Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Haunting the Good Neighbor: Faulkner's Caribbean Imagination in Go Down, Moses

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Haunting the Good Neighbor: Faulkner's Caribbean Imagination in Go Down, Moses

Article excerpt

[T]he grave, save for its rawness, resembled any other marked off without order about the barren plot by shards of pottery and broken bottles and old brick and other objects insignificant to sight but actually of a profound meaning and fatal to touch, which no white man could have read.

-William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses (131-32)

Go Down, Moses explores the relationships between Southern blacks and whites following Emancipation through Isaac (Ike) McCaslin's struggle to reconcile his family's participation in slavery. A "genealogical puzzle," the text's fragmented family relations take shape within a region whose future is uncertain as racial lines grow increasingly blurred (Llewellyn 497). The text's form represents a dizzying intersection of past, present, and future wherein the reader must struggle to apprehend the relationships between generations. These historical shifts are replete with references to Columbian discovery, an- tebellum excess, Reconstruction, and World War II. Specifically, Ikes investiga- tions into his family's history culminate in 1940, which positions the text within a political moment where Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration was ad- vancing the Good Neighbor policy, generally considered a well-intentioned for- eign policy that improved US-Caribbean relations.1 Indeed, at the time Faulkner wrote Go Down, Moses, US nationalism was defined through its intersections with the Caribbean, and the parameters of those relations were established in response to an embattled Europe. This reading, then, contextualizes Go Down, Moses and its puzzling presentation of race relations within these hemispheric and global moments to reassess Faulkner's interest in politics and historiography. As Go Down, Moses slides between past and present, Faulkner employs a series of tropes that divide Ike's genealogical endeavors into puzzle pieces: clues and repetitions appear in the text "without order" yet, when read through the lens of the Caribbean, they reveal instead a "profound meaning" that can help critics reconceptualize Faulkner's intervention into national historiography.

Reading Go Down, Moses through the historical matrix of US-Caribbean relations adds to the burgeoning critical interest in transnational analyses of Faulkner. As Americanists increasingly catalogue hemispheric literary histo- ries, they necessarily attend to the commonalities and asymmetries between New World spaces.2 However, scholars read a Caribbean presence in Faulkner primarily through Absalom, Absalom!-a text that engages the Caribbean directly. In that novel, Thomas Sutpen acquires family, prestige, and posses- sions through a trip to Haiti, and his ascension is written against the back- drop of the Haitian Revolution. Such readings by critics like Vera M. Kutzinski, Barbara Ladd, Richard Godden, Matthew Pratt Guterl, and John Lowe have helped reframe Faulkner's terrain through their transnational treatments of Absalom, Absalom! Kutzinski notes that Faulkner's imaginative landscape ex- tends beyond the US South: "It is the Americas, not just the southern parts of the United States, that constitute Faulkner's literary and cultural 'region,' and he, in turn, is reconstituted by the perspectives and claims of this larger terri- tory" (59). Working through Kutzinski's hemispheric definition of Faulkner's literary region, I consider how a reading attuned to this larger landscape can enrich discussions of Go Down, Moses and our sense of the political moment in which Faulkner was writing.3 For example, critics have already described how the histories of New World slavery intersect with Faulkner's exploration of contemporary US race relations. Ladd catalogues Faulkner's "deep familiarity" with political events in the Caribbean (142), and argues that his "rich histori- cism" captures the "intricate historical relationships among New World slave cultures" (144). Additionally, Eiko Owada asserts that "it is not too much to say that Faulkner's awareness regarding slavery and its legacy was informed by the terms of early-twentieth-century American attitudes toward politics in the Caribbean" (135). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.