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Ties of Blood: Gender, Race, and Faulkner


This dissertation proposes a new reading of William Faulkner's career from his first novel, Soldiers' Pay (1926), through The Sound and the Fury (1929). I argue that Faulkner's probing of sexual relations in the 1920s provides the necessary context for understanding his treatment of race relations in the 1930s, and that his turn toward the issue of miscegenation should be read as a moment of crisis and transformation, in which racial anxiety explodes within an established landscape of sexual anxiety that takes the female body as its troubled matrix. Reading this crisis requires that we rethink the overall shape of Faulkner's career, starting with the text widely regarded as his first "important" novel. By resituating The Sound and the Fury within the context of the earlier, under-appreciated writings--Soldiers' Pay, Elmer, Mosquitoes, and Flags in the Dust--I argue that the novel is a pivotal rather than seminal text, one that newly articulates the psychosexual drama of the early career to the socio-historical problems that will increasingly occupy Faulkner in his subsequent work. Only when we see how the inward, psychological explorations of the early writings enable Faulkner's engagement with the U.S. South, and how his turn toward his "native soil" expands and enriches the solipsistic landscapes of the previous novels, can we begin to understand the complex ways that gender and race, psychosexual trauma and historical injury, speak through, for and over one another in the author's later work.

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