Drawing the Line
The Father Reimagined in Faulkner, Wright, O'Connor, and Morrison
Publication Year: 2013
In an original contribution to the psychoanalytic approach to literature, Doreen Fowler focuses on the fiction of four major American writers—William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Flannery O'Connor, and Toni Morrison—to examine the father's function as a "border figure." Although the father has most commonly been interpreted as the figure who introduces opposition and exclusion to the child, Fowler finds in these literary depictions fathers who instead support the construction of a social identity by mediating between cultural oppositions.
Fowler counters the widely accepted notion that boundaries are solely sites of exclusion and offers a new theoretical model of boundary construction. She argues that boundaries are mysterious, dangerous, in-between places where a balance of sameness and difference makes differentiation possible. In the fiction of these southern writers, father figures introduce a separate cultural identity by modeling this mix of relatedness and difference. Fathers intervene in the mother-child relationship, but the father is also closely related to both mother and child. This model of boundary formation as a balance of exclusion and relatedness suggests a way to join with others in an inclusive, multicultural community and still retain ethnic, racial, and gender differences.
Fowler's model for the father's mediating role in initiating gender, race, and other social differences shows not only how psychoanalytic theory can be used to interpret fiction and cultural history but also how literature and history can reshape theory.
Published by: University of Virginia Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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This book begins with a seemingly simple, but endlessly complex, question: How and when is it permissible for one to say “we” so as to express solidarity with those of different ethnic, gender, and sexual configurations? As Barbara Christian rightly reminds me, when I say “we,” I pose the threat of speaking for others and co-opting their story (“Race for...
1. Beyond Oedipus
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Read for its latent meanings, Intruder in the Dust traces the cause of racial lynchings to a model of identity formation based in exclusionary tactics. At this symbolic level, the novel’s two central developments, the mob frenzy to lynch Lucas Beauchamp and the murder of Vinson Gowrie, appear to be driven by an oppositional, either-or logic. Disguised by...
2. Crossing a Racial Border
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Richard Wright’s Native Son has long been read as a powerful indictment of the warping effects of racial oppression in America. While the fiction’s status as one of America’s foremost racial protest novels is uncontestable, still the widely accepted interpretation that it denounces racial victimization and condemns a “white American society” that drives...
3. Flannery O’Connor’s Prophets
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Flannery O’Connor famously insisted that the subject of her fiction “is the action of grace in territories largely held by the devil” (Mystery 118). While, as James Mellard notes, O’Connor largely has “had her way with critics” (“O’Connor’s Others” 625), her interpreters have been hardpressed to reconcile the signature violence in her fiction with traditional...
4. “Nobody Could Make It Alone”
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Toni Morrison’s Beloved exposes the societally sanctioned, institutionalized terror tactics used by white slave owners to rob black women and men of subjectivity and agency. As the novel begins, the ex-slave Sethe and her daughter, Denver, are still experiencing the psychological wreckage infl icted by slavery some years after slavery has been abolished. Sethe...
5. Cross-Racial Identification in Blackface Minstrelsy and Black Like Me
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In the preceding chapters, I explored literary representations of the father figure’s role in setting boundaries; in this last chapter, I propose to look closely at two cultural examples of fatherly mediation in setting a boundary between white and black racial identities in America. My objective is to distinguish between...
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We think of a boundary as a place that distinguishes identities by shutting out. But this is a popular misconception. A boundary is the middle, a mysterious, dangerous, two-in-one place that differentiates between the one and the other precisely because it is both the one and the...
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Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2013