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BOOK REVIEWS Drawing the Line: The Father Reimagined in Faulkner, Wright, O’Connor, and Morrison, by Doreen Fowler. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013. 184 pp. $35.00 cloth. DOREEN FOWLER’S DRAWING THE LINE: THE FATHER REIMAGINED IN Faulkner, Wright, O’Connor, and Morrison employs traditional lines of critical inquiry to quite unusual ends. It is, at base, an outstanding effort to read beyond the patriarchal function of the father to articulate other, more supportive roles that father figures play in literature and culture. Building upon the work of Jessica Benjamin and Julia Kristeva, Fowler utilizes familiar psychological and feminist tropes to new ends with remarkable clarity to reimagine the father as a “border figure” that not only makes and enforces boundaries, but also supports others in negotiating them. Boundaries are, as Fowler points out, a source of both division and connection, and they “achieve this seeming contradiction by being not one thing or the other but a composite of both.” In the texts that Fowler examines, the father figure acts in similar fashion as he, like a boundary, “shares a relation with both one and the other, but is identical with neither” (6). In such a reading, boundaries become places of union rather than exclusion, and the resultant social and racial implications are profound. As Fowler puts it, “as more people on both sides of culture’s binaries acknowledge that each one of us is the double of the other—both the same and different—step by step, together, we move closer toward a more equitable society” (143). Fowler begins by engaging the problematic nature of identification, asking, “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?” (1). In short, how can one identify with another, yet avoid dominance and cultural appropriation? How does one balance “the need to preserve culturallydefineddifferencesandtheneedtoovercome polarization” (2)? These are the questions Fowler brings to four coming-of-age stories by William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, and Toni Morrison. The answers that she finds in this diverse group of writers center on the father figure’s boundary-making function as these figures “introduce new subjects to boundaries that both divide and attach, and these porous boundaries enable an individual to have 296 Mississippi Quarterly commerce with others while still maintaining a different ethnic, raced, and gendered identity” (5). Fowler begins with Faulkner in a chapter that focuses on Chick Mallison’s relationships with Gavin Stevens and Lucas Beauchamp in Intruder in the Dust. The narrative forces Chick to choose between Stevens’s traditional model of identity and Beauchamp’s more fluid one, an “alternative to a Western exclusionary model of paternal authorization” (16). Beauchamp, whose very existence defies traditional definitionsofraceandclass,becomesforChick“afatherwhoseauthority is not defined by an Oedipal threat” (30). In contrast to Stevens and the even more threatening father figure of Nub Gowrie, Beauchamp’s example allows Chick to think about matters of race, class, and history outside of the dichotomies that trap his uncle, and, indeed, most of Jefferson. The next chapter focuses on another racially liminal character, Boris Max, Bigger Thomas’s Jewish attorney in Native Son. Max, Fowler argues, “straddles the border between white and black and introduces a boundary that enables individuation and social relations” for the isolated Bigger (17). Fowler suggests a biographical connection when she points out that in Wright’s autobiography Black Boy, Wright’s metaphorical hunger for a father becomes intimately connected to the hunger in his belly. In Native Son, Max fills this void for Bigger as he “embraces Bigger as a son” (71). The father’s role as mediator isn’t always so pleasant, and throughout O’Connor’s fiction the father figure appears as a very different sort of mediator. Fowler identifies a pattern in which a father figure invested with Christ imagery resists the role of mediator and brings with him chaos and exclusion. O’Connor often claimed that violence enables the action of grace, and her term for these unlikely “third-party figures” which enable that grace and transformation is “prophet” (74). Thus, “O’Connor’s fiction recognizes both the fearfulness...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 295-297
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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