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CONOR PICKEN Bellarmine University Drunk and Disorderly: Alcoholism in William Faulkner’s Sanctuary After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. —Constitution of the United States, Amendment Eighteen, Section 1 Elegance, esprit, culture? Virginia has no art, no literature, no philosophy, no mind or aspiration of her own. Her education has sunk to the Baptist seminary level . . . Urbanity, politesse, chivalry? Go to! It was in Virginia that they invented the device of searching for contraband whiskey in women’s underwear. —Henry Louis Mencken (“The Sahara of the Bozart” 159-60) THE DRAMATIC EVENTS IN WILLIAM FAULKNER’S SANCTUARY BETRAY A region under the siege of corruption, as pervasive violence precludes any hope of orderly reconciliation between entrenched power and those subject to it. The world of novel has been described as a “wasteland” (Blotner 269) whose moral, social, and political decay rots everything from church to brothel. Situating this wasteland in a specific context, François Pitavy remarks, “prohibition so saturates the narrative that it comes to inform it—to control its very writing. From subject matter, prohibition becomes a governing concept ordering the narrative—at once what is told and what must remain untold” (47). Lost in the novel’s sensational violence is the fact that Sanctuary, as Pitavy claims, is very much about Prohibition. The circumstances informing the central plot rely on outward signifiers of Prohibition, placing the novel as one set in and responding to the milieu propagated by the Eighteenth Amendment (also known as the Volstead Act). Essential to Sanctuary.’s contextual frame is not only the culture of gangster bootlegging and societal corruption but the very act of drinking itself, for nearly everyone in the novel imbibes prodigiously. In the cases of Temple Drake and Gowan Stevens, two characters whose alcoholic benders resonate across the novel’s entire social spectrum, such egregious overconsumption warns of how Prohibition complicates what were once stable, though problematic, gender, class, and race structures in the South. Their 442 Conor Picken catastrophic imbibing reflects Prohibition’s legislative impotence both as a means to regulate drinking and, more importantly, to address what “progressive”1 reformers deemed a moral problem. Faulkner uses booze in a way that does more than point to the obvious failures of the Volstead Act, however. By characterizing alcohol consumption in its ugly reality (which is to say alcoholically), Faulkner challenges long held cultural precepts that celebrated drinking as a badge of honor, instead using consumption and its consequences to critique his fictional town of Jefferson’s troubling response to the destabilizing of Southern social hegemony. Indeed, the pervasive consumption of prohibited alcohol effectively undermines the antiquated Southern form traditionally prescribed to white men and women of estimable social class. In the end, the categorical fluidity and ironic subversion of Gowan’s “gentleman” and Temple’s “lady” identities prove that, in Faulkner’s Jefferson, the only thing more ubiquitous than bootlegged liquor is hypocrisy. Faulkner’s oeuvre is populated by many notorious drinkers whose thirst for booze eventually becomes their undoing—Jason Compson, Sr., and Uncle Maury from The Sound and the Fury. serve as examples. What makes Temple’s and Gowan’s descent into alcoholism2 significant is the fallouttheiraddictionsprecipitatevis-à-vis. Southernsocialrelationsand the problematic intersection of broader socio-political forces present in the Volstead-era South, suggesting that the region is in fact “diseased,” a useful metaphor when considering that Gowan Stevens and Temple Drakedrinkalcoholically.Moreimportantly,thenovelgivesinsightinto the evolving ways that drinking registered in the national consciousness at the time of its publication, particularly in light of Prohibition’s obvious failures to legislate morality and cure America of its pandemic of alcoholic overconsumption. Thus, it proves no accident that Gowan’s and Temple’s spectacular drinking binges coincide with the Volstead era, 1 I use the term “progressive” in reference to a broader set of beliefs that challenged the status quo. In hindsight, Prohibition is understood for the legislative disaster that it was, though it emerged in large part as the result...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 441-459
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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