The women of William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! embrace fundamental characteristics of the nature of the South and its relation to the women who inhabit the area. The women particularly challenge the reader to an examination of the time of the Civil War, the relation of the war to the South, and the relation of the people to their surroundings. There is a call for recognition of the intrinsic complexities of the South that stem from the mythological base of the gentlemen class and the qualities of hierarchy that so ensue. The women are very much caught in the web that is the South, the intricacies of their lives linked to the inherent social structures.
There is a sense that the women have been thrust into an environment that is not complimentary to their quality. Rosa Coldfield is “strong with forty-three years of hate,” against a world that has wronged her (the world of the South) with its male insistence that “if you haven’t got honor and pride, then nothing matters” (Faulkner 279). What Rosa has is emotion, true reaction, feelings, instinct. In the realm of the South, the instinct of emotion and truth is something that runs behind honor and pride, its presence fully realized and known but not given credibility over hierarchy: “Only there is something in you that doesn’t care about honor and pride yet that lives, that even walks backward for a whole year just to live” (279). The inner struggle of the South sets forth a destructive trap that derives from the arbitrarily enforced systems of male creation, especially honor and pride, that are not only based in domination but also in a false sense of hierarchy.
A harsh but true criticism of the South may be found in the words...
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...-like symbols are fading--“black once but faded now to that fierce muted metallic green of old peacock feathers”--revealing the length and magnitude of the struggle (142). The contrast is apparent by the mention of the peacock feathers, which in their natural state are lively and radiant. There is an inability for the woman to reconcile with the man because “the indomitable woman-blood ignores the man’s world in which the blood kinsman shows the coverage or cowardice, the folly or lust or fear, for which his fellows praise or crucify him” (123). One must follow the male characteristics to the roots of their southern heritage to acknowledge the full tragic beauty of the female.
Chevalier and Gheerbrant. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Penguin, 1996.
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage International, 1990.
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