning of life, and in the message of purity and humanity that he will pass down to other young people decades later (cf. Autumn in the Delta) will resound the weighty, enigmatic words of Sam Fathers.

58The Indians created a human civilisation founded on the values that Faulkner regarded as fundamental, but which the other types of characters living in Yoknapatawpha only partially achieved, never in the same superb synthesis: pride, humility, courage, innocence, respect, social cohesion, and life experience codified in immutable rituals, nature as an overwhelming presence, as a moral example. The other types will each realise their own social moral code, but even if here and there these will have fresh brilliance, as a whole they will not attain the nobility of the Indian type.

V Narrative devices: Perspectives and discrepancies between perspectives

59Even when a narrated event is real, the interpretation of it is subject to numerous and complicated difficulties. As I elsewhere said, the narrating witness conveys not only information resulting from his immediate experience, but also mediated information acquired from other witnesses.16 In the circumstances of the same professional “honesty” that we also remarked upon above, the narrator does not always select a series of items of information, but presents all of them in their very interconnectedness. In such cases, we may speak of the existence of an event, but an existence by refraction, as it appears to us with the distortions that are inevitable within a system of viewpoints belonging to multiple narrator witnesses. The problem therefore arises of comparing these perspectives. They are sometimes complementary, sometimes disjunctive, and may or may not allow a co-explication of the event. In both cases, however, the event is no longer only presented or approximated, as it happens elsewhere in the book, but there is rather an attempt to decipher it. We therefore begin our interpretation “proper” when initial knowledge of the event crystallises, but which will be rectified by different viewpoints, whether simultaneous or subsequent. The interpretation is therefore not an instantaneous process, a flash of intuition, but a durative process, even a contradictory process often subject to dramatic revisions.

60The “simplest” case is to open a “fresh perspective” compared with the initial viewpoint of the narrator himself. Sometimes this is due to a surplus of subsequently received information, which, lacking at the time of the event caused a natural error on the part of the witness. The arrival of Sutpen’s cart in Jefferson, loaded with wild Negroes and the French architect, is described in a fantastical way by the impersonal narrator (an expression of amazed and fascinated public opinion): “…the wagon went on as though even the wood and iron which composed it, as well as the mules which drew it, had become imbued, by sheer association with him, with that quality of gaunt and tireless driving, that conviction of haste and of fleeing time”.17 Immediately after which there follows a kind of indirect quotation from the revelation that Sutpen subsequently makes to Quentin’s grandfather, who, we deduce, has passed it on to the narrator or made it public, so that he is then able to correct his first impression: “later, Sutpen told Quentin’s grandfather that on that afternoon when the wagon passed through Jefferson they had been without food since the previous night, and that he was trying to reach Sutpen’s Hundred and the river bottom to try to kill a deer before dark , so he and the architect and the Negroes would not have to spend another night without food”. Cowley 1946 51 pub-229548

61In other words, the information and viewpoints can be presented as follows:

62At the moment of event (E), i.e. at the temporal point we designate by T1, the narrator has a viewpoint (P'1) determined by his immediate experience. At a subsequent moment (T2), a second viewpoint of event E arises, P'' (the viewpoint of Sutpen himself, passed down via Quentin’s grandfather, but I do not record this here in order not to complicate the diagram), but which is in fact constructed at moment T1, so that I label it P''1; this viewpoint is communicated to the narrator at T2 and has the function of rectifying (the retrospective meaning of the arrow) the first viewpoint. At moment T3 of the narrative proper, the narrator (P', now labelled P'3) issues in juxtaposition both series of items of information resulting from the superimposition of the viewpoints (P'1 + P''1) of event E occurring at moment T1. Obviously, only viewpoint P''1 is true, but even so, the narrator scrupulously presents to the listener the false viewpoint, too (P'1). Seemingly, the principle of the incompatibility of a true and a false judgement is ultimately infringed and the true/false dichotomy no longer functions because the narrative has moved from the logical to the artistic level. What is important here is only the tension that arises between the two perspectives, illumining the grandeur of the event and particularly that of the Hero, Sutpen, driven by his chimerical, supernatural ambition or by Fate. From between the two perspectives erupts the tragedy of the Hero.

63However, the rectification of the narrator’s initial opinion also occurs thanks to the intervention of simultaneous (rather than subsequent) opinions belonging to other witnesses, whether identified or not (rumours). Sometimes the narrator does not know a fact, or does not know it well enough, in order to define it, and then he contents himself with citing an obscure rumour: “Doubtless something more than this transpired at the time, though none of the vigilance committee ever told it that I know. All I ever heard is how the town, the men on the gallery of the Holston House saw Sutpen and the committee ride onto the square together” Cowley 1946 60 pub-229548

64Not only does the narrator cite a rumour in the absence of personal conviction, but also it may be assumed that he himself has tried to find out everything he could (“all I ever heard”) before mentioning the rumour in question. Sometimes, however, the narrator cites public opinion and then lays out his own critical opinion of it:

65There are also cases where the narrator does not provide his own opinion, for various reasons, citing only other viewpoints. The event now appears even more nebulous, for, whereas before, the narrator employed an alien perspective only in order to correct his own perspective, now the narrator, employing multiple alien perspectives, situates the event at their intersection; the quotation no longer has the subordinate function of correction, but rather the equal function of a perfectly justified alternative. Thus there arises a whole range of possibilities of a technique we might call narrative voices. Indeed, the appearance in the text of a perspective different from that of the narrator is seldom presented in a direct fashion, and so, we have the definite impression that a new character has entered the scene, in dialogue with the narrator. (In fact, this situation goes beyond the problem we are concerned with here, that of framing multiple perspectives within the flow of a continuous narrative). Usually, “quotation” occurs either in the free indirect style or simply by mentioning another character, after which the sentence continues apparently the same, ultimately conveying the opinion of the other character, or, even more subtly, a series of items of information are dissolved into the narrator’s sentence, information that cannot come from him and therefore obviously comes from a different character with a different perspective. In each case, the characters “quoted” do not appear on stage in person, we hear only their “voices”, and the text obviously becomes an amalgamation of multiple narrative voices.

66Passing over examples of the indirect style, which are usually well known, the following is a passage from Absalom, Absalom! (the novel in general is conceived as a reconstruction of an event half a century later, from the multiple accounts that Quentin has been able to collect, and Faulkner employs herein almost all his narrative techniques) in which an impersonal narrator recounts the building of the Sutpen manor house, quoting the opinions of General Compson and Rosa Coldfield, passed down to Quentin (from whom the narrator must have heard them), along with his own information (I number the sentences in bold type as sequences, in order to be able to formalise them in as suggestive as possible a diagram):

  1. There were many more than Akers, though the others were responsible citizens and landowners and so did not have to lurk about the camp at night.
  2. In fact, as Miss Coldfield has told Quentin, they would make up parties to meet at the Holston House and go out horseback, often carrying lunch.
  3. Sutpen had built a brick kiln and he had set up the saw and planer which he had brought in the wagon – a capstan with a long sapling walking-beam, with the wagon team and the Negroes in shifts and himself too when necessary, when the machinery slowed, hitched to it – as if the Negroes actually were wild men;
  4. as General Compson told his son, Quentin’s father, while the Negroes were working Sutpen never raised his voice at them, that instead he led them, caught them at the psychological instant by example, by some ascendancy of forbearance rather than by brute fear.
  5. Without dismounting (usually Sutpen did not even greet them with as much as a nod, apparently as unaware of their presence as if they had been idle shades) they would sit in a curious quiet clump as though for a mutual protection and watch his mansion rise, carried plank by plank and brick by brick out of the swamp where the clay and timber waited – the bearded white man and the twenty black ones and all stark naked beneath the encroaching and pervading mud.
  6. Being men, these spectators did not realize that the garments which Sutpen had worn when he first rode into Jefferson were the only ones in which they had ever seen him, and few of the women in the county had seen him at all.
  7. Otherwise, some of them would have anticipated miss Coldfield and divined that he was saving his clothes, since decorum even if not elegance of appearance would be the only weapon (or rather, ladder) with which he could conduct the last assault upon what miss Coldfield and maybe others too believed to be respectability
  8. that respectability which, according to General Compson, consisted in Sutpen’s secret mind of a great deal more than the mere acquisition of a chatelaine for his house.
  9. So he and the twenty Negroes worked together, plastered over with mud against the mosquitoes and
  10. as miss Coldfield had told Quentin being distinguishable one from another by his beard and eyes alone, and only the architect resembling a human creature because of the French clothes which he wore constantly with a sort of invincible fatality. Cowley 1946 51-53 pub-229548

67Breaking up the text according to both the syntactic criterion and that of the narrating “voice”, we obtain ten units, which can be distributed along three narrative axes, corresponding to the narrator, General Compson and Mrs. Coldfield:

68The wavy line indicates the narrative’s progression through the spaces of the three voices that it traverses successively, unevenly (in 5, 2 and 3 units), and apparently capriciously. Each voice represents a separate perspective, but, also according to the procedure pointed to above, the items of information provided by each voice, which are separate in the moment when they are formulated, are amalgamated in the moment of narration, in the sense that the narrator’s voice, the only one that “can be heard”, also “lends its sound” to the others, in a unitary sound flux, in which it is possible to make a distinction only by means of introductory expressions of the “as he told him” type. The fluency of the narrative is complicated by a series of “secondary branches” between episodes (not given in the diagram), outside the main channel. The narrator’s first episodes (1, 3, 5) continue indirectly by the fact that each is inserted into the text without any formulation, by means of opposition to the episodes narrated by the other voices (2, 4), which are provided with such formulations, thereby giving the impression of parentheses in an otherwise unified narrative. Episode 6 is a parenthesis—a semantic parenthesis—within the very musical score of the narrator, since he, like the other two, General Compson and Mrs. Coldfield, no longer narrate Sutpen’s endeavour, but comment on his spectators; this is why episode 9 is directly connected with 5 (and the previous ones) by the particle so, whereby the narrator resumes his own narrative after its interruption by the parenthesis (6). General Compson has two interventions, both of them to provide specific detail, one on an aspect of the work mentioned by the narrator (4), the other on Rosa Coldfield’s commentary (8), marking a particular, unitary narrative attitude. Mrs. Coldfield takes over only from the narrator, providing specific detail as to one aspect of the spectators (2), Sutpen’s labour (10) and its signification, more a commentary than a narrative (7).

69Significantly, the semantic and functional weighting of the three voices is unequal. The first perspective (P I) is strictly expository, describing the event from the outside, from exactly the same cautious and alarmed distance from which the group of citizens view it. In fact, the narrator expresses their perspective (it is otherwise significant that the only comment he inserts in the narrative refers not to Sutpen, but to the citizens—episode 6 and, to an extent, 5—whom we sense to be shoulder to shoulder with him) whereby the significance of the event remains enigmatic, behind its factual surface; we therefore understand only the reaction of public opinion, which is diffuse, muddled, latent. Rosa Coldfield also expresses the public opinion, but in what is now a crystallisation of meaning, a system of suppositions, thanks to the augmented finesse of feminine observation. Within the framework of P II, the event is no longer external and enigmatic, but deciphered, although also with a negative reaction, albeit one that is not public, but personal (we discover from the context of the novel that Sutpen’s “attack” will be against Rosa’s sister and later against Rosa herself, so that her apprehension—motivated by the fact that at the moment of the narrative at Rosa is subsequent to the moment of the event—seems to us perfectly justified), not instinctive alarm, but horror in the face of this character who is henceforth viewed as a “demon” because of his method of working and above all preparing his “assault” with cold blood and inflexible will. On the other hand, General Compson supplies explanations of a different nature, which are primarily benevolent, even rather affectionate and, by means of Faulkner’s montage, subtly at variance with those expressed by Rosa: it is not brute terror, but psychological intuition that helps Sutpen dominate people (4). Secondly, his comprehension is deeper, suggesting the real significance of the event: Sutpen pursues not the usual social respectability through marriage, but something else “more important”, which for the time being (i.e. at the moment of the event) remains a secret. Therefore, not even the General completely deciphers the event, but goes deeper on the way toward its decipherment.

70We may thereby conclude that the three perspectives, belonging to the three narrative voices, represent stages of the interpretation of the event, not only different but also successive steps in the process of understanding it: P I signifies its simple recording, P III a superficial interpretation, and P II a deeper interpretation, close to the truth. From the viewpoint of the increase of information, we may say that:

71The entire narrative movement proves it, but the 6-7-8 “loop”, delimited by the rectangle marked in the above diagram, is the most significant, as the “transition” from 6 to 8 marks precisely the transition from mere observation of Sutpen’s arrival (P I) to the assumption of respectability (P III) and then the intuition of a deeper meaning (P II). Episode 8 therefore represents the peak moment of the sinuous interpretation of the event in the text under analysis. Moreover, to generalise, the whole of the novel Absalom, Absalom! represents an evaluation of Sutpen’s life along these three axes of signification. Quentin’s reconstruction constantly “swings” between the alarmed amazement of public opinion (P I), the vindictive horror of Rosa Coldfield (P III), and the sympathetic understanding (going as far as identification, especially with Henry Sutpen) marked by P II. In other words, Sutpen himself, the Hero, is configured, beyond the spectacular facade of his acts (P I), by means of the tension between demonic brutality (P III) and the tragic innocence of man defeated by Destiny (P II).

72The modalities of Faulkner’s interpretation of the Event, based on the technique of multiple perspectives, therefore proves effective, not only from the viewpoint of the reactions of the narrator witnesses, but also from that of the novel’s structure and that of the Hero’s significance.

73Three of Faulkner’s most important novels, Absalom, Absalom! , As I Lay Dying, and The Sound and the Fury are conceived solely by situating the real at the intersection of narrative perspectives. For Absalom, Absalom! , for example, Cleanth Brooks has drawn up a detailed table of the perspectives or suppositions as to the events narrated. Brooks 1964 429-436 pub-229544 A series of major discrepancies are thereby signalled. Mr. Compson, for example, believes that Henry has declared himself to be against Bon’s marriage to Judith, because the father, Thomas Sutpen, has declared that Bon has already entered into a marriage with a Negress. However, Shreve, or maybe Quentin (significantly, it is not very clear in Faulkner’s text) opines that Henry’s objection is due to the fact that Sutpen has confessed to him that Bon is his stepbrother; later (after fifty or sixty pages of conversation), Shreve or Quentin concludes that Sutpen “must” have confessed to Henry that Bon has negro blood. The complication of the suppositions (many other examples might be added) is important not only as part of a detective plot, but also insofar as it reveals the personality of the character who puts them forward. We saw above, in miniature, the difference between the understanding of Rosa Coldfield and that of General Compson. The example given now persuades us that the principle of significant discrepancies functions throughout the novel. Quentin and Shreve intuit the incestuous and racial underpinnings of the conflict between Henry and Bon because unlike Mr. Compson, who has interpreted everything through the lens of the issue of family and marriage, they themselves are obsessed (Quentin in particular) with the psycho-social issue of incest and the degradation of a family through miscegenation. The “supra-conflict” of the novel, the identification of the two pairs of men/friends/brothers, is realised not only through a few revealing sentences, but also through a slow synchronisation, to the point of similarity, of the perspectives and implicitly their conceptions. This tragic absorption of one life by another, beyond history, is the remarkable result of a narrative principle that also becomes the compositional principle of the whole novel.


  • 1 The following is a selection of the book I published during the high season of Romanian structuralism Alexandrescu 1969 pub-229362 . I chose here only some fragments of its different chapters: methodological introduction (pages 23-28, 69-70, 143-145 of the Romanian edition), typology of civilizations (p. 145-155), typology of characters (p.155-160), the Indian Chickasaw (p.177-189) and the analysis of a narrative device (p.395-405). I hope this can give an idea of my methodological effort at the time to apply to literature some structural principles of sentence and discourse analysis, my sources of inspiration being then René Wellek , Austin Warren and the French narrative analysis, especially that of A.J.Greimas. The excellent translation of Alistair Jan Blyth has been here occasionally rendered more explicit by me in trying to help the reader today. As it was impossible to update the bibliography by reading now the Faulkner criticism of the last 50 years, I just preserved the references to the essays on Faulkner published before 1969. My original book won the Romanian national prize for literary criticism in 1969: a sign of the huge interest for structuralism at the time in Romania (Sorin Alexandrescu, Bucharest, 2018).
  • 2 I mean the original monograph of 1969 ( Sorin Alexandrescu, 2018).
  • 3 “I name this work a legend or a myth of the South, because it is not a history of the South, just as The Scarlet Letter is not a history of the State of Massachussets” Cowley 1960 102 pub-229560 : the first categorical statement of this fact).
  • 4 This is the term I used in Romanian in order to avoid calling “white trash” the poor white farmers in the South of the United States; nevertheless, this term appears frequently in the writings of Faulkner or over him (Sorin Alexandrescu, 2018).
  • 5 O’Donnell was the first to discover the existence of the two Faulknerian types and even the two Faulknerian “worlds” (what we call civilisations), the Sartoris and the Snopes ones: “The Sartoris-type characters act traditionally, that is, always with ethically responsible will. They represent vital morality, humanism. Being anti-traditionalist, the Snopes-type characters are immoral from the Sartoris viewpoint. But they do not recognise this viewpoint; acting only in their own interest, they acknowledge no moral duty. In fact, they are sooner amoral, representing naturalism or animalism. The Sartoris ̸ Snopes conflict is therefore a fundamental conflict between humanism and naturalism” O'Donnell 1960 83-84 pub-229546 .
  • 6 The death of Sam Fathers, like that of Natty Bumpo in Fennimore Cooper’s epic cycle, was symbolically treated as the death of a civilisation, although its representatives, the two chiefs, still survive Brumm 1960 128 pub-229554 .
  • 7 As Flem Snopes drives “compromising” relatives out of town and then dies, murdered by Mink, it might seem that the Snopes invasion has ceased and Ratliff, like Dilsey at the end of The Sound and the Fury, might be said to have seen “the beginning and the end” of a civilisation, the Snopes civilisation Longley 1963 78 pub-229555 . But the analogy is not valid. The collapse of the Compson family, approximately synchronic with that of the Sartoris and Sutpen families, may mean the disappearance of the Sartoris civilisation. But the death of Flem and the driving out of some members of the Snopes family does not mean the disappearance of the Snopes civilisation.
  • 8 Let us make clear that the term type is to be taken solely as “category of characters” at the paradigmatic rather than the syntagmatic level of the work. It may or may not coincide with certain social classes (the “real within history” level), moral categories, or racial categories. In regard to the typological analysis, we do not even take into account these distinctions as such, but only insofar as they h Faulkner invented cannot all be taken into considerelp us to define (among other strictly functional and relational criteria), the type of characters as a multitude of objects having the same structure based on the same function.
  • 9 In an older essay Roth 1949 246-254 pub-229557 , Russell Roth is the first to attempt a systematisation of the type we have named the intellectual: the “aesthete” in The Mosquitoes, Soldiers Pay, Sartoris (Bayard) and The Sound and the Fury (Quentin), who is incapable of understanding the South and acting reasonably: “the good weak hero” such as Horace Benbow, Byron Bunch and Ratliff (in The Hamlet), who understands but cannot act; “the good strong hero), such as Ratliff and Gavin Stevens (in The Town, The Manor, Intruder in the dust and, in particular Knight’s Gambit). This interpretation has the defect of subordinating all the meanings of such heroes’ actions to the sole criterion of efficacy, ignoring other possible meanings. Even so, however, with the exception of the detective stories in Knight’s Gambit, which, literarily, are minor, in no other Faulkner text does the hero, whether “strong” or “weak”, score any decisive, complete victory but only partial ones. Then again, the “aestheticism” of Joe Gilligan and Margaret Powers (Soldiers Pay) is non-existent, leading us to believe that it is more logical to class them alongside the characters in The Mosquitoes as mere “precursors” of the intellectual, from an early phase of Faulkner’s work, sited, in any event, outside the Yoknapatawpha cycle. Quentin Compson, who meditates only on the family and his social class at the most, rather than on the South as a whole, and also Bayard Sartoris (Sartoris), who does not comment on anything, experiencing only his own drama with hallucinatory intensity (like Donald Mahon in Soldiers Pay), can only be placed within the aristocrat type. All the other characters who meditate on the state of the South as a whole be they “weak” or “strong” in Roth’s classification, we place within the single type of the intellectual.
  • 10 After O’Donnell O'Donnell 1960 87 pub- , who indicated that only the Bundren family is outside the world of the Sartoris and Snopes families (the Bundrens’ immorality is different to that of the Snopes), Robert Penn Warren was the first to observe Penn Warren 1960 109-124 pub-229549 the existence of a separate category of Faulkner characters corresponding to the “poor whites” in the history of the South, farmers descended (according to Warren) from the so-called bushwackers), half-partisans, half-thieves. Warren also observes, “Faulkner’s poor whites are represented by the Bundren family, rather than the Snopes clan, who are merely a degradation of the poor white.” Brooks Brooks 1964 10-28 pub-229544 analyses the category at length, demonstrating, with historical arguments that the “poor whites” descend not only from the bushwackers, but also from the final wave of colonists, who arrived on the eve of the Civil War and constituted a kind of agrarian middle class, between the big landowners and the black slaves. Brooks then distinguishes a number of subcategories: white trash, as they are mockingly called by the Negroes; yeoman farmers; tenant farmers or share croppers, the wealthiest among them. Separate examples of Faulkner’s subcategories are not provided, since this would be difficult and ultimately pointless, but rather the same characters that we, too, usually signal are listed. Likewise included, let it be noted, are the city characters from Light in August. Finally, Brooks points to the comic tradition of the same character in American literature, starting from Augustus B. Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes (1835). Our systematisation discards the following characters: Grumby, the typical bushwhacker, whom we class under the Snopes type, in the same subcategory as Vatch and Popeye; the Whitfield pastors (Shingles for the Lord, As I Lay Dying) and Gail Hightower (Light in August) and Ratliff, whom we class under the intellectual type. Both modifications, arising from the moral and aesthetic functions of these characters in Faulkner’s typology as a whole, rectify the strictly sociological classification of them in approaches signed by Warren and Brooks. W.J. Cash specifies a number of historical aspects of the issue, demonstrating multiple “sources” for the emergence of the “poor white” class, from delinquents arriving in America from Europe to the colonists that come here later on Cash 1941 6-7 pub-229558 .
  • 11 In fact, the term poor white lends itself to multiple historical and sociological interpretations. It would seem that the poor whites proper were initially an agricultural lumpen proletariat, with some of them being European former convicts sent to America before the Civil War, which would also explain the pejorative nuance of the term, especially when used by the negroes for whom poor white was synonymous with white trash. However, a part of the poor whites became farmers and, as such, toward the end of the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century, the pejorative sense has no longer directly applied. But it seems to me excessive to differentiate between the “poor white” type (Grumby, Ab Snopes, Wash Jones, and, in our century, the Bundren family) and the farmer type (McCallum, Grier, Quick, etc.), and since I also wish to avoid differentiation between urban and rural characters, for the sake of simplicity, I will keep the general term poor white.
  • 12 In presenting the various periods of the “real within the fiction” level, I have broadly stuck to the same chronological order of types. In the present chapter, in all the commentaries and tables, we preserve the same, fixed order.
  • 13 See the Character Index established by Cleanth Brooks Brooks 1964 453-487 pub-229544 .
  • 14 In the Romanian version of the monograph are inserted different tables that provide the reader with many quantitative data attesting the number of relations between the Chickasaw Indian and other types of characters in Yoknapatawha; they are deleted here in order to lighten the reading process (Sorin Alexandrescu note, 2018).
  • 15 Id est, Sam Fathers.
  • 16 „Yet, though the author uses characters like Labove and Ratliff in order to generate the atmosphere of a special world, his point of view is not identical with that of any of his characters. His attitude is closest, of course, to that of Ratliff, and Ratliff, significantly, views the world with a good measure of detachement and has his own joy in observing the behaviour of human beings and the parade of human folly. The author relishes Ratliff and admires him, but he is not content to see Frenchman’s Bend through Ratliff’s eyes: the author’s vision of Frenchman’s Bent includes the figure of Ratliff himself.” Brooks 1964 172 pub-229544
  • 17 „Wedding in the rain”, a fragment of in Cowley 1946 Absalom, Absalom! 51 pub-229548 .
  • 18 The table could not be adapted into English and is therefore reproduced in Romanian. A schematic translation of the terms is provided here:
    Perspective P I P II P III
    Voices Narrator General Compson Mrs. Coldfield
    Narrative movement
    reaction surprise understanding horror
    stages of interpretation exterior observation deep decipherment superficial decipherment
    modality narrative dominant dominant commentary


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Publication details

Published in:

Apostolescu Iulian (2021) Romanian Structuralism. Acta Structuralica Special Issue 3.

Pages: 5

Full citation:

Alexandrescu Sorin (2021) „A structuralist view on Faulkner“. Acta Structuralica 3, 5.