Faulkner I: The Family Void

  • John Orr


For much of the nineteenth century, the American South had been the home of slavery, political rhetoric and magnolia fiction. For a large part of the twentieth it became the home of segregation, the Ku-Klux Klan and William Faulkner. After defeat in the Civil War the South forged a myth of its honour in battle and passed it down through generations, a myth of the nobility of its ‘unvanquished’ which is one of the main historical fixations of Faulkner’s fiction. Such mythologising presented Southern whites with psychological compensation for their continuing sense of defeat and with a continuing sense of their region’s distinctiveness when it became subject from 1914 onwards to more intense processes of social change. The glory of the Old South could be revered while the New South painstakingly tried to overcome the stigma of its economic backwardness through greater participation in the American capitalist process. Thus the self-image of the South as a separate entity which deserved to be a separate nation thrived on nostalgia after a long and painful period during which its history had been marked by extreme discontinuity.1 Often the disruptions caused by the failure of the Reconstruction and stagnation, by the rise and fall of populism and the introduction of Jim Crow legislation, could be conveniently forgotten.


Sexual Double Standard White Household Collective Voice Family Honour Narrative Voice 
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  1. 1.
    See C. Vann Woodward, The Burden of Southern History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1960) pp. 89ff. and 141ff.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Eugene Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made (New York: Vintage Books, 1971) pp. 119ff. For a comparison between the plantation stereotypes of nineteenth-century Southern writing and plantation realities, seeGoogle Scholar
  3. John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, rev. edn (London: Oxford University Press, 1979) pp. 223–84. For the social construction of the white family as an integral part of the code of honour in the Old South, seeGoogle Scholar
  4. Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honour: Ethics and Behaviour in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Flannery O’Connor provides a compelling criticism of the critics of Southern fiction in ‘Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction’ Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (London: Faber and Faber, 1984) pp. 36ff.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Louis D. Rubin Jr, ‘Southern Literature: The Historical Image’ in South: Modern Southern Literature in its Cultural Setting, ed. Louis D. Rubin Jr and Robert D. Jacobs (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961).Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    For the historical significance of the story, see Bertram Wyatt-Brown, ‘Community, Class and Snopesian Crime: Local Justice in the Old South’ in Class, Conflict and Consensus, ed. Orville Vernon Burton and Robert C. McMath (London: Greenwood, 1982).Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (London: Chatto and Windus, 1974) pp. 150–1.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (London: Chatto and Windus, 1970) pp. 71–2.Google Scholar

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© John Orr 1987

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  • John Orr

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