i have read a good number of books, stories, poems, plays etc in my time, but there’s always more. this is a wonderful thing! and since my exploration of literature has been somewhat lopsided toward british lit, here’s my chance to fill a gap or two. in a sort of intellectual preparation for my move to mississippi i put this man on my reading list, among other people:
i had already read faulkner’s “barn burning” in its handy little reclam edition last year, and re-read it this weekend, along with some other short stories, namely “that evening sun”, “red leaves”, and “a justice” – thanks to the fact that my sister had this on her shelves still from some american lit class she took at some point. 🙂
barn burning – this story is told from the perspective of a young boy whose father’s mercurial outbreaks force the family to move from one town to another, again and again, because the father has a habit of burning down the barns of people who cross him, or who he feels crossed by.
the central themes in this story are loyalty – should he lie to protect his family or should he tell the truth for the sake of justice? and agency – can he choose his own life or is he stuck with his family and the troublesome temperament of his father?
here, the conflict is between different types or classes of white people – the father feels like he must sell his soul, his life, to the landowners for seasons at a time, because he does not have his own piece of land to farm on. he feels unjustifiedly enslaved.
that evening sun – again, one central motif is loyalty. should the father be more protective of his own wife, who does not want to be left alone with the children in his house, or should he protect their black servant nancy, who is afraid of the dark and of what her partner might do to her?
red leaves – this story was surprising and somewhat confusing to me. the idea that native americans might also have been slave owners had never occurred to me – the stereotypical image of “slavery” in the US normally just conjuring up images of white slave owners. i admit i double-checked to make sure it was not just fictional.
here, faulkner describes native americans slave owners, and while their attitude toward their slaves is not exactly the same as that of the white people in the other stories in this book, they do not treat them any better. the central character is a personal slave, who took care of “the Man” before he died, and is now supposed to be buried with his deceased master. this slave runs away and is pursued.
a justice – offers more details on the character named doom, aka ikkemotubbe, aka david callicoat, as well as giving us a biography of sam fathers (what the white people call him), aka uncle blue gum (what the black people call him), aka had-two-fathers (what the native americans call him). faulkner wrote up a complex world with lots of connections between his various stories, and i think that if i had not read these stories in this order, i would have been rather confused.
names also seem to hold a certain fascination for faulkner – he pays much attention to them, and they matter to his characters in various ways: at times they are seen as a definition of self, at times as destiny, at times as a means of control and oppression – people exercise a certain amount of control or authority by calling someone by a certain name, or, especially, naming or re-naming them.
there are still lots of stories in this volume that i haven’t read yet, but i think i will take a little break and look into my latest, more contemporary acquisition: geronimo rex by barry hannah.