Lecture analyzes Faulkner’s use of Native American characters

Posted on Nov 8 2018 - 5:50am by Jordan Holman

The J.D. Williams Library held a lecture on “Faulkner’s Native American World: Fiction and Reality,” hosted on Wednesday afternoon appropriately in the Faulkner Room.

University students, professors and community members attended the lecture led by Robbie Ethridge, a professor of anthropology, and Annette Trefzer, a professor of American literature and literature theory.

“The question is ‘How often and how much did Faulkner write about Native Americans?”’ Trefzer said. “And the answer is, for about a twenty year span from 1930 to 1950, Faulkner’s imagination was concerned with crafting Native American characters.”  

Photo courtesy: Between the Covers

Trefzer and Ethridge analyzed Faulkner’s use of Native American characters in his collection, “The Portable Faulkner,” published in 1946.  

“Faulkner used an interesting mix of fact and fiction in his works,” Ethridge said. “He drew on the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes for his works and he did so claiming that ‘both nations passed near my home.’ This is a half-truth; both tribes did live in Mississippi but neither in the Oxford area.”

The discussion continued from presence of Native Americans in Faulkner’s works to their symbolism, specifically present in his 1942 book, “Go Down, Moses.”

“Faulkner’s representation of Native Americans evolved from a declination model present in his work ‘Red Leaves’ to the ‘noble savage’ portrayal of the character known as Sam Fathers,” Ethridge said.” And ultimately, the death of Sam Fathers, a Native American, is equated with the death of American wilderness.”

Both Ethridge and Trefzer noted the racist connotations of this symbolism, however, the latter pointed out that “Faulkner did create a Southern space for non-native cultures to take root in literature and American culture.”

After the lecture, Ethridge and Trefzer allowed the audience to ask questions, which ranged from the Native American naming of characters and geography in Faulkner’s literature to the racial overtones present in his work.

“I am working my Ph.D about the effects of soil in 20th century literature, and Faulkner is one of the authors I am analyzing … so I was keen to learn more,” said Laura Wilson, a graduate writing instructor and doctoral candidate for English.

Another audience member, Donald Kartiganer, the Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies Emeritus from 1991-2001, said he was encouraged by the support shown to his former colleagues.

“I wanted to support them and hear about recent research,” Kartiganer said.  

The lecture marks the third event the university has produced in honor of 2018’s Native American History Month. Upcoming events include a student mixer at 11 a.m. Thursday  in Stewart Hall 129, a viewing and discussion of the film Te Ata from 3 to 5 p.m. that afternoon in Hume Hall 203, a lecture by Jeff Washburn at 11 a.m. on Nov. 14 in Barnard Observatory and a dialogue series facilitated by Michael Fedoroff, the tribal deputy director and liaison for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from 5 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 28 in Bryant Hall 111.