Faulkner’s Folly Views on the Future of Race Relations From a “Liberal” Southerner

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Jones Archibald, Laura
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University of the South , School of Letters Thesis 2019 , School of Letters , William Faulkner , Race , Yoknapatawpha County
Scholars agree that William Faulkner’s novels are groundbreaking in their representation of race relations. While Faulkner was indeed ahead of his time, among white writers, in his willingness to confront the atrocities of the past, ultimately his approach to race was limited. Despite Faulkner’s efforts to portray race as a social construction, his sympathies consistently fell on the white side of the color line. “Faulkner’s Folly; Views on the Future of Race Relations From a ‘Liberal’ Southerner” attempts to closely examine the mulatto landscape Faulkner presents in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Through this examination the central struggle in Faulkner’s life and work becomes clear. In trying to make sense of the South’s approach to the color line, Faulkner reveals his own inability to fully accept the inevitable solution of integration and full social justice; instead he envisions a future where the problems surrounding race relations will eventually work themselves out organically. Faulkner’s solution to race relations in the South, as he expresses in his fiction as well as in his own personal statements, is that eventually the African American population will “bleach out,” or cease to exist through interracial relations. This thesis begins with an overview of the history that inspired Faulkner’s works. Part 1, “Fertile Soil,” begins by looking at American history after reconstruction and traces the mentality of the white population towards the newly freed black population and how that mentality led to the legalization of segregation. It focuses on images formed by the white population, like the mammy and the black beast rapist, and how the propagation of these images led to atrocious acts, such as lynchings. The general history is followed by Faulkner’s personal history and examines how his upbringing in the South influenced his writings. This section ends with the comparison of real-life history to images and scenes found in Faulkner’s novels. Part 2, “The Genius of Faulkner,” focuses on the more brilliant aspects of Faulkner’s novels. This part begins with scholars who were Faulkner’s contemporaries and notes how the racial aspects of Faulkner’s work alluded them. This leads into the examination of the many critics who do write about race in Faulkner’s work in sophisticated and demanding ways, and focuses on the mulatto landscape that Faulkner conceives in Light In August, Absalom, Absalom!, and Go Down, Moses. The scholarship leads into theory, focusing on Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract and this section ends with a close look at some of the more vivid images that Faulkner conjures within his novels. In the third part, “Faulkner’s Folly,” the focus turns to the inherent problems found in these novels. This part begins examining what scholars have to say about Faulkner’s marginalization of his black characters which leads to my primary argument. Faulkner’s use of the words “bleach out” in both Light In August and Absalom, Absalom! are closely examined, followed by a look at Isaac McCaslin’s refrain of “not now” found in Go Down, Moses. These phrases are compared to Faulkner’s statements in speeches and interviews where he repeatedly tells the black population to “go slow” in their pursuit of integration and he brazenly claims that, “In the long view, the Negro race will vanish in three hundred years by intermarriage.” The conclusion states the importance of not overlooking either Faulkner’s accomplishments or his failures of vision, for his genius is undeniable, but, instead, to examine and learn from his shortcomings. This thesis attempts to illustrate that in understanding the missteps of the past we may find a clearer path for the future. In examining the flaws in Faulkner’s writing we can better understand the mindset of the present.