By John N. Duvall (auth.)
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Additional resources for Race and White Identity in Southern Fiction: From Faulkner to Morrison
Mrs. Maurier’s WILLIAM FAULKNER, WHITEFACE, AND BLACK IDENTITY 31 response is telling: “These people are different,” her aunt told her coldly. “You don’t understand them. Artists don’t require privacy as we do: it means nothing whatever to them” (30). What I hope my discussion to this point has made clear is how easily one might, in the context of the South in the 1920s, substitute “Negroes” for “artists” in the previous sentence. Mrs. Maurier’s fascination with artists, her desire to decorate her party with them, reveals that she’s slumming for the primitive in much the same way that wealthy New Yorkers went to Harlem’s Cotton Club.
For Ike, African Americans are superior because they are pure, and whatever limitations they exhibit represent the corrupting evils of white civilization, while for McCaslin, African Americans are subhuman, incapable of ethical reasoning, akin more to mules and dogs than to white people. Although these perspectives are apparently at odds, both Ike’s positive and McCaslin’s negative characterizations of blacks share a central premise that resonates with primitivism. Both men agree that African Americans are different because they are prior to the effects of white civilization; their disagreement is just a question of how they spin “black” simplicity and spontaneity.
As Godden has pointed out, everything about Ab is associated with blackness—his black hat and frockcoat, but most particularly, his relationship with fire. 9 To Godden’s analysis, I would add another possibility of Ab’s blackness. ”10 But what has become of this African American? This is certainly a question the judge wants to know: “Where is the nigger? ” Harris replies, “He was a strange nigger, I tell you. I don’t know what became of him”(6). Too much of what is not stated about this individual who is identified as African American does’ not quite hold together.