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Murder in the House of Memory: Faulkner and the Plantation Prototype of Flags in the Dust

William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi.
Fig. 1. William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi.

Scholars have long understood the centrality that the plantation house possesses as both institution and symbol in William Faulkner’s fictional world. The earliest critical investigations often approached his Yoknapatawpha County through a gothic literary lens, equating the plantation with the decline of the elite white families of the Old South—a line of inquiry often preserved by contemporary critics. Faulkner’s plantation is commonly interpreted as a type of Ozymandian warning, with the characters caught in the monumental failure of the slave economy. In Jay Parini’s words, the “haunted landscape of Faulkner’s fiction teems with houses,” the “gutted ruin” of the manor house evoking “an elegiac symbol of the plantation system itself.”[1] Similarly, for Scott Romine, the plantation “abides as a kind of ghostly barracks—structurally haunting, if materially absent.”[2] This conflation of the plantation with gothic ruin downplays an important aspect of Faulkner’s vision—the institutional success of the plantation system in the twentieth century and the historical violence at the foundation of this edifice. In his complex representation of the economic power exercised by elite planters, Faulkner anticipated some of the later findings of contemporary plantation studies, especially the fact that while the elite planters had “forfeited their slaves,” many of them continued to “retai[n] considerable landholdings as well as the social and political power they had enjoyed before the Civil War.”[3]

This article elucidates Faulkner’s earliest effort to write the plantation house and argues that his first Yoknapatawpha fiction, Flags in the Dust, presents the plantation not as a gothic relic of a dead past, but as a major hub of activity, part of a decisive consolidation of social and economic power that links the institution of slavery to the sharecropping economy that emerged afterward. This is not to suggest that haunting phantasms play no role in Flags in the Dust, but to acknowledge that the Sartoris plantation manor, for all its sinister atmosphere, is part of a viable commercial institution. Faulkner here presents not the decline of the elite white planter class, but rather the survival and persistence of their economic power under new material conditions. He imagines the plantation house, moreover, in terms of what I call a cognitive cartography, as a temporal compression of movement, behavior and thinking in social space, offering a model for how individual consciousness not only interacts with its external environment, but is composed of it as well. This article shows how Flags in the Dust imagines the twentieth-century plantation as both a physical and a cognitive architecture that simultaneously preserves, recreates and disseminates a violent paradigm of power. I argue that once Faulkner establishes the cognitive architectonics of the plantation house and personifies this paradigm in the figure of Colonel John Sartoris, the dead plantation patriarch, he charts this structure upon other hubs of social space. Thus, Faulkner creates the nodes and arteries of recurrent movement and behavior in his Yoknapatawpha County that indicate how an elite class of planters adapted to the large tenant plantations that emerged after the Civil War.

Inscribing the Plantation House

The question of the decline or persistence of the old planter families in the New South—or what Charles Aiken calls the “furnish-merchant-tenant-farmer era” that lasted from the 1870s until shortly after World War II—has occupied historians for generations.[4] A mid-twentieth-century consensus, encapsulated in the work of C. Vann Woodward, argued for the decline of the aristocratic class within a larger history of emergent capitalism and systemic racial inequality. This view of a fundamental break between the antebellum and postbellum social and economic orders of the South was not challenged until the late 1970s, when Jonathan Wiener argued in Social Origins of the New South (1978) that the plantation system did not vanish and that the “leading prewar planters ‘persisted’” (Reidy, “Economic Consequences, 305). Numerous studies of federal policy in the South during Reconstruction, subsequent to Wiener’s work, emphasized the cooperation between wealthy landowners and politicians and portrayed the army and the Freedmen’s Bureau as “working hand in glove with former slaveholders to thwart the freedmen’s aspirations and force them to return to plantation labor.”[5] Consequently, a new consensus began to emerge that the disintegration of the older plantation economy during Reconstruction was a popular misconception of a complex phenomenon.

Post-revisionist scholars, as they came to be called, documented the “continued hold of racism and federalism despite the extension of citizenship rights to blacks and the enhanced scope of national authority” (Foner, A Short History, xiv). Instead of emphasizing the decline of the old plantation system, scholars such as Gavin Wright described a reorganization that differed from region to region, depending on economic specificity. The agricultural producers, Wright wrote, “were not landlords but ‘laborlords’”—and this relationship between the elite class and the laborers often involved various crops and lien arrangements.[6] A crucial role was played by the introduction of a lien system that assisted the deepening process of isolation for those who labored in the fields; high interest rates were used to keep the farmer in “perpetual debt” to the landowner.[7] The old elite planter families were among this new class of laborlords, and their success or failure became increasingly dependent on centralized management.[8]

In the Black Belt, a term used to describe large areas of intensive cotton production in the Deep South, planters “retained supremacy through legislative means, specifically by crafting lien laws that gave them primacy over the merchants” (Reidy, “Economic Consequences,” 306). Thus, these areas in the Deep South were able to retain the power structures that had existed before the war. During Reconstruction, these planters at first attempted to recreate the slave system, but could not counteract the fact that freedmen could move freely from employer to employer (Wright, Old South, New South, 85). Decentralization led to a lien-centered plantation system, but it did not do away with large landownership units, which had to become even more individually centralized and supervised  if they were to survive in this new period of industrial growth (Woodman, “The Political Economy,” 251).[9] After Reconstruction, when a massive expansion of cotton manufacturing occurred in the South which, in turn, led to new forms of social conflict involving “rural cultivators, merchants, imperial statesmen, landowners, and industrialists,” the old elite planter class had solidified control over vast swaths of the Black Belt, within which Mississippi had the largest number of large tenant plantations with Alabama and Georgia following closely behind.[10]

Faulkner’s depiction of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi in Flags in the Dust supports this account of the consolidation of power by the old planter class during and after Reconstruction. The novel begins with a portrayal of the commercial and economic viability of the twentieth-century Sartoris plantation, which is no longer centralized at the manor. In the novel’s opening paragraphs, old Bayard Sartoris appears at the center of his family’s commercial enterprise—in his family’s bank, with the ghost of his father, Colonel John Sartoris, hovering above him: “John Sartoris seemed to loom still in the room, above and about his son, with his bearded, hawklike face, so that as old Bayard sat with his crossed feet propped against the corner of the cold hearth, holding the pipe in his hand, it seemed to him that he could hear his father’s breathing even.”[11] A traditional reading of this scene places the relationship between father and son within the gothic arc of plantation deterioration. For André Bleikasten, the scene establishes the overarching theme of “decline,” in which the present self is a stage upon which the ghosts of the past assert their control: “The past breaks through the cracks of the present. The edges of time open up, and a multitude of ghosts readies itself to take over the stage.”[12]

Problems arise if one accepts this equation of the scene’s gothic elements with plantation decline. Bayard is in this case hardly perturbed or troubled. Sitting in his office, he is inextricably connected to his past through an experience of leisure. He holds his father’s pipe, his own teeth tracing the imprints his father left behind—which are, in turn, situated within a vast historical continuity of artistic and natural ingenuity. The prints of his father’s teeth are part of the historical record that is preserved “as though in enduring stone”:

The bowl of the pipe was ornately carved and it was charred with much usage, and on the bit were the prints of his father’s teeth, where he had left the very print of his ineradicable bones as though in enduring stone, like the creatures of that prehistoric day that were too grandly conceived and executed either to exist very long or to vanish utterly when dead from an earth shaped and furnished for punier things. (Faulkner, Flags, 4)

These traces of the past denote an artistic monumentalism bequeathed to the present in the figure of an “ornately carved” pipe; and, while Bleikasten is correct that past and present co-exist in these moments, there is no indication of degeneration beyond the commonplace deafness of the aging planter. On the contrary, Faulkner invests the scene with implicit Romantic overtones by relating the Colonel’s act of self-fashioning—“he had left the very print of his ineradicable bones as though in enduring stone”—to a vast series of natural adaptations that culminate in this present scene with Bayard in his office “while the business of the bank went forward in the next room” (3).

Faulkner figuratively establishes the continuity of the planter institution through acts of adaptation that go back into deep time. The latest setting is not a degeneration of a past edifice, moreover. The Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank is the leading financial institution for the whole county and is centrally located in Jefferson’s courthouse square. As its president, Bayard is both a laborlord, to use Wright’s terminology, and a vital artery of finance, through whom other landowners administer their plantations. Colonel John Sartoris hovers above his kin because he is the progenitor of this postbellum institution. Having established the endurance of the family legacy, Faulkner goes to great lengths to depict the Colonel’s acts of self-fashioning as violent exploits of post-bellum expansionism. In aligning Bayard with his father, who oversaw the transition to the tenant economy, Faulkner explores the reality of what such a legacy entails, as he charts Bayard’s movements from his bank through his freshly tilled cotton fields to the plantation manor itself. Instead of the gothic ruin that dominates Absalom, Absalom! (1936), the manor in Flags in the Dust still serves as a nexus of social space in which Faulkner identifies a disturbing cartography of institutional consciousness.

In the first chapter, Faulkner prepares the reader for the mnemonic architecture of the plantation house whose interior space is entangled with a covert history of violence. To reach home, old Bayard Sartoris passes through “upland country,” the “viscid shards of new-turned earth glint[ing] damply in the sun,” before “descend[ing] sheerly into a valley of good broad fields richly somnolent in the levelling afternoon” (8, 7, 8). This descent into a “somnolent” setting intimates that Bayard’s journey homeward is a movement into the depths of a slumbering consciousness. In what may seem a perfectly harmless depiction of the valley, Faulkner introduces a relationship that he will serially duplicate in the architectural figuration of the mansion, a triadic relationship between light, perceiver and surface. Here, Faulkner maps this relationship spatially by drawing the reader’s attention to the sunlight above, Bayard as observer, and the upturned surface of the earth whose “viscid shards” denote a violence that will manifest in the various mnemonic loci within the manor. At the same time, the “new-turned earth” indicates a spring setting with “good broad fields” underscoring the viability of Bayard’s lands. The imagery is complex, denoting violence, fertility and new life in an uneasy counterbalance of past and present.

In what follows, Faulkner transposes this “somnolent” setting onto the plantation house and draws out the triadic nexus between sunlight, perception and surface. Bayard gazes at the “white simplicity of [the manor which] dreamed unbroken among ancient sunshot trees” (8). The whole slumbering setting suggests a cognitive interiority or an unconscious domain just beneath—or just beyond—the vantage point of the perceiver. Faulkner embeds a self-reflexive dimension into the narrative, doubling Bayard’s own phenomenological posture with that of the reader. Bayard looks upon a simple white surface, the exterior of the house echoing the two-dimensional flatness of the white page. This simple surface is not at all stable. Indeed, another layer of association emerges: the “ancient sunshot trees” position the light-eye-object relation as one that has already unfolded (the trees are “sunshot”), the spectator and white simplicity substituted by the violent relation of sunlight effacing or shooting through the natural source of the page, the tree.

Faulkner’s associative imagery assumes greater focus as Bayard draws closer to his home. As Bayard approaches the mansion, the “white simplicity” enacts the violence entangled with all the mnemonic loci within the house. Growing on a trellis attached to the veranda, a rose bush and wisteria vine are locked in mortal combat, the rose steadily choking the life out of the purple flower:

Wistaria mounting one end of the veranda had bloomed and fallen, and a faint drift of shattered petals lay palely about the dark roots of it and about the roots of a rose trained onto the same frame. The rose was slowly but steadily choking the other vine, and it bloomed now thickly with buds no bigger than a thumbnail and blown flowers no larger than silver dollars, myriad, odorless and unpickable. (8)

In “shattering” the wisteria vine, the rose is no longer simply a natural entity. With the flower’s buds now “no bigger than a thumbnail and blown flowers no larger than silver dollars,” Faulkner implicates the natural setting in a commercial process that connects the Sartoris bank to the manor house, two structures that are part of the lien-centered plantation system of the New South. The grammatical construction of the passage produces a striking ambiguity. Is it the flowers of the roses or the wisteria that appear mechanically reproduced like silver dollars? In one sense, roses and wisteria are so violently entangled that both “perpetrator” and “victim” are inseparable in producing this silver currency, becoming in the act of murder reflective and mimetic surfaces—first, glass-blown flowers and then “silver dollars, myriad, odorless, and unpickable.” There is also an unsettling racial subtext: as the planter class exploited the black population for labor, the rose is feeding off of the wisteria, “bloom[ing] thickly” by steadily choking the wisteria so that its “shattered petals” serve as substance for the “roots of the rose.”

Whereas, outside the house, the “simplicity” of external surface was tied almost exclusively to natural phenomena, whether dinosaur bones layered in strata or roses feeding off of wisteria, inside, the relationship between light, vision and surface evokes the prospect of a more developed cognitive arena, no longer ostensibly dominated by instinct or nature. Within the manor, the first spatial arrangement reduplicates the pattern we saw outside:

From the center of the ceiling hung a chandelier of crystal prisms and shades, fitted originally for candles but since wired for electricity; to the right of the entrance, beside folding doors rolled back upon a dim room emanating an atmosphere of solemn and seldom violated stateliness and known as the parlor, stood a tall mirror filled with grave obscurity like a still pool of evening water.” (8–9)

With the lighting adapted from candlelight to electricity, Faulkner emphasizes the transmission of legacy as he repositions the triadic relationship between light, vision and mimetic surface he had evoked earlier. Rather than reflecting the light above, the mirror exerts its own mysterious interiority, “filled,” as it is, “with grave obscurity like a still pool of evening water”—a surface no longer reflective, but connected lexically to the “grave,” intensifying a burial motif that Faulkner has been denoting all along. The initial descent into the somnolent valley thus becomes a journey into the “new-turned earth” and further into the “grave” or land of the dead—in which lies what both feeds and poisons the edifice in question.

Faulkner thus portrays the twentieth-century Sartoris plantation at the beginning of its generative cycle. Within the architectural structure, we do not find disrepair, but a stately room whose chandelier has been adapted to the electric age. Unlike the bank, which is busy with the finance of the county, the parlor is no longer a center of communal operations, but a place of restful somnolence where the “chandelier of crystal prisms” and the “tall mirror” are ordinary household objects, even if they suggest other layers of significance. Bayard climbs the staircase and stops between a set of shuttered western windows and an open doorway that reveal yet another interior space housing the first submerged memory of murder: during the Civil War, “a cook who was hidden under the mess stuck his arm out and shot [Bayard’s uncle] in the back with a derringer” (18). Whereas the mirror subtly intimates the spectral vicissitudes of this interior space, the doorway presents a decisive opening into Bayard’s consciousness, initiating an entry into the actual historical layers of “hidden” events that increasingly assert themselves the farther or further Bayard climbs.

In the spatial positioning on the second floor, the animating movement of vision into its object—the “seeping light” through the doorway—unfolds according to a temporal sequence symbolically dominated by sunset. As with the fields outside the house, Faulkner provides a burial image that accompanies the visible signs of wealth, namely, the vari-colored windows as the “deathbed legacy” of a long-dead Sartoris matriarch. Within this first recollection of violent assault, the Union cook who shot Bayard’s uncle in the back with a derringer seems incidental; like all other killers, the cook has become an exponent of a culture of violent acts, the memory of which asserts its power from within the depths of memory, mapped upon another reflective and seemingly still surface of representation: “The glade dreamed quiet and empty of threat beneath the mounting golden day; laked within it lay a deep and abiding peace like golden wine; yet beneath this solitude and permeating it was that nameless and waiting portent, patient and brooding and sinister” (16). As with the white simplicity of the Sartoris house that dreams among the sunshot trees, the glade “dream[s] quiet and empty of threat,” a single surface of representation admitting a trancelike layering of causality, at once peaceful, since the violent act is now over, and yet full of threat, since its submerged memory remains bound up with the material processes of a living consciousness and the economy it administers: beneath the “mounting golden day” lies the glade, beneath which also lies “a deep and abiding peace,” “beneath” which and “permeating it was that nameless” violence—a lower layer “patient and brooding and sinister.”

With the image of a glade enigmatically “laked” upon itself, Faulkner emphasizes mounting layers of reflective mediation that are then reduplicated upon the very portal or locus that awakened the memory of murder in the first place. As the doorway of memory closes on the second floor and twilight begins to assume imagistic control, Bayard’s vision is mediated by the death-bed legacy of vari-colored glass paneling: “[t]he door was closed now, and what light passed through the colored panes was richly solemn” (19). All these glassy surfaces—the white simplicity with its glass-blown flowers, the mirror of evening water, the vari-colored paneling, and the dreaming glade—underscore a persistent pattern in which the self is unable to apprehend anything directly. Rather, this self—whether Bayard or the reader—is affected by surfaces that exert their force upon the perceiving subject. In this respect, the page is no longer simply two-dimensional, filled with harmless inscriptions that the perceiver can apprehend according to their desire. Rather, it instantiates a cognitive arena in which past violence emerges as a part of the present phenomenological predicament for character and reader alike.

Faulkner’s self-reflexive technique accords with that of many other modernist texts in the way that it visualizes interior consciousness. Dirk Van Hulle argues, for instance, that the self-reflexive element in modernism entails a modeling of consciousness not only “as what passes in a [person]’s . . . mind,’” but also “as ‘the perception of’ [an] inner activity.”[13] This form of textual introspection entails the formation and questioning of personal identity. Hulle quotes for context John Locke’s famous articulation of consciousness: “as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person: it is the same self now it was then” (“Modernism, Consciousness,” 326). Faulkner’s figuration of the plantation complex realizes this type of modern self-reflexivity in terms of adaptation, for it involves not merely the identity formation of a single self, but the construction of that self through many generations—as far back as the memory of that consciousness can go. Old Bayard is, in this respect, the current iteration of a past series of being, and his introspective movements through the house stage a pattern of identity formation with the architectonics of the plantation house serving as the social and hereditary information with which this self is inscribed.

The consequences of imagining the self in this way complicate the depictions of the individual characters of the novel. Old Bayard may be innocent of the past crimes of the plantation system, yet his very being is composed of its information. Bayard’s phenomenological posture recaptures past behavior, mirroring the violent paradigm of elite planter power that is everywhere encoded. As Bayard passes from the now-closed doorway to his own room, he peers through his window to the backyard below, observing a scene of arrested life: “then he rose and went in his stockings to the window and looked down upon his saddle-mare tethered to a mulberry tree in the back yard and a negro lad lean as a hound, richly static beside it” (Faulkner, Flags, 20). Again, Faulkner utilizes the spatial arrangement of observer and visual threshold with Bayard looking through his bedroom window onto a setting in which the body of “a negro lad” is equated with the “tethering” of a riding animal. In this new interior setting, the glassy threshold of the window and the black body as frozen inscription provide the locus through which Bayard recounts the second memory of murder, his own father’s death, and with it the system of racial subjugation and black labor during Reconstruction.

In this latest recollection, Colonel John Sartoris—the family patriarch—sits in the family’s dining room, drinking the family’s final deathbed legacy, a bottle of port. “Redlaw’ll kill me tomorrow, for I shall be unarmed,” he tells his son; “I’m tired of killing men” (23). According to Old Man Falls, John Sartoris’s bloody fate was sealed the moment he began taking life, the moment he began murdering other men:

“That ’us when hit changed.  When he had to start killin’ folks.  Then two cyarpet baggers stirrin’ up niggers, that he walked right into the room whar they was asettin’ behind a table with they pistols layin’ on the table, and that robber and that other feller he kilt, all with that same dang der’nger.  When a feller has to start killin’ folks, he ’most always has to keep on killin’ ’em.  And when he does, he’s already dead hisself.” (22–23)

In this passage, Faulkner connects the killing of Colonel Sartoris to the patriarch’s own violent suppression of the black vote during Reconstruction, one of the ways in which elite planters compelled blacks to return to the labor they had endured before the war. Within this submerged memory, the Colonel is part of a legacy of violence, his own death resulting from his involvement in stripping others of self-expression and the political right of representation.

The Sartoris manor evokes not simply individual instances of violence or individuals complicit in them, but more properly the complex interconnection between individual consciousness, behavior and institutionality. Where Faulkner portrayed apparently instinctual violence at the base of the plantation house, he gradually develops this violence as an institutionalized assault on free expression—first in the symbolic choking of wisteria and then in the Colonel’s suppression of black voting rights. This systematic attack upon human agency involves more than the dominance of the white plantation class over a perpetual underclass; the white heirs of the plantation complex are themselves subject to an irresistible power that is at once nowhere and encoded in every spatial relationship around and in them. The locus of this power is, of course, the Colonel himself—not the man, but the institutional power he represents. Even in death, Colonel Sartoris possesses a startling, even supernatural power. Faulkner charts the discrepancy between man and institution by emphasizing Colonel Sartoris’s violent act of self-fashioning. Entangled in Bayard’s memory of his father’s murder is a sense of resurrected authority: “And the next day [John Sartoris] was dead, whereupon, as though he had but waited for that to release him of the clumsy cluttering of bones and breath, by losing the frustration of his own flesh he could now stiffen and shape that which sprang from him into the fatal semblance of his dream” (23). Released from “the clumsy cluttering of bones and breath” and “the frustration of his own flesh,” John Sartoris has become the mediating craftsman of the material world, the phallic progenitor freed by his death to “stiffen and shape” the future generation. In other words, he has become an institution, trading the precariousness of flesh for an enduring legacy in stone.

In John Sartoris’s reflection, either the reflection he sees in his wineglass or the statue triumphantly erected in the graveyard after his death, Faulkner foils the Romantic privilege of the artist transcending material mediation in order to harness the power of creation. The work of this particular creation is to bind, John Sartoris “stiffening and shaping” a “fatal semblance” of order, a mediated institutional space in which the interaction between subject and surface circumscribes the possibility of future agency. This pattern becomes more emphatic on the next floor of the house. With the memory of his father’s death emergent, Bayard enters into the deepest and oldest layers of his memory, climbing a stairway into an attic of “silence and ancient disused things,” his final account suggesting an ironic parody upon the sacred ascent of the soul to God: “Then with sudden decision he quitted the room and tramped down the hall. At the end of the hall a stair mounted into the darkness” (86).

Faulkner’s depiction of Bayard’s ascent is patently at odds with traditional ascent. In Plato’s Symposium, the lover mounts the ladder gaining not simply knowledge, but unmediated knowledge of the Form of Beauty. The lover at first learns to see and then to engage in the creative power of the supernal waters above. In American Romanticism, this tradition of ascent is transformed into a model of identity and personal power. In “Experience” (1844), for instance, Ralph Waldo Emerson famously uses the image of a stairway to depict first the confusion of the soul in the vast sweep of history and then the hard-won victory of self-reliance, the soul apprehending its potential rebirth into this “new yet unapproachable America.”[14] Similarly, in “Song of Myself” (1855), Walt Whitman uses the trope of a stairway to represent the development of the soul’s creative power in history. “Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul,” Whitman gladly proclaims after he has climbed the stairway of history.[15]

In Flags in the Dust, however, Bayard’s ritual of ascent stages a mnemonic pattern of deepening interiority, subverting the promise of immanent, creative depths. As Bayard ascends into this final architectural space and accesses the deepest layers of his own memory, the mimetic predicament evoked in each previous room comes into fuller view. In the uppermost recesses of the house, Bayard is engaged in a ritualistic effort to commemorate and record the latest deaths in the family: his son, John (named after his father); his daughter-in-law; and their child. Upon ascending the final stair and entering the darkness of the attic, Bayard lights a single bulb above his head and bends down to open a lockbox containing the implements of the death ritual.

In this pivotal scene, old Bayard imagines himself surrounded by the Sartoris dead, each former Sartoris reduced to an identical ghostly shape and harnessed into a similarly mediated posture. Faulkner intensifies the initial image of glass-blown roses blooming upon the white simplicity of textual surface, layering it with a host of mimetic supplements: mirrors, stained-glass doors, windows and, in the top-most room of the house, John Sartoris’s “wine glass” in which the family’s patriarch saw not an escape from the cycle of violence, but his mastery of it in his own reflected image:

Thus each opening was in a way ceremonial, commemorating the violent finis to some phase of his family’s history, and while [old Bayard] struggled with the stiff lock it seemed to him that a legion of ghosts breathed quietly at his shoulder, and he pictured a double line of them with their arrogant identical faces waiting just beyond a portal and stretching away toward the invisible dais where Something sat waiting the latest arrival among them; thought of them chafing a little and a little bewildered, thought and desire being denied them, in a place where, immortal, there were no opportunities for vainglorious swashbuckling.  Denied that Sartoris heaven in which they could spend eternity dying deaths of needless and magnificent violence while spectators doomed to immortality looked eternally on.  The Valhalla which John Sartoris, turning the wine glass in his big, well-shaped hand that night at the supper table, had seen in its chaste fragile bubble. (Faulkner, Flags, 87, emphasis added)

The “Valhalla” that lies at the top of the stairs is clearly not a Christian heaven; instead, it is a parody of the soul overcoming the mediation of the fallen body to re-achieve union with God. This “Sartoris heaven” is a reflection on the “chaste fragile bubble” of a “wine glass,” a phallic act cast upon the female body in the perpetuation of the Sartoris cycle through the birth of sons and a “fatal semblance” of life, as we are told in the room directly below, referring to the statue of the Colonel in the Jefferson graveyard that looms over the whole county.

Faulkner’s layering of imagery indicates the painstaking care and precision that went into this first depiction of the Yoknapatawpha plantation house. The murderous blood-red rose at the base of the structure, imagistically involved in the production of “silver dollars,” is reduplicated in all these loci of memory. Where, by means of imagistic association, Faulkner mapped the “glass-blown” red and purple flowers onto the crimson paneling of the doorway on the second floor, here he substitutes the reflective bubble that holds within it crimson wine. As the mimetic media multiply beyond the ability of the subject to control them, they constitute a spatial node of recurrent movement that insists upon one overwhelming fact that is both refracted everywhere and simultaneously absent: blood has been spilled and its color permeates or stains all the loci in this architectural and textual arrangement of memory. The perceiver of the narrative is not helpless, although he or she is bound up in engendering the pattern, for all these relationships inform the present opening of the lockbox that initiates one last ceremony of perception and inscription.

In this final relationship between the illuminating gaze above and the reflective surface below, Faulkner introduces the Sartoris family’s brassbound bible. With the light bulb directly above his head, Bayard looks down onto the bible, and this act is serially reduplicated not simply through analogy or imagined space, but through historical memory. Thus, as the identical ghosts face the “invisible dais,” the original living and breathing object of their perception erased long ago by murder, so too John Sartoris once stared upon the curvature of his wine glass. Caught in the same visual posture as his father, Bayard gazes down toward the contents of the locked box, at first onto implements of violence and finally upon the family bible itself, the flyleaves of which are inscribed with the fading names of the Sartoris bloodline:

[he] came upon a conglomeration of yellowed papers neatly bound in packets, and at last upon a huge, brass-bound bible. He lifted this to the edge of the chest and opened it. The paper was brown and mellow with years, and it had a texture like that of slightly-moist wood ashes, as though each page were held intact by its archaic and fading print. He turned the pages carefully back to the fly leaves. Beginning near the bottom of the final blank page, a column of names and dates rose in stark, fading simplicity, growing fainter and fainter where time had lain upon them. At the top they were still legible, as they were at the foot of the preceding page. But halfway up this page they ceased, and from there on the sheet was blank save for the faint soft mottlings of time and an occasional brownish penstroke significant but without meaning. (89)

Bayard here finds not any living word of God, but a dead, immobile body. As he opens the rosewood box, the family heirloom displays all the attributes of a coffin; both cedar containers enclose the implements of war and a personal bible, traditionally buried with the soldier. Faulkner thus tropes the “blank page” of “fading penstrokes” with a corpse, the “faint soft mottlings of time” providing a terminology for the vari-colored bruises that the body acquires postmortem.

After passing through all the layers of memory mapped within the Sartoris house, Bayard apprehends the blank extraneous page of a brassbound bible as another mediated and dead surface that exerts a definitive power upon the living. Like all other media in the manor, the flyleaf evokes three-dimensional space, a pattern of cognitive interiority unfolding according to a past pattern of violence. Gazing down upon the blank mottled page, Bayard remembers yet another surface he once saw in his childhood during the Civil War when, escaping a Yankee patrol, he came upon a spring and was confronted by a skull peering back at him from out of the water: “Then he crawled forth and went to a spring he knew that flowed from the roots of a beech; and as he leaned down to it the final light of day was reflected onto his face, bringing into sharp relief forehead and nose above the cavernous sockets of his eyes and the panting snarl of his teeth, and from the still water there stared back at him for a sudden moment, a skull” (90). This passage evokes a phenomenological uncertainty that is central to many of Faulkner’s most self-reflexive passages. Is the skull a reflection of Bayard or an actual body floating in the depths of the spring? Does it represent the unconscious domain, the submerged fear of fatality momentarily surfacing, or is it the symbolic source of a hidden miasma that pollutes this house of memory? Importantly, this event predates all the memories of murder and locates their precarious source in a complex visual relationship between light, eye and surface, with the perceiving subject constantly changing, being at once old Bayard, John Sartoris, the identical Sartoris ghosts—and the reader, whose eyes inevitably apprehend the white surface of the page.

Faulkner’s architectural depiction exhibits a powerful spatial rendering of material consciousness, entangled with a history of violence, still in process of producing a semiotics of power in the genealogy of planter names. According to George Handley, “New World planters turned to genealogy as an instrument of hegemony, ‘an ideological and metaphorical tool of exclusion’ that helped legitimate and consolidate the ‘landowning social power’ of the plantocracy.”[16] In Flags in the Dust, Faulkner imagines this ongoing process as an act of consciousness that unites a spectrum of past activity. In the highest layer of the plantation house, the identical Sartoris ghosts are not necessarily supernatural, but inscribed parts of a predetermined physiology and an indelible paradigm of social control that require a dialectic between present consciousness and the privileged space of inscription. Their vision is implicit in Bayard’s own as he gazes upon the page. As such, they are facets of an embodied consciousness evoked through a hyper-awareness of textual surface and a corresponding three-dimensional imaging of the interiority of the mind.

Faulkner’s constitution of space thereby evokes a cognitive architecture whose interconnection of parts culminates in the attic, situated above other layers of thought and memory and involved in their activity. The attic, indeed, is the one arena in which Bayard exerts himself through inscription. In all the other rooms of the house, the old man is simply a spectator, whose perception draws forth memories of murder. In the attic, by contrast, Bayard writes the deceased names of his kin upon the brassbound bible, thereby strengthening the ideology that is instantiated in the object. Faulkner never describes Bayard’s act of inscription; rather, the act is present within a prism of past events, the memory of the spring surfacing as the light above both illuminates the mnemonic corpse below and is refracted through this miasmic medium onto the face of the inscriber.

Cartographies of Plantation Consciousness

Traditional readings of Faulkner’s work have emphasized a Romantic and tragic tension between the beauty of the natural landscape and the melancholic decline of the white plantation families who rule over it.[17] Faulkner’s earliest Yoknapatawpha fiction portrays not the dismantling of a way of life, but the adaptation of the elite planter families to the new conditions of the South. The Sartoris family is one of the few families able to navigate the transition from the slave to the tenant economy—and Faulkner represents the dynamics of this continuity as the movement and behavior that individuals express in social space. Old Bayard’s ascent through his manor is thus not one individualized activity; it is informed by a whole history of similar movements and, as such, unfolds ritualistically. 

To think of Faulkner’s representation of cognitive interiority in terms of these plantation architectonics entails, I argue, that we understand these behavioral trajectories as cognitive cartographies. In Flags in the Dust, Faulkner narrates Bayard’s ascent with considerable informational density; Bayard does not act alone; each of his movements refracts past behavior and produces an emergent form of consciousness that is composed from all this prior history of movement and behavior. In Flags in the Dust, this emergent consciousness is expressed in terms of verticality—with the Colonel’s mastery of vertical space initially expressed in the novel’s first scene with John Sartoris as either a ghost or a statue “loom[ing] above and about his son” and leaving “the very print of his ineradicable bones as though in enduring stone” (Faulkner, Flags, 3, 4). Faulkner begins by depicting how the Colonel supervenes upon his son who is involved in the finance of the new economy. In the plantation house, Faulkner expands this hierarchal relationship so that the farther Bayard ascends the more power this institutional totality possesses—to the point that Bayard can no longer be imagined simply as an agent, since his very being is comprised of a history of behavior within and about the plantation.

We can interpret this cognitive cartography of the plantation system in terms of the transnational turn in American Studies. Indeed, Faulkner’s plantation system is not an anomalous edifice in global modernity or a distant holdout of a long-dead feudal past, but part of a “global socioeconomic and cultural matrix” that Amy Clukey terms “plantation modernity.”[18] Jennifer Greeson similarly traces a “wider view” of “the pervasiveness of the South in the broader history of the US novel” and, beyond that national delineation, in a presently unfolding global world order.[19] The South, she argues, “becomes foremost a site of connection . . . to the larger world, to Western history, to a guilty colonial past and an imperial future both desired and feared” (Greeson, “Imagining the South,” 236–37). In Seeing Through the South, John T. Matthews influentially related Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha both to the “ruinous social and moral consequences of . . . New World colonial history” and to “an emerging new form of global domination: a transnational complex of financial and military powers.”[20] Peter Schmidt similarly places Faulkner’s plantation fiction legacy in the context of the present global order, making the case that the “hemispheric history” of plantation slavery cannot be safely sealed away in any one region or in the remote past.[21] Faulkner’s “Flags in the Dust” strikingly articulates the adaptability of the plantation system in the modern age. In the symbolic language of Flags in the Dust, the Colonel’s singular victory is to preserve and instantiate himself as an ideology by placing his “print” in the vertex of social space so that it will be replicated in the minds and actions of his kin.

Flags in the Dust thereby provides a cognitive cartography beyond simple intentionality, control, and authorship; these terms still function but they do not fully explain the ways in which we move in social space or our interior life is already embedded in the systems around us—indeed, how a system can produce a form of consciousness that is capable of remaking itself and us with it. In Flags in the Dust, the cognitive cartography of the plantation provides a paradigm of power that is historically centered in the plantation house—and Faulkner’s ingenuity lies in the way that he portrays the manor as an adaptable edifice that is part of the reorganization of the South after the Civil War.[22] From this viewpoint, the plantation edifice cannot be evaded. Even if the manor house ceases to be the central hub for the new economy, it lives on as a form of institutional behavior that individuals recreate in social space.

In Jefferson cemetery at the close of the novel, Faulkner reemphasizes the vertical paradigm of power he mapped in the bank and then the manor house. As the ghost hovered above Bayard in the bank, the statue of the Colonel stands over all those below it—over the dead as inscriptions etched upon marble tombstones and over the living who are in the process of being transcribed into such lettering.[23] If it was not clear enough before, here the Colonel is undeniably instituting a totalism bent upon conquering the future with his eyes gazing upon his railroad that connects Yoknapatawpha to the rest of the world:[24]

He stood on a stone pedestal, in his frock coat and bare headed, one leg slightly advanced and one hand resting lightly on the stone pylon beside him. His head was lifted a little in that gesture of haughty pride which repeated itself generation after generation with a fateful fidelity, his back to the world and his carven eyes gazing out across the valley where his railroad ran and the blue changeless hills beyond, and beyond that, the ramparts of infinity itself. The pedestal and effigy were mottled with seasons of rain and sun and with the drippings from the cedar branches, and the bold carving of the letters was bleared with mold, yet still decipherable. (Faulkner, Flags, 399)

Faulkner draws upon his family history, for the stone statue of his great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, is nearly identical to the effigy of Colonel John Sartoris (fig. 2).[25] In both cases, the statue is perched high above the other gravestones in an assertive posture, one leg jutting out before the other, creating an illusion of life and movement (fig. 3). Faulkner emphasizes the vertical mastery of the mimetic statue over the landscape as it looks down upon the new railroad network that the living man rebuilt during Reconstruction and beyond to whatever innovation follows. The stone effigy dominates through the “carven eyes gazing out across the valley,” its vision duplicating itself in other self-representations “generation after generation with fateful fidelity.” Even the family bible with the names of the dead, a book stored in the attic of the plantation house, reappears. Faulkner transposes the “mottled” names found on the biblical flyleaves onto another “mottled” surface of signification, “the pedestal and effigy” on which the “bold carving of the letters” trope the putrefaction of a corpse.

Statue of Faulkner’s great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, in Ripley, Mississippi.
Fig. 2. Statue of Faulkner’s great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, in Ripley, Mississippi.

Appearing at the novel’s beginning and end, the plantation house and the cemetery are two major nodes of social space, providing the imagistic coda of the narrative and charting its chief crisis: the appropriation of the summit of social space by a violent form of self-fashioning. Faulkner, himself fascinated with aviation, depicts how the young Sartorises, John and Bayard, seek a form of transcendence through flight that proves fatal in each case.[26] The Colonel’s colonization of vertical space sets the precedent for his heirs, moreover. As we saw, the Colonel institutionalized himself above his kin and the landscape he called home. John and Bayard, named after the murdered Colonel and son, assume the family’s legacy of violence, and their behavior re-spatializes this paradigm of power wherever they happen to be. As their names suggest, they are variations of the past, struggling fiercely, yet futilely to resist pre-established patterns of behavior. By taking wild invigorating risks, they seek self-authorship, but only repeat the Colonel’s appropriation of vertical space.

Years before dying in the cockpit of a plane during the First World War, John Sartoris, named after his father as well as after the Colonel, recklessly sails a circus balloon at the county fair for all to see, “gain[ing] for an instant a desire so fine that its escape was a purification, not a loss” (Faulkner, Flags, 68). Faulkner gives a sense of the astonishment that the county feels from the perspective of Narcissa Benbow. In awe, she witnesses John’s defiance as he rips the balloon from its harnesses: she “stood there feeling her breath going out faster than she could draw it in again and watched the thing lurch into the air with John sitting on a frail trapeze bar swinging beneath it, with eyes she could not close, saw the balloon and people and all swirl slowly upward and then found herself clinging to Horace behind the shelter of a wagon, trying to get her breath” (68). With the “globe swelling and tugging at its ropes,” Faulkner underscores a phallic fantasy, reduplicating the sexualized creation of the Colonel’s self-representation and emphasizing the arousal Narcissa sees in the enlarged balloon’s thrust above the limits of the earth (67). Like the Colonel and his other descendants, this young Sartoris is defined by that “abrupt violence,” a type of fiery antagonism against all restraint that he expresses in flying (67). This movement upward in the balloon twins old Bayard’s ascent into the attic and the Colonel’s semblance being erected above the county, but it is also a failed transcendent ritual that promises individual mastery, but only instills institutional conformity. Although John evades death at the fair and fascinates the spectators, this event prefigures his tragic death as a pilot and his eventual transformation into mimetic lettering in the family’s bible and in the graveyard.

Close-up of Col. William Falkner statue, Ripley, Mississippi.
Fig. 3. Close-up of Col. William Falkner statue, Ripley, Mississippi.

Like his brother John, young Bayard yearns for the power of vertical space and, at times, attains moments of transformation so intense that he appears to achieve an ephemeral type of creative freedom. In his case, however, he replicates this fatal form of self-expression not through obedience to the family legacy, but ironically through a fiery antagonism against it. On the one hand, young Bayard is oppressed by John Sartoris’s stone statue in the cemetery, his “great-grandfather in pompous effigy gazing out across the valley” (117). On the other hand, he repeats the pattern of his great-grandfather, seeking both to master vertical space and to transform himself into a stone monument.[27] In one pivotal scene, young Bayard plays this pattern out upon the streets of Jefferson. At first, he sees a horse “tethered to a door post”—imagery corresponding to old Bayard’s earlier vision within the Sartoris house of a “saddle-mare tethered to a mulberry tree in the back yard and a negro lad lean as a hound, richly static beside it” (Faulkner, Flags, 127, 20). Whereas old Bayard apprehended objects invariably tethered and static, the grandson still sees the possibility of dynamic life. For the younger Sartoris, the stallion is an entity divided, both mimicking the predicament imposed by Sartoris’s pompous effigy yet exhibiting that internal fire for which Bayard yearns:

The stallion stood against the yawning cavern of the livery stable door like a motionless bronze flame, and along its burnished coat ran at intervals little tremors of paler flame, little tongues of nervousness and pride. But its eye was quiet and arrogant, and occasionally and with a kingly air its gaze swept along the group at the gate with a fine disdain, without seeing them as individuals at all, and again little tongues of paler flame rippled flicking along its coat. (127)

The stallion manifests a vitality imprisoned by institutional structures, a reflection of the young Sartorises’ desire for transcendent power. As the “stallion elude[s] [the] hand” of its keepers, Bayard mounts the animal, “rippling its coat into quivering tongues before exploding again” (129). The momentary union of man and beast reduplicates John and Bayard’s efforts to break away from inherited patterns of recurrent movement. Once unleashed, the stallion becomes a winged creature capable of a flight that unsettles the frozen vicissitudes of Jefferson: “The beast burst like bronze unfolding wings: a fluid desperation . . . spreading pandemonium” (129).

As Bayard mounts the horse, the mimetic stasis of Jefferson is temporarily undone: “The stallion moved beneath [Bayard] like a tremendous mad music, uncontrolled, splendidly uncontrollable” (130). Despite its mad energy, this splendid violence cannot remain unchecked; indeed, Faulkner has already shown how this attempt to attain mastery of vertical space only inscribes the mimetic crisis more fully. As the townsfolk restrain the horse, Bayard, exhausted and injured from “soar[ing] like a bronze explosion,” loses the fire that characterized his attempts to transform the stasis around him (129). He becomes an aesthetic object stripped of the creative energy that fashioned it, turning into “that fine bold austerity of Roman statuary, beautiful as a flame shaped in bronze and cooled: the outward form of its energy but without its heat” (146). Bayard unintentionally reduplicates his great-grandfather’s epiphany, transforming himself through a fiery act of vertical creativity into a mimetic semblance. Separated from his winged horse, Bayard now resembles the stone features of the Colonel’s statue.

This process of conversion is ultimately completed at the close of the novel with Bayard’s violent death. As the horse in the earlier scene raised him with its “bronze unfolding wings” above the townsfolk, so Bayard, as pilot, urges the “machine” into a “soaring arc,” but the stress is too much for the plane, and it is torn apart (391). At the novel’s close, young Bayard succumbs to the legacy he had sought to resist. He is buried beneath the pompous statue of his great-grandfather, his identity composed with the “clean, new lettering” of the marble stone epitaph (397). The young Sartorises thus conceive of the movement upward as a form of liberation, yet, in ascending as the Colonel had done, they repeat the violence of the plantation culture to which they are heirs. Faulkner does not simply depict these actions as forms of psychological repetition; he charts them within the county’s social spaces and figures a cognitive cartography with a range of characters struggling for dominance, struggling, as we have seen in the symbolic language of the novel, to secure the apex of vertical space and, by extension, the immanent power that comes with it.

Faulkner’s plantation prototype in Flags in the Dust emphasizes the continuity of the antebellum and postbellum economic systems and offers a complex critique that anticipates his later fiction.[28] The novel identifies the plantation house as the site in which a paradigm of power once erected through slavery is remade in the social spaces of the New South, interweaving a whole range of sites into its socioeconomic matrix, from the antebellum manor to the bank, to the graveyard, to the streets of Jefferson. The elements of this design often appear in imagistic short-hand in Faulkner’s later fiction, but in Flags in the Dust we find a detailed prototype that illuminates a moral arc to Faulkner’s gradually maturing view of his own heritage. In his oeuvre, the plantation complex arises not merely as a paradox or decayed site that exerts an irresistible spectral power over the present; it articulates a cognitive cartography embedded within, and enacted by the social body of a modern Yoknapatawpha.

In Go Down Moses (1942), published well over a decade after he completed work on Flags in the Dust, Faulkner makes his strongest moral charge against the twentieth-century tenant plantation system. Like the Sartorises, the McCaslins of the later novel are elite planters who have reorganized the conditions of labor in Northeast Mississippi. Instead of the McCaslin manor house, the commissary serves as a new center of economic and social relations within the plantation complex. According to Charles Aiken, by the 1880s, it was common for large landownings to become their own self-contained ecosystems with ginneries and commissaries in which the laborers would purchase the majority of their goods.[29] With the McCaslin plantation, Faulkner re-purposes the violent cartography of consciousness he first identified in the Sartoris manor. Where, in Flags in the Dust, a mimetic semblance of life is placed at the center of social space, coming to supervene upon the planter heirs from the attic of the manor house and binding the Sartoris family through the mottled genealogy inscribed on the family bible, so in Go Down, Moses, another mimetic object directs and organizes a whole system of labor around it. The square, wooden building of the commissary exerts an invisible, but “cable-strong” force upon the black laborers in the fields, an energy whose seat of power extends from above in the figure of two lien ledgers that the landlord McCaslin stores high on a shelf in the commissary:

the square, galleried, wooden building squatting like a portent above the fields whose laborers it still held in thrall ’65 or no and placarded over with advertisements for snuff and cures for chills and salves and potions manufactured and sold by white men to bleach the pigment and straighten the hair of negroes that they might resemble the very race which for two hundred years held them in bondage . . . plowlines and plow-collars and hames and trace-chains, and the desk and the shelf above it on which rested the ledgers in which McCaslin recorded the slow outward trickle of food and supplies and equipment which returned each fall as cotton made and ginned and sold (two threads frail as truth and impalpable as equators yet cable-strong to bind for life them who made the cotton to the land their sweat fell on)[30]

As with the Sartoris manor, the commissary architectonics are greater than its overt material structure. Faulkner visualizes this new plantation complex within an intricate hierarchy of vertical space: the black laborers in the fields and, “squatting like a portent above” them, the store and, within this structure, the desk and, above that, the lien-ledgers that “bind for life” the tenants to work the land. Here, Faulkner powerfully extends the cognitive cartography of the plantation into a striking social critique, clarifying the vital role that the crop-lien system played in the sharecropping of the Deep South.

In this later novel, the ethical question of the twentieth-century plantation system is now more potently articulated than it was at the outset of Faulkner’s career. Faulkner, at the height of his artistic powers, compresses the earlier plantation prototype from Flags in the Dust. In the commissary, the lien ledgers occupy the vertex of social space, the recurrent movements of the laborers bound to their mimetic dictates and simultaneously producing their privilege. For Faulkner, the system is not in a state of collapse, but ongoing and powerful, a network in which information and resources flow through a self-sustaining feedback loop. Thus, Issac McCaslin, the heir to this plantation, must consciously reject his birthright and, with it, the violent cartography of consciousness it makes manifest. The McCaslin plantation falls into other hands, but Ike’s decision crystallizes the moral arc that Faulkner initiated when he first inscribed the deceptive white simplicity of the plantation house with its murderous blood-red roses producing a coinage for the postbellum economy.


[1] Jay Parini, “Afterword: In the House of Faulkner,” in Faulkner’s Inheritance, ed. Joseph R. Urgo and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 160–69, 161.

[2] Scott Romine, “Designing Spaces: Sutpen, Snopes, and the Promise of the Plantation,” in Faulkner’s Geographies, ed. Jay Watson and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015), 17–34, 19.

[3] Joseph P. Reidy, “Economic Consequences of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” in A Companion to the American South, ed. John B. Boles (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002), 303–17, 305–06.

[4] Charles S. Aiken, “The Image of the Plantation in Southern Fiction: The Case of William Faulkner,” in Proceedings, Tall Timbers Ecology and Management Conference (Thomasville, GA: Tall Timbers Research Station, 1982), 189–201, 193.

[5] Eric Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990), xiv. 

[6] Gavin Wright, Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy Since the Civil War (New York: Basic Books, 1986), 18.

[7] Harold Woodman, “The Political Economy of the New South: Retrospects and Prospects,” in Origins of the New South, Fifty Years Later: The Continuing Influence of a Historical Classic, ed. John B. Boles and Bethany L. Johnson (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 238–60, 252.

[8] See Charles S. Aiken, The Cotton Plantation South Since the Civil War (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 63–84.

[9] See also Wright, Old South, New South, 84–90.

[10] Sven Beckert, “Cotton and the US South: A Short History,” in Plantation Kingdom: The American South and its Global Commodities, ed. Richard Follett, Sven Beckert, Peter Coclanis, Barbara Hahn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), 39–60, 56. See also Aiken, The Cotton Plantation, 35–37.

[11] William Faulkner, Flags in the Dust (New York: Vintage International, 2012), 3.

[12] André Bleikasten, William Faulkner: A Life through Novels, trans. Miriam Watchorn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017), 133, 131.

[13] Dirk Van Hulle, “Modernism, Consciousness, Poetics of Process,” in Modernism: Volume 1, ed. Ástrádur Eysteinsson and Vivian Liska (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2007), 331–38, 326. Emphasis added.

[14] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Joseph Slater and Douglas Emory Wilson, vol. 3 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), 41.

[15] John Michael Corrigan, “Visions of Power and Dispossession: Emerson, Whitman, and the ‘Robust Soul’,” Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 28, no. 3 (2011), 122–140, 122.

[16] Quoted in Jay Watson, “Genealogies of White Deviance,” in Faulkner and Whiteness, ed. Jay Watson (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011), 19–55, 20.

[17] In William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), Cleanth Brooks argues that “one might regard Flags in the Dust as one more work in which Faulkner applies the test of realism to the cult of romanticism” (167). In William Faulkner’s Gothic Domain (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1979), Elizabeth M. Kerr interprets Flags in the Dust in a similar manner: “The countryside represents nature in its mild, bucolic aspects, and evokes a romantic feeling for the land and its people,” while “a pervasive melancholy that invests the house, as the dust covers shroud the furniture, is as much a part of Gothic tradition as is Gothic terror” (76).

[18] Amy Clukey, “Plantation Modernity: Gone with the Wind and Irish-Southern Culture” American Literature 85, no. 3 (2013): 505–30, 506. See also Amy Clukey and Jeremy Wells, “Introduction: Plantation Modernity,” The Global South 10,  no. 2 (2016): 1-10.

[19] Jennifer Rae Greeson, “Imagining the South,” in The Cambridge History of the American Novel, ed. Leonard Cassuto, Clare Virginia Eby, and Benjamin Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 236–51, 236.

[20] John T. Matthews, William Faulkner: Seeing Through the South (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 174, 226.

[21] Peter Schmidt, “‘Truth so Mazed’: Faulkner and US Plantation Fiction,” in William Faulkner in Context, ed. John T. Matthews (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 169–84. The “true ‘context’” of this legacy, Schmidt concludes, is “neither outside of Faulkner’s texts, safely part of his and our literary past, nor definitively atoned for within his texts’ present action. Context and history in Faulkner function like his gerund verbs: they enact ongoing traumas occurring on continuously contested terrain” (179).

[22] In The Plantation in the Postslavery Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), Elizabeth Christine Russ similarly interprets the plantation as a site that is “proliferating,” “insatiable” and “highly adaptable.” “Although inextricable from the histories of slavery and colonization,” Russ cautions, “its influence does not end with abolition or independence” (97).

[23] See Taylor Hagood, Faulkner, Writer of Disability (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014), which identifies the Colonel’s statue as “a dialectic aimed at immortality as ultimate ability, the great material monument of which appears in the form of art” (76).

[24] Charles Aiken identifies these private railroads as constituents of the new plantation infrastructure (The Cotton Plantation South, 39). See also Jeffrey Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War (Chicago, IL: Open Court, 1996), who argues, “Postwar state governments, in the South as elsewhere in the Union, promoted private railroads with reckless abandon” (314).

[25] For a comparison of the Sartoris and Falkner families, see Franklin E. Moak, “On the Roots of the Sartoris Family,” in Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Sartoris Family, ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Boston, MA: G. K. Hall and Company, 1985), 264–66.

[26] See Panthea Reid Broughton’s analysis of flight in William Faulkner: The Abstract and the Actual (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999), 142.

[27] For an alternative interpretation, see Kevin Railey, “Flags in the Dust and the Material Culture of Class” in Faulkner and Material Culture, ed. Joseph R. Urgo and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 68–81, 74–76.

[28] In Plantation Airs: Racial Paternalism and the Transformations of Class in Southern Fiction, 1945–1971 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), Brannon Costello shows how Faulkner’s later fiction “demonstrates a keen awareness of the ways in which the changes sweeping the South complicated the deeply embedded structures governing the relationship between race and class” (7).

[29] See Aiken, The Cotton Plantation South, 41–42.

[30] William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses (New York: Vintage International, 2011), 242.