Father-Daughter Relationship in the Film, William Faulkner: A Life on Paper

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Father-Daughter Relationship in the Film, William Faulkner: A Life on Paper While the relationship between fathers and sons has been documented at length, the father/ daughter dynamic figures less prominently in literary tropes; in fact the last canonical piece I can recall reading was Euripedes’ Electra in high school. The tenuous relationship between Daddy and his little girl, however, harbors depths more personal and tangible than Greek tragedy and psychological analyses invoking the Electra complex. The emotionally void or aloof father in particular often burdens the female psyche, for his absence proves just as palpable as his sought after presence, shaping the landscape of a daughter’s future relationships and the construction of a self-image fragmented and disjointed by an early and intimate knowledge of rejection and abandonment. Transcending characterizations attached primarily to filial duty as experienced by the matriarch, the father figure remains the subject of mythologization, just as Sylvia Plath turned her father into a Colossus, a cold, inanimate stone edifice revealing none of his secrets or affection. If the absent or emotionally unavailable father takes on shades of grandeur for the daughter that knew little of him, one can only imagine the impression left by the father figure whose imagined significance in the eyes of his child is only matched by the reality of his fame. William Faulkner, A Life on Paper conveys an image of the literary colossus that both perpetuates the persona of the great American writer and deflates it. Representing the author as a fallible man who endows the world with a narrative legacy while leaving his own daughter little more than a few candid glimpses into his character, the film relays the commentary of Faulkner’s daughter as she attempts to piece together a sketch of an apathetic, mercurial, and brilliant father. Jill Faulkner Summers pulls from her memory pictures of her father as “extremely courtly and elegant” but lacking a depth and sincerity in his personal relationships: “Pappy didn’t really care about people. I think he cared about me, but I also think I could have gotten in his way and he would have walked on me.” Faulkner’s coarse words penetrated more than the page as well. After imploring “pappy” not to succumb to another drinking bout, Faulkner informs his daughter, “no one remembers Shakespeare’s child”. The film, then, relates a father/ daughter dynamic built upon emotional lack, as the father expressly negates the significance of his own child.
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