Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Light in August by William Faulkner – Mar 27, 2015

First Edition

Faulkner's novel treats many themes of the US South – sex, violence, racism, fanatical religion, and mob-action. Kinder traits are there too, by way of strangers who offer support to a pregnant woman making her way as an outcast in search of the absconding father of her baby.

Zakia, Sunil, Shnaz, Priya, Thommo

One of the less prominent themes is how many of the characters are lonely outsiders, poorly integrated into society, and living out the history of their tortured past.

Shahnaz, Priya, Thommo, KumKum

Faulkner is determined to write about things close to the bone, throwing light (Light in August) on the dark recesses of society in an era when racism was institutionalised, and Emancipation was still a theoretical notion, especially in the states of the Confederacy.

Shahnaz, Priya

Several readers found a resonance between the descriptions of rape in the novel, and the attitudes prevalent in modern India, not just among the lumpen elements (to use a phrase Gopa is fond of). Evil lurks throughout the novel and readers have a sense that nothing good will come of it in the end.

Painting by Willem de Kooning titled 'Light in August'

One of the eloquent statements in the novel stands at the beginning of Chapter 6 when Joe Christmas is a lad of five, yet to undergo his life-changing experiences. Presaging those events the author writes:

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. 

Thommo, Priya, KumKum, Pamela, Gopa, Sunil, Joe (Zakia & Shahnaz left early)


Full Account of Light in August by William Faulkner

Reading on Mar 27, 2015

Faulkner at work

Present: Priya, KumKum, Joe, Gopa, Sunil, Pamela, Thommo, Zakia
Guest: Shahnaz (Zakia's sister) 
Absent: CJ Mathew (away), Ankush (?), Talitha (away to Kolkata), Vijay (?), Kavita (?)

The next session is Poetry, will be on Thurs Apr 16, 2015. The next novel for reading is on Fri May 1 for The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith, date to be confirmed on Apr 16 when we meet.

Faulkner in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1955

1. Pamela

Pamela chose a sociological commentary on the courtship and marriage of Hightower, the preacher. It speaks tellingly about the course of ordinary marriages, which start in a state of pleasurable anticipation and attraction, and gradually taper off into the ordinary exchanges of life.

Thommo said Hightower is an abnormal chap, and it's unlikely he could have had a normal marriage. Joe remarked that in two places in the passage Hightower's wife speaks 'savagely,' an unusual word for a wife speaking to husband. Thommo thinks the marriage was not consummated. KumKum too thinks Hightower was a strange man.

Thommo wondered what made Hightower stay in a town where people disliked him so much. There are two instances of his delivering a child, and one is successful; this skill of his stems from his wartime expertise as a medical orderly. But do soldiers have babies on the battlefield?

In an exchange between KumKum and Thommo, it was established that among the main characters, only Joe Christmas is black, perhaps only one-eighth, and therefore an octoroon, a typical product of the slavery period in the US South. The mother of Joe Christmas is pure white, the father mostly white.

Joe Christmas is brought up in an orphanage after being abandoned on Christmas eve. The dietitian there threatens to expose the bi-racial background of Joe Christmas, fearing her sexual liaison with a doctor has been overheard by Joe Christmas, but the child ends up being adopted by a stern religious man called McEachern, who bullies and abuses him. Technically he is not an orphan since his mother probably brought him to the orphanage. Lena is not an orphan either; she lived with her brother after their parents died.


2. KumKum

KumKum's thoughts on Light in August:
This was not an easy book to read. Faulkner is considered a master of prose. The story is not linear; we hear it from the perspectives of the different characters who people the book. And none is in any haste to carry the tale to its end. The story labours along with heavily pregnant Lena Grove. There are at least three stories – those of Lena Grove, Joe Christmas, and Gail Hightower.

Lena Grove's story cannot be considered the central theme of the book, as the life story of Joe Christmas easily upstages it. The book begins and ends with the story of Lena – a placid, adamant, but laid-back individual. Her whole story is her love of traveling, according to KumKum; but would that not ignore the pain of a woman searching to find her beau who had skipped town after leaving her with child, Joe asked? Joe sees, a woman in pain, endlessly searching, for the man who will fulfil the dual role of husband and father.

For some reason, KumKum thought of Lena Grove as a black teenager; there is no evidence for that in the book; indeed there's contrary evidence from the readiness of strangers to give her a ride to her destination, help her with food or shelter, and take her into their home, etc.

Faulkner kept Lena Grove and Joe Christmas apart in the story. They are not the usual heroine and hero of the story. Hence, we follow two parallel tales in the book.

Another important character in the book is the Reverend Gail Hightower. He knew about Lena Grove and Joe Christmas only indirectly. An elaborate flash-back to Hightower's past throws readers off the track. He still remains an outsider, and the story has to carry the burden of three distinct tales. Sunil said Hightower suspected Joe Christmas was black.

Thommo asked what was the need for Joe Christmas to kill Joanna Burden? Because she pulled a gun on him, answered Sunil. He added as a joke that had Joanna Burden lived and delivered, the offspring might have proved Joe Christmas to be black! Thommo argued that 40-year old spinsters sometimes convince themselves they are pregnant, without being so. This is called false pregnancy or phantom pregnancy (graviditas fantasma is the Latin medical term). See:

Joe said Lena Grove is too simple to be a heroine. Thommo hastened to agree: she is dumb! But is she blonde too, is the question?? Such a sexist reflection on the characterisation of blondes as dumb, is a Hollywood stereotype:

KumKum observed that it's just her bad luck that when Lena decides to go out of her house through the window, she becomes pregnant (graviditas per fenestram is the medical term for it). Pamela remarked that Lena is still looking for the man who made her pregnant although she knows he is no good.

In Joe's estimation she is the Buddhist's ideal of living in the present. She just makes her way, depending on strangers to help, and has no long-term plan, no greed, no sexual avidity. She just hopes to make a good life, if not with the impregnator, than with any other man who'll accept two beings in his life at once, Lena herself and her baby. How better to characterise this child of nature?

At one point in her travels, she contemplates buying a few sardines with the coins she has. She loves chaala, displaying a coastal Malayalee's taste, said someone! In this connection Thommo told the story of the advice in an old travel book (London on $35 a Day): “Don't waste money eating out in London, for cooking is a lost art in Britain.” Of course, the scene has changed now with all the ethnic restaurants coming up there. Even the Queen sends out for tandoori chicken.

Racial prejudices are the main issue of Light in August, set in 1920s. Faulkner drew a subtle connection to the apparently disjoined stories with this central idea. KumKum read a few paragraphs from the book that she thought worthy of the Master.


3. Thommo

The passage Thommo chose on the dalliance of Joanna Buden with Joe Christmas in her house ends with her calling him 'Negro! Negro! Negro!' This was interpreted by KumKum as abuse hurled at the man. But Joe said it is surely the pillow talk in a moment of bedroom intimacy.

Then how come you don't call out 'Bongi! Bongi! Bongi!' exclaimed KumKum.

Added Thommo, and why doesn't KumKum call out 'Mallu! Mallu! Mallu!'? There was a roar of laughter.

Joe referred to the fact that in the white imagination there is this pervasive myth of the black man's sexual vigour. As a sideline KumKum noted that she received telephone calls recently from parents of high school students in Kochi asking to allow their wards to attend our readings during the summer break. She had to beg off stating that adult themes and discussions are common at KRG readings, and this might disconcert children used to sanitised texts.

Thommo made the observation that there would be no story if Joe Christmas was fully white, because Racism is an essential theme underlying the book. Gopa again raised the question: is Joe Christmas really black? Yes, replied Thommo, for the belief in America is that the littlest trace of black blood makes you black racially. Thommo tried to remember a term for African Americans who can pass off as white. In Louisiana, people of colour who passed as white were referred to as 'passe blanc.' See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passing_(racial_identity)

The use of the word 'avatar' in this passage [During that period (it could not be called a honeymoon) Christmas watched her pass through every avatar of a woman in love.] caused some surprise to Thommo who imagined it to be a word that came into use much later in America. The Oxford English Dictionary settles the point. The first use recorded of 'avatar' is from 1798 by William Jones, the famous founder of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta. But this was in the original sense of a deity incarnate in human form. Faulkner uses 'avatar' in the much more loose modern meaning dating from 1850, namely a manifestation, a display, a phase. Faulkner uses it three times in the novel, all in this modern meaning.


4. Priya

Priya read from a passage where Joe Christmas was on the run after the murder. He is erratic in his manoeuvres. He wasn't surrendering, so much as floundering, said Thommo.

Gopa said Joe Christmas was returning because as a black he was conditioned to come back to the scene of his crime and take his punishment. Thommo remarked on the recent spate of killings of young blacks by white police officers in USA, with impunity, showing that things have not changed a lot.

Joe Christmas was making and selling illicit liquor with Joe Brown, his colleague and accomplice. Thommo alleged that the father of the Kennedy clan, Joseph Kennedy Sr., was a bootlegger himself, and that's how he made the money and bought the influence to set up his sons in politics and himself as Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Britain). The wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_P._Kennedy,_Sr. ) states that no confirmatory evidence exists of Kennedy Sr. being a bootlegger, but yes, he did make a lot of money from booze with exclusive distribution rights for some brands of imported liquor after Prohibition ended in 1933.


5. Sunil

In the passage we read in detail about the period of life when Joe Christmas migrated from the US South to the North, living in cheap motels, visiting brothels, and having encounters with the police. Gopa found particularly offensive a line in the passage about the odour of black men.

Thommo noted Joe Christmas was mistaken for a 'wop,' a contemptuous term to refer to a person of Italian descent (derived from Italian guappo, a dandy), which means he was more swarthy in skin colour.

Some women readers referred to the Indian MP, Sharad Yadav, who spoke in Parliament (when the Insurance Bill was being debated) about the attractiveness of darker complexioned S Indian women, all the while making circular gestures with his right hand to sketch the attractive shape of their bodies. A lecherous old man extending left-handed compliments to darker women with his right hand.

Sunil said Joe Christmas passes as white, but is actually Negro. Thommo referred to Michael Jackson, starting his entertainment career as wonderful young black singer with his brothers, and over time becoming isolated like Joe Christmas and taking to bleaching his skin, and undergoing facelifts to eliminate every trace of negroid features. He then told a joke about a harbour-master of Indian extraction living in the West who called an electrician to the house after a lightning storm had cut off the electricity in the house. The electrician asked for the boss when the harbour-master opened the door. He answered: 'I am the boss, and I was just as white as you before the lightning struck!' Readers fairly doubled up in laughter.

Not to be outdone in the matter of racist jokes, Sunil told one about a Malayalee worker and his N Indian boss who found him malingering and asked: 'Kya kartha hai?' 'Main karutha (karutha = black in Malayalam) nahin hai, surya mein kam karne se karutha ho gaya.' If Mathew had been present we would have had a triple dose to maintain us in this blissful state of sending up racism in jokes!


6. Zakia

The passage shows Lena Grove being treated kindly once again by perfect strangers in the Armstid household. The woman of the house pities her and prepares a bundle for her to take as she leaves to get a ride, on her way to find the father of her baby. A phrase is striking:
even a fool gal don’t have to come as far as Mississippi to find out that whatever place she run from ain’t going to be a whole lot different or worse than the place she is at.

The truth of that is revealed when Lena Grove makes her way back at the end of the novel, delivered of her baby, followed not by the putative father, but by another man in love with her who has yet to be accepted. Zakia said Faulkner joins lots of words together. That is a characteristic feature of his writing in this novel: fatherblood, nightprowling, heelgnawed, etc.


7. Joe
Map of locations in the novel

Joe's Reflections on Light in August
Faulkner is a difficult author, judging by this book. He does not follow a straightforward time-sequence, but uses many flashbacks without giving a hint a flashback is about to take palce. He does not introduce characters at each step. Instead, you discover the characters by slowly un-peeling the scattered descriptions. His syntax is quite unpredictable, and that impedes fast reading. You have to pore over many a sentence to make out the sense. As one reader complained on the Web: “Often I had no idea, for pages at a time, whose head I was in, or what time period.”

In a word Faulkner is a writer who gives an awful lot of trouble to his readers. His excuse (from an interview) in his words is this: “I think a writer with a lot pushing inside him to get out hasn’t got time to bother with style. If he just likes to write and hasn’t got anything urging him on then he can become a stylist. But the ones with a great deal pushing to get out don’t have time to be anything but clumsy, like Balzac, for instance.”

So Faulkner is not a stylist by his own admission. Don't look for immaculately crafted sentences, a la Flaubert or Camus. But does he at least tell a story well, like a Hemingway? Even that is debatable, with his constant messing with time and leaving so many matters unsettled, such as whether Joe Christmas is really part-Negro as he asserts?

The story starts with Lena Grove, the young woman in search of the man who made her pregnant. Her quaint Southern expressions 'you're right kind', 'My, my. A body does get around,' and so on, are meant to keep us amused until she lands up in Jefferson at a wood planing mill looking for the mythical John Burch. The story ends by her returning from Jefferson with another guy, reasonably close in name, Brunch, thus making good the Southern proverb on pregnancy which gave the novel its title: 'Heavy in June, light in August.'

She is too uncomplicated to be the central character – that role is given to Joe Christmas. He fulfils all those crazed notions in the US South of the black man as rapist of the white woman. This sentence from the novel is a re-phrasing of a false idea of rape given out by elders in India too:
But it was not woman resistance, that resistance which, if really meant, cannot be overcome by any man for the reason that the woman observes no rules of physical combat.

A US Congressman, Todd Akin, said women’s bodies somehow blocked an unwanted pregnancy in case of rape and could 'shut the whole thing down'! 

The novel is said to be about racism as a primary theme. If so, a line by Joe Christmas is pertinent when Miss Burden tells him how her grandparents’ graves were hidden to prevent the locals from digging up the Northern intruders and expurging them from Southern soil: “Just when do men that have different blood in them stop hating one another?” Strange to say, medically there is no way to tell the external colour of skin (black, brown, copper, white, or yellow) from the blood inside.

After Joe read the rape passage (Joe Christmas forcing himself on Joanna Burden), Gopa said you can find things there pertinent to the rapes that take place in India today. She mentioned the words of Mukesh Singh, the rapist in the documentary India’s Daughter by Leslee Udwin.

Pamela referred to the three phases in the relationship between Burden and Christmas: it starts with becoming familiar, then she starts responding sexually, and finally she imagines pregnancy. Cliff Notes records the phases somewhat differently as, (1) seduction, (2) the “throes of nymphomania”, and (3) finally Burden's attempts to change Christmas.

Gopa said the rapist man looks at the woman as someone who has to be put down, to be mastered and subjugated.

Priya noted that Christmas causes everyone to stare at him. He is an outsider. At one palce he is called a 'wop' (see above), said Thommo. Sunil noted Christmas doesn't fit in anywhere.

KumKum entertained the contrary notion that Christmas was not really a rapist, for wasn't Burden a willing partner, forceful as the act might have been? Gopa countered that Christmas experiences the body of a dead woman, therefore one who was not responding. Priya noted that Burden was not very feminine, and Thommo added that she is described as man-like.

Christmas has a history of violence with women, Gopa noted. There is the prostitute he beats up kills because she didn't mind his being black. Joe said in the total makeup of the man there is also the history of the violence that was done to him from an early age. He has become indifferent to violence.

In this connection, I don't recall how exactly, Thommo mentioned that in the many war memorials of the Indian Army, soldiers killed in various wars are named and you will see people from all over India, except from Gujarat. So too among awardees of the Param Vir Chakra. Gujaratis are the least violent people in our land, therefore, Joe concludes. Thommo added that Mr Narendra Modi was the first Gujarati to rule as Chief Minister of Gujarat. The Gujarati motto may be a good one for the twenty-first century:
Make business, not war!


8. Gopa
Map of relationships among characters in the novel (click to enlarge)

Gopa read about the antics of Percy Grimm, the ultra-right wing fanatic who mutilates Joe Christmas' body, after shooting him. It's a violent chapter, showing how people take the law into their own hands. Gopa called these the 'lumpen' elements, a phrase she used several times in referring to the vulgarians in the mob. Lumpen means boorish, stupid, unenlightened and comes from the noun lumpenproletariat, a term used by Karl Marx to refer to the ‘down and outs’ who make no contribution to the workers' cause.

Thommo noted a characteristic of the lumpen elements: one shot fired and everybody will run. He recalled how a mob gathered in Calcutta in the old days and it so happened a bus backfired; in a moment they had all scattered running for their lives! Another contrast Thommo mentioned was in what men miss. In America they will say 'I missed that war.' In India we never miss a war, what we might regret missing is a cricket match or a music festival.

Sunil noted the apparent freedom of the right-wing (is lumpen the right word, Gopa?) elements of the BJP to take it out on the minorities. We should not turn into a version of Pakistan, he said, and for that the strong hand of Mr Narendra Modi is required to rein in the extreme views of the RSS cadres who helped get him into power.

Exercises for the Diligent Reader.

Exercise 1.
(a) Concisely interpret the meaning of the quotation from the novel (beginning of Ch 6):
Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. 

(b) Apply it with a brief explanation to any two characters from the novel who seem to exemplify whatever you understand by the above quotation.

Exercise 2.
Several figures in the novel seem isolated to a greater or lesser extent: Lena Grove, Joe Christmas, Byron Brunch, Gail Hightower, Joanna Burden, and more.
Consider any two and explain 
(a) the nature of their isolation, 
(b) the cause of their isolation, and 

(c) whether they try to change.


Readings

1. Pamela (1084 words) Ch 20Life-history of Hightower's romance and marriage

She was the daughter of one of the ministers, the teachers, in the college. Like himself, she was an only child. He believed at once that she was beautiful, because he had heard of her before he ever saw her and when he did see her he did not see her at all because of the face which he had already created in his mind. He did not believe that she could have lived there all her life and not be beautiful. He did not see the face itself for three years. By that time there had already been for two years a hollow tree in which they left notes for one another. If he believed about that at all, he believed that the idea had sprung spontaneously between them, regardless of whichever one thought of it, said it, first. But in reality he had got the idea not from her or from himself, but from a book. But he did not see her face at all. Ha did not see a small oval narrowing too sharply to chin and passionate with discontent (she was a year or two or three older than he was, and he did not know it, was never to know it). He did not see that for three years her eyes had watched him with almost desperate calculation, like those of a harassed gambler.
Then one night he saw her, looked at her. She spoke suddenly and savagely of marriage. It was without preamble or warning. It had never been mentioned between them. He had not even ever thought of it, thought the word. He had accepted it because most of the faculty were married. But to him it was not men and women in sanctified and living physical intimacy, but a dead state carried over into and existing still among the living like two shadows chained together with the shadow of a chain. He was used to that; he had grown up with a ghost. Then one evening she talked suddenly, savagely. When he found out at last what she meant by escape from her present life, he felt no surprise. He was too innocent. “Escape?” he said. “Escape from what?”
This!” she said. He saw her face for the first time as a living face, as a mask before desire and hatred: wrung, blind, headlong with passion. Not stupid: just blind, reckless, desperate. “All of it! All! All!”
He was not surprised. He believed at once that she was right, and that he just had not known better. He believed at once that his own belief about the seminary had been wrong all the while. Not seriously wrong, but false, incorrect. Perhaps he had already begun to doubt himself, without knowing it until now. Perhaps that was why he had not yet told them why he must go to Jefferson. He had told her, a year ago, why he wanted to, must, go there, and that he intended to tell them the reason, she watching him with those eyes which he had not yet seen. “You mean,” he said, “that they would not send me? arrange for me to go? That that would not be reason enough?”
Certainly it wouldn’t,” she said.
But why? That’s the truth. Foolish, maybe. But true. And what is the church for, if not to help those who are foolish but who want truth? Why wouldn’t they let me go?”
Why, I wouldn’t let you go myself, if I were them and you gave me that as your reason.”
Oh,” he said. “I see.” But he did not see, exactly, though. he believed that he could have been wrong and that she was right. And so when a year later she talked to him suddenly of marriage and escape in the same words, he was not surprised, not hurt. He just thought quietly, ‘So this is love. I see. I was wrong about it too,’ thinking as he had thought before and would think again and as every other man has thought: how false the most profound book turns out to be when applied to life.
He changed completely. They planned to be married. He knew now that he had seen all the while that desperate calculation in her eyes. ‘Perhaps they were right in putting love into books,’ he thought quietly. ‘Perhaps it could not live anywhere else.’ The desperation was still in them, but now that there were definite plans, a day set, it was quieter, mostly calculation. They talked now of his ordination, of how he could get Jefferson as his call. “We’d better go to work right away,” she said. He told her that he had been working for that since he was four years old; perhaps he was being humorous, whimsical. She brushed it aside with that passionate and leashed humorlessness, almost inattention, talking as though to herself of men, names, to see, to grovel to or threaten, outlining to him a campaign of abasement and plotting. He listened. Even the faint smile, whimsical, quizzical, perhaps of despair, did not leave his face. He said, “Yes. Yes. I see. I understand,” as she talked. It was as if he were saying Yes. I see. I see now. That’s how they do such, gain such. That’s the rule. I see now.
At first, when the demagoguery, the abasement, the small lying had its reverberation in other small lies and ultimate threats in the form of requests and suggestions among the hierarchate of the Church and he received the call to Jefferson, he forgot how he had got it for the time. He did not remember until after he was settled in Jefferson; certainly not while the train of the journey’s last stage fled toward the consummation of his life across a land similar to that where he had been born. But it looked different, though he knew that the difference lay not outside but inside the car window against which his face was almost pressed like that of a child, while his wife beside him had also now something of eagerness in her face, beside hunger and desperation. They had been married now not quite six months. They had married directly after his graduation. Not once since then had he seen the desperation naked in her face. But neither had he seen passion again. And again he thought quietly, without much surprise and perhaps without hurt: I see. That’s the way it is. Marriage. Yes. I see now.


2. KumKum Lena Grove's entrance and exit in the book
Page 5:

She (Lena) slept in a leanto room at the back of the house. It had a window which she leaned to open and close again in the dark without making a sound, even though there also slept in the leanto room at first her older nephew and then the two oldest and then the three. She had lived there eight years before she opened the window for the first time. She had not opened it a dozen times before she discovered that she should not have opened it at all. She said to herself, 'That's just my luck.'

The sister-in-law told the brother. Then he remarked her changing shape, which he should have noticed some time before. He was a hard man. Softness and gentleness and youth (he was just forty) and almost everything else except a kind of stubborn and despairing fortitude and the bleak heritage of his bloodpride had been sweated out of him. He called her whore. He accused the right man (young bachelors, or sawdust Casanovas anyway, were even fewer in number than families) but she would not admit it, though the man had departed six months ago. She just repeated stubbornly, “He's going to send for me. He said he would send for me”; unshakable, sheeplike, having drawn upon that reserve of patient and steadfast fidelity upon which the Lucas Burches depend and trust, even though they do not intend to be present when the need for it arises. Two weeks later she climbed again through the window. It was a little difficult, this time. 'If it had been this hard to do before, I reckon I would not be doing it now,' she thought.

Page 506:
'Aint nobody never said for you to quit,' she ( wife of the furniture dealer) says.”
He (furniture repairer and dealer) laughs, lying in the bed, laughing. “Yes, sir. You cant beat a woman. Because do you know what I think? I think she was just travelling. I dont think she had any idea of finding whoever it was she was following. I dont think she had ever aimed to, only she hadn't told him yet. I reckon this was the first time she had ever been further away from home than she could walk back before sundown in her life. And that she had got along all right this far, with folks taking good care of her. And so I think she had just made up her mind to travel a little further and see as much as she could, since I reckon she knew that when she settled down this time, it would likely be for the rest of her life. That's what I think. Setting back there in that truck, with him by her now and the baby that hadn't never stopped eating, that had been eating breakfast now for about ten miles, like one of these dining cars on the train, and her looking out and watching the telephone poles and the fences passing like it was a circus parade. Because after a while I says, 'Here comes Saulsbury' and she says,
What?” and I says,
Saulsbury, Tennessee” and I looked back and saw her face. And it was like it was already fixed and waiting to be surprised, and that she knew that when the surprise come, she was going to enjoy it. And it did come and it did suit her. Because she said,
My, my. A body does get around. Here we aint been coming from Alabama but two months, and now it's already Tennessee.”


3. Thommo Joanna Burden's dalliance with Joe Christmas
Chapter 12 – p. 256
Quote from Faulkner's Nobel speech

IN this way the second phase began. It was as though he had fallen into a sewer. As upon another life he looked back upon that first hard and manlike surrender, that surrender terrific and hard, like the breaking down of a spiritual skeleton the very sound of whose snapping fibers could be heard almost by the physical ear, so that the act of capitulation was anticlimax, as when a defeated general on the day after the last battle, shaved overnight and with his boots cleaned of the mud of combat, surrenders his sword to a committee.
The sewer ran only by night. The days were the same as they had ever been. He went to work at half past six in the morning. He would leave the cabin without looking toward the house at all. At six in the evening he returned, again without even looking toward the house. He washed and changed to the white shirt and the dark creased trousers and went to the kitchen and found his supper waiting on the table and he sat and ate it, still without having seen her at all. But he knew that she was in the house and that the coming of dark within the old walls was breaking down something and leaving it corrupt with waiting. He knew how she had spent the day; that her days also were no different from what they had always been, as if in her case too another person had lived them. All day long he would imagine her, going about her housework, sitting for that unvarying period at the scarred desk, or talking, listening, to the negro women who came to the house from both directions up and down the road, following paths which had been years in the wearing and which radiated from the house like wheelspokes. What they talked about to her he did not know, though he had watched them approaching the house in a manner not exactly secret, yet purposeful, entering usually singly though sometimes in twos and threes, in their aprons and headrags and now and then with a man’s coat thrown about their shoulders, emerging again and returning down the radiating paths not fast and yet not loitering. They would be brief in his mind, thinking Now she is doing this. Now she is doing that not thinking much about her. He believed that during the day she thought no more about him than he did about her, too. Even when at night, in her dark bedroom, she insisted on telling him in tedious detail the trivial matters of her day and insisted on his telling her of his day in turn, it was in the fashion of lovers: that imperious and insatiable demand that the trivial details of both days be put into words, without any need to listen to the telling. Then he would finish his supper and go to her where she waited. Often he would not hurry. As time went on and the novelty of the second phase began to wear off and become habit, he would stand in the kitchen door and look out across the dusk and see, perhaps with foreboding and premonition, the savage and lonely street which he had chosen of his own will, waiting for him, thinking This is not my life. I don’t belong here.
At first it shocked him: the abject fury of the New England glacier exposed suddenly to the fire of the New England biblical hell. Perhaps he was aware of the abnegation in it: the imperious and fierce urgency that concealed an actual despair at frustrate and irrevocable years, which she appeared to attempt to compensate each night as if she believed that it would be the last night on earth by damning herself forever to the hell of her forefathers, by living not alone in sin but in filth. She had an avidity for the forbidden wordsymbols; an insatiable appetite for the sound of them on his tongue and on her own. She revealed the terrible and impersonal curiosity of a child about forbidden subjects and objects; that rapt and tireless and detached interest of a surgeon in the physical body and its possibilities. And by day he would see the calm, coldfaced, almost manlike, almost middleaged woman who had lived for twenty years alone, without any feminine fears at all, in a lonely house in a neighborhood populated, when at all, by negroes, who spent a certain portion of each day sitting tranquilly at a desk and writing tranquilly for the eyes of both youth and age the practical advice of a combined priest and banker and trained nurse.
During that period (it could not be called a honeymoon) Christmas watched her pass through every avatar of a woman in love. Soon she more than shocked him: she astonished and bewildered him. She surprised and took him unawares with fits of jealous rage. She could have had no such experience at all, and there was neither reason for the scene nor any possible protagonist: he knew that she knew that. It was as if she had invented the whole thing deliberately, for the purpose of playing it out like a play. Yet she did it with such fury, with such convincingness and such conviction, that on the first occasion he thought that she was under a delusion and the third time he thought that she was mad. She revealed an unexpected and infallible instinct for intrigue. She insisted on a place for concealing notes, letters. It was in a hollow fence post below the rotting stable. He never saw her put a note there, yet she insisted on his visiting it daily; when he did so, the letter would be there. When he did not and lied to her, he would find that she had already set traps to catch him in the lie; she cried, wept.
Sometimes the notes would tell him not to come until a certain hour, to that house which no white person save himself had entered in years and in which for twenty years now she had been all night alone; for a whole week she forced him to climb into a window to come to her. He would do so and sometimes he would have to seek her about the dark house until he found her, hidden, in closets, in empty rooms, waiting, panting, her eyes in the dark glowing like the eyes of cats. Now and then she appointed trysts beneath certain shrubs about the grounds, where he would find her naked, or with her clothing half torn to ribbons upon her, in the wild throes of nymphomania, her body gleaming in the slow shifting from one to another of such formally erotic attitudes and gestures as a Beardsley of the time of Petronius might have drawn. She would be wild then, in the close, breathing halfdark without walls, with her wild hair, each strand of which would seem to come alive like octopus tentacles, and her wild hands and her breathing: “Negro! Negro! Negro!”


4. Priya
Ch 14 p.335 Joe Christmas on the run
A planing mill

That night a strange thing came into his mind. He lay ready for sleep, without sleeping, without seeming to need the sleep, as he would place his stomach acquiescent for food which it did not seem to desire or need. It was strange in the sense that he could discover neither derivation nor motivation nor explanation for it. He found that he was trying to calculate the day of the week. It was as though now and at last he had an actual and urgent need to strike off the accomplished days toward some purpose, some definite day or act, without either falling short or overshooting. He entered the coma state which sleeping had now become with the need in his mind. When he waked in the dewgray of dawn, it was so crystallised that the need did not seem strange anymore. It is just dawn, daylight. He rises and descends to the spring and takes from his pocket the razor, the brush, the soap. But it is still too dim to see his face clearly in the water, so he sits beside the spring and waits until he can see better. Then he lathers his face with the hard, cold water, patiently. His hand trembles, despite the urgency he feels a lassitude so that he must drive himself. The razor is dull; he tries to whet it upon the side of one brogan, but the leather is ironhard and wet with dew. He shaves, after a fashion. His hand trembles; it is not a very good job, and he cuts himself three or four times, stanching the blood with the cold water until it stops. He puts the shaving tools away and begins to walk. He follows a straight line, disregarding the easier walking of the ridges. After a short distance he comes out upon a road and sits down beside it. It is a quiet road, appearing and vanishing quietly, the pale dust marked only by narrow and infrequent wheels and by the hooves of horses and mules and now and then by the print of human feet. He sits beside it, coatless, the once white shirt and the once creased trousers muddy and stained, his gaunt face blotched with patches of stubble and with dried blood, shaking slowly with weariness and cold as the sun rises and warms him. After a time two negro children appear around the curve, approaching. They do not see him until he speaks; they halt, dead, looking at him with whiterolling eyes. “What day of the week is it?” he repeats. They say nothing at all, staring at him. He moves his head a little. “Go on,” he says. They go on. He does not watch them. He sits, apparently musing upon the place where they had stood, as though to him they had in moving merely walked out of two shells. He does not see that they are running.
Then, sitting there, the sun warming him slowly, he goes to sleep without knowing it, because the next thing of which he is conscious is a terrific clatter of jangling and rattling wood and metal and trotting hooves. He opens his eyes in time to see the wagon whirl slewing around the curve beyond and so out of sight, its occupants looking back at him over their shoulders, the whiphand of the driver rising and falling. ‘They recognised me too,’ he thinks. ‘Them, and that white woman. And the negroes where I ate that day. Any of them could have captured me, if that’s what they want. Since that’s what they all want: for me to be captured. But they all run first. They all want me to be captured, and then when I come up ready to say Here I am Yes I would say Here I am I am tired I am tired of running of having to carry my life like it was a basket of eggs they all run away. Like there is a rule to catch me by, and to capture me that way would not be like the rule says.’
So he moves back into the bushes. This time he is alert and he hears the wagon before it comes into sight. He does not show himself until the wagon is abreast of him. Then he steps forth and says, “Hey.” The wagon stops, jerked up. The negro driver’s head jerks also; into his face also comes the astonishment, then the recognition and the terror. “What day is this?” Christmas says.
The negro glares at him, slackjawed. “W-what you say?”
What day of the week is this? Thursday? Friday? What? What day? I am not going to hurt you.”
It’s Friday,” the negro says. “O Lawd God, it’s Friday.”
Friday,” Christmas says. Again he jerks his head. “Get on.” The whip falls, the mules surge forward. This wagon too whirls from sight at a dead run, the whip rising and falling. But Christmas has already turned and entered the woods again.


5. Sunil Ch 10 p.223 Joe Christmas' adventures in brothels and violent run-ins with the police
Rowan Oak, the house of Faulkner

He stepped from the dark porch, into the moonlight, and with his bloody head and his empty stomach hot, savage, and courageous with whiskey, he entered the street which was to run for fifteen years.
The whiskey died away in time and was renewed and died again, but the street ran on. From that night the thousand streets ran as one street, with imperceptible corners and changes of scene, broken by intervals of begged and stolen rides, on trains and trucks, and on country wagons with he at twenty and twenty-five and thirty sitting on the seat with his still, hard face and the clothes (even when soiled and worn) of a city man and the driver of the wagon not knowing who or what the passenger was and not daring to ask. The street ran into Oklahoma and Missouri and as far south as Mexico and then back north to Chicago and Detroit and then back south again and at last to Mississippi. It was fifteen years long: it ran between the savage and spurious board fronts of oil towns where, his inevitable serge clothing and light shoes black with bottomless mud, he ate crude food from tin dishes that cost him ten and fifteen dollars a meal and paid for them with a roll of banknotes the size of a bullfrog and stained too with the rich mud that seemed as bottomless as the gold which it excreted. It ran through yellow wheat fields waving beneath the fierce yellow days of labor and hard sleep in haystacks beneath the cold mad moon of September, and the brittle stars: he was in turn laborer, miner, prospector, gambling tout; he enlisted in the army, served four months and deserted and was never caught. And always, sooner or later, the street ran through cities, through an identical and wellnigh interchangeable section of cities without remembered names, where beneath the dark and equivocal and symbolical archways of midnight he bedded with the women and paid them when he had the money, and when he did not have it he bedded anyway and then told them that he was a negro. For a while it worked; that was while he was still in the south. It was quite simple, quite easy. Usually all he risked was a cursing from the woman and the matron of the house, though now and then he was beaten unconscious by other patrons, to waken later in the street or in the jail.
That was while he was still in the (comparatively speaking) south. Because one night it did not work. He rose from the bed and told the woman that he was a negro. “You are?” she said. “I thought maybe you were just another wop or something.” She looked at him, without particular interest; then she evidently saw something in his face: she said, “What about it? You look all right. You ought to seen the shine I turned out just before your turn came.” She was looking at him. She was quite still now. “Say, what do you think this dump is, anyhow? The Ritz hotel?” Then she quit talking. She was watching his face and she began to move backward slowly before him, staring at him, her face draining, her mouth open to scream. Then she did scream. It took two policemen to subdue him. At first they thought that the woman was dead.
He was sick after that. He did not know until then that there were white women who would take a man with a black skin. He stayed sick for two years. Sometimes he would remember how he had once tricked or teased white men into calling him a negro in order to fight them, to beat them or be beaten; now he fought the negro who called him white. He was in the north now, in Chicago and then Detroit. He lived with negroes, shunning white people. He ate with them, slept with them, belligerent, unpredictable, uncommunicative. He now lived as man and wife with a woman who resembled an ebony carving. At night he would lie in bed beside her, sleepless, beginning to breathe deep and hard. He would do it deliberately, feeling, even watching, his white chest arch deeper and deeper within his ribcage, trying to breathe into himself the dark odor, the dark and inscrutable thinking and being of negroes, with each suspiration trying to expel from himself the white blood and the white thinking and being. And all the while his nostrils at the odor which he was trying to make his own would whiten and tauten, his whole being writhe and strain with physical outrage and spiritual denial.
He thought that it was loneliness which he was trying to escape and not himself. But the street ran on: catlike, one place was the same as another to him. But in none of them could he be quiet. But the street ran on in its moods and phases, always empty: he might have seen himself as in numberless avatars, in silence, doomed with motion, driven by the courage of flagged and spurred despair; by the despair of courage whose opportunities had to be flagged and spurred. He was thirtythree years old.


6. Zakia Ch 1 p. 22 Lena makes her way to the next halt after spending a night in the kind Armstid household, sent off with a bundle of food and some cash

From his Nobel speech in 1949, in which he also expressed anxiety about the atomic bomb

Mrs. Armstid rose before day and cooked breakfast. It was on the table when Armstid came in from milking. “Go tell her to come and eat,” Mrs. Armstid said. When he and Lena returned to the kitchen, Mrs. Armstid was not there. Lena looked about the room once, pausing at the door with less than a pause, her face already fixed in an expression immanent with smiling, with speech, prepared speech, Armstid knew. But she said nothing; the pause was less than a pause.
Let’s eat and get on,” Armstid said. “You still got a right good piece to go.” He watched her eat, again with the tranquil and hearty decorum of last night’s supper, though there was now corrupting it a quality of polite and almost finicking restraint. Then he gave her the knotted cloth sack. She took it, her face pleased, warm, though not very much surprised.
Why, it’s right kind of her,” she said. “But I won’t need it. I’m so nigh there now.”
I reckon you better keep it. I reckon you done noticed how Martha ain’t much on being crossed in what she aims to do.”
It’s right kind,” Lena said. She tied the money up in the bandanna bundle and put on the sunbonnet. The wagon was waiting. When they drove down the lane, past the house, she looked back at it. “It was right kind of you all,” she said.
She done it,” Armstid said. “I reckon I can’t claim no credit.”
It was right kind, anyway. You’ll have to say goodbye to her for me. I had hopened to see her myself, but …”
Sho,” Armstid said. “I reckon she was busy or something. I’ll tell her.”
They drove up to the store in the early sunlight, with the squatting men already spitting across the heelgnawed porch, watching her descend slowly and carefully from the wagon seat, carrying the bundle and the fan. Again Armstid did not move to assist her. He said from the seat: “This here is Miz Burch. She wants to go to Jefferson. If anybody is going in today, she will take it kind to ride with them.”
But she is not listening apparently. She sits quietly on the top step, watching the road where it curves away, empty and mounting, toward Jefferson. The squatting men along the wall look at her still and placid face and they think as Armstid thought and as Varner thinks: that she is thinking of a scoundrel who deserted her in trouble and who they believe that she will never see again, save his coattails perhaps already boardflat with running. ‘Or maybe it’s about that Sloane’s or Bone’s Mill she is thinking,’ Varner thinks. ‘I reckon that even a fool gal don’t have to come as far as Mississippi to find out that whatever place she run from ain’t going to be a whole lot different or worse than the place she is at. Even if it has got a brother in it that objects to his sister’s nightprowling,’ thinking I would have done the same as the brother; the father would have done the same. She has no mother because fatherblood hates with love and pride, but motherblood with hate loves and cohabits.


7. Joe

After he wrote his first novel, Soldier's Pay, Faulkner travelled to Europe like many young writers of the day with the air of a Bohemian poet

Ch 11 p. 234 The Rape of Joanna Burden by Joe Christmas (795 words)
One day he realised that she had never invited him inside the house proper. He had never been further than the kitchen, which he had already entered of his own accord, thinking, liplifted, ‘She couldn’t keep me out of here. I guess she knows that.’ And he had never entered the kitchen by day save when he came to get the food which she prepared for him and set out upon the table. And when he entered the house at night it was as he had entered it that first night; he felt like a thief, a robber, even while he mounted to the bedroom where she waited. Even after a year it was as though he entered by stealth to despoil her virginity each time anew. It was as though each turn of dark saw him faced again with the necessity to despoil again that which he had already despoiled—or never had and never would.
Sometimes he thought of it in that way, remembering the hard, untearful and unselfpitying and almost manlike yielding of that surrender. A spiritual privacy so long intact that its own instinct for preservation had immolated it, its physical phase the strength and fortitude of a man. A dual personality: the one the woman at first sight of whom in the lifted candle (or perhaps the very sound of the slippered approaching feet) there had opened before him, instantaneous as a landscape in a lightningflash, a horizon of physical security and adultery if not pleasure; the other the mantrained muscles and the mantrained habit of thinking born of heritage and environment with which he had to fight up to the final instant. There was no feminine vacillation, no coyness of obvious desire and intention to succumb at last. It was as if he struggled physically with another man for an object of no actual value to either, and for which they struggled on principle alone.
When he saw her next, he thought, ‘My God. How little I know about women, when I thought I knew so much.’ It was on the very next day; looking at her, being spoken to by her, it was as though what memory of less than twelve hours knew to be true could never have happened, thinking Under her clothes she can’t even be made so that it could have happened. He had not started to work at the mill then. Most of that day he spent lying on his back on the cot which she had loaned him, in the cabin which she had given him to live in, smoking, his hands beneath his head. ‘My God,’ he thought, ‘it was like I was the woman and she was the man.’ But that was not right, either. Because she had resisted to the very last. But it was not woman resistance, that resistance which, if really meant, cannot be overcome by any man for the reason that the woman observes no rules of physical combat. But she had resisted fair, by the rules that decreed that upon a certain crisis one was defeated, whether the end of resistance had come or not. That night he waited until he saw the light go out in the kitchen and then come on in her room. He went to the house. He did not go in eagerness, but in a quiet rage. “I’ll show her,” he said aloud. He did not try to be quiet. He entered the house boldly and mounted the stairs; she heard him at once. “Who is it?” she said. But there was no alarm in her tone. He didn’t answer. He mounted the stairs and entered the room. She was still dressed, turning, watching the door as he entered. But she did not speak to him. She just watched him as he went to the table and blew out the lamp, thinking, ‘Now she’ll run.’ And so he sprang forward, toward the door to intercept her. But she did not flee. He found her in the dark exactly where the light had lost her, in the same attitude. He began to tear at her clothes. He was talking to her, in a tense, hard, low voice: “I’ll show you! I’ll show the bitch!” She did not resist at all. It was almost as though she were helping him, with small changes of position of limbs when the ultimate need for help arose. But beneath his hands the body might have been the body of a dead woman not yet stiffened. But he did not desist; though his hands were hard and urgent it was with rage alone. ‘At least I have made a woman of her at last,’ he thought. ‘Now she hates me. I have taught her that, at least.’


8. Gopa Ch 19 p. 449 – Percy Grimm


In the town on that day lived a young man named Percy Grimm. He was about twenty-five and a captain in the State national guard. He had been born in the town and had lived there all his life save for the periods of the summer encampments. He was too young to have been in the European War, though it was not until 1921 or ‘22 that he realised that he would never forgive his parents for that fact. His father, a hardware merchant, did not understand this. He thought that the boy was just lazy and in a fair way to become perfectly worthless, when in reality the boy was suffering the terrible tragedy of having been born not alone too late but not late enough to have escaped first hand knowledge of the lost time when he should have been a man instead of a child. And now, with the hysteria passed away and the ones who had been loudest in the hysteria and even the ones, the heroes who had suffered and served, beginning to look at one another a little askance, he had no one to tell it, to open his heart to. In fact, his first serious fight was with an exsoldier who made some remark to the effect that if he had to do it again, he would fight this time on the German side and against France. At once Grimm took him up. “Against America too?” he said.
If America’s fool enough to help France out again,” the soldier said. Grimm struck him at once; he was smaller than the soldier, still in his teens. The result was foregone; even Grimm doubtless knew that. But he took his punishment until even the soldier begged the bystanders to hold the boy back. And he wore the scars of that battle as proudly as he was later to wear the uniform itself for which he had blindly fought.
It was the new civilian-military act which saved him. He was like a man who had been for a long time in a swamp, in the dark. It was as though he not only could see no path ahead of him, he knew that there was none. Then suddenly his life opened definite and clear. The wasted years in which he had shown no ability in school, in which he had been known as lazy, recalcitrant, without ambition, were behind him, forgotten. He could now see his life opening before him, uncomplex and inescapable as a barren corridor, completely freed now of ever again having to think or decide, the burden which he now assumed and carried as bright and weightless and martial as his insignatory brass: a sublime and implicit faith in physical courage and blind obedience, and a belief that the white race is superior to any and all other races and that the American is superior to all other white races and that the American uniform is superior to all men, and that all that would ever be required of him in payment for this belief, this privilege, would be his own life. On each national holiday that had any martial flavor whatever he dressed in his captain’s uniform and came down town. And those who saw him remembered him again on the day of the fight with the exsoldier as, glittering, with his marksman’s badge (he was a fine shot) and his bars, grave, erect, he walked among the civilians with about him an air half belligerent and half the selfconscious pride of a boy.
He was not a member of the American Legion, but that was his parents’ fault and not his. But when Christmas was fetched back from Mottstown on that Saturday afternoon, he had already been to the commander of the local Post. His idea, his words, were quite simple and direct. “We got to preserve order,” he said “We must let the law take its course. The law, the nation. It is the right of no civilian to sentence a man to death. And we, the soldiers in Jefferson, are the ones to see to that.”
How do you know that anybody is planning anything different?” the legion commander said.
Have you heard any talk?”
I don’t know. I haven’t listened.” He didn’t lie. It was as though he did not attach enough importance to what might or might not have been said by the civilian citizens to lie about it. “That’s not the question. It’s whether or not we, as soldiers, that have worn the uniform, are going to be the first to state where we stand. To show these people right off just where the government of the country stands on such things. That there won’t be any need for them even to talk.” His plan was quite simple. It was to form the Legion Post into a platoon, with himself in command vide his active commission.
(end of the chapter 19)
When the others reached the kitchen they saw the table flung aside now and Grimm stooping over the body. When they approached to see what he was about, they saw that the man was not dead yet, and when they saw what Grimm was doing one of the men gave a choked cry and stumbled back into the wall and began to vomit. Then Grimm too sprang back, flinging behind him the bloody butcher knife. “Now you’ll let white women alone, even in hell,” he said. 

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