Repressed Quentin and Depressed
Claudia: Race-infused Narratives in
Absalom, Absalom! and The Bluest Eye

 

Haruko Ohmine

 

Absalom, Absalom! and The Bluest Eye share a common narrative style. The speakers have an imaginary re-visioning in recalling a story of the tragedy caused by racial prejudice. This becomes particularly clear when we focus on the central tellers, Quentin Compson and Claudia MacTeer. Quentin struggles to understand and accept Thomas Sutpen's tragedy and Claudia undergoes similar suffering as a consequence of Pecola Breedlove's plight. There are, however, some distinct differences between them in gender, race, and class. Quentin is a white male of southern, upper-class ancestry, and Claudia a black female descendant of sharecroppers and slaves. And both works were written in the spirit of their time: the former in the 1930s which were a part of the era of "racial hysteria" which began in the 1880s, and the latter in the 1960s, "Racial Sixties," the tumultuous years of the civil rights movement.

With consideration of personal backgrounds and settings of the time, this paper will examine the characteristics of their race-infused narratives: Quentin is a repressed speaker who keeps out of his conscious mind unacceptable memories and Claudia a depressed speaker whose utterance is inhibited but recovered. The discussion will then deal with how each "telling" act mirrors their buried selves and leads to their agony in an earnest attempt to transcend racial tragedy.

 

Re-visioning through Re-telling

Absalom, Absalom! is a story consisting of several characters' interpretations of Sutpen's story embellished with his or her own prepossession and prejudice. Among them Quentin is the key interpreter. He is not a direct witness but hears the accounts of a direct witness, Rosa Coldfield, and his grandfather's recounted stories from his father. While hearing, he constantly broods and succeeds in filling in the discrepancy of Sutpen's story where racial matters are buried. In the North he commits himself to telling the Sutpen legend to Shreve McCannon, a Canadian unfamiliar with the Southern mental climate. His telling then draws him to self-scrutiny through re-visioning Sutpen's tragedy.

Similarly, Claudia searches herself through Pecola's tragedy. She witnesses the tragedy at the age of nine, but it is not until adulthood that she finds her own voice to recount it. It is noticeable that Morrison presents the teller, Claudia, with some complications. As in Lynne Tirrell's argument,1 three different types of narration are used for the voice of Claudia. The first is for the younger Claudia's direct utterance and the second is the one filtered through the consciousness of the older Claudia. The third is the omniscient narrator whose perspective is fused with the older Claudia's. It is logically impossible for a nine-year-old girl to know the Breedloves' history, but years later the older Claudia comes to see things beyond the child's comprehension. Through re-visioning Pecola's tragedy, Claudia seeks to find out what it means to herself.

 

The Era of Racial Hysteria vs. Racial Sixties

Faulkner was engaged with Absalom, Absalom! (1936) in the years shaped by the mental climate of "racial hysteria." It is the time when racial antagonism intensified between the emerging change toward modernity and the Southern tradition. As Jay Mandle points out, the blacks' subjugation to whites "became increasingly anachronistic and irrelevant" (90) due to a new labor structure by the AAA program and the pull of Northern employment opportunities. But in Mississippi where the black population was over 50%, for instance, in 1930 (Couch 438), the landowners' mentality as masters had not changed much. The planters sought antebellum levels of control over the freemen while the laborers, blacks, struggled to maintain their new autonomy. The conflict between the black and the white created a new phase of the repressive relationship between the races.

Indeed, the evolutionary hypothesis, Social Darwinian "survival of the fittest," came into vogue. It gave scientific authority for the racism, which promoted Jim Crow legislation. Under the discriminatory laws, one of the most menacing problems was sex between the races. To men who believed in white male superiority, sexual intimacy between black men and white women was unthinkable. To keep white women for themselves they fabricated the myth of the Fair Maiden, emphasizing that white feminine "purity" should not be desecrated. Mississippi established the state Constitution, 1890, Art. 14, Sec. 263 to prohibit whites and blacks from inter- marriage. And blacks were lynched just on the basis of a rumor of a sexual relation with a white woman. Mississippi had a higher rate of lynching2 than any other state. Joel Williamson says that Faulkner, almost eleven, possibly saw the lynching of Nelse Patton whose body was mutilated, castrated, and displayed in public (159). Faulkner spent the formative years of his life in the racist hysteria.

During those years, however, there was also another situation where the generations of intimate association built up individual friendships between the races. Wilbur J. Cash observes his native Carolinas at time of the 19th to early 20th century and says: "in this society in which the infant son . . . was commonly suckled by a black mammy . . . in which his usual, often practically his only companions until he was past the age of puberty were the black boys (and girls) of the plantation . . . and in which nearly the whole body of whites . . . had constantly before their eyes the example, had constantly in their ears the accent, of the Negro. . . . Negro entered into white man as profoundly as white man entered into Negro-idea" (61-62). The intimacy of both races exists in Faulkner's family. He and his brothers were constantly in the company of black playmates such as Joby and Durwue, the cook's sons. His nurse, Caroline Barr, was one of the most influential persons in his life.3 There is no doubt that the irreconcilability of the outer and inner world had often threatened Faulkner's identification with blacks.

Faulkner's essay in Ebony magazine, September 1956,4 shows his stance on racial issues. He calls the racial heritage in his homeland "an obsolescence" (108) and emphasizes individual efforts for its abolishment. He acknowledges that "there will be no peace for him [a white man] until he himself has solved the dilemma" (109). His remarks imply that he has never looked away from his own racial dilemma. Faulkner's inner conflict is projected in Quentin's repressed narrative, reflecting the era that racial segregation and white supremacy were accepted as civil institutions just as slavery had been carried out by legalized violence.

On the other hand, Morrison started writing The Bluest Eye in 1962 and spent eight years finishing it. Those years are called "Racial Sixties" when black activists disengaged from white activists' cooperation and switched to more radical tactics to carry out their own civil rights movement. The assertion of their racial pride spread into aggressive black groups in the cities. For instance, Imanu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) says in "A Black Value System":

The internalization of a white value system will always militate for white decisions about the way things should be. . . . If we do not consciously create a new value system, one that is quite different from the rest of crazy America's -- you will be exactly what crazy America is and die the way she dies. (141-145)

His rage was directed toward blacks' submissive adoption of white Western cultural values. He advocated Afro-American cultural values, which are essential for blacks to liberate themselves from internal subjugation.

The reclamation of their racial identity and political consciousness brought forth written texts, such as novels, during the mid 1960s. There was significant progress in Black Aesthetic discourse. Yet Elliott Butler-Evans points out that the Black Aesthetic position had a problematic aspect in presenting black women (32). The doctrine of Black Power, the social and political empowerment of Afro-Americans, largely relies on male-centered ideology. Butler-Evans says, "Black Aesthetic discourse repre- sented the political struggle as exclusively the domain of Black men" (32).

Morrison was one of the leading artists who attempted to deconstruct Black Aesthetic texts with a black feminist consciousness. She discloses her motive behind writing The Bluest Eye at the interview with Betty Jean Parker: "I was interested in reading a kind of book that I had never read before" ("Complexity" 61). As a reader, she needed a story to read for her own sake and wrote it with full reflection of black women's reality. Recalling the civil rights movement, she comments that there was "no me" in the movement. She observes how the slogan, "Black is Beautiful," hardly had any effect on black women, particularly small black girls, and further how hostile people's eyes were to them:

It wasn't that easy being a little black girl in this country -- it was rough. The psychological tricks you have to play in order to get through -- and nobody said how it felt to be that. And you knew better. You knew inside better. You knew you were not the person they were looking at. And to know that and to see what you saw in those other people's eyes was devastating. Some people made it, some didn't. And I wanted to explore it myself. ("A Conversation" with Naylor 577)

The Bluest Eye is therefore her scrutiny about how little black girls are vulnerable to white culture's values of beauty and easily fall into self-debasement due to their skin color and physical characteristics.

The novel is about Pecola who is silenced with madness, craving a blue-eyed beauty. And yet it is also a tale of Claudia who confronts Pecola's tragedy and grapples with the pain. Her depressing narrative bears imprints of the time of the powerful awareness of Black identity, implying how "bluest," how depressed, the black race is.

 

Repressed Quentin vs. Depressed Claudia

In a county where Quentin lives, Sutpen is a legendary hero. He is a man of poor birth, low in caste, in the hilly and barren western part of Virginia, but has succeeded in climbing the ladder as a plantation owner, the aristocrat of the South. Enigmatic as his success story has been, he has looked almighty to the town. The rumor of this "Godlike" (5) creation has been handed down from mouth to mouth. Sutpen embodies the characteristics of what the Old South dreams, the fierce ambition, the iron will, and the self-assurance. He is the representative of a successful self-made planter in the Southern paternalism where the white supremacy is kept intact. Quentin has grown up hearing all these Sutpen stories: "It was a part of his twenty years' heritage of breathing the same air and hearing his father talk about the man" (9). The stories have been part of his flesh and blood. His sense of self is dependent on "a commonwealth," not on "a being, an entity" (9), on collective rather than individual identity.

There is, however, an inner struggle for this young Southerner to settle himself away from the dead past haunted by Sutpen's legend. On the day before his departure for his new life, we see his frustration at listening to Rosa Coldfield, the only surviving eyewitness of Sutpen: "the Quentin Compson pre- paring for Harvard in the South, the deep South dead since 1865 and peopled with garrulous outraged baffled ghosts, listening, having to listen, to one of the ghosts" (5, italics mine). He struggles to reject her voice as if "it were the voice which he [the ghost of Sutpen] haunted" (4). Hoping to cast off the psychic bond with the dead past, he contemplates the object of her outrage, Sutpen, and shares the same remorse with her: "Without regret, Miss Rosa Coldfield says -- (Save by her) Yes, save by her. (And by Quentin Compson) Yes. And by Quentin Compson" (6). Calling Sutpen "the demon"(8) in regret, Quentin struggles to sustain himself with identifying Sutpen as "the Other."

On the same day, his conflict is further deepened by another experience. His trip to Sutpen's decaying mansion at Rosa's request discloses compelling evidence that she and Mr. Compson have not noticed. He meets Clytie, "the tragic gnome's face" (468) as is shown in Rosa's remarks, "Sutpen coffee-colored face" (169). She is a daughter of Sutpen and a black whom he brought with him from Haiti. In "the very pigmentation of her flesh"(195) Quentin apprehends the missing clue to the roots of Charles Bon's murder committed by Henry, Sutpen's son. He feels in his bones Henry's obsession about white racial purity, i.e., it is unpardonable for Henry that his sister, Judith, would marry a black. He decodes that Henry rejected Judith's marriage because of Charles' black blood and murdered him. Contrary to triumphant Rosa (461) in her discovery of Henry, it is a crushing defeat for him to find Henry prostrate in bed for his deed "as if he were already a corpse" (464). He identifies himself with the agonized Henry. His readiness to seek his new life as "a being, an entity" resists acknowledging his own alter ego in the living corpse, Henry. He defends himself by repressing the unac- ceptable experience and leaves the South the next day.

While staying in the North, Quentin receives the news about Rosa's death from Mr. Compson. His mind immediately flies back to his homeland and recalls the day before leaving the South (217). And yet, he draws a strict boundary between himself and the dead past of the South, implying the demarcation between himself and Rosa: "No, neither aunt cousin nor uncle Rosa. Miss Rosa. Miss Rosa Coldfield, an old lady that died young of outrage in 1866 one summer" (218).

Quentin's reaction then arouses his roommate Shreve's curiosity: "You mean she was no kin to you, no kin to you at all, that there was actually one Southern Bayard or Guinevere who was no kin to you? then what did she die for?" (218). Since Shreve has heard bits of Sutpen's story from Quentin, he is eager to know more about Sutpen's story. Studiously he begins to reconstruct the incomplete story with his own articulation: "Wait. Wait. You mean that . . ." (221). He recaptures how Rosa instills hatred toward Sutpen after his double insult: Sutpen's inhuman proposal and his swift switch from her to Milly Jones whom she despises most since Milly is a "poor white." He paradoxically relates Sutpen and Rosa to characters in a classical legend of tragedy, Pyramus and Thisbe. The relation between "an ancient stiff-jointed Pyramus" (222) and "untried Thisbe" (222) is theatrically interpreted. Calling Sutpen "this Faustus, this demon, this Beelzebub" (223), Shreve actively engages himself in the theatrical representation of Sutpen while Quentin keeps responding with a short answer "Yes" and mostly listens to him.

However, there comes a turning point for Quentin to become an active speaker. It is right after Shreve announces Sutpen's desperate scheme to have a son: "Jesus, the South is fine, isn't it. It's better than the theater, isn't it. It's better than Ben Hur, isn't it" (271). Quentin resists answering him with silence. Then, he sets his mind to transmitting his grandfather's accounts in the voice of "sullen bemusement, of smoldering outrage" (272). He now becomes "a speaking subject" for the first time in talking about Sutpen's story.

Described as "that curious repressed calm voice" (273), Quentin's delivery is carried out calmly with his hidden outrage and superficially unruffled self. His transmission, as well as his characteristic voice, shows how he suppresses the deep-seated prejudice toward blacks. He reflects in his interpretation his inner self as a white heir of the defeated South that he cannot transcend.

In a "curious repressed calm voice" he begins the story about the shock of a hill boy, Sutpen. He says that Sutpen learned in Tidewater, eastern Virginia, how crucial color and wealth were for the authority or warrant for differentiating human beings. He says that at the planter's door Sutpen discovered himself placed at the bottom, under blacks: a black butler rejects the poor white boy and orders him to go around to the back door.

Quentin delineates Sutpen's shock at the black face bursting with laughter. Associating the black face with a balloon, he con- structs the imaginary scene:

The nigger was just another balloon face slick and distended with that mellow loud and terrible laughing so that he [Sutpen] did not dare to burst it, looking down at him . . . some unremembered and nameless progenitor who had knocked at a door. . . . (292-93)

Quentin characterizes the black smooth and swollen face as a balloon. His notion of a balloon has a metaphorical meaning, signifying the sociocultural position of blacks. As shown in Sutpen's remarks recounted by Grandfather, the striking of blacks is like "hitting a child's toy balloon with a face painted on it" (287): they will never hit back nor resist, just like a balloon's floating and fleeing away from a blow. Nevertheless, Quentin emphasizes that the laughter of a black butler has given a fatal wound to Sutpen's pride, saying that it has become Sutpen's "sole heritage" (293). With the frequent use of expressions, such as "seem to see" and "Maybe" (289), Quentin vicariously perceives Sutpen's unhealed wound at the planter's front door.

Now that Quentin is in the North, his defeated vision of the War reflects his reading of the boy Sutpen's mind. The dismayed boy slips out of the self and looks out from "within the balloon face" (293), uniting with the eyes of the balloon face. There, the boy sees himself in his patched clothes and bare feet and realizes that he and his own family are seen "as cattle, creatures heavy and without grace, brutely evacuated into a world without hope or purpose for them" (293). What is emphasized here is the hopelessness of poor whites in the eyes of a black butler, as if the black butler had scorned the boy's class as a species left in obscurity. Quentin's narrative stresses the boy's wounded pride, reinforcing his own shame as a ruined white planter's descendant.

As for Claudia, being a black female is reflected in her narrative. As Chikwenye Ogunyemi points out, the bluest "eye" can be a pun on the bluest "I," the gloomy ego, who is very blue from the oppressive reality of blacks (113); it is the bluest Claudia that struggles to find voice in depression. The nine-year-old Claudia experiences Pecola's madness in the summer of 1941, and the older Claudia begins the scrutiny on the threat of her existence as a black: "all that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains but Pecola and the unyielding earth" (6). Her depressing narrative probes into the minds and heart of Pauline, Pecola, and Cholly, reflecting the social and cultural background of blacks.

Claudia, with the help of the omniscient narrator, sheds light on how the myth of white cultural values affects Pauline and drives her to deny Black identity. Pauline, with a slight limp, grows to blame her crippled state for her feeling of separateness and unworthiness. During her adolescence, fantasies about a romantic love draw her mind. It is Cholly who is expected to fulfill her dream. Yet their happy life clouds after their move to the North, Ohio. She suffers from culture shock, her emotional distance from "Dicty-like" (117) Northern blacks. A Hollywood romance movie therefore becomes the redress to relieve her lonesomeness. The silver screen amplifies her earlier idea of a romantic love and projects a world where "the flawed became whole, the blind sighted, and the lame and halt threw away their crutches" (122). Pauline, self-conscious of her physical deformity, is totally absorbed with the screen. In equating "physical beauty with virtue" (122), she internalizes the white norms of physical beauty. The values drive her into self-contempt, self-denial. She handles her blackness to define not only herself but also her daughter. At the birth of Pecola, Pauline's first utterance is "Lord she was ugly" (126): she regards Pecola as abject. She begins to work at the Fishers' house, "an ideal servant," (127) but neglects the blacks' collective experience. She cherishes "no zinc tub, no buckets of stove-heated water, no flaky, stiff, grayish towels . . . no tangled black puffs of rough wool to comb" (127). The narration portrays Claudia's regret about how Pauline has rejected what is familiar to Claudia and blindly accepted the value of beauty and cleanliness defined by the denial of the Black experience.

As for black girls' reality, Claudia decodes how Pecola has suffered an "inexplicable shame" (50) at Yacobowski's grocery store. Pecola goes to buy blue-eyed Mary Jane's candies and sees Yacobowski's eyes fall on her with the "total absence of human recognition" (48). The "glazed separateness" in his eyes is the same "vacuum" (48) as she sees in other white adults' eyes. Claudia shares Pecola's torment and becomes depressed when she learns that whites consider "blackness" as something "static and dread" (49). We hear her protest merged with the narrator's voice: "it is the blackness that accounts for, that creates, the vacuum edged with distaste in white eyes" (48).

About Cholly's history, Claudia as a narrator reflects her awakening to the blacks' oppressed past. Cholly, the four-day-old baby, is rescued and brought up by Great Aunt Jimmy. But as a teenager he suffers a traumatic incident. On the night of Aunt Jimmy's funeral, he and Darlene encounter two white hunters in the cornfield. The man with the flashlight forces them to continue their sexual intercourse, thrusting the muzzle of his gun into them. The voice filtered by Claudia's perspective expresses Cholly's internal agitation:

They were big, white, armed men. He was small, black, helpless. His subconscious knew what his conscious mind did not guess -- that hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke. (150-51)

Focusing on the social power structure between whites and blacks, it emphasizes blacks' existence vanishing without a trace. Moreover, the scene is narrated: the "flashlight wormed its way into his guts and turned the sweet taste of muscadine into rotten fetid bile" (148). The metaphorical description of the wound projects how he has been raped by the power of whites, the gun. It shows that Cholly has been symbolically emasculated by white social power.

His despair and dissipation grow in the journey to find his father, Samson Fuller. Cholly fails to get his father's ac- knowledgment and suffers from his father's undissembled hatred for him. His self-esteem is fatally impaired: "Free to feel whatever he felt -- fear, guilt, shame, love, grief, pity" (159). The paralysis of self-respect makes him ominously free, which leads him to choose the worst and do the worst to others. One day, Pecola, the most vulnerable, being a child, female, and black, becomes his prey. His sexual violence,5 as shown in Claudia's remark, indeed throws Pecola into where she is "shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover's [Cholly's] inward eye" (206).

Rape is sexual abuse and unpardonable violence. The narrating voice, however, sheds light on his unseen torment behind the rape. His agony about what he has felt is described from her daughter's back hunched over the sink:

. . . her head to one side as though crouching from a permanent and unrelieved blow. Why did she have to look so whipped? She was a child -- unburdened -- why wasn't she happy? The clear statement of her misery was an accusation. He wanted to break her neck -- but tenderly. Guilt and impotence rose in a bilious duet. (161, italics mine)

His emotion changes from revulsion to guilt and pity. The sequence is delineated through Cholly's perspective merged with the narrator's, i.e., the voice of the older Claudia. The above italics signify how blacks' grim reality still exists symbolically in Pecola's hopeless presence and Cholly's helplessness, evoking the memory of the violence at the time of the slavery. The narrating voice, which shows Morrison herself emotionally involved in the narration, further continues, "What could he do for her -- ever? What give her? What say to her? What could a burned-out black man say to the hunched back of his eleven-year-old daughter?" (161). The interrogations resound defiantly, signifying Claudia's awakening of blacks' oppressed past.

 

The Ordeal of Quentin and Claudia

Shoshana Felman's notion of "narrative" is instrumental to understand the telling act of Quentin and Claudia. She claims that "narrative" is "testimony not merely to record, but to rethink" (Felman 95) in a verbal act of telling about what has happened. Quentin and Claudia, once involved as a speaking subject, become not merely witnesses of the tragedy but participants in the events they describe. Their stories are not simply past but still exist in them.

Quentin's "speaking-out" about Sutpen's story induced by Shreve has a profound impact on Quentin himself. As the narrator metaphorically emphasizes their difference in geog- raphy: "Shreve, the Canadian, the Child of blizzards and of cold .. . Quentin, Southerner, the morose and delicate offspring of rain and steamy heat" (432), the commitment to Sutpen's story is significantly different to the two of them. For Quentin, Sutpen's story is part of himself, not a story of the sort that Shreve regards as an event that happened in the unfamiliar land of the South. Quentin's own racial dilemma is embodied in Sutpen's story.

Indeed, we see Quentin strive hard to exclude racial matters while he jointly constructs Sutpen's story with Shreve. The two narrators become interchangeable in the matter of "love and honor and courage and pride" (378) and probe into the relation of the Charles-Henry-Judith triangle. But this collaboration, "both thinking as one" (378), does not last long. It ends immediately after Shreve senses something hidden in Henry's murder of Charles. Quentin's voice changes from "that curious" and "sullen flat tone" (319) to "the flat, curiously dead voice" (322). And, when their subject goes to the black blood of Eulalia Bon, Sutpen's first wife, in Haiti, Quentin skips the story of Sutpen's repudiation of Eulalia and their son, Charles. He instead talks about Sutpen's attempt to have a legitimate son, associating Sutpen's indomitable determination with the Old South's sheer will against the surrender in the War: "he was like a skirmisher who is out-numbered yet cannot retreat . . ." (336). Quentin sustains himself by repressing what is most relevant about him.

Things, however, become clearer to Quentin by seeing things at a distance in the North as he confesses at the quail hunt with his father and Luster, "If I had been there I could not have seen it this plain" (238). Further, his unconscious thought becomes conscious with the help of word-presentations. Henry's murder of Charles symbolizes the heredity of apotheosized "white blood." Henry is a mirror of Sutpen who is the epitome of the Southern paternalist white supremacy. Recalling the "wasted yellow face" (464) of Henry, i.e., Quentin's alter ego, he cannot help but confront his own rooted fear of miscegeneation. He despairs, falling into the fragmented self: "Nevermore of peace. Nevermore of peace. Nevermore. Nevermore" (465).

Claudia is also thrown deeper into despair after "speaking-out." She, a speaking subject, probes into the tragedies about how the community has internalized the myth of white values like Pauline or how it has externalized the blackness in violence like Cholly. And she sees the fatal damage to Pecola:

Elbows bent, hand on shoulders, she flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. Beating the air, a winged but grounded bird, intent on the blue void it could not reach -- could not even see -- but which filled the valleys of the mind. (204)

Pecola like a bird frantically but hopelessly struggles to fly up toward the "blue void." Yet the world symbolized by a blue-eyed beauty is empty like a blue sky. What Pecola has desperately sought is nothing to fulfill her, the vacuum, to embrace her. She is imprisoned in insanity.

The image of this defeated bird depresses Claudia. She questions herself, "now when I see her [Pecola] searching the garbage -- for what? The thing we assassinated" (206)? Concealing, what psychologists term, "the aggressiveness toward the lost,"6 her depressed voice metaphorically protests how hostile the land and her town are to the blackness: "Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live" (206). The "bluest" Claudia has found no other redemption except "speaking out" for restoring the positive cultural heritage of blacks even though her voice resounds with the despair, "it's much, much, much too late" (206).

 

Conclusion

Faulkner, living through the fluid era of the 1920s-30s, and Morrison, writing in the tumultuous years in the civil rights of the 1960s, both imprint the racial turmoil of their time on each tormented central figure. Ralph Ellison says that Faulkner is a writer who has raised the conflict against "the strictly enforced set of anti-Negro taboos" (42) within the deepest levels of his personality. For Faulkner, he says, the Black becomes "a symbol of his personal rebellion, his guilt and his repression" (42) as seen in Quentin. As for Morrison, suffering as a black has given her a strong urge to express this oppression in her own language. She says in her essay Playing in the Dark, "I am a black writer struggling with and through a language that can powerfully evoke and enforce hidden signs of racial superiority, cultural hegemony" (x). Her struggle has been to depict Black "reality" through Claudia's narrative. And yet, after completing The Bluest Eye, she has suffered depression7 like Claudia.

Faulkner and Morrison acknowledge the racial damage and the grief, which relentlessly persist at the core of American history. Their racial plight as a white male or as a black female has been incorporated into their agonizing figures, signified by either repressed Quentin, one of the white male majority, or depressed Claudia, a member of black female minority. And yet, whether racially repressed or depressed, or whether a racist or a victim, the ordeal of race is "the fragmentation of the self."8 The outcries of Quentin and Claudia symbolically portray how pernicious racial alienation is to any individual. And it indeed impairs not merely self-sustenance but also the functioning of society. 

 

Notes

1 Lynne Tirrell notes how Morrison treats Claudia as a moral agent and how effectively Claudia's narrative strategy makes up a fallible human perspective and enhances the sophistication of the moral agent (115-126).

2 The lynching rate dropped in the 1920s temporarily but suddenly rose in the middle of the 1930s when Absalom, Absalom! was about to be published. See the statistics of lynching during 1889-1945 in Mississippi, Figure 7.2. in Dark Journey, 233.

3 While Faulkner was in Canada with the Royal Air Force from July to December 1918, he had an extensive correspondence with his mother and father. In the letters he shows his warm regards and love to Caroline Barr, calling her "mammy." See Faulkner, Thinking, 98, 115, 118, 126.

4 Faulkner's remarks, "As long as there is a middle road, all right, I'll be on it. But if it came to fighting I'd fight for Mississippi against the United States even if it meant going out into the street and shooting Negroes," provoked the leaders of the NAACP and the other human rights activists (published in The Reporter on March 22, 1956). In apology he published in Ebony an article entitled "If I Were a Negro." See Faulkner, "A Letter."

5 Toni Morrison says: "I want you to look at him and see his love for his daughter and his powerlessness to help her pain. By that time his embrace, the rape, is all the gift he has left." See Black Women Writers at Work, 125.

6 According to classic psychoanalytic theory (Abraham, Freud, and Melaniew Kein), depression, like mourning, conceals aggressiveness toward the lost object.

7 Morrison says in the interview, "I remember after The Bluest Eye having an extremely sad six or eight months." See "Conversation," 583.

8 Morrison says in her essay, "The trauma of racism is, for the racist and the victim, the severe fragmentation of the self, and has always seemed to me a case (not a symptom) of psychosis -- strangely of no interest to psychiatry." See "Unspeakable," 214.

 

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