Temporal structure and meaning : the defamiliarization of the reader in Faulkner's Go down, Moses

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Fessenden, William E.
Miller, William V.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
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This study of Faulkner's Go Down, Moses uses the reader-response theories of Wolfgang Iser to examine the affective impact of strategically-arranged folk conventions and mythopoeic devices upon a textually-based, white "civilized" reader. Using the devices of Southwestern humor, the trickster, and the tragic Black folk tale, "Was" through "Pantaloon in Black" repeatedly sidetrack the reader into unconscious participation in the white-code attitudes he was invited to criticize. When this hypocritical participation is discovered at certain "points of significance" in "The Fire and the Hearth" and "Pantaloon in Black," the reader's rationally-humanistic norms are rendered ineffectual, setting the stage for the undermining of a second idealism based on primitive myth. In "The Old People" and "The Bear" the reader is induced by mythopoeic devices to adopt Isaac McCaslin's unifying mythical norms and, thereby, to criticize his own failures in "Was" through "Pantaloon in Black" along with Southern civilization's socially-fragmenting rational-empiric concept of progress. "Delta Autumn," however, will undermine the reader's attempts to create moral unity using Isaac's natural hierarchy. With mythopoeic devices withdrawn, the wilderness destroyed by civilization, and Isaac McCaslin's reversion to white-code attitudes regarding Roth's Black/white offspring, the reader can see Isaac's experience in "The Bear" for what it really is, not an introduction into Sam Fathers's immutable cyclic unity but an initiation into fragmenting Cavalier forms and values. Once again the reader faces the hypocritical ineffectuality of his own idealism. For by emotionally and intellectually identifying with Isaac's misperception of the wilderness experience, he has aligned himself with socially-alienating rather than socially-unifying values. Now confronting the fragmentation dramatized in Isaac's terror-motivated racism and experienced in his own textual failures, the reader is ready for "the existential norm of "Go Down, Moses," where he is encouraged to construct meaning out of non-meaning by negating the "bad faith" of Gavin Stevens, who in fear chooses stable but racially-fragmenting Cavalier values, and by affirming the "good faith" of Molly Beauchamp and Miss Worsham, who choose the temporal unity of shared suffering in the face of chaos.