- Linda Snopes Kohl:Faulkner's Radical Woman
Faulkner's Snopes trilogy is not generally regarded as a radical critique of America. More commonly critics discuss ethical or aesthetic concerns that are rooted, as American political rhetoric is, in eighteenth-century ideas of universality and the individual. In both the eighteenth century and in Faulkner's fiction, that individual is male; his experience is represented as culture. Faulkner's women also have a tradition in the texts, criticism, and Western civilization: they are nature. This mythology is set forth comically in The Hamlet and further subverted in The Town and The Mansion. The alternate vision of America is embodied finally in Linda Snopes Kohl, who walks out of the mansion and closes the door on the American dream of a patriarchal dynasty after achieving what no other female or male character in Faulkner's fiction achieves, an act of justice that settles her conflicts with the past and empowers her move into the future. Simone de Beauvoir would call it transcendence.
"Nigger Lover . . . Communist, Jew": the taunts scrawled on the sidewalk outside Linda's home name the radical causes that she represents as well as the role of the historical scapegoat she plays. Linda is doubly radical, however, for she is also a woman who shuns marriage, who arranges [End Page 425] for the murder of her "father," and who avenges her mother's death by using the gallant liberalism of a family friend. Critics have not responded positively to her.1 Linda, however, provides a timely although fictional way out of Faulkner's impasse between his liberal civil rights stance and his privileged position as male and white.2 Moreover, Linda recalls the lives of other real American women who have been fighting a civil war different from the one the South lost.3
The trilogy tells the story of the Snopeses who take over the hamlet of Frenchman's Bend and then graze up the town of Jefferson and the positions of conservative power and respectability: bank president and U. S. Senator. Flem Snopes makes his move from hamlet to town with the wealth he acquires by marrying the pregnant Eula Varner, a "loose girdled bucolic Lilith" (Town 319). When the child Linda is nineteen, Eula kills herself in an effort to protect her daughter from the shame of illegitimacy. Nineteen years later Linda petitions for the release of a relative, Mink Snopes, from the penitentiary where he has spent 38 years because his kinsman Flem would not help him: she accepts the moral responsibility for what she knows he will do—kill Flem.
Linda's experiences call into question the values of the American South and of the patriarchal civilization on which it is modeled. Faulkner embodies in her what David Mintner calls "the drama of longstanding dissatisfactions . . . with his region and his family" (239), a drama which Faulkner's own identity as white, privileged, and male prevented him from resolving. Critical responses to Linda, however, espouse values that she challenges and that entrap her in judgments, ironically opposite of what Faulkner does in the text.
Snopes is about origins and the process of history. To consider the relationships among women, men, and the land in terms of origins is to see them as transhistorical: the way they are is explained by their origin, their nature, and not by the process of historical change (Lerner 37). The trilogy begins as a comedy of transhistorical origins and concludes with a realization of historical change.
We can see what Faulkner had in mind in 1938 from the notes on his projected plot and titles: "The Peasants," "Rus in Urbe," and "Ilium Falling" (Selected Letters 107-108). Evidently the trilogy was planned as an epic cycle, traditionally the story of a nation. Faulkner's comic epic ostensibly recounts the battle between the Snopeses and the non-Snopeses [End Page 426] they dispossess, but he did not follow his unrealistically hopeful plan where the victorious Snopeses breed themselves out of power, the last "scion of the family" a worthless boy (Selected Letters 108). Instead he dramatizes another conflict through the foregrounding of narrative and narrators, this...