Whiteness in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County
This dissertation considers Faulkner's white characters in terms of their whiteness, a racial signifier which has, historically, been both generally assumed and specifically codified to be a position of privilege in American culture, regardless of class or gender. However, class and gender differences among whites make for very different experiences of whiteness, particularly in the pre-Civil Rights-era South out of which Faulkner created his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. This dissertation addresses those differences and considers their impact on cultural conceptions of whiteness, and on the idea of Americanness itself.
Chapter 1 examines The Unvanquished, “The Bear,” and The Sound and the Fury in order to understand the various ways in which white manhood reveals itself in Faulkner's fictional world. The central argument is that the white male characters of these novels are troubled by the expectations that adhere to white masculinity, and struggle to claim its privileges while simultaneously fearing that they can never measure up. Chapter 2 treats the white women characters of Sanctuary, Flags in the Dust, The Hamlet and The Town, and As I Lay Dying by focusing on the ways in which the white women in these novels challenge and deviate from the roles available to them as white women of the South in Faulkner's time. Chapter 3 considers the whiteness of mixed-race characters in Light in August, Intruder in the Dust and Go Down, Moses, and Absalom, Absalom! by noting, first, that they are considered black characters, even though there is whiteness in their backgrounds. Because these characters bear white heritage but not whiteness, they also force question into the nature of whiteness and its implications for Americanness. Chapter 4 looks at some of Faulkner's black characters in The Sound and the Fury, Requiem for a Nun, Go Down, Moses, and Flags in the Dust in order to gauge the representation of blackness from Faulkner's white perspective.
The dissertation concludes with a discussion of the ways in which whiteness terrorizes non-whiteness, and, via analysis of some of Faulkner's non-fiction writing and speeches, argues that Faulkner wrote what he did, as he did, because he was white.