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Master of Arts (M.A.)

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An Exploration into Faulkner’s Rhetoric of Female Hood

Caroline V. Jauch, B.A in French and English languages and literatures, Université de Genève, Switzerland

With his novels, Faulkner takes us on a journey to the South. He invites us into his character’s surroundings, homes, landscape, smells and especially into their hearts and minds. His portrayals of the white and black people that populate the South, his acute sense of observation regarding their external and internal dialogue, as well as his unique narrative style, all contribute to making him into a reliable witness of the deep issues that plagued America then and are still hurting the nation today as social, racial and gender based challenges daily defy the collective consciousness, raising issues of equality pertaining specifically to blacks and women.

In my opinion, Faulkner was a visionary, sensing already, in the years he writes his novels that much of America’s problem was, is, and would for a long time to come, be racism. Yet, one other important aspect of Faulkner’s writing that is pertinent in his characterization of the oppressed is his portrayal of the different female characters that populate his novels. The reason this is coming up in parallel with the issue of race is because the fight for gender and race equality have similar characteristics and that the struggle women endure every day for equal treatment is in many ways similar to the pains, stereotyping and stigmatization that black people go through for the same goal. This fact was already addressed by Simone de Beauvoir in her famous work The Second Sex where she claims that the obstacles women faced regarding their emancipation were in many ways similar to those black people faced for the same goal. Keeping this in mind, the idea in this research is to observe Faulkner’s heroines from the specific angle where their stories intersect with black people’s narratives of oppression. Not to prove De Beauvoir (or anyone) right, but because it is an angle from which not much criticism has stemmed so far and I believe that, especially in Faulkner’s oeuvre, there are a lot of meeting points regarding the problems that these two oppressed groups face. In his depictions of women, Faulkner avoids categorizing: no two characters are alike or stigmatized in any way. His female characters are sincere, honest and pathetic yet they all escape stereotyping. This does not mean that critics have not tried to organize Faulkner’s women and ladies into specific archetypes. There has been much criticism and analysis of Faulkner over the years, and it is interesting to observe the evolution of such discourse as it plays out against the backdrop of the different political and moral fluctuations of time. A lot has been said about Faulkner: He has been hailed as a misogynist, and even as a white supremacist, by literary critics that mainly identified with his characters’ views and one must be discriminating while engaging with such material. Yet, the feminist literary criticism on his characterization of women is quite homogenous, suggesting that his portrayal of the female sex is consistent and definitely deserving of an analysis, as the amount of criticism on the subject has already proved.

In this research, I will engage with feminist theory and criticism as well as with critical race feminism, including the concept of “intersectionality” as coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw and I will separate the “ladies” from the “women” in an effort to give each the same amount of attention. As the scope of this work is limited, I will not be able to go in depth with as many characters as I would like. Therefore, my analysis will focus principally on Drusilla Hawk for the ladies, Dilsey Gibson for the women and Clytie Sutpen regarding the theme of family dynamics. These characters will be looked at in context and along with the other characters that appear in their respective novels and who, through their interactions with them, help define their discourses. I will address more generally other characters such as Caddy Compson, Temple Drake, Eula Varner and Granny Millard and include as many others as I can in my discussion as far as they are relevant to my arguments.

This thesis will start with an overview of Faulkner criticism in context, which will lead me into a discussion on feminism and race. I will then develop a chapter on the ladies, a chapter on the women and a chapter on family dynamics in Faulkner’s work. Hoping to offer the rounded argument that, by his intricate portrayals of the different victories and defeats the females evolving in his novels go through, with his southern belles inching their way out of their hoop skirts and his earth-women poetically assimilated to the elements, Faulkner was actually giving women a voice.


First Advisor

Arthur F. Kinney

Second Advisor

Michael Gorra

Third Advisor

Nicholas Bromell