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Through the fiction of four authors, Doreen Fowler explores the “crossing of culturally and historically drawn racial, ethnic, gendered, or other borders” and how that crossing can be transformative rather than polarizing (1). She claims that “[w]hile theorists of race and gender have sought to undo marginalizing oppositions, they have been stymied because engagement with the other always poses the threat of the culturally dominant subject position appropriating the other” (2). Zeroing in on how boundaries both connect and divide people, Fowler looks to the father as the “boundary-setting figure” who “models the combination of relatedness and difference that distinguishes a boundary” (7) and relies on the work of Julia Kristeva as the basis of her study of Faulkner, Wright, O’Connor, and Morrison. She presents Kristeva’s work as explaining that a “child must negotiate a threatening, paradoxical border space that stabilizes always unstable dualities in a fluid zone of inmixing.” This in-between place forms Kristeva’s “abject,” a “zone of borderlessness that a child must negotiate to make the passage from the mother’s body to the external world; and to enable this border crossing, a third party must intervene” (10). Fowler claims the father is the third party who aids “a youth’s induction into a social order of differential cultural identities” (12). The four writers in her study examine the South’s legacy of slavery and Jim Crow: Faulkner’s examination of a “social hierarchy built on exclusion and domination” (15) in Intruder in the Dust, Wright’s study of Bigger Thomas and his search to reconcile his “needs for individuation and for [End Page 562] integration” (17) in Native Son, O’Connor’s use of “violent, disturbing male figures” who make “grace accessible to others” by breaking up the “static mother-child intimacy” (17–18), and Morrison’s use of a father figure to be the “intermediary [for ex-slaves] who introduces a border that allows both for culturally different identities and for cultural relations” in Beloved (19). The study concludes with a look at how material culture, through the historical example of blackface as well as the experience of John Howard Griffin’s passing as a black man by “chemically” darkening his skin, uses figures of a “double” to impact race relations (19). Fowler’s ultimate argument states that “[b]ecause the fatherly threshold figure is both related and different, she or he both intervenes and connects, and this interfacing grounds different identities in one another” (20). Fowler concludes that a “sharing of different identities is not the end of different social identities; rather it is the formula for new multicultural coalitions” (20).
Beginning with Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust, Fowler examines the southern dialectic of racial domination, the “either-or oppositions” (27), through the character of Lucas Beauchamp, who refuses to take a black or white identity by embracing his ancestry as a composite of both. Other critics have written of Lucas’s identification with his white ancestor and his refusal to be black, thereby resisting cultural expectations in his rejection of white categorizations. In formulating her new examination of father figures through Kristeva, Fowler contrasts her reading with Freudian theory, and occasionally the Freudian model dwarfs her own theory of figures who are “straddling the border between self and other” (29), methodically building her argument on Kristeva’s work.
The discussion of Wright’s Native Son illustrates Kristeva’s idea that “abjection shatters a sense of individuation and then transforms it so as to allow for cultural exchange, cross-fertilization, and the production of new social identities” (50). Fowler argues that Bigger fights his impulses to join with others. It is the figure of Max who “straddles the border between himself and Bigger when he bears witness for Bigger” (63), and further, Max “risked both gender and race ambiguity when he straddled the thresholds between mother and father and between black and white” (68). In the figure of Max, there is the hope of social progress through...