Combined Literature Classes, tape 2

DATE: 8 May 1958

OCCASION: Joseph Blotner's Introductory Class in Types of Literature, Frederick Gwynn's Graduate Class in American Literature, 4 p.m., 202 Rouss Hall

TAPE: T-144c2

LENGTH: 27:58

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William Faulkner: [...] he would ever find from her, no understanding, no—no chance ever to—to accept love or return love because she was incapable of it. That's probably what he meant.

Unidentified participant: And I wondered why she laughed and laughed when [...]?

William Faulkner: She realized then that he was going to give up the land. She married him because she was going to be chatelaine of a plantation. And then she found he was going to give all that away, and the only revenge she knew was to not—to deny him sexually, that was the only triumph she had. And she was going to make him suffer for that just as much as she could to get even with him.

Unidentified participant: So that she intended from the beginning of her marriage to deny him this one thing that he had requested until it was useful in blackmailing [...]?

William Faulkner: Well, she assumed when they got married that she was going to be chatelaine of a plantation, and they would have children. And she was going to be as—according to the rules of the book—a good wife to him. She'd still be frigid and cold and a shrew probably, but she'd be a good wife. Then when he was going to throw the plantation away for idealistic folly, all she—the only revenge she had was that. At least he would have no children from her. He'd have no wife from her. And she hoped—

Unidentified participant: Well, Ike—[excuse me, sir].

William Faulkner: And she hoped that he would—would make him grieve.

Unidentified participant: Well Ike says here [...] Did she realize when he was saying this that he did not mean it?

William Faulkner: Did not mean what?

Unidentified participant: [...] that he would go back to the land.

William Faulkner: She must have understood he was not going to [retract and] take his heritage. Yes, I'm sure she was convinced of that, no matter what he might have said.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, if she had been the kind of wife he needed and been able to give him love and companionship and had stuck by him and had children and had a home for him, do you think that his—that he would have ever compromised with his ideals? After all, he had no training, no way of providing for her.

William Faulkner: I would say, since we are supposing, if she had been that sort of woman, she would have understood his—his hatred of that condition. She might have been practical enough to say, "This is the way we'll do it. We can't abandon these people. But let's do it this way." And he would have said, "You're wiser than I. Let's try it your way." That's possible. I would like to think that. But he would have stuck to his—his position that "I will not profit from this which is—is wrong and sinful."

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, one of the most interesting aspects of "The Bear," to me, is the conflict between man and the wilderness. I would like to ask you if you intend for the reader to sympathize more with Old Ben and his conflict with hunters or with the hunters and their conflict with Old Ben?

William Faulkner: Well, not sympathize. I—I doubt if—if the writer is asking anyone to sympathize, to choose sides. That is the reader's right. What the writer is asking is compassion, understanding that—that change must alter, must happen, and change is going to alter what was. That no matter how fine anything seems, it can't endure because it—once it stops—abandons motion, it is dead. It's to have compassion for the—for the anguish that—that the wilderness itself may have felt by being ruthlessly destroyed by axes, by—by men who simply wanted to—to make that earth grow something they could sell for a profit, which brought into it a condition based on an evil like human bondage. It's not to—to choose sides at all, just to compassionate the—the—the good, splendid things which change must destroy, the splendid, fine things which are a part of man's past, too, part of man's heritage, too. But they were obsolete and had to go. But that's no need to—to not feel compassion for them, simply because they were obsolete.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, is that what you meant by the ending of this, then, that change must destroy all goodness?

William Faulkner: Change, if it is not controlled by wise people, destroys sometimes more than it—it brings. That—unless some wise person comes along in—in the—in the middle of the change and takes charge of it, change can destroy what is irreplaceable. If the reason for the change is—is base in motive. That is, to—to clear the wilderness just to make cotton land, to raise cotton on a—on an agrarian economy of—of peonage, slavery, is—is base because it's not as good as that wilderness which it replaced. But if in the end that makes more education for more people and more food for more people, more of the—the good things of life—I mean by that to give man leisure to—to use what's up here, instead of just leisure to ride around in automobiles, then the—it was worth destroying the wilderness. But if all—if all the destruction of the wilderness does is to give more people more automobiles just to ride around in, then the wilderness was better.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: [Mr. Faulkner,] in "The Bear," does Boon Hogganbeck have some particular trait or characteristic that made him the choice of—of person to kill the bear rather than Sam Fathers or Ike or some of the older hunters?

William Faulkner: Well, yes, Boon had his size, his physical size and strength. He had the mentality of a child, and he wouldn't stop to think, "This may be a little dangerous to run in there." He had the—the capacity to—to love that dog, enough to—to risk being mauled to save that dog's life. That Boon with his unreliability, his lack of—of intellect, had God-like attributes if he ever met the opportunity to show [them]. And he met, probably, his great moment in life, when he could use his strength and—and his capacity to be—be brave, to—to save, to protect the weak from the strong, even though the weak was just a dog. Also, Boon was a descendant of the same Indian clan that Sam Fathers was descended from. Sam Fathers, whether Boon knew it or not, was descended from the chief. He was Boon's superior in the [woods] because he had better blood. Boon was—Boon's Chickasaw ancestor was probably just a [hunter]. Sam's, even though his mother was a Negro, his father was a chief, a king. [And] maybe Boon was doing what he knew Sam expected him to do.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: If I understood you correctly, earlier you said that you did not use any intentional symbolism in "The Bear." But yet, towards the end of the story—well, after the end, Ike appears from now on he's going to lead a very Christ-like existence, and he becomes a carpenter, and was that not intentional?

William Faulkner: Well, not deliberately intentional. I mean this, the—the symbolism, is—is literary. It's a part of—of anyone's past, background. So these symbols will appear, just as the way you—you pronounce your words appear. You don't know where you learned to pronounce words the way you do because you—you inherited that or it came from your early environment, and these symbols, which are Christian symbols, are a part of the—the Christian background which all of us in this country came from. That's why I think critics read into books what the writer didn't know was there, because he reads from the same background of Christian symbolism which the writer unconsciously wrote from. And I'm sure that these symbols are all there, but the writer himself don't know it till somebody points them out to him. Because he is too busy simply telling about people to have to hunt around to—to use symbols to tell about people with. The symbols insert themselves just as the proper word does. Because that is a part of his culture, part of his literary background.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: What is the function of Boon's breakdown [...]?

William Faulkner: No function. He had—had gone beyond even his strength, the strain. He had—he—at the last, he killed Sam Fathers by Sam Father's command, just as a King would say to one of his—his faithful body servants, when he has lost the war and lost the battle, "Don't let my head fall into the enemy's hands." Boon had simply exceeded his own emotional and physical strength. He just [stayed awake] too long.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: What significance do [you attach to the dog Lion] [...] [left out of the story? Why wasn't the bear killed] [...]?

William Faulkner: Well, that's sort of like saying, "How would Shakespeare have got along without his gravediggers." That is, it's more than atmosphere. It's necessary to—to—to create the full complete atmospheric picture in which man faces the—the natural, normal dilemmas of—of his condition. That Lion was simply necessary, just like the bear was necessary. There was no intent that they should symbolize anything. They were just necessary components to a moving, dramatic story which approached a climax.

Unidentified participant: He was just needed?

William Faulkner: Yes, yes. Just like the boy was needed as a protagonist on one side, just as the bear was needed, just as the wilderness was needed, as—they're props to tell the—the story, which was—a boy to face the adult world and to see how he copes with it.

Unidentified participant: Because he was a part of the wilderness [...]?

William Faulkner: Well, the wilderness where the bear ran had not been tamed yet. Men went into it, but they didn't live there. They went in to match their strength against the wilderness, which was older and stronger than they were, yes. The edges of it would be [gnawed up], but—but where the bear ran was not tamed yet. But when they went in to—to that bear country, they had to accept the bear's conditions, not theirs anymore. The only advantage they had were guns. And the boy, who—he met the—the—the symbol of the wilderness, had a chance to use his gun. He didn't use it. He was testing himself.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, [...] [extreme end of "The Bear"] [...] [where Boon is at the base of the tree] [...] gun to shoot the squirrels he has up the tree. Is that showing that Boon is unable to cope with modern instruments like the gun? The only way he could kill something was [by the way he killed the bear]? [...] [ gun and] not being able to hit anything when he uses it?

William Faulkner: No, that, to me, was a—a promise of optimism, a belief of mine that—that man, no matter how frail he is, is tougher than anything, that he can stand anything, that Boon, having served his purpose in this—the old bear's saga and Sam Father's finish, was still going on, he was still Boon. If he were needed again by another Old Ben, another Sam Fathers, he would have served again. That he was—that, to me, is a—a sign of—of optimism, that man is pretty good after all, that even his moments of heroism don't necessarily need to destroy.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, [...] [of man's dilemma] [...] [now, would the terms of this dilemma, in our current society] [...]?

William Faulkner: His struggle is, "Shall I do what I can to—to get rid of what I know of evil? Or shall I say, 'Well, that's none of my business, and I'll let it alone?' If what I know to be evil, injustice, worries me so, I must do something about it. Or how can I, as frail as I am and as solitary as I am, against a vast weight of public opinion who wants to let this alone?" That's his struggle and his dilemma and his dramatic moment, in terms of—of [story is]—when he faces this problem, this battle, does he lick it or does it lick him? If—if it beats his brains out, does he still look good while he is having his head battered? Or does he turn tail and run from it? They are—they are his problems. Will I be as brave as I want to be? Will I be as honest as I want to be?

Unidentified participant: [...]

William Faulkner: Yes, that's right. Yes, he wants to do something about it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, [it seems like] in the ending of "The Bear" [when he breaks down] and starts yelling, "Get away! Get away! Don't touch a one of them! They're mine! They're mine!" [...] Instead of taking that as a sort of an optimistic intention, I thought of—thought of it more so as a warning to man that he can not in the end conquer nature, that in the end nature will win out, and that in order to lead a good life a man must be at peace with nature rather than trying to constantly conquer it.

William Faulkner: Well, I'm not too certain that man could—can be at peace with nature because nature ain't very peaceful itself. I think, in—in this instance, Boon—he did everything full out. If it was something worthwhile, and he could be convinced by someone he believed in that he should go full out at it, he would. Just as he—he went at the bear and just as he helped Sam Fathers to die. He was hunting squirrels, and he had got the squirrels up that tree, and the gun, as usual, let him down. If anything, that's a—a contemptive commentary on the machine that man thinks he can depend on when he can't. It lets him down. And Boon's machine let him down. But that hadn't frightened Boon. He could fix that thing just as long as somebody else didn't come along with a machine that did work and kill all his squirrels.

Joseph Blotner: Mr. Faulkner, does the miscegenation and incest of Roth Edmunds in "Delta Autumn" complete a cycle of incest and miscegenation begun by old McCaslin and only interrupted by the goodness of Buck and Buddy and Ike in the middle?

William Faulkner: Yes, it—it came home. It—if you—if that's what you mean by complete the cycle, yes, it did.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, the purpose of having the annual—the annual hunt [just a—just the opportunity to allow these people to commune again with nature] [...] nature?

William Faulkner: [No,] it was to go hunting. They liked to go hunting, [audience laughter] and that was—it [...] that simple.

Unidentified participant: [...] they were going to hunt deer—bear and deer—they were not going to hunt bear and deer, but to keep a yearly rendezvous with a bear they did not intend to kill.

William Faulkner: [Well, now,] that's—that's that little boy remember that has gone into the adult world with—with all the illusions of something fine and splendid. The old people, when they first went there, they had that same thought, but now they went back to hunt. It could have—also they could go back because they liked it, because they liked the—liked the freedom. They liked the sense of—of [atavistic] desire to go back to the beginning. Also, they—for two weeks, they were free of the women folk. There were all sorts of reasons why they would like to go. It could be summed up simply because they liked the two weeks in the bottom during the hunt. They wouldn't have paused to dig out the other reasons as the little boy did. They could have been there. But those men would never meet on the street, say, "Now boys, let's hook up the mules and go back to commune for two weeks with nature." They'd say, "Let's go back there and kill that big bear that's there." [audience laughter]

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, after Sam had taken—taken—captured Lion, Boon took the dog. Now, why didn't Sam mind that?

William Faulkner: Sam was a king. He was going to have his—his hunter folks take care of the dogs and horses. He turned the dog over to—to a groom. Sam was a king. He wasn't going to sleep with a dog. He'd let Boon do that.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, you said that this story, you think, comes out of your own background. Was there really a dog [...] actual dog that might have inspired Lion?

William Faulkner: We usually had one dog of that—that general type in our pack of bear dogs. He was a—usually part Airedale. The hounds would—would trail the bear and would bay him. And the Airedale would—would hold him there until the men on the horses could get up. Lion, as he is in the story, is a fabrication, but he's based on the—the dog that we would usually have in our pack, always keep one of that sort.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir have you ever [...] [the idea of] [...]?

William Faulkner: No, not [for me].

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: I hope this is not too obvious a question, but this is not the sort of thing [...] novels. As we read your books, we see dogs, mules, colored people, white people, Indians, half-breeds who are brave. Bravery—it permeates your work. Could you say something about bravery in general? Do you think that—that a man should feel that he has to be brave or do you think that men are brave by definition? Do you think, also—is there less bravery today than there was forty years ago?

William Faulkner: No, I don't think so. I think there's—that bravery is like—like the water in the earth. It—it don't diminish. It might alter. Sometimes it's clouds. Sometimes it's—it's rivers in the land. Sometimes it's back in the ocean again, but it's the same quantity of water. It's constant. That—I would say that—that man falls into courage just as you walk along the street and fall into manhole, that no—nobody possesses it at—at his beck and call always, that he himself never knows whether he will be able to be brave or not. Quite often he is to his astonishment. I think that some people feel better to believe or have proof that they are brave, that they may do dangerous things, just as you take a drink. It makes you feel good to know that you are brave. Some people are content to—to believe that "I'm going be brave, but I ain't going to go to much trouble to find out right now." [audience laughter] But I would say that the—the quantity of it is—is a constant factor, [...], a constant [apportioning] to individual people, that too many things will have to do with—with why you're brave at one particular moment. Too much goes into it. Maybe somebody's watching you. You want to look good, so you're brave. You might be scared to death, but for the moment you're brave because you want to look good to—to your sweetheart or to a friend or to newspapers or whatever.

Moderator: One last question?

Unidentified participant: I remember I read most—a good bit of your work about—oh, about six years ago, I guess, and I read it without any particular direction, in no particular sequence. I can remember sort of struggling through it and trying to figure out the genealogical table to figure out whose family the people belong to and all. And then one day I read "The Old Man." I never read The Wild Palms. I know it was published in conjunction with "The Old Man." I never read that. But "The Old Man," I remember, struck me because, as I remember, basically it was a very simple story. The language was pretty straightforward. There weren't very many people involved in it. It was sort of a nice, tight, short novel, I guess. And it was in—to me, at that time, as I remember, it was entirely—it struck me as being entirely unlike—I guess from the point of view of style, if you want to use the term, from anything else I'd read of yours—and I always was interested in how you thought about that particular piece of work in relation to the other things you've—you've written.

William Faulkner: That's only half of—of another book. They should never have been broken apart that way. That's half, chapter by chapter, with a book called The Wild Palms. They should be read together, as I wrote them. That is—is simply a—a—a background. It's a counterpoint in a fugue. And, to me, to—to break them to pieces is—is just as dull as—as listening to the left hand part of—of a—a piece of Beethoven or—or Bach. It don't mean anything to me without both hands. That was not my idea to do that. That was the publisher's. It was printed properly in a book called The Wild Palms. They were alternate chapters. This was to emphasize and underline the other story. One was the story of a—of a man and a woman who—who fell in love and—and were destroyed by it, played against the background of a man who got involved with a woman and went through incredible trouble to get rid of her, even to go back to the penitentiary to get rid of her.

Moderator: [Thank you very much, Mr. Faulkner].

William Faulkner: Thank you. [applause]

[end of recording]