I. Introduction: Shift in the Framework of Gothic TheoryIn multicultural environment with the crossing of the color-line in progress, the theory of the Gothic as a genre that has inherited the disturbance planted at the time of national birth is now undergoing a great change. Now in considering the Gothic of Poe and Faulkner, we should begin the discussion by looking briefly into the shift in the framework of Gothic theory.
If we think back on the studies of American Gothic, it becomes apparent that we have three kinds of variations (that does not necessarily mean historical transition) concerning Gothic studies: the rhetorical framework has shifted from the Gothic of landscape to that of psychology, and currently to a genre exploring "cultural contradiction." Primarily the first flow has discussed how this minor genre of literature starting in England in the 18th century was Americanized and brought to the New World as a unique expression of the terror and horror experienced in the frontier between the settled land and the wilderness. The Americanization of European Gothic apparatus and devices as an old castle, a well, a letter, an abbey, into the wilderness, a cave, a great swirl, a somber residence; an "Indian," and murder impelled by madness have been widely researched. The search for the transformation of the original Gothic to fit in the American culture leads to the conclusion that "the Gothic novels in Europe were born as a backlash of the authors against the outer world, the overwhelming power of church and nation, and also as a counter-reaction against the rationalism and the archaism up to the 18th century, while the American Gothic was imported to create an original genre in the background of political and cultural immaturity" (Itoh, 359).
In the second approach, a main source of the American Gothic can be traced in the psycho-logical and religious fear and the mental and physical frontier, especially in the Puritan's vivid visual description and rhetoric of Hell. The research has expanded from the values initially and traditionally placed on the Gothic landscape to Gothic psychology and mentality. However, the grotesque, abnormal, and remote touch of the American Gothic remained latched by such terms as dark or negative romanticism, in the category of escapism of a kind oriented toward unreality or the surreal; the key word includes religious or existential fear, assuming the mythological and cultural continuity between American culture based in New England and European culture, an effort has been made for the discovery of the unconsciousness in the New Continent. For instance, G. R. Thompson states in the introduction to Essay in Dark Romanticism (1974) that "[t]he Gothic thrusts us forward into an existential void as it simultaneously recalls us the Age of Faith. Like the Medieval romances of knights in quest of the Holy Grail, the Gothic romance is also a quest literature. But the quest is finally metaphysical rather than purely religious, with destruction rather than redemption, at the end" (Thompson 10).
The starting of the third framework occurred when Leslie Fiedler in Love and Death in the American Novel (1960) stated that the Gothic was the literature of darkness and grotesqueness in the realm of light and affirmation by perceiving the psychoanalytic relation between the Gothic and the national unconsciousness. Fiedler explicitly discovered the dialogical relationship between the national symbolization of America as the land under the sun and the literature of darkness of the Gothic, and pointed out that The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was the first literary attempt to make the Negro appear on the scene of American literature, and further stated that Absalom, Absalom! was the most significant novel in American literature that had pushed a person to his foundation.
The third view of the Gothic has been advanced in the multiculturalism of the 1990s by Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nature (1997) by T. A. Goddu and American Gothic: New Interpretations in a National Narrative (1998) edited by R. K. Martin and Eric Savoy. These critics call the Gothic a form of cursed tradition of collective American unconsciousness rather than a trend consecutive in literary history or a kind of genre, and actually determined the Gothic to be mega or meta-genre. Goddu advocates that the Gothic is an "essential part in the network of historical representation" (Goddu, 2). He states that the conventional theory about the Gothic only has a psychological and theological approach to diabolic dark-ness, but asserts that the darkness should be placed in "slavery, a historical scene sticking like glue to and annoying the people"(10). The conventional designation of Gothic duality indicated light and shade, good and evil, soul and body and so on, while Goddu states that "[a]lthough the gothic is not the only form that articulates abjection, it serves as primary means of speaking of the unspeakable in American literature. Many texts that are not predominantly gothic use gothic effects at key moments to register cultural contradictions" (Goddu 10). Goddu's theory is characteristic in replacing the conventional concept of Gothic duality for social and cultural contradictions, and it retraces the root of the violence in the Gothic not through the frame of individual psychology or religious conflict but through the thought of the violence as oriented in the nation's beginning. Martin and Savoy present "narration of the detestably eliminated aliens" as another key concept of the Gothic, and describe that the Gothic was constructed concerning these subjects represented as others, as cited from the concept of the abjection by Kristeva. It is obvious that such new theory situates the Gothic works in the larger context of the basic layer of culture. It hardly needs stating that this perspective includes and advances the various theories of Feminism and New Historicism.
Donna Harraway also begins her "Universal Donors in a Vampire Culture" by stating that "race is a fracturing trauma in the body of the nation and in the mortal bodies of its people. Race, like nature, is at the heart of stories about the origins and purposes of the nation. "No one is neutral on the problem of race: all citizens are deeply involved in "the grammars of purity and mixing, compounding and differentiating, segregating and bonding, 1ynching and marrying" that comprise the bloody origin of the basic national narrative (Harraway, 321). Absalom, Absalom! is an archetypal text of that grammar involving "purity and mixing," "lynching and marrying," and racially-motivated murdering. Another basic American book, Crevecouer's Letters of an American Farmer is also deeply annoyed by the ruthless and unresolved contradiction of dream and nightmare caused by lynching. Goddu reads the Letter 9, "On Slavery," as a Gothic text. In it James describes the horrible scene of "a Negro, suspended in a cage and left there to expire," "covered with large birds of prey" with his eyes "picked out . . . his cheek-bones bare" (Crèvecouer, 178). This scene encountered suddenly in the countryside of fertile land, needs to be given further consideration as a scene symbolizing the recognition of the cultural contradiction repressed in the course of the mythic genesis of America as embodied in "James, an ideal farmer." We take the terrible scene as the original landscape of America containing an extreme dichotomy of light and shade, or Paradise and Hell to be positioned in the historical context as the literature for narrating the repressed national memory of America rather than the literary history to be strongly associated with race as of a factor broadly distributed in the characteristics of American culture as argued by Harraway.
A frame representative of the cage in Crèvecouer's text, spectacularly clipping out the cruel scene of the victim left as a bait for birds of prey, may include a stronger tint toward Horror rather than the Gothic. But it is also recognizable as the Gothic features depicting the so-called "Trauma in the body" as referred to by Harraway, represented by the execution on the branch, with the empty eye sockets and the eyes gouged out, the blood-soaked land and so on. These representations might even be forming into the tableau of the Gothic texts by Poe and Faulkner suggested by the bloody history concealed in the "pastoral landscape" in the South. The period from 1830 to 1849, when the Gothic stories of Poe were mainly created, was the time that the ideology of the white supremacy triggered by the Nat Turner revolt had grown stronger in the South. The fact leads to the acute tendency toward the conventionally simple definition of Poe as a proslavery white racist.
However it might be considered that nothing else but the racial problematic had created the uniqueness in the works referred as the American Gothic among the various genre of short stories developed by Poe. At the same time, Sollor's research shows us that coinage of the term "miscegenation," one of the themes in Absalom, Absalom!, occurred in 1864, and it was not until in 1987 well after the death of Faulkner that the State law of Mississippi repealed the anti-miscegenation Act that "the marriage of a white person with a Negro or mulatto, or person who shall have one-eighth or more of Negro blood, shall be unlawful or void" (Sollors, 315). By taking these facts into consideration, it should be realized that Absalom, Absalom! was written in the height of fear of the miscegenation not in the story's time but in our author's time. According to Ladd, the horror caused by the famous phrase of Charles Bon created by Quentin, "I'm the nigger that's going to sleep with your sister" (286), is not a common recognition in 1865 when the incident is told to have occurred in the story but it is rather one that expressed the fears of Faulkner and readers directed to the black brothers and the miscegenation. The fears are held generally by the white in the South at the fin de siecle (Ladd, 545).
In this paper, first considering Poe's Gothic classics, Pym and "The Black Cat" and next comparing "The Fall of the House of Usher" with Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, we try to discuss how Poe and Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! change the general grammars of the Gothic as a literary mode to the expression of the repress ed. Until now there have been various studies on the Gothic affinities between Poe and Faulkner. Bleikastan exactly points out the stylistic affinities of the two authors, and Elizabeth Kerr deals with Absalom, Absalom! in her essay entitled "The Fall of the House of Sutpen" in her William Faulkner's Gothic Domain. These are merely examples. But we focus on more specific Gothic representations common in these works. Instead of typical gothic locations as castle, well, frontier among others, Savoy focuses on "the spatial symbols of the dark slits," naming "the frontier of epistemology in the known and unknown spatial segment." "The Black Cat," "The Fall of the House of Usher," Absalom, Absalom! are stories of houses, doors, windows, and especially stories of eyes. These are all ordinary images, but doors and windows and eyes are all equivalents to "dark slits," open in the house which function and imply the body of the protagonists. Therefore we will consider the trauma in the body of these works.
II. Pym as a Text of Crisis of ColorThere are eight works by Poe which have black characters, not a small number of works for us to consider the issue: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1837), The Journals of Jurious Rodman(1840), "The Psyche Zenobia" (1838), "The Man that was Used up" (1839), "The Spectacles" (1844), "The Oblong Box" (1844), "Morning on the Wissahiccon" (1844), "The Gold Bug"(1843). Although it has been pointed out by Bernard Rosenthal and others that setting such stereotyped blacks as Jupiter and Ponpey in short stories proves Poe's racism. Considering his complicated emotional ties with the South, Poe's obsession with darkness prior to his treatment of Black presents more complex aspects than the usual avoidance of the Black in the case of other white writers.
It has been noted that Poe's unspeakable fear of the darkness comes from the dismal worldview peculiar to the romantic artists. But since Fiedler had pointed out that the source of "the nightmare of the writer himself exists in the impatience and fear all whites feel when they face the black people without the confidence about their right to slave them, Pym was defined as a novel depicting the fear spawned by the Nat Turner case in 1831, which produced the general anxiety about black terrorism in the white society. The relationship between Poe and Southern society reflected in Pym has been interpreted in detail by allegorical readings-which regards the black island Tsarall as the South, the white colossus at it's end as the Savior figure which Poe longs for. But the allegorical reading of Pym, as argued by Goddu, conflicts with every detail of the story. In the most horrible Gothic scene, Pym's best pure white friend, Augustus dies and becomes to be strangely black body on the day, first of August when he is named after and the anniversary of emancipation of the West Indies slaves. The scene of Augustus' death corresponds with a slow painful death of foregoing Charleston's slave and expresses the cannibalism by the materialization of the human body by the sharks and birds of prey. Above all we cannot explain the existence of Dirk Peters well- a mixed Indian and white, and his appearance is the black stereotype of the black devil who becomes the real savior for Pym after Augustus' death.
In Goddu's words, Pym is the text which expresses "not only how far the whiteness has relations with the blackness, but also how much the whiteness identity --color or race--is constructed only with the means of the connection with the black"(Goddu, 88). Pym is a "crisis of color" text in which the borderline between the appearance and the truth-black and white-always invades each other. Therefore "the white figure like snow" in the last scene doesn't become a savior at all although the conventional interpretation proposes that it does. It is Dirk Peters that saves Pym, who is told to be an Indian mixed blood in Missouri and a merchant of fur, and could be called an imaginary unprecedented figure of miscegenation. Peters not only represents a mixed-blooded figure among human races but also suggests that a connection between animals and human beings.
|This man was the son of an Indian squaw of the tribe of Upsarokas, who live among the fastnesses of the Black Hills near the source of the Missouri. His father was a fur trader, I believe, or at least connected in some manner with the Indian trading posts on Lewis River. To conceal this latter deficiency, which did not proceed from old age, he usually wore a wig formed of any hair-like material which presented itself occasionally the skin of a Spanish dog or American grizzly bear. (84)|
Poe not only positively takes advantage of the miscegenation which was the maximum taboo in the South in order to evoke the Gothic fear in his contemporary readers, but also insists the remedial energy comes from the novelty of imagination realized in the chimera-like character which is born from the various mix of races and the so-called super-mixed-marriage with animals. There is no room to discuss more fully here about Pym, but I emphasize that this is one of the typical texts which helps explain the recent Gothic theory of Goddu and others. Furthermore not only texts but also a "lady" of typical Poesque supernal beauty such as Ligeia, become "the site for a crisis of racial identity." Dayan argues for Ligeia's possible birth of mixed blood persuasively from the descriptions of her physical characteristics and her tropical ancestry as follows:
|[That] Ligeia would not tell her lover about her family, or ever reveal her "paternal name" makes this lady sound as if she might well be Poe's rendition of the favorite fiction of white readers: the 'tragic mulatto" or "octoroon mistress"...Ligeia's eyes, like those of Creole beauties described by numerous observers are large and expressive. But Poe goes further: "far larger than the ordinary eyes of our own race." (Dayan, 200-201)|
The narrator's deeper enthusiasm with Ligeia than with the fair lady, Rowena, comes from his
longing for her "wild eyes" of "wild desires" which he could not grasp the whole meaning of in her life. The focus on the eye and the narrative suspicion on Leigeia's birth reminds us the secretof Bon's mulatto birth as the son of Thomas Sutpen and his "partly black" wife, Eulalia Bon in
the West Indies.
III. Return of PlutoBefore he wrote "The Black Cat" Poe had written that "[t]he line which demarcates the instinct of the brute creation from the boasted reason of man, is, beyond doubt, of the most shadowy and unsatisfactory character-- a boundary more difficult to settle than even the North-- Eastern or the Oregon" (Poe, "Instinct VS Reason--A Black Cat" 1840, Alexander's Weekly Messenger). The worldwide darkness is something to do with the enlarging American space for Poe linking with the system of slavery, wherein it is foreboded that the positions of the obvious distinction between men and beasts can be reversed due to the divine intuition of black cat and man's weak reason. In "The Black Cat" we can see a more typical mechanism Poe used to treat the black color which he was attracted to and feared as well. Poe's story expresses the ultimate revenge of slave sta-tus of himself and sometimes finish with fire apocalypse as in "Hop Frog"(1849) published in the yearthat he died, though there is no space here to discuss it.
It is easy to understand that the life of the husband and wife in a kind of false Eden with a lot of pets at the beginning of "The Black Cat" signifies indeed a masked power relationship of pet, wife and husband, that is domestic slavery. According to Lesley Ginsberg's study, a relationship between a pet and its owner is generally understood as a trope of one between a slave and his or her owner in the antebellum Southern culture, and the relationships between pets and women include a mechanism to produce "petted wives" as an opportunity to train wives to be dependent on their husbands (Ginsberg, 109-117). The wife of "The Black Cat" too, is "feeling happily her disposition is not different" from her husband "got married when she was young" with the narrator, close to each other as a pet shadow. Many portraits of mothers and children with a cat, sheep, rabbit or dog, and illustrated poems and stories were printed in Graham Magazine Poe edited in the 1840's. In them, we can obviously read the mutual dependent relationship-between pets implying black people and women or children who embrace them. They are connected by domestic slavery, and the icon as a whole expresses the patriarchal system by the owner or patriarch who does not exist in the pictures although he masters all pictured.
According to this interpretation, "The Black Cat" is a work that exposes a murder latent in the dangerous inter-dependence between a pet, namely a wife obedient disguise and her husband. The story concludes in a victory for the pet , that is a black cat, who succeeded in sending his owner master to the gallows.
Whereas pet cats and dogs are called beasts when they expose their brute nature in "The Black Cat," the confusion between animals and human beings was common in Antebellum America. Therefore it is understood that black slaves are often regarded and treated as beasts in Absalom, Absalom! as well. In June 1833 when Poe began to work at the Southern Literary Messenger, the fictional Sutpen came to Jefferson with twenty savage slaves from West Indies and "laying down themselves in the swamp like alligators without blanket, they were more savage than any other beasts"(30). Pets often revolt and change to beasts completely. At the spectacle fights repeated nightly in the stable at Sutpen's Hundred as a kind of the safety valve to prohibit pets' (i.e., slaves) revolt, Sutpen intended to gouge out the opponent's eye in the bloody ring. Gouging an eye is reportedly another common cruelty for pets in those times. Poe describes similar instance in "The Gold Bug, "[y]ou infernal black villain! Speak, I tell you--which is your left eye?" "Oh my golly, Massa Will! aint dis here my lef eye for sartin?" roared the terrified Jupiter, placing his hand upon his right organ of vision. . . . as if in immediate dread of his master's attempt at a gouge ("The Gold Bug" 276).
Probably this savage act is a common practice of lynching in the mid-nineteenth century,and the narrator's unreasonable use of power just after his favorite black cat bit his wrist is directed toward Pluto's eye. The cat's eyes recalls the fragile relationship between master and his slave, with accusing voiceless voice opponent against the pen he has in his hand, so he tries to remove one by using absolute power with a penknife from his horror. The eye gouged becomes a"vacant eye socket" recalling the terror of castration, as Marie Bonaparto analyzed it, and it is thefear of the feminine genital symbolized by the chasm of the black cat's dark eye socket, thereforethe black pet and his wife fuse completely in the following confession.
|My original soul seemed at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more fiendish mal-evolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn. I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity...The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance. (Mabbott, 851)|
Before Pluto comes back as the second black cat, he was lynched by hanging, and his
body was thrown in the narrator's room through the open window. This plot accords with the Gothic code of the return of the repressed. The black cat's recurrence is the memory of sin, in other word the recurrence of the better nature (rational nature), and at the same time it is not only transgression and bad karma but also fusion of the color of black and white. The deepest reason why the second cat has to be killed is that a grotesque Gothic phenomenon, the gallows sign in his breast gradually emerges white and becomes bigger and bigger to shape the clear form. According to the study by L. S. Person, this plot of the growing whiteness at a part of the black body corresponds to the contemporary reader's interest and fear toward the albinaization that is growing gradually into a part or many parts of the body of black people. This phenomenon was specially feared among the whites in those days and tried to be proven true by the Northern scholars in order to support their assumption of the abolitionists that blackness is not innate but provided and changeable, while it terrorized Southern whites into forbidding miscegenation well beyond the latter half of the century in order to keep the color code fixed, a signifier of cultural domination. |
The appearance as a black body against the white wall in the basement of the second cat sends the narrator to the gallows. It tells the truth by the stronger power of breaking a secret and defeats a weak logical construct of the master that is based on the color logic of the narrator. Considering that the sexual obedience of pet and wife in marriage is buried in the false Eden icon repeated in the Graham, the last scene which the second cat opens the red mouth slits of the vampire on the wife's head, becomes an unforgettable tableau which exposes the failure of the domestic slavery by the vengeance from the cat and wife. Thus "The Black Cat" is a subversive narrative of the repressed who fails to remain repressed, and becomes another basic work of the Gothic using the chasm of eye, window, and bloody mouth.
IV. The House of Usher and Sutpen's HundredWhile Poe's Gothic is in this way always a peripheral product of a Southern writer obsessed by fear of the reversibility of black and white, Faulkner who located himself in the center of the South spans his Gothic world among his fear of the hierarchy Doom arising from the iron codes of color. Though many scholars agree that "The Fall of the House of Usher" and Absalom, Absalom! are in the typical Gothic domain, the study about them stays in the thematic approach, with little consideration from a new Gothic frame. Despite of the historical distance of both authors, we can find deep-rooted Gothic similarities including not only Southern history but also main plots and designs of the works to be discussed connecting Usher and Sutpen.
Harry Levin regards "The Fall of the House of Usher" as "an allegory of feudal plantation culture in the death throes." (Levin 160), and David Leverenz who studied widely the relationship between Poe and Southern gentry culture in "Poe and Virginia Gentry" regards John Landolf as the model for Usher (218). Landolf was a plantation master when the conflict over the election of the state delegates of Virginia broke out in 1828. He stood up against the new mixed power of merchants (one of them is John Allan who brought up Poe but abandoned him), farmers and the west Virginian plantation owners, as a representative of elite planters who boast of their old family history in the eastern Virginia and Tide Water gentry class. During the antagonism on the methods of electing delegates and after their defeat, the eastern gentry's property had been declining steadily until the post-aristocracy times in 1833, when "The Fall of the House of Usher" was written after the Nat Turner affair in Southampton. Sutpen who comes from the mountains of West Virginia where they have no slaves, has an important experience at Tidewater plantation in 1821, that is during the peak of the cast of gentry's aristocratic prosperity which would include Landolf.
It is recorded that Landolf drove a carriage drawn by English thoroughbred horses as Sutpen did. In those days Virginia, a landlord who had more than 10 slaves and more than one hundred acres obtained the status of the gentry and the planter who had more than twenty slaves solidified his position as a gentleman (Leverenz, 214-215). This historical situation accords with the success story of Sutpen who builds a plantation manor out of a hundred square miles of virgin swamp.
Supten has no taste for the aristocracy of the Southern planters, as Brooks indicates, and contrasts with Usher as a romantic artist. But, Sutpen's design also is entwined with history and myth, a process consisting of multilayered aspects involved in the stories told by four narrators. Sutpen's act which cultivates his swamp into the plantation, as Louise Westling argues, includes not only southern identity but the colonial project of Europe in the New World. This process and complicated stratification of culture and history may have its prototypical figure in "Usher."
The stance of the narrator who has become gradually united with Usher by his visit after receiving a letter or "singular summons," and being welcomed into the house to experience the darkness of the house and a nightmarish ghost story, is quite similar to that of Quentin who enters into Southern history itself through Rosa's narrative. Quentin "received by the hand of a small negro boy just before noon, asking him to see her--the quaint, stiffly formal request which was actually a summons, out of another world. He obeyed it immediately. . . .(Absalom, 5) Usher's narrator passes through the dark and intricate corridor and jet-black hall to reach finally at Usher's room in which strange desolation and depression is hanging over. A "stealthy stepped" servant of Usher who ushered the narrator into the house is probably a black, judging from his descriptions, and seems to know all of the secrets like "the Negro" of "A Rose for Emily" who "walked right through the house and out the back and was not seen again." The room the narrator is summoned to and entered as if it were his fate, is filled with the protagonist's decaying body, and his voice forms the narrative space and "continues to flow out with losing its rhythm" ("Usher"), as Quentin's possessed spirit flows "like the stream which soaks between sandbars as well as continually running water" (Absalom).
It seems unnecessary to repeat that the house is the greatest agent in the Gothic since The Castle of Otranto. The house in both texts has no physical independence from the character: Sutpen's house is "spread out from Supten's body, a bed of the marriage of his youth and anguish," and "some suppuration of himself had created about him as the sweat of his body might have created, produced some cocoon-like and complementary shell." (111) Also the House of Usher for generations had formed the family fate over some centuries with the gray wall and black pond of the house. As a result, both houses emerge as "a window like the vacant eye" of a human being who lost his reason, and are haunted by incestuous and murderous brother-sister and the three of Southern fall symbols, Henry; a murderer, a tragic mulatto, Clytie; and a black retarded, Jim Bond.
Both works begin with the narrator's entrance into narrative rooms and end with the fall of houses. The descriptions of the closing scenes are remarkable in their apocalyptic description including supernatural and ominous zigzag form of the roof against the dark night with the bloody moon or three hot stars.
Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam
so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me.
The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly
through that once barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending
from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened - there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind. . . .("The Fall of the House of Usher," 417) |
It loomed, bulked, square and enormous, with jagged half-toppled chimneys, its roofline sagging a little; for an instant as they moved, hurried toward it Quentin saw completely through it a ragged segment of sky with three hot stars in it as if the house were of one dimension, painted on a canvas curtain in which there was a tear; now, almost beneath it the dead furnace-breath of air in which they moved seemed to reek in slow and protracted violence with a smell of desolation and decay as if the wood of which it was built were flesh. . . .(Absalom, 293)
In addition to the essential affinity of the texts, we regard that the ground on which the House of Usher and Sutpen's Hundred stand are wide wetland of swamp beyond "the causeway." They are not houses which stand on the solid foundation of the North rocks like Plymouth Rock on which was built one of the sources of American culture. The swamp physically threatens the existence of both houses; however, once being cultivated, the swamp makes the best field for cotton and symbolizes both the glory and fall of plantation cultures. Southern houses and families are utterly different from ideal American families that are dominated by the matriarchal regime of Republican America. Sutpen's mansion becomes "a great tomb and grave" in which his dynasty put their fates buried with the spell of mother's absence. The House of Usher, as being often mentioned, stands on the marshland rising up the leaden miasma from its tarn which "at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "House of Usher."|
The darkness in Poe's works partly connects with his interest in this power of the tarn where stagnant water settles down to control everything. The swamp is a chaotic place where the spirit of the dead of Ulalume roams about beyond the human power to solace. Sutpen robbed Chickasaw Indians of the bottomland where he and his slaves work hard in the mud for two years to make of cultivated "garden out of virgin swamp." The "dark, sleepless, exitless and desperate" (207) chase after a white French architect, a fugitive slave, is executed in the swamp, too. Sometimes it is filled with regular and shrill rhythms of unnamed evil birds and woodpeckers which black people call prophets. Those birds are "invisible" in "The Bear" and Sanctuary, and "now and then sang back in the swamp, as though it were worked by a clock; twice more invisible automobiles passed along the highroad and died away. Again the bird sang "(Sanctuary, 5). It is a dark magnetic field, forming the area of the magical and ominous power of nature deeply connected with a ruthless mechanical movement suggested by clock and automobiles in Faulkner.
V. Eyes, Doors and Windows as Gothic SpaceAfter being rejected at the front door of a plantation house, the boy Sutpen came to an understanding of life with the discovery of the society and political meaning. Charles Bon was killed at the gate to Sutpen's Hundread, rejected enterance eternally. As often discussed, Absalom, Absalom! is a story of two doors. The two doors are two entrances into a house that has everything Southern society and life embraces. The front door is a social and formal one, locked and rejected for all but the class qualified. The backdoor where Sutpen was ordered to by a Negro slave is open under the vast farm and seeming brightness for everyone unqualified to use the front door. Doreen Fowler regards this door as the "Superego" of Freud, or "The Law of the Father's " of Lacan, since many figures in Absalom, Absalom! are excluded out in front of the door(Fowler 95).
The design of Sutpen is merely the repetition of that system of two doors which is original sin and by which Sutpen himself was rejected, because two doors are strictly kept by poor whites, like Wash and Sutpen's mulatto daughter, Clytie. Supten's Hundred recreates the master narrative of Southern history, producing repeatedly numberless rooms of narratives of darkness and rejection. A door make a prison of impenitence and confinement for Henry, Bon, Rosa, and Goodhue Coldfield nails shut his attic door sealing the passage between him and the community or his family to be starved to death.
When the story of Gothic relates thoroughly with a house as a body of two doors, windows become a more secret medium of egress and ingress, and identical with eyes through which one looks out from inside as well as frames one looks into the inside of the house. The typical figure may be Emily Grierson at the window upstairs who should have killed Homer Barron. It is the "vacant eye-like windows" that appeal most strongly to the narrator amid the landscape of Usher's domain, searching for the essential part of the melancholy design. The identification between eyes and windows becomes clear in the change of the phrase "vacant eye-like windows" into "vacant and eye-like windows" at the last line of the description repeated twice about the mirror image upon the tarn in the next page.
Faulkner's heroes and heroines who are blocked out by the Law of the Father and confined, repeat illegal escapes and intrusion through windows. In Children of the Dark House, Noel Polk describes about the meaning of the windows in Faulkner's novels as follows.
|Often at crucial moments in their lives characters in Faulkner stand at windows looking out, immoblized in that frame, an icon of impotence and frustration. Some escape through those windows into sexual experience (Caddy, Miss Quentin, Joe Christmas Lena Grove), others feel a certain comfort and security being on the inside and not having to face the life outside (Polk, 31)|
In short, windows produce the private and sentimental secret codes which plan to flee from the closed space of the South. On the contrary the social political codes of vertical hierarchy which the front-door and back-door bear shut out or confine people. Absalom, Absalom! has many scenes wherein characters can't enter into except through windows because the door was shut. For example, Rosa's aunt flees from a window to run away with a man, and Goodhue Cornfield is supplied food from a window. In the last scene, when Quentin and Rosa come to the ghost house and the door couldn't be opened, they try to open the window with a hatchet like the case of "The Black Cat."|
The window is a boundary between two worlds, and becomes the passage to invite a Gothic power in the narrative to breakthrough the different level of space. Incest in Faulkner by Constance Hall points out that the window of Faulkner's works is also associated with sexual action, and passing in and out from windows symbolizes illegal, secret invasion and rape. It is through a window, that the orangutan in the Rue Morgue steals into; and the dead body of a black cat is thrown. The Raven also enters into the room rejected by the door and "never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting, /On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;/ And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming." The magical power comes in Usher's room when "he hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely to the storm" (412) to welcome the destructive gale from outside.
The windows of Harvard College which are referred to so strangely and often as the target of Quentin's gaze, when he almost finished constructing the story of the Sutpen Dynasty, can be considered the same Gothic window as Poe's window through which the Raven breaks into to nail down the narrator by it's eyes.
|Then the darkness seemed to breathe, to flow back; the window which Shreve had opened became visible against the faintly unearthly glow of the outer snow as, forced by the weight of the darkness, the blood surged and ran warmer, warmer. ...He lay watching the rectangle of windows, feeling warming blood driving through veins, his arms and legs. Quentin did not answer, staring at the window; then he could not tell if it was the actual window or the window's pale rectangle upon his eyelids, though after a moment it began to emerge. It began to take shape in the same curious, light, gravity-defying attitude the-once-folded sheet of the wisteria Mississippi summer, the cigar smell, the random lowing of the fireflies. (Absalom, 288-301)|
The window functions as the passage from real world to the Gothic domain, from which "faint heavenly snow light" (288) comes to shine against the last hot segment of the red fire scene of the burning house as a final part of his narrative.|
The target of Quentin's eyes is a window whose rectangular frame becomes identical with the square shape of a letter from another world. For him also the window[=letter] is the passage to sink himself into the Gothic narrative domain that is essential part of the South, feeling "Nevermore of peace, Nevermore of peace, Nevermore," like the narrator of "The Raven."
Bleikastan, Andre. The Ink of Melancholy: Faulkner's Novels from The Sound and Fury to Light
in August. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990.
Copyright (c)2001 Itoh Shoko