Title page for ETD etd-1114102-151515

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Barnwell, Janet Elizabeth
URN etd-1114102-151515
Title Narrative Patterns of Racism and Resistance in the Work of William Faulkner
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
John Lowe Committee Chair
Carl Freedman Committee Member
Panthea Reid Committee Member
Rick Moreland Committee Member
Leonard Moore Dean's Representative
  • segregation
  • southern literature
  • race
Date of Defense 2002-11-05
Availability unrestricted
Keeping in mind the complicated nature of race relations in the South during the segregation era, as well as the economic volatility of the time, and recognizing Faulkner's position as a white southern writer, this dissertation poses and attempts to answer a few specific questions regarding Faulkner's work. First, beginning with New Orleans Sketches and ending with Go Down, Moses, what texts seem most devoted to examining issues of race difference? Second, where in these texts does Faulkner most strikingly incorporate and then challenge racial stereotypes and cliches about the South? Third, working chronologically, how did Faulkner reconcile his position as a son of the South, with his position as a writer who felt it necessary to develop all types of characters realistically--from Jason Compson to Rider, from Thomas Sutpen to Mollie Beauchamp? And finally, as readers, what insights can Faulkner reveal to us about the interpersonal relationships of his characters, characters drawn heavily from the segregation era of the South? What did he want readers to see?

Because most of his novels are set in the same Oxford-inspired Yoknapatawpha county, it is not surprising that certain characters appear again and again in his work. Likewise, Faulkner also revisits similar themes and repeats certain narrative patterns. Juxtaposing a character "type" with other characters or "community," Faulkner is able to create real possibilities for exploring human nature. Repeating broad narrative patterns allows Faulkner to reveal particular intricacies of social hierarchies and to expose the origins of oppressive actions by individuals and masses. The repetition allows Faulkner to emphasize the existence of unspoken cultural norms that empower some while oppressing others. One such repeated theme shows a white middle-class moderate choosing to turn away from injustice, choosing complicity with other white characters rather than action on behalf of a black or mixed-race character who suffers and sometimes dies unfairly. If Faulkner had portrayed only one such character, the importance might be lost to readers. Because Faulkner creates several characters choosing to turn away from injustice, avid readers of Faulkner must pause to consider the significance of this repeated behavior.

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