112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Re-Fashioning the Old South: Material Culture and Deconstruction in William Faulkner

Juliana Kubicki, California State University, Los Angeles

A close textual analysis of William Faulkner's Light in August reveals that literary dress and the appearance of the three main characters serves to deconstruct and subvert the established cultural system of the Old South by blurring the lines between race and class. 


"Clothing is always an intricate node of meaning, where necessity intersects with desire, and socially imposed interpretations collide with private projections," (Sylvia Cook, "Reading Clothes: Literary Dress in William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell, 4). Faulkner uses this concept of "literary dress" not only to assert personality, but also bodily autonomy and a changing history that allows the boundaries between race and class to be blurred. Light in August provides a rich assortment of examples of literary dress, with the three main storylines of Lena Grove, Joe Christmas, and Gail Hightower each expressing a character living outside the socially accepted cultural normality. T.J. Jackson Lears, author of "True and False Things: Faulkner and the World of Goods," claims that by "deploying various props into his own performances, [Faulkner] understood the power of appearances, of surface display, as a source of social, personal, and even spiritual significance," (144). By exploring the material appearance of the characters within the novel, Faulkner's careful and meticulous presentation of literary dress transcends mere description and becomes a way in which to analyze the society by which they have been raised, created, and marginalized; once this relationship can be identified, Faulkner's scathing review of the Old South's social system can be determined, an aspect of critical analysis that has long been overlooked. By conflating Southern history with material culture within the novel, Faulkner is able to manipulate the narrative in order to subtly deconstruct and subvert the established social system. For the characters in Light in August, clothing not only determines a present social identity, but also carries with it a social history that becomes a latent identifier. Particularly in the case of the Old South, in which race, class, and gender were harshly divided based on appearance, the clothing choice of a character in Faulkner's work is a detail that should not go unnoticed, as this is a detail that often carries with it the weight of a cultural system in the midst of a violent upheaval.

Topic Area: