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Celibates of The South : Faulkner's Use of Bachelors and Spinsters

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Celibates of The South : Faulkner's Use of Bachelors and Spinsters

Abstract

Novels such as The Sound and The Fury and Absalom, Absalom! as well as the story “Was” in Go Down, Moses, depict the decline of Southern white culture through the lack of white procreation (bachelors or spinsters) and the emergence of a colored\mixed race. Faulkner's works reveal a shift from the pure aristocratic white nobility to the rise of new order of a racially mixed South.
CELIBATES OF THE SOUTH
FAULKNER'S USE OF BACHELORS AND SPINSTERS
B. A. VARGHESE
COPYRIGHT 2014. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
3,780 WORDS
JULY 15, 2014
ABSTRACT: Novels such as The Sound and The Fury and Absalom, Absalom! as well as the story
“Was” in Go Down, Moses, depict the decline of Southern white culture through the lack of
white procreaon (bachelors or spinsters) and the emergence of a colored\mixed race.
Faulkner's works reveal a shi from the pure aristocrac white nobility to the rise of new order
of a racially mixed South.
Varghese, Celibates of The South - 1
Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Throughout many of Faulkner’s novels and short stories, the white South is depicted as
declining and giving way in a new post-Reconstrucon era. Faulkner depicts a shi from the
pure aristocrac white nobility to the rise of a new order of people who are colored or mixed.
There are a handful of his novels and short stories that show the South’s fall through the
whites’ lack of procreaon (bachelors or spinsters) and through the blacks’ ability to intermix
and adapt to the changes in the South. Novels such as The Sound and The Fury and Absalom,
Absalom! as well as the short stories found in Go Down, Moses, show how the Southern
culture declines specically through Faulkner’s use of white bachelors and spinsters. Faulkner
also shows how a new racially integrated South emerges through the virility of black or mixed
characters.
Before we can explore how specic works and their characters depict white Southern
decline, we must understand the historical seng that Faulkner uses to crique white nobility
and aristocracy. Even though Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman’s arcle, “White Disavowal, Black
Enfranchisement, And The Homoeroc In William Faulkner's Light In August,” focuses
specically on Joe Christmas, the arcle elucidates Faulkner’s text using “the historical fact of
miscegenaon and the perceived failure of white masculinity” (2). Abdur-Rahman states that
whiteness, at that me, “was not simply white skin but access to the vote, access to the
bodies of women, the right to defend one's country in war, the right to hold arms or property,
the right to acquire capital, and, especially, the right and ability to dominate black people” (3).
“Blackness,” on the other hand, was dened as a propensity toward violence, an inability to
control urges, and a claim to no rights or privileges. But many black men fought in the Civil
War and aer the war, they were given rights, educaon, and were able to gain wealth. Black
families were able “to fare beer than some of their white neighbors…Racial blackness in the
U.S. itself underwent a cultural miscegenaon: it became infused with some of the rights and
properes of white manhood” (3). Because of the enfranchisement of the blacks aer the Civil
War, the “white neighbors,” specically the Southern white aristocracy, and their noons of
Southern genteel culture were threatened. The very denions of whiteness and blackness
were quesoned, blurred, and even redened. Faulkner wrote many of his novels with race
identy in mind and showed how white characters through their sexuality (or lack of sexuality
in the case of bachelors and spinsters) aempted to uphold and exemplify unbending white
aristocrac noons. On the other hand, black\mixed characters survived and increased in
number and were able to adapt (by not being celibate but by bearing more members of their
own race) in the new South. Inevitably, a bachelor or sprinter’s family line must come to an
end and Faulkner unveils, through these characters, how the old Southern noons also die out
or at least live on in a new form among other survivors.
Faulkner, through The Sound and The Fury, demonstrates how the Southern cultural
values of family and honor decline at the hands of the bachelors (Quenn, Jason, Benjamin)
but adapt and live on in a new form via the black caretakers of the Compsons. Faulkner also
plays with the noon of racial tensions mixed with sexuality in this novel. The arcle "All
Mixed Up: Female Sexuality And Race In The Sound And The Fury" by Krisn Fujie states that
“emergent racial discomfort can only be approached, however, in relaon to the atmosphere
of extreme sexual anxiety that not only precedes and surrounds, but seems to actually
precipitate racial anxiety’s materializaon at the novel’s center. Race in this way acquires its
Varghese, Celibates of The South - 2
Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved.
powerful charge…by becoming ‘all mixed up’ with female sexuality” (120). This is evident in
the scene where Versh, Dilsey’s son, is asked to unbuon Caddy’s dress aer she plays in the
river. There is an implicaon of sexual and racial tension between Versh, a black child, and
Caddy, a lile white girl, which is iniated by Caddy herself. “‘Unbuon it, Versh.’ she said.
‘Dont you do it, Versh.’ Quenn said. ‘Taint none of my dress. Versh said. ‘You unbuon it,
Versh.’ Caddy said. ‘Or I'll tell Dilsey what you did yesterday.’ So Versh unbuoned it” (The
Sound and The Fury 12). Here, Versh unbuoning Caddy’s dress creates a racial\sexual tension
for her brothers, specically for Quenn. The racial\sexual tension goes against all his ideals of
Southern culture. This tension occurs again when Caddy wants to climb the tree to see what’s
going on inside the house. “‘Push me up, Versh.’ Caddy said. ‘All right.’ Versh said…He went
and pushed Caddy up into the tree to the rst limb. We watched the muddy boom of her
drawers. Then we couldn't see her. We could hear the tree thrashing” (The Sound and The Fury
25). The last thing the brothers see is Caddy’s muddy drawers and then she disappears into the
tree. The muddy drawers can represent the future loss of Caddy’s virginity which was only fully
visible once Versh pushed her up in the tree. The image of a black male holding\pushing a
white female as well as the image of the muddy drawers create an indescribable loss for her
brothers. Versh and Caddy’s acons (a mix of racial and sexual tension) encroach on the
brother’s whiteness and throughout the novel, her brothers try to deal with the encroachment
and the loss. Much like how the South felt an indescribable loss aer the Civil War and
struggled to recover its culture, the brothers struggle to come to terms with the loss and
ulmately remain as bachelors. A closer examinaon of the brothers may reveal why they
individually failed to procreate and failed to pass down their culture to a new generaon.
Quenn, who appears again in Absalom, Absalom!, upholds the Southern noons of
family, honor, womanhood, and chivalry but cannot fully come to terms with Caddy’s
promiscuity as well as his desire for his sister. Her behavior is contrary to his ideals of how a
woman should act. In his nal moments, Quenn states, “I put my vest on….I put on my
coat…and got a fresh handkerchief...Then I remembered I hadn't brushed my teeth, so I…went
out and brushed my teeth… then I saw that I had forgoen my hat” (The Sound and The Fury
113). Quenn’s nal acons (dressing as a southern gentleman) imply his desire to preserve
his ideals before he commits suicide. He cannot adapt and in his mind he believes that this is
his only means of keeping the Southern code in a changing culture.
Benjamin, the mentally challenged son, is incapable of connuing the family line. In
Taylor Hagood’s arcle “The Secret Machinery of Textuality, or, What Is Benjy Compson Really
Thinking?” Hagood explores that marginalizaon of Benjy. Hagood states that Benjy can be
described as “too white: with ‘dead looking and hairless’ skin, ‘pale and ne’ hair, and eyes ‘of
the pale sweet blue of cornowers,’ Benjy seems conspicuous for his paleness” (93). Benjy’s
disability “emasculates him praccally (he does not possess the power of other white men)
and literally (by way of his castraon)” (94). Because Benjy is forced into bachelorhood
through his disability and castraon, Faulkner may be commenng on the dangers of being too
white in upholding Southern values during the Reconstrucon. Adaptability and acceptance of
the new black\mixed race is necessary in order to survive, otherwise like Benjy, the ability to
reproduce and increase will be removed.
Varghese, Celibates of The South - 3
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Jason, the only viable male to connue the Compson name, remains a bachelor
bringing the Compson family (masculine line) to an end. Jason, unlike Quenn, embodies
greed and insaable hatred for Caddy who had cost him his promised job. Jason ends up in
nancial ruin when Quenn, Caddy’s illegimate daughter, steals his laundered money. Jason
is incapable of adapng to the changes in his environment by failing at the stock market and
by failing to be sympathec to his black caretakers. Jason’s cruel treatment of Luster shows his
atude of racial superiority and his unwillingness to accept the black family as the
torchbearers of the Compson ideals (“Abe Lincoln freed the niggers from the Compsons. In
1933, Jason Compson freed the Compsons from the niggers” (The Sound and The Fury 213).)
Since all the brothers where bachelors and did not procreate, the masculine line of the
Compson family comes to an end. But Faulkner shows how Dilsey and her family not only carry
the story of the Compsons but also carry the Compsons’ values of family and honor mixed in
with their own into a new era. Faulkner describes Dilsey as almost heroic “as though muscle
and ssue had been courage or fortude which the days or the years had consumed unl only
the indomitable skeleton was le rising like a ruin or a landmark” (The Sound and The Fury
165). Dilsey stands in for Mrs. Compson as the mother to the Compson children on top of
caring for her own children and becomes the glue that holds the family together when both
Mr. and Mrs. Compson decline in health. In the appendix, Faulkner writes of Dilsey and her
family, “these others were not Compsons. They were black” (The Sound and The Fury 215). At
rst reading, it may seem that there is a marginalizing tone, but the enre preceding text
explains the decline and failures of the Compson family to adapt and to survive. Faulkner
separates Dilsey and her family with a tone of admiraon; these were not Compsons (failures),
they were the survivors. Faulkner writes lile for each survivor since their story is not nished
and there is sll more to write because “they endured.
The novel Absalom, Absalom! is another example of a story of the decline of a family
because of bachelors and spinsters. The trigger that starts Thomas Sutpen on his quest to
create his own dynasty occurs when Sutpen is a child. Lile Sutpen tries to deliver a message
from his father to a plantaon owner. When Sutpen reaches the front, he is told by a black
servant “never to come to that front door again but to go around to the back” (Absalom,
Absalom! 237). Sutpen is innocent and this is his rst experience with the disncon and
subjugaon of a lower class. Sutpen becomes determined to x things for “not only the old
dead ones but all the living ones that would come aer him” (Absalom, Absalom! 224) so that:
He would take that boy in where he would never again need to stand on the
outside of a white door and knock at it…[the boy] could shut that door himself forever
behind him on all that he had ever known, and look ahead along the sll undivulged
light rays in which his descendants who might not even ever hear his (the boy's) name,
waited to be born without even having to know that they had once been riven forever
free from brutehood. (Absalom, Absalom! 266)
Sutpen’s ideal goal is to create a life\place for his descendants where they will be free from the
trappings of lower class. He wants to be part of the white aristocracy. But Sutpen’s ideal
dynasty fails because of two crical decisions he makes. First, Sutpen rejects his rst wife and
child (Charles Bon) when he learns that she had black blood. He believes that he must reject
Varghese, Celibates of The South - 4
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them otherwise he will never be able to create his ideal dynasty. Second, when he learns that
Henry, his white son, has befriended, Charles Bon, he uses his own son against his other mixed
son. Like Jason Compson, who could not sympathize with Dilsey’s family, Sutpen fails to
sympathize with his own mixed family which results in Judith becoming a spinster and Henry
becoming a bachelor (aer killing Charles Bon). The Sutpen family line should have come to an
end, but it is through Judith’s acons that she redeems her family and is able to have an heir.
When Sutpen goes to war and Rosa comes to live with Judith and Clye, Judith
recreates Sutpen’s Hundred into a space that should have been Thomas Sutpen’s ideal
dynasty. In “‘And You Too, Sister, Sister?': Lesbian Sexuality, Absalom, Absalom!, And The
Reconstrucon Of The Southern Family,” Jaime Harker shows how Judith understands the
decline of white aristocracy and the emergence of a new order of people in the South:
Judith constructs a space in which everyone does her share to survive—no one
passes the burden onto others. In other words, Judith establishes a household in which
the exploive racial and gender hierarchies of the plantaon South, which Rosa saw as
her birthright, are completely undone. They are not black, or white, or women—they
are creatures, equal and unprivileged. (48)
Judith creates a space where no class\color is subjugated and where no one has to go to the
back door. Rosa, another spinster, sees the emergence of a mixed South when she touches
Clye; “but let esh touch with esh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell shibboleth of caste
and color too” (Absalom, Absalom! 143). But instead of embracing it, she rejects it and
upholds white aristocracy by running away from the space Judith created. She dies a spinster
and her family line comes to an end. Quenn also sees the coming of the mixed South and he
realizes that the story of the Sutpens is a story of the decline of the South with all its noons
of honor and chivalry that he sll adheres too. He sees the decline as inevitable and tells
Shreve that he doesn’t hate the South, but he echoes the words “I don’t hate it” over and over
again as if he quesons his love or hate for something that no longer exists as he once knew.
Quenn’s inability to adapt and his desires to preserve his ideals (by dressing as a southern
gentleman before his suicide) contributed to his ending his life in The Sound and The Fury.
Even though Judith is a spinster, her acons redeem her family line by rst creang a
space where no race is subjugated and then by caring for Charles Bon’s son, Charles Eenne de
Saint Velery Bon (the mother was Charles Bon’s octoroon mistress). Harker states that again
Judith creates another space for all races. “And aer the war, she adopted Charles Bon’s son,
seng him up as the heir apparent, even inving him to call her ‘aunt Judith.’ She aempted
to create a space in which black and white were irrelevant” (49). Judith sheds her
spinsterhood by caring for the boy like a mother. Judith raises him into adulthood, has a
mulao grandson (Jim Bond) through him that Clye raises, and eventually dies with Charles
Eenne when he contracts yellow fever. Even though Shreve and Quenn see the decline of
the white South and fear that the “Jim Bonds are going to conquer the western hemisphere”
(Absalom, Absalom! 386), Judith sympathizes with the “New South,” the emerging order of
mixed people, and gave her life for it.
The short stories in Go Down, Moses are yet another example of how bachelors
contribute to the decline of a family but in the case of the McCaslins, they are more
Varghese, Celibates of The South - 5
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sympathec to their black brethrens than the Compsons or Thomas Sutpen. In “Was,” Buck
and Buddy are both slave owners and the story revolves around their aempts to retrieve
what seems to be a runaway slave (Tomey’s Turl). But near the end of the story, the reader
realizes that they are retrieving not just any slave, but their half brother (a child born of a slave
woman and their father, Carothers McCaslin). Also, the brothers do not treat their slave half
brother harshly for running away like slave owners usually do but go to the extent of winning
his love (Tennie) from Hubert Beauchamp. It is also interesng to note that Tomey’s Turl, a
black male, wants to marry Tennie while Buck, a white bachelor, wants to avoid geng hitched
with Sophonsiba, Hubert Beauchamp’s sister. The story, “Was,” may be Faulkner’s subtle
aempt at showing how again, the white South declines through its lack of procreaon while
the black\mixed South increases.
Eventually, Buck no longer stays a bachelor but marries Sophonsiba and they have Isaac
McCaslin, who becomes a bachelor as an adult. Isaac’s reasons for staying a bachelor are quite
dierent than those of other characters found in The Sound and The Fury and Absalom,
Absalom! In “Faulkner's Bachelors And Ferlity,” Mary K. Mumbach analyses bachelors in the
Snopes family and raises some interesng points. “One has come to expect marriage to be the
symbol of the connuaon of life ‘in moon,’ yet the Snopes novels are peopled with bachelor,
characters who live a life without changing their state” (221-222). She suggests that the
bachelor characters are “giving an account of the moon toward wholeness, which is the life
of the human spirit revealed in its encounter with the world” (222) and that with regards to
the Snopes, “the virgins and the bachelors devoted to them have renounced the world in
some way, in order to witness to a life that is invisible to those who are caught up in purely
domesc concerns. Their renunciaon of ‘moon’ as it is ordinarily understood is paradoxically
a recognion of the spiritual moon which is its source” (224). The arcle connues looking at
celibates on a spiritual level, but what is interesng is that those who stay celibate trade a
natural moon (marriage) for a spiritual one (nature). The exchange of natural with spiritual is
evident with Isaac McCaslin who renounces his inheritance, the McCaslin plantaon, and gives
it to his cousin, McCaslin Edmonds. Isaac instead believes that the land cannot be owned and
moves toward a more spiritual view of land and nature (like the nave Indians). Isaac
remained connected to the wilderness (the hunng grounds of his formave years) and
renounces his domescaon and responsibilies for the plantaon which he believes McCaslin
Edmonds is more suited for. Though Isaac does get married, he sll remains a bachelor in a
sense that he does not have any children and that he returns to the wilderness, aer his wife
dies. Seemly, the white McCaslin’s masculine line will end with Isaac, but because of his white
family’s sympathec treatment of their black family line, Isaac will witness a new order of
McCaslins.
Isaac’s grandfather, Carothers McCaslin created two lines of his family; a white line
through his white wife (that bore Buck, Buddy, and Mary) and a black line through his slaves
(through Eunice then Tomey that bore Tomey’s Turl). Through many years, as well as through
most of the stories of Go Down, Moses, the two family lines stay separate. But it is in “Delta
Autumn” that old Isaac witnesses the new McCaslins. Carothers (Roth) Edmonds, grandson of
McCaslin Edmonds (Isaac’s cousin), gives an envelope to Isaac to give to a visitor. They are
camping at the old hunng grounds and Isaac feels that Roth is avoiding a lover. The visitor, a
Varghese, Celibates of The South - 6
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light-skinned girl, visits Isaac’s tent and tells him that she is the granddaughter of Tennie’s Jim,
James Beauchamp. When Isaac realizes the girl is black and Roth’s lover, he thinks out of fear,
“maybe in a thousand or two thousand years in America…But not now! Not now!” (Go Down,
Moses 344). He feels that the world is not ready for such a mix, but then he comes to
understand that this is the moon of life and that through her, his family’s bloodline will
connue. The most endearing moment is when the girl takes the envelope and is about to
leave the tent and Isaac calls out:
“Wait:” although she had not turned, sll stooping, and he put out his hand.
But, sing, he could not complete the reach unl she moved her hand, the single hand
which held the money, unl he touched it. He didn’t grasp it, he merely touched it—the
gnarled, bloodless, bone-light bone-dry old man’s ngers touching for a second the
smooth young esh where the strong old blood ran aer its long lost journey back to
home. “Tennie’s Jim,” he said. “Tennie’s Jim.” (Go Down, Moses 345)
Isaac touching the granddaughter of Tennie’s Jim evokes the image of Rosa touching Clye in
Absalom, Absalom! where “esh touch with esh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell
shibboleth of caste and color too” (Absalom, Absalom! 143). But unlike Rosa, who rejects
“blackness” and upholds white aristocracy, Isaac understands that the girl is part of a new
order of people who will emerge in the South. Through Roth and Tennie’s Jim’s granddaughter,
the merging of the McCaslin lines is a symbol of a new order of people and the connuaon of
life “in moon.
Faulkner shows a declining white South through novels such as The Sound and The Fury
and Absalom, Absalom! as well as the short stories found in Go Down, Moses. Bachelors like
Quenn, Jason, Benjamin, Henry and spinsters like Rosa represent a strict Southern white
culture that must make way for a new culture of the post-Reconstrucon era. Isaac and Judith,
who remain sympathec to their black brothers and sisters, are able to witness the shiing of
racial currents. Through virile characters like Disley, Charles Bon, and the daughter of Tennie’s
Jim, Faulkner is able to show the emergence of a racially mixed South and its ability to adapt in
post-Civil War culture.
Varghese, Celibates of The South - 7
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Works Cited
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury: An Authoritave Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Cricism.
2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1994. Print.
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom!: The Corrected Text. New York: Modern Library, 2012. Print.
Faulkner, William. Go Down, Moses. New York: Vintage Internaonal, 1990. Print.
Abdur-Rahman, Aliyyah I. "White Disavowal, Black Enfranchisement, And The Homoeroc In William
Faulkner's Light In August." Faulkner and Whiteness. 170-88. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi,
2011.
Fujie, Krisn. "All Mixed Up: Female Sexuality And Race In The Sound And The Fury." Faulkner's
Sexualies: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 2007. 115-30. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2010.
Harker, Jaime. "'And You Too, Sister, Sister?': Lesbian Sexuality, Absalom, Absalom!, And The
Reconstrucon Of The Southern Family." Faulkner's Sexualies: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha,
2007. 38-53. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2010.
Hagood, Taylor. “The Secret Machinery of Textuality, or, What Is Benjy Compson Really Thinking?”
Faulker and Formalism: Returns of the Text. Eds. Annee Trefzer, Ann J. Abadie. Jackson, MS: UP
of Mississippi, 2012. 92-106
Mumbach, Mary K. "Faulkner's Bachelors And Ferlity." The Terrain of Comedy. 221-51. Dallas, TX:
Dallas Inst. of Humanies & Culture, 1984.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Chapter
This chapter examines the intersections of language and power in William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury. It poses the question “What Is Benjy Compson Really Thinking?” and offers an answer by considering the textuality of the Benjy section in the novel. With a careful textual analysis of the opening paragraphs of The Sound and the Fury, the chapter challenges established ways of reading Benjy as Faulkner’s famous creation of an “idiot.” It shows how Faulkner imagines the inner workings of the mind of a mentally disabled person, and suggests that at stake in the Benjy section of the novel are Faulkner’s poetics and politics of representing “otherness.” Specifically, the chapter argues that Faulkner projects onto Benjy a subtle discourse of disability.
Chapter
This chapter explores whiteness as a racial formation in William Faulkner’s novel Light in August in the context of the post-Reconstruction period in the South. It looks at the postbellum enfranchisement of African American men and how racial blackness underwent a cultural miscegenation by acquiring some of the rights and properties of white manhood, resulting in a crisis of confidence for white masculinity. The chapter argues that the main protagonist in Light in August, Joe Christmas, represents Faulkner’s meditation on the civic equality of black men during the period and its effect on the psyche of white men. It also considers the threat posed by all black men to the racial order after they had been given the vote and the legal position as head of their families, and how this threat relates to homoeroticism.
The Sound and the Fury: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism
  • William Faulkner
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1994. Print.
Go Down, Moses. New York: Vintage International
  • William Faulkner
Faulkner, William. Go Down, Moses. New York: Vintage International, 1990. Print.
Faulkner's Bachelors And Fertility
  • Mary K Mumbach
Mumbach, Mary K. "Faulkner's Bachelors And Fertility." The Terrain of Comedy. 221-51. Dallas, TX: Dallas Inst. of Humanities & Culture, 1984.