Dispossessed Sons and Displaced Meaning in Faulkner's Modern Cosmos

By Allen, Sharon Lubkemann | The Mississippi Quarterly, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Dispossessed Sons and Displaced Meaning in Faulkner's Modern Cosmos


Allen, Sharon Lubkemann, The Mississippi Quarterly


According to the Old Testament, Abraham had two sons: Ishmael, his first and bastard son, born of a humanly sensible compromise with fate, and Isaac, the son of divine promise born long after the hope that Abraham might bear a legitimate inheritor echoed hollowly in Sarah's laughter. Ishmael, son of his disbelief, Abraham dispossessed, sending him with Hagar, his mother, with provisions, and without a father's name, into the wilderness. Conversely, Abraham raised Isaac at his side and endowed Isaac with his name and his whole inheritance. Yet neither son nor their sons after them could ever achieve Abraham's undivided vision. Through two acts of dispossession Abraham invoked a perennial conflict between his sons: first, by his faltering belief he dispossessed his sons of the unmitigated blessing proposed in the sacred covenant between him and his God; subsequently, in hope of restoring the covenant blessing, he disinherited his bastard son and thereby dispossessed both his sons of brotherhood. In the Old Testament, restoration lay only in the promise of a sacrificial conciliatory Word.

It is the story of Abraham and his sons, of David and his sons, of Agamemnon and Orestes, of Odysseus and Telemachus, of fathers enthroned in glory and promise and of their dispossessed and striving sons, that William Faulkner revisits in modernity. As he reconsiders the Old South in the mythic genealogies of Yoknapatawpha County, he decries modem tragedy: the apparent glory of fathers reluctantly but inevitably denuded by the knowledge of their sons--sons who lose not only their fathers' God and glory but who struggle even to apprehend the meaning of their fathers' honor and designs. At the center of Faulkner's fictional investigation of experience is a tension inherent in and exposed by multivocal language and narrative. As Richard Gray points out, Faulkner's fiction acts as a point of linguistic intersection for distinct social and historical values.(1) Thus, Faulkner retells an epic tale of initiation and inheritance in a fallen human world, particularly modern insofar as its greatest loss pertains not to material things or even social position but rather to values upheld by language whose unveiled mechanisms and conventions strip away its authority. The dispossession of these modem sons reflects a loss of position defined by an inability to understand the world in the monological tones with which their fathers described it. It stems from their experience of what Bakhtin has described in terms of polyphonic carnival, a convergence and juxtaposition of voices that destroy dominant univocal paradigms.(2) In keeping with this carnivalistic impulse, Faulkner's tales suggest not only the lost glory and despair of modernity but also its redemption. The sons of Faulkner's fiction recover not the vainglory of their heroic fathers but a renewed and broader vision that is responsive to the present as well as to the past. In Faulkner's vision of modernity, sons dispossessed, even while they seem to abandon old divinities, recover a sacred and reintegrated oikos(3) and logos(4) wherein their inheritance can be reconciled with meaning.

Yet if Faulkner's vision of the relationship between fathers and sons is finally comic, it emerges through the dark insights of an irony that reveals and reconciles disparate meanings through a multiplicity of visions and voices, both within individual stories and at their intersections. These voices within Faulkner's novels resound from comers as distant as the unself-conscious past is to the utterly self-conscious present mediated by madness and poetry. Thus, Faulkner's inquiry into human existence is unremittingly critical even as it appears to reflect unapologetically the glory of a past that is already shattered for the reader. Faulkner's portrayal of fathers appeals to the monological conventions of ancient epic, a warrior ideal and the values of classical stoicism (which implicititly admits alienation but tries to transcend it with silence or exclusion of the ambivalence of reality). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dispossessed Sons and Displaced Meaning in Faulkner's Modern Cosmos
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.