- Drawing the Line: The Father Reimagined in Faulkner, Wright, O’Connor, and Morrison by Doreen Fowler
In contrast to dominant Oedipal interpretations of the father as a divisive figure who introduces opposition and exclusion, Doreen Fowler, drawing on the work of Jessica Benjamin and Julia Kristeva, renders a more complex, paradoxical portrait of the father’s role in establishing identity. Through readings of work by William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, and Toni Morrison, Fowler traces the father’s acculturating role as a figure who “both intervenes and connects,” enabling an “interfacing” of self and other (20). Deeply engaged with the nuances of psychoanalytic theory, Drawing the Line thus sophisticatedly unpacks the father’s function in creating a play of identification and interrelation that allows for “both cultural exchange and cultural specificity” (6).
Though the authors Fowler analyzes write from distinct raced and gendered subject positions, their work is collectively forged in and against the racial crucible of the American South, and her re-readings of the father figure provide a way of thinking beyond familiar explications of white paternalism. Drawing the Line begins by examining Faulkner’s 1948 novel Intruder in the Dust. In this standout chapter, Fowler inventively illustrates how Lucas Beauchamp dismantles the notion that the father’s authority rests on an exclusionary, oppositional violence, instead seeing in him an “alternative to a Western exclusionary model of paternal authorization” (16). Intruder’s dynamic of burial and disinterment, repression and revival, are symbolic, she argues, of a “buried” interrogation of exclusionary, binary meanings, including that of black-white difference (47). Fowler next follows issues of identification, interrelation, difference, and domination by examining Wright’s Native Son (1940). Drawing on Kristeva’s theory of abjection, she argues that, in a white culture than denies him belonging, Bigger Thomas’s conflicting desires for individuation and integration lead to both his drive for solidarity and his tragic impulse for violence. Wright, she argues, strives to find a way to reconcile and ameliorate Bigger’s competing drives in the figure of Max, his lawyer and father figure, who bequeaths the necessary boundaries for his individuation. In the following chapter, Fowler continues to trace the father’s role in enabling individuation in the work of O’Connor. Her fiction is, as Fowler reads it, filled with fatherly border figures who straddle a liminal, prophetic space between “self and other and between human and Divine” (18). Focusing particularly on “The Artificial Nigger,” “Greenleaf,” The Violent Bear it Away, and “The Enduring Chill,” she traces how O’Connor interrogates culturally defined boundaries to illustrate the “transformative possibilities of the borderline place,” revealing the ways abjection and violence can be redemptive (82). In her subsequent analysis of Morrison’s Beloved (1987) and its exploration of [End Page 382] the risks of identification within a community fragmented by the historical legacy of slavery, Fowler enlarges our conception of “the father.” Marked by the haunting absence of fathers, Beloved reveals that the “paternal function” can be taken on by both men and women of different races and ethnic groups. In countering a dominant Western heteromasculinist model of identity formation, Morrison, Fowler argues, not only “intervenes in a theoretical debate about paternal authority” (95), but also illustrates that we all can “assume the father figure’s socializing role by balancing attachment to others with separation from them” (110).
Drawing the Line concludes by moving from fiction to material culture, examining the nineteenth-century blackface minstrel as well as John Howard Griffin’s passing as a person of color in the mid-twentieth century. These doubled figures, she argues, illustrate the difference between the types of identity crossings that enable multiculturalism and those that reify dominant hierarchies. Drawing on the work of Eric Lott, Fowler contrasts blackface minstrelsy’s “perverse, polarizing formulation of the father figure’s acculturating role” with Griffith’s assumption of a black identity as he documents it in Black Like Me (1959), arguing that the latter is “both a white racist appropriation of...