Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

Reconsidering Maggie, Charles, and Gavin in 'The Town.' (Special Issue: William Faulkner)

Academic journal article The Mississippi Quarterly

Reconsidering Maggie, Charles, and Gavin in 'The Town.' (Special Issue: William Faulkner)

Article excerpt

In The Yoknapatawpha Country, Cleanth Brooks offers the marriage of Maggie and Charles Mallison as one example of "mature sexual love" in contrast to the many examples of "frustrated love or adultery" found in Faulkner's works. The Mallison marriage, Brooks says, is "the quiet background for much that goes on in The Town." As he compares Maggie and Charles's relationship to the courtly love of many of Faulkner's men and women, Brooks adds: "The Mallisons' relationship is not made unreal by hints of idyllic tenderness or of transcendent rapture. There is bantering and even bickering between husband and wife, but there is the sense of stability, full trust, and complete acceptance of each by the other."(1) Michael Millgate, writing about The Town in The Achievement of William Faulkner, implies an equally positive view of the Mallisons, singling out Maggie for praise as 'the family's energetic and cohesive centre."(2) The views of both critics seem accurate when examined against the first scene between Maggie and Charles in the novel; if other scenes are taken into account, however, the Mallison marriage comes to resemble a far less model relationship.

Studied in isolation, the initial scene between Maggie and Charles suggests a cohesive marriage enlivened by light-hearted bantering. Maggie appears to be the central figure in the family, sitting at the end of the table in the symbolic position of mistress of the house, across from her father with Charles and her twin brother, Gavin Stevens, on either side. The Mallisons' son, Chick, who narrates the account based on what he had been told, draws attention to Maggie's literal position in relation to Charles and Gavin as he notes twice that Maggie is "between them."(3) His repetition suggests her strong figurative position between them as well.

The dialogue which follows is humorous, but at issue is a real difference of opinion between Charles and Gavin: whether Maggie should call on Eula Snopes as a favor to her brother. Charles protests to Gavin, "No, by Jupiter. My wife call on that--" Then Gavin asks, "That what?" Maggie throws in a reminder that Gavin should have addressed Charles as "Sir." With Charles's second reference to "my wife," Gavin counters by redefining her as "my sister" (emphasis added). Maggie stops the argument -- "Boys, boys, boys," -- by demanding that each apologize (p. 47).

Although Maggie is still positioned literally between the two men and serves as peacemaker, she now confronts Charles directly. Her tone remains light, but with her words she allies herself with her brother, as she asks: "Even if Mrs Snopes is what you say she is, as long as I am what you and Gavin both agree I am since at least you agree on that, how can I run any risk sitting for ten minutes in her parlor?" Maggie chides: "Women are not interested in morals. . . . What they will never forgive is ... the way the Jefferson gentlemen look at her." Her words bring a hasty protest from Charles ("Speak for your brother . . .. I never looked at her in her life"), to which Maggie replies: "Then so much the worse for me ... with a mole for a husband. No: moles have warm blood; a Mammoth Cave fish -- " But Charles gets the final word: "Flem Snopes's wife, riding into Jefferson society on Judge Lemuel Stevens's daughter's coat-tail" (pp. 47-48). The scene concludes with the humorous tone with which it began, but a subtle change has occurred among the characters: despite the fact that Maggie served as mediator throughout most of the scene, by the end of the scene she has in fact taken a stand against her husband and for her brother. Because of the earlier emphasis on Maggie's position between Gavin and Charles, one must see this change as significant. Were there no further scenes between Maggie and Charles or no later references to some of the issues raised here to bring into question the soundness of the relationship, the bantering of Maggie and Charles would seem inconsequential and the tensions between them would indeed be typical of those between any husband and wife. …

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