Repressed Voices:
Faulkner's Three Female Characters


     Speaking of his writing career, Faulkner once said, "Beginning with Sartoris I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and by sublimating the actual into apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top. It opened up a golden mine of other peoples, so I create a cosmos of my own. "1 After Sartoris, or Flags in the Dust as the manuscript was called, was written in 1927, Faulkner began the most productive period in his writing career, in which he not only experimented with writing techniques but also examined many issues concerning the South that later developed into the central themes of his Yoknapatawpha saga. As woman, especially the white woman, had a unique role in Southern history, as she was often identified with the South, Faulkner, in his examination of history, had to contemplate the issue of woman and her status in Southern society. The women's issue also had something to do with his personal life. He was, at long last, to marry Estelle, the woman he had been in love with since he was a youngster. But Estelle had r ejected him once by marrying another man and was now already a mother of two children. At this point when he was to become a married maul and to carry on the responsibilities of supporting a family, Faulkner could not but ponder upon woman, family and marriage. If he tried to explore the Southern man and his problems in Sartoris, he would also try to find out about woman and her "conflict with [her]self, [her] fellows, or [her] environment."(LG 177) Between spring, 1928 and the end of 1929, he wrote three novels in quick succession: The Sound and the Fury, Sanctuary, and As I Lay Dying. These are all works dealing with the same theme of the South and modern society as Sartoris but with one difference: the protagonist of each Story is female and all three of them reveal the fate of Southern women in a patriarchal society. his repeated statement at interviews that The Sound and the Fury "began with the picture of the little girl's muddy drawers, climbing that tree to look in the parlor window with her brothers that didn't have the courage to climb the tree waiting to see what she saw"2 indicates that this is a novel about the growth of a little girl. The revision of Sanctuary by shifting the focus from Horace Benbow to Temple Drake points to the fact that the center of Faulkner's deliberation is the consequences of rape, the most terrible incident that could happen to women in the South. And the title of As I Lay Dying makes it clear that the book is about Addie, a. woman. Viewed from the perspective of intertextuality, these three novels are definitely contemplation of women and womanhood. Caddy Compson in The Sound and the Fury as the female descendant of a declined aristocratic family is burdened with the myth of the Southern lady while Temple Drake in Sanctuary is representative of the Southern belle in the New South of the 1920s. As to Addie Bundren in As I Lay Dying, although she is neither an aristocrat nor the daughter of a middle-class family, hers is a story of rural women, of low social status but under similar ideological influence. Whatever their social positions, they share the same fate of repression in the American South of male dominance.
     There are two things worth noticing in the writings of the three novels. The first is the lack of motherhood and the second is the silence of the three female protagonists. Both in Sanctuary and As I Lay Dying, there is no mention of the mother of the female protagonist. Temple Drake never talks about her mother but seems to be under the control of the male members of his family. When she is in trouble she keeps saying, "My father's a judge"(52) and is worried that her brother might beat her when he catches her with a drunken man. At the court scene, she is taken away by her father and her four brothers. At the last scene in the Luxembourg Gardens, she is seen sitting next to her father. Throughout the book, there is no mention of the mother. In As I Lay Dying, again, Addie never tells anything about her mother but is very much influenced by her father and his philosophy that "the reason for living is getting ready to stay dead."(167) Although Caddy does have a mother in The Sound and the Fury, Mrs. Compson is an accomplice of the patriarchal convention, who does not have her own identity and who often goes further than man in promoting and enforcing, the male domination. According to Richard King, in the tradition of the southern family romance which was the South's dream. "the Southern woman was caught in a social double-bind: toward men she was to be submissive, meek and gentle; with the children and slaves and in the management of the household, she was supposed to display competence, initiative, and energy. But she remained a shadowy figure, always there and ever necessary, but rarely emerging in full force."(35) It's obvious that Faulkner is writing about the working of male power and dominance in these three novels. This lack of motherhood is correspondent to the shadowy status of the mother and is enough to tell that here is a world overwhelmingly dominated by the male and their patriarchal norms and modes.
     Another interesting point is the silence of the female protagonists in their respective novels. In The Sound and the Fury, while her three brothers tell her story three times, Caddy does not have a section of her OWII nor a chance to speak for herself although she is the center of the narratives and a powerful factor in the lives of all her three brothers. In As I Lay Dying, among the 59 monologues by 15 different voices, Addie speaks only once and, strangely enough, it is after her death. even though Addie the pillar in the family and it is she who forces her husband and children to go through the terrible experience of fire and flood in order to bury her in Jefferson. As to Temple Drake in Sanctuary, her voice can l e heard from time to time, but each time she opens her mouth she is either totally ignored or makes some kind of mistakes, the worst of which is the death of an innocent man because of what she says at the court.
     Faulkner never explained why he adopted such treatment except that "Caddie was ... too beautiful and too moving to reduce her to telling what was going on," and that "it would be more passionate to see her through somebody else's eyes."(FU 1) In other words, Caddie's silence is her means of expression. If we read into her silence, we see a better picture of her as a thwarted and marginalized woman. And the process in which Caddy and the other two female protagonists are reduced to silence is Faulkner's way to reveal the anguish and suffering of women in the South and to expose the role of the patriarchal society and culture in constricting, defining, shaping, controlling and even the violation of women.
     In the patriarchal culture of the American South, women were both held in contempt and placed on a pedestal QS an isolated ideal. On the one hand, they were watched over with great suspicion because of their gender as the source of evil. In The Sound and the Fury, Mr. Compson, Caddy's father, tells Quentin that women "have an affinity for evil for supplying what the evil lacks in itself for drawing it about them instinctively...."(119) Her brother Jason sums up his contempt for his sister and niece and possibly for all women in just one short sentence: "Once a bitch always a bitch."(223) Even Dalton Ames, the man Caddy truly loves and one who seems to care for her, believes that all sisters are just "bitches."(113) In Sanctuary, Temple Drake's value as a sex object is her only attraction to men, whether it is men like Gowan Stevens and Horace Benbow of the upper class or those of the underworld like the impotent Popeye, the retarded Tommy and even Lee Goodwin, the strong man in that nightmarish Old Frenchman's Place. To the townspeople, she and other girls should be "protected" because they "might need them [them]selves"(291) and when they need her. they "wouldn't have used no cob."(287) To the poor farmers in As I Lay Dying, a woman's job is to have babies and to take care of the family, as can be seen in the drugstore owner's advice to Dewey Dell. They don't understand women and, what is worse, they don't ever try to understand them, as Samson, one of the male narrators, says, "A man cant tell nothing about them [women]. I lived with the same one fifteen years and I be durn if I can."(111) To Anse, Addie is just a piece of chattel that he worked to death and for whom he would not call the doctor until it is too late. And the sinfil minister considers it God's grace who "in His wisdom restrained the tale from her dying lips." and was relieved to let "her soul face the awful and irrevocable judgment."(171)
     While blamed for their passion and desire, women in the South were also praised for purity and decorum and held up as the symbol of its unique civilization and embodiment of all its virtues through the myth of the Southern lady. According to Anne Goodwyn Jones, the job of a Southern lady was "satisfying her husband, raising his children, meeting the demands of the family's social position, and sustaining the ideals of the South. Her strength in manners and morals is contingent, however, upon her submission to their sources--God, the patriarchal church and her husband--and upon her staying out of the public life, where she might interfere in their formulation."(1527-28) This is the image the Compson family would have molded their only daughter and sister into. When Caddy defies the convention and tries to assert her selfhood, all male members show openly their disapproval. The father poses himself as a victim by becoming an alcoholic. To Quentin, his sister's virginity is more important than her happiness as the family honor is supported by her maidenhood. When Caddy shows Quentin how much she loves Dalton Ames, he threatens to kill her. When Caddy finds that. Dalton has not hurt Quentin and wants to catch Dalton and asks for his forgiveness, Quentin refuses to let go of Caddy's wrist, thus mining her only chance of true happiness. Jason in his childhood already shows his disapproval when Caddy at 14 begins to be interested in her appearance. As a grown-up, his cruelty towards Caddy and his niece shows that he is a true misogynist. Even Benjy, the brother with the mentality of a three-year-old, is a strict guardian of Caddy's chastity. He cries furiously each time Caddy does not "smell like trees." All her brothers, each in his own way, try to control Caddy, to "isolate [her] out of the loud world."(220) Such male condemnation in the family about Caddy's natural growth and her sexual awareness finally transforms Caddy from an active and courageous little girl full of curiosity about the world into a guilt-ridden person reduced into total silence. Anne Goodwyn Jones in her book Tomorrow Is Another Day describes how the demands of the cult of Southern womanhood caused the Southern woman to become alienated from herself because she could not live up to the ideals imposed on her socially from without. As a result. she felt ashamed of herself as a natural woman with emotional or sexual desires.(23) This is exactly what happens to Caddy who admits that there is devil in her, "something terrible in me ...grinning at me...."(138) Finally, she accepts all the blame, passively allows the family to marry her to a man she does not love, and gives up her right as a mother, believing that she is not the right kind of mother to "keep" her daughter. When Faulkner remarks about Caddy "doomed and knew it. accepted the doom without either seeking or fleeing it."15 he refers to her final submission to the patriarchal rule as there was no other way out for her in her time.
     The other myth about Southern womanhood is the image of the Belle. In Jones's words, "The belle is a privileged white girl at the glamorous and exciting period between being a laughter and becoming a wife. She is the fragile, dewy, just-opened bloom of the southern female: flirtatious but sexually innocent, bright but not deep, beautiful as a statue or painting or porcelain but. like each, risky to touch. A form of popular art, she entertains but does not challenge her audience. Instead, she attracts them--the more gentlemen callers the better--and finally allows herself to be chosen by one."("Belles and Ladies," 1527-28) This is a most accurate description of Temple Drake in Sanctuary, who is a conformer to the patriarchal culture. She knows how to flirt with men but not how to protect herself Once she is transplanted from the middleclass male society into the underworld of bootlegging and prostitution she doesn't know how to function. However, it turns out that the underworld in the Old Frenchman's Place is not much different from the respectable society. They share the same attitude that women exist for the pleasure of men. At the Old Frenchman's Place, Gowan, the man who brought Temple there and who boasts of himself as a gentleman refuses to take her home as he wants his "manly" drinks and pays no attention to her fear. The bootleggers are all interested in her sexuality. She finds no sympathy from the other woman, Ruby, because the latter looks at her in the perspective of her relationship with men, fearing that Temple's beauty might cost her common law husband. Temple's appeal for help is totally neglected. It is highly symbolic that, when Temple is violated and is shouting for help, the only person available is an old man who is deaf and blind and her scream is actually silent, like "hot silent bubbles into the bright silence about them."(99) Temple Drake is a conformer; she never thinks of rebellion. So she really accepts the education taught by Miss Reba at the latter's brothel. She becomes interested in drinks and sex and accepts Popeye and his dominance, calling him "daddy," thus equating him with her judge father. Most of the time, she just parrots what is taught to her. But for once, Temple does try to speak her own mind. That is when she tells Horace Benbow her fear, despair and helplessness during the night at the Old Frenchman's Place. She described how desperately she tried to change herself into a boy or a teacher, another form of authority, in order to avoid the possible violation. Unfortunately, Horace shows no sympathy for her but is aroused by her sexuality. Out of his prejudice against women, Horace thought. Temple "was recounting the experience with actual pride, a sort of naive and impersonal vanity, as though she was making it up."(209) Critics used to attack Temple for her perjury at the court that sends to death the man who did not kill Tommy. To me, the court scene is the best picture in the book of man's domination and manipulation of women. In order to reveal that Temple has been reduced to something mechanic, empty of all thoughts and feelings, Faulkner presented her as both "detached and cringing." "her face quite rigid, empty,"(277) "the two spots of rouge like paper discs pasted on her cheek bones, her mouth painted into a savage and perfect bow, also like something both symbolical and cryptic cut carefully from purple paper and pasted there,"(279) "her eyes, the two spots of rouge and her mouth, were like five meaningless objects in a small heart-shaped dish."(277) The mask of Southern courtesy to women is tom down at the court as the audience is more interested in the rape itself than in Temple as a person Temple is publicly humiliated by the district attorney showing the corn cob with which she was raped in order to arouse the sexual interest of the audience. The way the attorney repeatedly catches Temple's gaze and holds it when he wants her to answer question also speaks strongly for man's control over women. Temple is forced to answer the district attorney's questions but reduced to silence when her voice is not wanted. The woman's helplessness and hopelessness in front of man is poignantly depicted in the way she is taken out of court surrounded by her father and her four brothers. Before the district attorney and the men in her family, Temple is just like a bird locked in a cage with no escape. She had to do whatever is demanded of her. If we recall the fact that, after Caddy becomes pregnant, her mother takes her to a resort to find her a husband to cover up the family scandal, we may have a better understanding of Temple's listlessness in the Luxembourg Gardens. This episode may not be a revelation of Temple's heartlessness or her narcissism. It is intended to suggest that she is still controlled by the patriarch that continues to expect her to use her appearance and sexuality to attract men.
    If Caddy is a loser in her rebellion against male convention and Temple a conformer to man's domination, Addie Bundren expresses her resistance in her silence. Like the other two women, Addie longs for love and recognition of her identity as an independent person. However, with her identity based on her legal and economic responsibilities to men, Addie is confined to the household and her life is buried in attending to its duties and rituals. Although outwardly she conforms to the domestic scenario, she sees through the hypocrisy of language created by men shortly after her marriage with Anse and especially after her affair with Whitfield, a man more capable of manipulating with words. She learns from experience that "words are no good; that words don't ever fit even what they are trying to say ... motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn't care whether there was a word for it or not."(163) As a thinking woman, she realizes how women are tricked and restricted by the male discourse as suggested by Whitfield's deceit as "he was the instrument ordained by God who created the sin, to sanctify that sin He had created." (166) She fully understands the uselessness of words as "the high dead words in time seemed to love even the significance of their dead sound."(167) Therefore, she tries to revenge herself in action by treating Anse as if he were dead and by forcing him to promise to bury her in Jefferson. Unfortunately, she does not really succeed in her revenge. The trip turns out to be another outrage and violation of her body and offers Anse a chance to demonstrate his loyalty to his word, to buy the teeth he's been longing for, and to pick another woman to work for him. Whatever her failure, Addie is the only one of the three female protagonists who knows how to use her silence as a means of expression and subversion. She never reveals her bitterness until after death as it is quite clear that her words would not be seriously considered before death. By speaking after her death, she is having a dialogue with us readers and forces us to think actively of her suffering as a woman By now it is obvious that Faulkner had sympathy for women of his time and region. He was not as some critics believe interested only in the male's discovery of evil and reality which "is bound up with his discovery of the true nature of woman. Men idealize and romanticize women, but the cream of the jest is that women have a secret rapport with evil which men do not have, that they are able to adjust to evil without being shattered by it, being by nature flexible and pliable. Women are the objects of idealism, but are not in the least idealistic."(Brooks 127-28) In three successive novels, he tried to expose the hypocrisy of the myths about Southern womanhood and the possible outcome of women's rebellion.
     There remains, however; one question that has to be answered. If Faulkner was sympathetic of women, why did he produce such unpleasant women characters? Temple Drake is definitely not a lovable person and Addie's bitterness is not always acceptable when one sees its destructive effect on her children, especially Darl. Although Faulkner called Caddy "the beautiful one" or his "heart's darling",(FU 1-2) it is not pleasant to think of her as a Nazi officer's mistress. Of course, we can go into Faulkner's biography to find out explanation of this phenomenon. For one thing, he was definitely bothered by the way Estelle behaved in those days of the Flappers. Neither is there any doubt that his female characters were created from male perspectives, as Faulkner was not a feminist.
    The reason, I believe, is simply that Faulkner was a great writer and he wrote to "say all he possibly can of what he knows of truth."(LG 113) Most male writers try to define woman and Faulkner is no exception. However, as a great writer, he is more interested in telling the truth rather than his own ideas. When he was asked if Caddy should be resurrected by some students, he remarked that any resurrection "would be a betrayal of Caddy, that ... there'd be something a little shabby, a little anti-climatic about" her tragedy.(FU 1-2) This means that Faulkner did not want to conform to conventional writing style by making up a happen ending so as to give the reader any illusion about women's fate. For Caddy, once she accepts her fate as a woman of evil who is responsible for the decline of the family and the deaths and unhappiness of the men in the house, there is no way for her to turn back. Brought up in the modern society filled with violence but without the old verities of the heart, Temple Drake cannot but be the self-centered egoist that she appears in the novel. As to Addie, what else can she do since her revenge has to take place only after she is dead? When Faulkner was visiting Japan in 1955 and was asked if he was "obsessed by the idea that women are causes of all evils and troubles," he defended himself by saying, "I would be sorry to think that my work had given anyone the impression that I held women in morally a lower position than men, which I do not."(LG 126-27) At the same interview, he also remarked, "The women that have been unpleasant in my books were not created to be unpleasant characters, let alone unpleasant women. They were used as implements, instruments, to tell a story, which I was trying to tell, which I hoped showed that injustice must exist and you can't just accept it, you got to do something about it."(LG 125) It can be concluded that these three female characters--Caddy Compson, Temple Drake and Addie Bundren--were molded or twisted by the historical, social, cultural, and even psychological environment of the patriarchal Southern society. Faulkner took it upon himself to tell their "tales of injustice," and to remind us that we have "got to do something about it." He was not afraid to present the unpleasantness in his characters. He knew that "art is not only man's most supreme expression, it is also the salvation of mankind."(LG 71) He succeeded in presenting to the reader three poignant stories about women and their entrapment in the web of a patriarchal culture. Through the stories, he "stand[s] up and say[s] that this injustice shall no longer prevail," and he is sure that something will be done so that "it shall no longer prevail." (LG 221)


1. James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate, eds., Lion in the Garden (New York: Random House, 1968) 255.
2. Frederik L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, eds., Faulkner in the University(Charlottesville: U P of Virginia, 1959) 1.


Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: the Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven: Yale U P, 1963.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
---. Sanctuary. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
---. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage Books, 1956.
Gwynn, Frederick L., and Joseph L. Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957-1958. Charlottesville: U P of Virginia, 1959.
Jones, Anne Goodwyn. "Belles and Ladies." in Encylopedia of Southern Culture. Ed. Charles Reagan Wilson and William Morris. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989.
---. Tomorrow Is Another Day. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U P, 1981.
King, Richard H. A Southern Renaissance. New York: Oxford U P, 1980.
Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate, eds. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962. New York: Random House, 1968.