Peripatetic Modernism, or, Joe Christmas's Father

By Duck, Leigh Anne | Philological Quarterly, Spring-Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Peripatetic Modernism, or, Joe Christmas's Father


Duck, Leigh Anne, Philological Quarterly


IN SCHOLARLY INTERPRETATIONS of William Faulkner's Light in August (1932), as at the hands of the homicidal Doc Hines, Joe Christmas's father has been quickly dispatched. This lack of commentary corresponds to the novel's narrative focus, since Joe's father does not appear except in the brief report of his murder, which is conveyed more than thirty years after it occurs. Also, this short segment aligns closely with tropes and themes found elsewhere in the novel, such that when critics discuss the effort to resolve an ambiguous racial identity or the spectacular violence surrounding suspicions of interracial sex, they tend to focus on the exponentially more prominent and complex examples provided in the account of Joe's life. But the tale of Joe's father nonetheless constitutes the central enigma of the novel. Although Milly, Joe's mother, tells Doc that her lover "was a Mexican," Doc scoffs that he could "see in his face the black curse of God Almighty," and the novel never confirms either of these views, such that, ultimately, readers know little more than the tormented Joe about his racial ancestry. (1) Faulkner's technique of secreting "inferences of a tale that is not being told," as Richard Godden describes it, is well known, such that one might expect this minor character to signify something. (2) Accordingly, in this essay, I treat critical neglect of this character as a problem to be explored alongside those raised by the novel itself. What interpretive practices have impeded recognition of this self-proclaimed Mexican? What promise might a change in such hermeneutics hold for scholarship on modernism and Southern literature more broadly?

Though Light in August presents, as John T. Matthews has recently argued, a world that "whirls in perpetual motion," it has long been understood to depict the fate of a few exceptional characters in an otherwise stable and bounded locale. (3) Such readings, as I explain in the first section of this essay, have been supported by complementary paradigms in Southern and modernist studies. If, however, we seek not only to situate Joe and other new arrivals to Yoknapatawpha County in relation to its norms, but also to understand how these individual wanderers, who often proceed by horse and buggy or even foot, excite these small-town and rural locales, the social space of Light in August begins to look more chaotic. Although far smaller inscale than the migrations shaping the cities of the early twentieth century, these movements nonetheless create conceptual or social crisis, forcing residents to reassess their beliefs, plans, or forms of behavior--or, of course, to try to eradicate the disruption through violence.

The interpretive practice proposed in this essay is hardly revolutionary, as I merely argue for attending to travel--a theme long important in modernist studies, and increasingly so in Southern Studies--in its most modest manifestations. But it may be that attention to this peripatetic modernism helps to articulate aesthetic connections among diverse kinds of geographic locales, adding nuance to our understanding of urban and rural differences. More importantly, to recognize movement across rural locales is to see how their conventions were challenged not only by modernization but also by the necessity of translation, a process through which an erstwhile norm can be revealed as contingent and even insufficient. In the case of Light in August, attending to the characters' travels reveals that the novel does not only--as is often attested--critique the consuming illogic of Jim Crow's racial dyad as constructed in closed local spaces, but it also reveals how encounter with a broader world confronts that system with racial and ethnic arrays that cannot be located within its binary.

"TIMELESS UNHASTE": THE RURAL IN MODERNIST AND SOUTHERN STUDIES

When theorists of modernism focus on Europe and North America--an approach that might now, by point of contrast, be termed "the old modernist studies"--they often describe this aesthetic movement as an urban phenomenon, stimulated by new technologies and proliferating commerce and also responding to the great influx of new residents from rural areas and colonies. …

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

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.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

Peripatetic Modernism, or, Joe Christmas's Father
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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access 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

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    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.