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SIGHTING / SITING / CITING THE SCAR: TRAUMA AND HOMECOMING IN FAULKNER'S SOLDIERS' PAY Clifford E. Wulfman Tufts University Like so many young authors of the 1920s, William Faulkner drew material for his early work from the horrors of World War I and the difficulties confronting soldiers on their return home. In Malcolm Cowley's words, When the war was over—the other war—William Faulkner went back to Oxford, Mississippi. He had served in the Royal Air Force in 1918. Now he was home again and not at home, or at least not able to accept the postwar world. . . . Slowly the brooding thoughts arranged themselves into the whole interconnected pattern that would form the substance of his later novels.1 Although his second novel, Mosquitoes, glances over the war, his first, Soldiers' Pay, and his third, Flags in the Dust, deal squarely with the theme of nostos.2 Faulkner's own homecoming , for other reasons, was also disturbing, ambiguous, and full ofliterary possibility. For although he claimed all his life to have flown in the skies over France and to have received grievous injuries there, the truth is that Faulkner missed the war. The facts of his military career are not entirely clear. In the spring of 1918 Faulkner, at age twenty not yet eligible for the draft, was living in New Haven, Connecticut, with his friend Phil Stone. Faulkner claimed to have attempted to enlist some time before March 1918 and to have been rejected because he was too small, but no records of such an attempt survive. What is certain is that in June 1918 he passed himself off as an Englishman and enlisted with the Royal Air Force in Canada, but the armistice ended his service before he ever flew a mission. Nevertheless, on returning to Mississippi he affected the clothing and manners of an officer in the RAF, down to the cane and swagger stick, and began a lifelong fabrication of his war experiences . To his brother Jack (who did see action with the Fifth Marine Regiment) he told stories of celebrating the armistice by doing aerial stunts while drunk and finally crashing upside down 30Clifford Wulfman into a hangar; to others he told of war injuries: a wounded leg— for a time he affected a limp—and a head injury that left him with a plate in his skull.3 That Faulkner returned from a war he missed and affected a wound he did not receive invites theoretical speculation.4 Faulkner simultaneously departed and stayed at home; he returned , but from a trauma he had merely fabricated. His elaborate and changing tall tales about his war service suggest this lack of combat experience provoked a need to realize a scar—to establish the reality of his fabrication by referring to it, situating it, and making it visible. If he missed the war, his fiction clearly demonstrates that he recovered it in his imagination.5 Faulkner's first novel, Soldiers'Pay, addresses the theme of traumatic disruption in ways that are both straightforward and indirect. It chronicles the homecoming of a fatally wounded pilot and how that homecoming affects his family, his town, and the lives of the man and woman who care for him. Soldiers'Pay shows how trauma, brought home as a sign of unhealable rupture , propagates along familial, sexual, and social lines. Donald Mahon, having received terrible injuries in a dogfight over France just before the armistice, returns to his home in Charlestown, Georgia, to his father, a benevolent Episcopalian rector named Joe Mahon, the family servant, Emmy, whose secret lover he had been before the war, and his fiancée, the vain and shallow Cecily Saunders. The novel traces the reaction of the characters and the town to this terminal homecoming. Dr. Mahon insists on his son's potential for recovery despite his obviously fatal injury , while in a similarly blatant act of denial, Cecily, repulsed by Mahon's disfigurement, attempts to flee their betrothal by giving herself to, and finally marrying, her passionate but dimwitted admirer, George Farr. More complex than these are the reactions ofJoe Gilligan, another soldier, and Margaret Powers, a young war widow, who encounter Mahon on a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 29-43
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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