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Robert’s Formal Blog Post on William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” – April 8, 1928

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The gown fell gauntly from her shoulders, across her fallen breasts, then tightened upon her paunch and fell again, ballooning a little above the nether garments which she would remove layer by layer as the spring accomplished and the warm days, in color regal and moribund. She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage or fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts, and above that the collapsed face that gave the impression of the bones themselves being outside the flesh, lifted into the driving day with an expression at once fatalistic and of a child’s astonished disappointment, until she turned and entered the house again and closed the door.

– April 8, 1928

“I aint gwine let him,” Dilsey says. “Don’t you worry, honey.” She held to my arm. Then the belt came out and I jerked loose and flung her away. She stumbled into the table. She was so old she couldn’t do any more than move hardly. But that’s all right: we need somebody in the kitchen to eat up the grub the young ones can’t tote off. She came hobbling between us, trying to hold me again. “Hit me, den,” she says, “ef nothin else but hittin somebody won’t do you. Hit me,” she says.  “You think I won’t?” I says. “I don’t put no devilment beyond you,” she says. Then I heard Mother on the stairs. I might have known she wasn’t going to keep out of it. I let go. She stumbled back against the wall, holding her kimono shut.  “All right,” I says. “We’ll just put this off a while. But don’t think you can run it over me. I’m not an old woman, nor an old half dead nigger, either. You dam little slut,” I says.

-April 6, 1928

Dilsey, matriarch of the Gibson family and caretaker of the Compson family, provides an interesting opportunity to analyze age, race, and disability in The Sound and the Fury. In the work’s final section, April 8, 1928, we read Dilsey’s perspective of the Compson family’s final disintegration. Unlike the previous three sections, though, Dilsey does not narrate directly to us in first person. The section is in third person; this indirect focus on Dilsey accomplishes several things. For one, it disempowers her; the previous three narrators were white and were given the opportunity to narrate, even though the first, Benjy, was mentally disabled. Dilsey is black, old, poor, and a woman; these three things combine to create a pseudo-disability for her. This indirect narration also creates a mystique around Dilsey. As a black woman and servant, her opinions have little social value; however, Dilsey’s opinions are somewhat prophetic, at least to readers.

Working for the Compsons, caring for Benjy, putting up with Caroline’s hypochondriacally inspired “spells,” and keeping up the Compson home have all taken their toll on Dilsey. She “had been a big woman once” but time has consumed her muscles, which were also her “courage and fortitude.” Here is an interesting association between physical strength and inner fortitude. The Compson family’s problems have devoured both Dilsey’s physical and inner power. Faulkner is implying here that the strength of a person’s character is related to their physical strength.

Jason, in the previous April 6 section, dismisses Dilsey as an “old half dead nigger” who “couldn’t do any more than move hardly.” To Jason and most of the family, Dilsey is simply a tool, a prosthetic device used to oil their squeaky wheels (Benjy, Caroline, and Miss Quentin), to soothe Benjy’s tantrums, and maintain the shrinking house’s beauty and power. Already disempowered, maybe even disabled, by her race and gender, Dilsey’s increasing age and decreasing physical strength are further disempowering her. For Dilsey, now “only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts.”

These guts, however, do give Dilsey some power. This power is primarily literary and not literal; instead of influencing the other characters, Dilsey influences us, the readers, with her opinions. As an “other” many times over – in race, gender, class, age, etc. – Dilsey is somewhat odd. In the opening of the April 8 section, Faulkner describes her wearing “nether garments which she would remove layer by layer as the spring accomplished and the warm days, in color regal and moribund.”  Because she is such a unique other, when Dilsey speaks up, we find prophetic power in her words. For example, when Jason threatens Quentin with a whipping, Dilsey intervenes. Though Quentin has done wrong, Jason’s punishment is entirely out of line. Dilsey, powerless and feeble and disempowered as she is, comes to Quentin’s defense and tries to stop Jason. She tells Jason to hit her instead. Jason says, “You think I won’t?” Dilsey replies, “I don’t put no devilment beyond you.” Here is a good example of how Faulkner’s uses Dilsey’s disempowered status as a multiple “other” as a prophetic literary device. Dilsey condemns Jason’s character early on in this section; upon further reading, we find that Dilsey’s statement if quite justified.

Dilsey is used by the Compson family and Faulkner as a prosthetic crutch. The Compsons use her physical strength to care for their disabled family members, their crumbling power, and their shrinking estate. They give Dilsey little credit, especially when her disempowered status as a black woman is furthered by her increasing age and frailty. Faulkner capitalizes on this, too. Dilsey is an “other” in many different categories many times over; her numerous “other” labels almost outnumber her numerous undergarments. These multiple categories of “otherness,” combined with Dilsey’s appearance, give Dilsey’s words, at least, a little power.

Written by Robert

October 20th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Meg’s Formal Blog Post on the Sound and The Fury

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“She didn’t mean that that’s the way women do things it’s because she loves Caddy
The street lamps would go down the hill then rise toward town I walked upon the belly of my shadow. I could extend my hand beyond it.feeling Father behind me beyond the rasping darkness of summer and August the street lampsFather and I protect women from one another from themselves our women Women are like that they dont acquire knowledge of people we are for that they are just born with a practical fertility of suspicion that makes a crop every so often and usually right they have an affinity for evil for supplying whatever the evil lacks in itself for drawing it about them instinctively as you do bed-clothing in slumber fertilising the mind for it until the evil has served its purpose whether it ever existed or no”

In The Sound and the Fury, Quentin Compson acts as ‘other.’ Stuck in the old, formal ways of the South, he is unable to cope with the changing social views and moral decay around him. He is further complicated by his sister, Caddy, who, because her sexual promiscuity, is also unable to fit into the antiquated Southern world that he would like to keep. In this section of text, Quentin derisively splits the genders, forcing Caddy and women into an ‘other’ role by making the masculine dominant and the feminine submissive (and therefore, victimized). By identifying himself with men and alienating Caddy, Quentin is able to assume roles for both himself and Caddy that identify with an antiquated Southern viewpoint—he becomes martyr, and she victim of her own nature.

In this section, Quentin immediately begins placing himself above Caddy. He first begins separating the genders. The mother and Caddy have their own sentences, and are purely emotional. They deal with love. Furthermore, the sentence is an allowance; he and his Father are simply shrugging off the emotions of women. After these sentences come, “Father behind me” and “Father and I.” Both sentences are fairly physical. They designate their gendered roles—the men to “protect” and the women to be protected. Quentin further separates the genders by intellect. Men “acquire knowledge” and learn. Women, however, “are just born,” which implies animalization. Women merely react; they can’t help themselves. The several mentions of “fertility” also imply a naturalness that gives way to instinct. This allows Quentin to place Caddy in his world; women are weak and can be manipulated. They act on instinct and so if they have an “affinity for evil,” it makes sense that Caddy would be promiscuous, despite the fact that she should be an upstanding, moral, Southern Belle.

The dominance of the masculine is also stressed in this section because it is the masculine voice that the reader hears. Theirs are the opinions that are bestowed; Caddy and the other women are never allowed to speak for themselves, and so they seem further subjugated by their silence.

By making Caddy the ‘other’ in the section—making her a victim of her own evils, Quentin is able to give her a place within his world. All women are immoral. They are instinctual and it is up to the Southern gentleman to protect them from that. Furthermore, because Quentin is the other, stronger gender, that which is physical but intelligent, Quentin is also able to place himself within the old Southern world. He takes on the role of chivalric martyr. By accusing himself of incest, he protects Caddy from herself.

Written by Meg

October 15th, 2010 at 10:28 am

exploitation or empowerment?

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Lady Gaga's Disability Project

Lady Gaga's Disability Project

Today we analyzed images from Lady Gaga’s Disability Project (see link for more images) as a follow-up to our readings by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson.  Any further comments?

Written by cfoss

September 6th, 2010 at 10:26 pm

Social and Cultural Models and the End of Modernism?

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Wondering what you guys thought about the parallel between sex/gender and impairment/disability that I brought up in class.  Perhaps I can articulate it a bit better here on the blog.
A social model of sex/gender would tend to promote the idea that the two sexes are biological facts.  Genders, however, are “social constructs” that have no essential truth to them but rather came about as a result of tradition, stereotype, discrimination, and power dynamics.  A social model of disability, similarly, might propose that impairments are biological facts, but disabilities come about as the result of social norms also brought about by power dynamics, tradition, stereotype…etc.

A cultural model of sex/gender might question the validity of our strong belief in two biological genders.  For example, 1-2% of children are born intersex, and are usually given surgery in infancy so they fit the traditional dichotomy.  This implies that the essentialism of even our two-sex binary may be fictitious.  A cultural model of disability would challenge the notion of a normalized idea of body or brain that sees any deviations from it as impairments.

What do you guys think about the social and cultural models?  Are ideas like essential normal bodies and sexes ideas worth preserving?  Cultural models seem quite radical, but they might be ways of thinking that will get people to start deeply questioning their conceptions of the world.  Sometimes though, when too many essentialisms are questioned a system runs the risk of running too close to postmodern obscurity where it seems as though anything and nothing could be true.  As we move out of modernism we have to make sure that we’re moving into something that is still coherent.

On the other hand, I’m not sure we’ve really moved out of modernism…here is a link to a recent article from NPR that a friend sent me on facebook.  Though the content is certainly interesting, the way it is framed, I find, incredibly offensive.  (Also, every disability-related article I read lately seems to be obsessed with the idea of evolutionary explanation.  Have we really come that far from the age of Social Darwinism?) The article sets up a serious us vs. them dynamic from the outset, and it puts a weird distance between the person whom the article is about and the reader.  For example…
“But Daxer says these things are still very difficult for her. So she has become something of an amateur anthropologist, studying the social behavior of the people around her, the people she calls neurotypicals.”
It makes her seem really “alien” by saying “the people she calls neurotypicals” as though she has made up this word on her own.

The worst part of the article though is by far the introduction:
“It takes a smart brain to invent a spaceship. But putting one in orbit takes a brain with extraordinary social skills.That’s because getting from concept to launchpad takes more than technology — it takes thousands of people agreeing on a common goal and working together to accomplish it.Humans have succeeded in part because we evolved a brain with a remarkable capacity for this type of complex social interaction. We automatically respond to social cues and facial expressions.  We can look at the world from another person’s point of view. We are predisposed to cooperate. But all these things are so much a part of us, they’re easy to take for granted. Unless you have autism, like Lisa Daxer.”

I was flabbergasted reading that part, but perhaps I’m over-reacting?  I’d love to hear what you guys think.

Written by gormanda

September 5th, 2010 at 7:58 pm