Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Incest, Repression, and Repetition-Compulsion: The Case of Faulkner's Temple Drake

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Incest, Repression, and Repetition-Compulsion: The Case of Faulkner's Temple Drake

Article excerpt

The concept of repression, the basic premise of the psychoanalytic method, was first clinically identified by Sigmund Freud in 1893 in connection with his treatment of hysterical patients. A type of defensive amnesia, repression for Freud plays a crucial role in two related psychic phenomena: a) repetition-compulsion, in which an individual feels compelled to act out repeatedly the symptoms of a prior event but without conscious knowledge of the nature of that event; b) seduction trauma, in which an individual represses memories of sexual molestation and incest, recalling them during later psychoanalytic treatment for hysteria and neurosis. In Freud's own time, as he explained in a letter to his friend William Fliess, the seduction theory met with considerable resistance, and Freud himself retracted it in 1897, arguing instead that such memories were fantasies constructed by the supposed victim ("Extracts" 259). Recently, however, the theory has regained credence in the form of the many cases of adults who, undergoing therapy, claim to have recovered memories of incest and sexual abuse of which for years they had seemed to be unaware.

The time seems right, then, to take a second look at William Faulkner's Sanctuary, a novel which is centrally concerned with rape and strategies of repression. Set in the American south of the late 1920s, this novel focuses on Temple Drake, who with her four brothers composes an aristocratic family, of which the father is a Judge. Following a car accident, Temple becomes marooned at the Old Frenchman place, a hideout for a group of bootleggers, including Popeye, Van, Goodwin and his deaf and blind father (Pap), the mentally handicapped Tommy, and Goodwin's wife Ruby. In what is certainly the most lurid event of the novel, Temple lies trapped in the corn crib at the Old Frenchman place, having just witnessed Popeye's shooting of Tommy, in the presence of Pap. As Popeye comes toward her, Temple

began to say Something is going to happen to me. She was saying it to the old man [Pap] with the yellow clots for eyes. "Something is happening to me!" she screamed at him, sitting in his chair in the sunlight, his hands crossed on the top of the stick. "I told you it was!" she screamed, voiding the words like hot silent bubbles into the bright silence about them until he turned his head and the two phlegm-clots above her where she lay tossing and thrashing on the rough, sunny boards. "I told you! I told you all the time!" (107)

It is not until Chapter twenty-eight that we learn that what "is happening" is Popeye's rape of Temple with a corn cob, but there is "Something" else going on in this scene, a mystery which is never revealed in its entirety in the novel. What "was" happening? Why does Faulkner change the verb tense from "is" to "was"? Who is the "you" to whom Temple refers? How can "you" refer to the blind and deaf Pap, whom Temple has only just met? What, in short, has happened, and what did she tell "all the time"? (emphasis mine).

Aside from the plot and narrative strategies, what makes Sanctuary so relevant to current debates about repression and recollections of sexual abuse is the nature and history of its reception. Interpretations have varied and have most often been censorious, although it should be noted that there has been some tempering over time. Temple was labeled a "blind, dead instrument of revenge" in 1934, "one of the most corrupt characters in all of Faulkner" in 1967, and a "psychopathic personality" in 1968 (Kubie 141; Brown 443-44; Tate 427). In 1977, she was seen as a mythic, but nevertheless "destroying goddess" (Williams 153). In the 1980s, however, interpretations began to shift to more sympathetic evaluations, focusing on cultural expectations of women and patriarchal power dynamics. Temple has been seen as naive and misunderstood (Muhlenfeld; Urgo), as a victim rather than a victimizer (Roberts). For both John Matthews and John Duvall, Temple is the focus of incest desire which is never made manifest; as they see it, the threat of Temple's molestation by her father and brothers circulates consistently throughout the text but remains safely within the realm of male fantasy and is never acted upon by her family members. …

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