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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume VIII, Number I, Spring 1977 Faulkner's Popeye: The ''Other" As Self T. H. Adamowski In the criticism devoted to Popeye, in Faulkner's Sanctuary, there can be found what is best described as the ''electric-light-stamped-tin" syndrome. A typical example comes in this passage from Melvin Backman's study of Faulkner: "More symbolic than real, he seems deliberately 'modernistic' and unnatural. He is cold and hard like steel, weightless like aluminum, and depthless like stamped tin." 1 Only the reference to Faulkner's "electric light" metaphor is missing (Sanctuary, Vintage ed., p. 4). At first glance Popeye does appear to be a character reminiscent of many of the Snopeses, the kind of creation that Scholes and Kellogg call the "type," a creation referable to "the most general sort of idea, as Everyman is a type of general humanity; or to a specific non-human entity as Vergil's Fama represents rumor; or to a mental state, as in Spenser's Despair." 2 The critical response to Popeye which I have described suggests that he is intended by Faulkner to serve as a kind of stimulus to arouse in us associations with the modern waste land. Indeed, the novelist himself once suggested that an allegorical conception lay behind Popeye, although Faulkner seems not to have been entirely of one mind on this matter. 3 By associating Popeye with electric lights, rubber knobs, and stamped tin, Faulkner does, of course, make him appear thing-like and opaque, but this should not lead us to overlook the manner in which Popeye's curious "flatness" serves to make other characters and the reader experience him not as a "type" or as a general symbol of the age but as a self, a ce~ter of intentions. I suggest that Faulkner makes of Popeye an "object" (all opaque and machine-like) which is, at the same time, possessed of an inner life. The 37 consciousness of Popeye is, in other words, present while being absent. The little gangster is conceived in a quasi-theatrical manner-and it is this conception that makes of him a machine-man-for he is a man of gestures and melodrama, encased in a "role" so carefully defined that the man who gestures and acts is never seen, except, as I shall indicate later, on one occasion. As Cleanth Brooks has observed, much of Popeye's opacity derives from thc author's careful ··behavioristic" rendering of him. Brooks calls this technique "naked o·bjectivity": '"we are not, for example, allowed inside Popeye's mind as he awaits his execution. The scene is vividly rendered: the cunous little man methodically crushing out his cigarettes and carefully arranging the butts in a neat line to form a calendar marking the days that have elapsed. But what is going on inside his head? Why is it that he will not summon a lawyer? Has he resolved upon a kind of suicide? Or is it that he simply cannot believe that he is to be hanged?" (p. 119).4 Brooks makes the important point that Faulkner's stylistic reticence does not pertain only to Popeye and that it includes Temple Drake as well. It is in Popeye, however, that this austere "objectivity" is most carefully maintained. We never see in the accounts of the hoodlum that analysis of inner states which we find, for instance, in the description of Temple in the corncrib. It is also interesting to note that the kinds of questions which Brooks raises would sound odd if they were directed toward Spenser's Despair, I. 0. Snopes, or other famous "types." Popeye is not cast in such a mould, for he seems to be one more in a line of solitary characters in Faulkner's fiction, a line that includes Bayard Sartoris, Quentin Compson, Addie Bundren, Joe Christmas, and Thomas Sutpen. Unlike those characters, however, Popeye is apparently without anguish. It is as if the behavioral report we receive of him precludes any evidence of anxiety in him about his solitude. Those other characters suffer from their solitude, even when their actions lead them into isolation. But Popeye is apparently...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 36-51
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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