There is a considerable dearth of criticism that applies the critical lens of Disability Studies to the works of William Faulkner. This paper hopes to contribute to the discourse on Faulkner and disability by using a Disability Studies prospective to explore the intersection of intellectual disability and the psychological coping mechanism of dehumanization in the novels Sanctuary and The Hamlet. In both novels, characters with intellectual disabilities are depicted as animals. This paper argues that Faulkner's normate characters use dehumanization to marginalize, neglect, and even abuse characters with intellectual disabilities. However, the act of dehumanization has the paradoxical effect of calling attention to the humanity and sentience of characters with intellectual disabilities.
Although analysis of William Faulkner's works has expanded to focus on diverse issues including gender, race, and socioeconomic status, there is still a significant gap in criticism that employs a Disability Studies approach. This dearth of criticism is surprising when one considers that textual representations of blindness, deafness, physical, psychological, and intellectual disability can be found throughout Faulkner's body of work. Although Benjy Compson, a character with an intellectual disability from The Sound and the Fury, has gained some critical attention, the field of Disability Studies has hardly scraped the surface of critical analysis of Faulkner's oeuvre. This paper contributes to the critical discourse on Faulkner's characters with intellectual disabilities by examining two long neglected characters: Ike Snopes from The Hamlet and Tommy from Sanctuary. When Ike and Tommy do appear in criticism, they are often mentioned as mere points in a summary of the novel rather than characters worthy of critical focus. In the rare instance that Ike is given critical attention beyond his role in the plot, the analysis focuses solely on his bestial relationship with a cow.
Fictional characters with intellectual disabilities are often depicted as animal-like due in part to the ableist notion that "To have a disability is to be an animal, to be part of the other" (Davis 12). This is true of Faulkner's depictions of characters with intellectual disabilities. However, such animal othering of the disabled has yet to be examined in Sanctuary and The Hamlet. By taking a Disability Studies approach to these two novels, one can establish the ways in which Ike and Tommy are dehumanized and the implications this bestial treatment has on disabled identity in the text. By psychologically coding characters with intellectual disabilities as animal other Faulkner's normate characters are able to abuse and neglect those with intellectual disabilities and avoid psychological repercussions like feelings of guilt or shame. However, by equating disabled characters with animals, and subsequently engaging in the act of repressing their humanness, Faulkner and his normate characters paradoxically admit the humanity of Ike and Tommy.
To understand how dehumanization is employed by Faulkner and his characters, it is necessary to establish how Ike and Tommy are animalized. The first section of this paper will begin by examining Ike and the ways in which he is othered as a bull in The Hamlet. Next, the analysis will shift to Sanctuary and present the tools used to animalize Tommy as a dog. I will then focus on the psychological coping mechanism of dehumanization. Starting with The Hamlet, instances of dehumanization will be discussed in relation to their repercussions for Ike. After placing Sanctuary under the same scrutiny, the final section of this paper will demonstrate the ways in which the employment of dehumanization has the paradoxical effect of confirming the humanity of characters with intellectual disabilities. Although Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury is not the focus of this analysis, I will occasionally refer to the text and the character Benjy Compson throughout this paper to highlight some of the commonalities the work shares with The Hamlet and Sanctuary in its depiction and treatment of intellectual disability.
The Hamlet (1940) is the first novel in Faulkner's Snopes trilogy. Set in Frenchman's Bend, the text chronicles the rise of Flem Snopes from his humble beginnings as the son of a tenant farmer to a prominent businessman. Flem's ascent to power is accompanied by the relocation of a number of his relatives to Frenchman's Bend. Ike Snopes, Flem's intellectually disabled cousin, is one of the newly established residents. Ike, who lives in a barn owned by the local boardinghouse matron, Mrs Littlejohn, is characterized by his sexual relationship with a cow that belongs to Jack Houston. Ike's bestial relationship with the cow is eventually exploited by his cousin, Lump Snopes, who creates a peep show by removing a plank in the barn where Ike engages in intercourse with the cow. Disgusted by the peep show, V.K. Ratliff, a traveling sewing machine salesman, works with the town minister, Brother Whitfield, and Ike's cousin, I.O. Snopes, to butcher the cow and force Ike to consume her flesh as a means of not only putting an end to the peep show, but also "curing" him of his bestial desires. Ike is last seen in the novel mourning the loss of his beloved cow in Mrs Littlejohn's barn.
The act of dehumanizing Ike Snopes in Faulkner's The Hamlet begins wide in scope with the narrator first describing Ike as a "creature" with a "Gorgon-face" (90, 95). The use of "creature" and "Gorgon" positions Ike as something so far removed from humanity and nature that he can only be classified as mythical. The description of Ike's "pointed faun's ears" adds a human element to his description (95). A faun is described in Roman mythology as "Half man and half beast" (Boucher 64). Despite its mythic status, a faun, in terms of human, real-world taxonomy, straddles the categorical boundaries between the human and non-human animal world. Although Ike is only associated with a faun once, the description helps frame the dehumanization of characters with intellectual disabilities. Ike, like Benjy Compson and Tommy, occupies an adult human body that, regardless of its assigned markers of disability (like drooling and innocent eyes), still provides a clear distinction from the body of a non-human animal. However, his mind does not meet the normate standards set for an adult. Thus, like the faun, Ike occupies two spheres of existence: that of the visually identified "normal" and that of the invisible intellectually "abnormal." The use of the term faun when describing Ike also foreshadows his sexual relationship with Houston's cow. Fauns "were traditionally seen to represent unbridled lust" (Boucher 64). Further, in faun anatomy, the sex organs are located in the lower animal half of the creature. It is the animal part of the creature, and not the human, that engages in sexual behavior. By comparing Ike to a faun, the text seems to be attributing Ike's lust for Houston's cow to his animal, rather than human nature.
Although Ike is momentarily associated with a mythical creature, he spends the rest of the text assigned to an animal-like categorical status. Ike's body, rather than his mind, is the first to be othered by applying animal descriptors, like the word "trotting," to his movements (189). Although such a descriptor could link Ike to any number of large domesticated animals, he is ultimately categorized and textually represented as a bull. The act of textually dehumanizing Ike as a cow is first expressed in the description of his living situation: "[Ike] sleeps in [Mrs Littlejohn's] barn…She feeds him. He does some work" (90). This situation directly mirrors the relationship farmers have with their cows. The farmer provides the cow with a barn to sleep in and food to eat while the cow "pays" for that room and board by performing both physical and sexual (in the form of the reproduction of calves) labor or sacrificing its body for meat or milk. A barn functions as a space for human dominance over subordinated animals. Framing Ike in an animal space provides a visible marker for an otherwise invisible form of disability and equips onlookers with a way to easily categorize him as non-human other.
When Ike does enter Mrs Littlejohn's boardinghouse, he is described as a cow invading a domestic space. This is demonstrated by Ike's first encounter with Mrs Littlejohn's staircase. According to the narrator, Ike climbed up the stairs but was unable to descend. The narrator's speculative description of Ike's ascent employs language typically reserved for describing the movement of non-human animal bodies: "nobody ever knew if he had walked or crawled up, or perhaps he had mounted them without realizing he was doing so, altering his position in altitude, depth perception not functioning in reverse" (187). Ike's failed depth perception is modeled on the visual physiology of cows. According to David F. Kirkpatrick and Fred M. Hopkins, professors of animal science, "Cattle have poor depth perception. Their ability to perceive ground depth while moving is very limited" (1). When Ike is unable to descend the stairs, his reaction mirrors that of a scared animal. He is described as clinging "to the rail at the top step, his eyes shut, bellowing" and "tugging back" (187). Ike's staircase incident may be drawn from a real prank that was carried out in 1868 by University of Toronto students who led a cow up the school's belfry. Like Ike, the cow could ascend the belfry stairs, but it could not be coaxed down due to the placement of its eyes (Spence).
Besides being physically linked to a cow, Ike also makes a bovine "bellowing" noise (186). While the term is used to describe the sound Houston's cow makes, Ike is the only human to whom the term "bellowing" is applied in the novel (186). Even outside of the text "bellow" is often used to describe the sound a non-human animal makes. The etymology of "bellow" was "Originally of animals, especially cows and bulls" and could also mean to "roar as a bull" ("Bellow"). Ike not only makes sounds that are given animal descriptors, but is also described several times as "talking" to Houston's cow (185, 192). Conversely, his attempts to connect with humans on any level, linguistic or otherwise, are often rejected by the townspeople.
This contrast between Ike's ability to communicate with Houston's cow and his failed attempt to communicate with humans is best demonstrated by his encounter with Houston. When Houston approaches him, the only thing Ike can say is his name "Ike H-mope" (185). He attempts to communicate "with his blasted eyes," but Houston refuses to change his communication style to accommodate Ike (185). Thus, rather than resulting in the transmission of information, the encounter ends with Ike terrified and Houston frustrated (185). Although the narrator does not give insight into the things Ike says to Houston's cow or the language in which he communicates, his deep communion with the heifer is indicative of a satisfying discourse. Whereas his interaction with Houston results in frustration and fear because the two parties cannot connect, Ike's discourse with the cow further fuels his love.
Faulkner's other novel that features a character with an intellectual disability, Sanctuary (1931), details the wave of violent repercussions that result from the brutal violation of Mississippi socialite Temple Drake. The violent series of events is set into motion when Temple travels with Gowan Stevens, one of her many suitors, to a university sporting event. Instead of taking Temple to the game, Gowan, an alcoholic in search of liquor, takes a detour to the home of notorious bootlegger, Lee Goodwin. Already impaired from drinking the previous night, Gowan crashes his car into a felled tree near the Goodwin property. Two of Goodwin's men, Popeye, a psychopath with a penchant for violence, and Tommy, a man with an intellectual disability described as a "feeb," are the first to discover Temple and Gowan. Tommy leads Temple and Gowan up to the Old Frenchman place which is the home of Goodwin's bootlegging operation. Goodwin and his men are sexually aroused by Temple's presence and attempt to act on their violent desires. Although Tommy spends the night and next day trying to protect Temple from Goodwin and his men, he is eventually murdered by Popeye who then rapes and kidnaps Temple.
In Sanctuary, Tommy is compared to a bear, cat, badger, raccoon, and even a mule. However, he is primarily animalized as a dog (21,77, 71). His position as a dog is first established through language. Tommy is fond of using the phrase "I be dawg" and its variation "I be dog" in place of the more vulgar "I'll be damned" with the intent to express astonishment or show his firm belief in something (10, 19). In fact, he uses the phrase almost every time he speaks (10, 19, 20, 21, 45, 46, 68). The repetition of the phrase throughout the first thirteen chapters of the novel solidifies this connection. Further, although it is not his intention, by repeating his favored phrase, Tommy self-identifies as a dog.
The narrator's descriptions of Tommy also serve to animalize him. For example, when the narrator describes Tommy's meeting with Temple, he compares them to "two children or two dogs" (42). While Tommy is linked to a dog throughout the text, the aforementioned quote is the only time Temple is compared to a dog. Whereas the phrase "dog" is used in this context to communicate innocence, when the term "dog" is applied to other characters, it is used to communicate a negative message such as sexual promiscuity or illness (61, 109).
Besides language, Tommy is also animalized by descriptions of his physical body and actions. For example, while he is drinking in the barn with Gowan Stevens, Tommy is disturbed by a noise in the distance. This noise causes Tommy to become silent, squat slowly, and position himself with "his head bent with listening" (47). Tommy's position of listening is characteristic of the canine head tilt. Dog researchers speculate that dogs assume the canine head tilt in order to "hear more clearly" (K9 Magazine). Indeed, Tommy has assumed the canine head tilt in order to hear the distant noise. The physical link between Tommy and a dog is further illustrated by the descriptions of his interactions with the other men at the Old Frenchman place. Tommy is often described as "following" Goodwin and his men (78, 48, 66). Tommy follows Goodwin and his men either because someone commands him to follow, or because he desires to protect Temple (78, 66). In the first situation, Tommy assumes a dog-master relationship with Popeye and Goodwin. In the second situation, Tommy is positioned as a watchdog. He senses Temple is in trouble and sets out to protect her (68). This idea of Tommy as the watchdog is further demonstrated when he is with Temple in the barn. He plays the role of the loyal guard dog by claiming that his presence will keep unwanted people away: "Caint nobody git to you now. I'll be right hyer" (100). While in this situation, his eyes glow in an animal-like fashion (100). When he spots Goodwin, he takes a defensive position, and like a dog attempting to scare away a potential threat, snarls: "He squatted rigid, his lip lifted a little upon his ragged teeth" (101). A final physical link between Tommy and a dog is the novel's description of his acute sense of vision and hearing. His sight is given an animal-like quality in that his eyes glow and enable him to see in the dark (77). Likewise, he is able to hear things before other human beings and focus in on specific sounds, such as the shucks in Temple's mattress, despite the presence of other distracting noises, like Goodwin and his men (47, 71).
The link between Tommy and a dog is taken to a violent conclusion when he is murdered. The murder links Tommy to the earlier unprovoked shooting of his pet dog. According to Tommy, his dog met a violent end when it walked up to Popeye and sniffed his heels. Popeye was not pleased with the dog's contact so he "whupped out that little artematic pistol and shot it dead as a door-nail" (19). Like his dog, Tommy, in his attempt to protect Temple, got too close to Popeye (78). Further, Popeye uses the same gun to kill both the dog and Tommy (102). Finally, both shootings were senseless. According to Tommy, his dog "wouldn't hurt a flea if hit could" (19). The same may be said of Tommy. Although Temple does seem to arouse Tommy in some capacity, he is the only male character, besides the deaf and blind Pap, who does not try to violate her (68, 70, 77, 78). In fact, Tommy's intentions with Temple are so innocent that he does not know what Goodwin's men are talking about when they tease him about using food to earn sexual favors from Temple (66). Tommy, like his dog, plays the role of the loyal canine and spends his final hours of life attempting to keep Temple safe (100).
Psychologists Joris Lammers and Diederik Stapel define dehumanization as "The act of denying humans their human nature and treating them like objects" (113). Research has shown humans apply this psychological coping mechanism when faced with the mistreatment of others due to imbalances of power, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and race, gender, and disability (Lammers and Stapel; Loughnan et al.; Haslam). Dehumanization is not restricted to an intergroup context, but, as psychologist Nick Haslam's model claims, can occur at the interpersonal level (258-9). Thus, the act of dehumanization can be applied in a variety of settings at both the group and individual level.
Although Faulkner's female and poor white characters are often compared to animals or ascribed animal-like qualities, the act is not dehumanization but rather infrahumanization. Described as "a more subtle form of dehumanization," infrahumanization is the process by which "people attribute less human characteristics to the outgroup, rather than deny them" (Lammers and Stapel 114). A group or individual that is infrahumanized is viewed as less human rather than having its humanity stripped entirely (Lammers and Stapel 114). Despite the different definitions of dehumanization and infrahumanization, both psychological coping mechanisms can lead to potentially violent results in that they allow "people to suppress emotions that they would normally feel toward other human beings. As a result, it is easiest to abuse, torture, or kill them" (Lammers and Stapel 114). The application and consequences of dehumanization in The Hamlet and Sanctuary is evidenced by the maltreatment and violence Ike and Tommy experience at the hands of other characters.
While Ike does not experience physical violence in The Hamlet, the townspeople are able to distance themselves from him and justify or overlook any inhumane treatment by othering him as a cow. Perhaps indicating their own subconscious ableism, the few critics who have written about Ike Snopes fail to call attention to his dehumanization. For example, in his examination of Ike Snopes, Lothar Hönnighausen makes the claim that "Both Benjy and Ike are portrayed not as clinical cases but as human beings, feeling affection and receiving human attention" (281). Although it is true that both Benjy and Ike feel affection (Ike for Houston's cow and Benjy for his sister Caddy), the argument that Ike receives human attention falls flat in light of the animal-othering enacted against him. At best, Ike receives pity from the other characters. When he receives attention, it is not so much the camaraderie of a welcome and open community, but rather, the gaze of his voyeuristic townsmen watching him engage in intercourse with Houston's cow. Ike is further removed from the human community by falling in love with a cow. His bestial intercourse makes him either disgusting or grotesquely entertaining to the fictional characters of Frenchman's Bend as well as the readers of the text. Maria Truchan-Tataryn offers a more appropriate explanation of Ike's character when she claims that "inhumane treatment is justified by subhuman status" (167). Ike is part of the town, but his role is that of a domestic animal rather than a human being. Any mistreatment at the hands of the townspeople can be justified through the act of dehumanization.
The successful employment of dehumanization as a coping mechanism for othering Ike hinges on the user's belief that animals lack sentience. This philosophy about animals would not be uncommon in a rural farming community like Frenchman's Bend where animals, like cows, are either tools (living equipment to carry out tasks), or food (bodies used to produce meat, milk, or eggs for human consumption). While discussing The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner revealed his belief that Benjy is not only an animal, but also "doesn't feel anything" (Meriwether and Millgate 245-46). Although Faulkner never made a similar statement about Ike, the way in which others view him in The Hamlet calls into question his sentience. For one, the narrator's focus on Ike's "sightless" eyes and face "blasted empty and clean forever of any thought" may be seen as evidence of Ike's lack of emotion (95). Although Ike clearly exhibits frustration, fear, and even love, the outward markers of his lack of sentience can be used in the dehumanization process to attribute such emotions to animal instinct rather than genuine "higher" human emotions. Further, Ike cannot verbally communicate with other human beings. Like Benjy, Ike can communicate, but in a nonstandard way. For example, Ike is described as trying to "speak to the man [Houston] with his eyes" twice during his interaction with Houston (185). However, because his means of communication does not meet the expectations set for normative verbal communication, his efforts are in vain. Faulkner's portrayal of a character with a disability who is unable to speak may be seen as yet another means of questioning Ike's sentience. According to Truchan-Tataryn, "Ostensibly, lack of language signifies lack of thought and consequently a lack of humanness" (166). Since Ike cannot verbally express his thoughts and feelings, much like non-human animals, the townspeople are able to ignore any conscious guilt about their actions. Indeed, if the people of Frenchman's Bend can follow Faulkner's thinking, then they can use dehumanization as a coping strategy. If animals, and humans assigned the status of animals, cannot feel anything, then poor treatment can be overlooked and possibly justified.
One example of Ike's inhumane treatment is in his positioning as entertainment for the townspeople. Ike is assigned this status before he begins his relationship with Houston's cow. When Ike first arrives in town and cannot descend Mrs Littlejohn's stairs, "people would come in from miles away" to watch Ike in his agony at not being able to get down the stairs (187-88). Even when the crisis is over, and Mrs Littlejohn is guiding Ike down the stairs, "faces gathered in the lower hall to watch" (188). What would otherwise be viewed as a frightening and traumatic event for anyone is instead treated as entertainment. Since the townspeople are able to distance themselves so greatly from Ike and deny his sentience, they are able to take pleasure in his suffering without guilt or shame. With such a view, it is unsurprising that the townspeople willingly watch Ike engage in sexual acts with his cow in a peep show. If Ike were viewed as human, this would be despicable. But he is understood as subhuman and something to be gaped at. Because he is dehumanized, Ike's bestial relations are demoted by the viewers to the level of two copulating animals. The sight of two mating animals would be an everyday occurrence in a rural community and something that could be watched without shame since mating animals would be a necessity to keep a farm stocked. The fact that the peep show is held in a barn further frames Ike in a subhuman context. Another example of Ike's inhumane treatment is demonstrated when I. O. Snopes meets with his relatives to discuss the action to be taken with Ike and his cow. Rather than consider Ike's feelings, the only thing that matters is saving their reputation: "The Snopes name has done held its head up too long in this country to have no such reproaches against it like stock-diddling" (222). They do not care about Ike or the reasons why he would be driven to engage in bestiality. Rather, they are concerned that the Snopes name has "got to be kept pure as a marble monument" (226). Ratliff works with the Snopes men to slaughter the only being Ike has ever had a true connection with without once considering the repercussions of their actions. Brother Whitfield attempts to inject a possible motive for murdering Ike's love that would benefit Ike by claiming: "Then he'll be all right again and wont want to chase nothing but human women" (223).
Brother Whitfield's "hope" for Ike seems impossible when one considers the state of sexuality and disability in the twentieth century. During the time The Hamlet was written, eugenics was gaining popularity. The sexuality of those with intellectual disabilities was something to be feared. According to Karen Keely, "mental disability had by the twentieth century become associated with rampant and uncontrollable sexuality" (207). The adult body and potential sexuality of those with intellectual disabilities were seen as other, alien, and dangerous as demonstrated by Walter Fernald's comment that "an adult human being with the mind of a child and the body and passion of an adult is a foreign body in any community" (qtd. in Trent 152-53). Arguments for the forced sterilization of those with intellectual disabilities hinged on the notion that they had uncontrollable sexual appetites that resulted in the production of more "defective" offspring (O'Brien 333). Indeed, eugenic panic makes its way into Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury with the forced castration of Benjy. If one were to use evidence from Faulkner's other works, it is appropriate to assume that if Brother Whitfield's "cure" did work, and the intellectually disabled Ike did indeed start "chas[ing] nothing but women," he would be destined to undergo the same violent procedure forced upon Benjy. In the end, the "cure" does nothing to change Ike's subhuman status. Rather than enabling him to connect with human women, the slaughter of his beloved cow emotionally traumatizes Ike. When Ratliff finds him in mourning for his cow, Ike is still in the barn (294). By framing Ike's final appearance in the novel within a barn, Faulkner indicates that his position in society has not changed. He is still viewed by the townspeople as an animal. However, rather than having another living being to commune with, Ike has been given a cold, wooden toy.
Ike's bestial relationship has received more critical attention than the character himself. However, no one has questioned the origin of such a relationship. By failing to question Ike's bestial relationship, scholarship that does discuss Ike seems to assume that bestiality is an innate or somehow "normal" desire for someone with a disability. The Hamlet provides ample evidence that Ike's sexual attraction to Houston's cow is the product of an ableist society. Ike has been dehumanized to such an extent that his existence has more in common with a cow than a human. Although Mrs Littlejohn seems to take pity on Ike and even seems to be able to communicate with him, her interactions still mirror those of a human master and her subordinated animal (187). In his examination of Benjy Compson, Ted Roggenbuck argues that Benjy gives up on trying to communicate because "nobody will pay enough attention to try to understand him" (583). While Benjy retreated within himself at the isolation created by lack of communication, Ike seeks community with the animal species the townspeople associate him with. Ike's intellectual disability does not endow him with the power to speak and connect with animals. Rather, Ike connects with Houston's cow because she offers him the only opportunity to truly connect with another living being.
The act of dehumanization in Sanctuary has the most violent consequences in that it contributes to Tommy's murder. Dehumanization is only effective if the perpetrator of the action believes animals lack sentience. At the end of Sanctuary, the reader is given a glimpse of the disturbing occurrences that marked Popeye's childhood. It becomes clear that as a child, Popeye developed a disregard for animal life. On two occasions the text reveals he tortured and violently mutilated animals including two lovebirds and a kitten (309). This desire and ability to inflict suffering upon living beings explains Popeye's successful employment of dehumanization, but also his ability to murder "normal" characters with no psychological consequences. Tommy is nothing more than a lovebird, kitten, or dog to Popeye. Tommy got too close, and like an animal, was an easy, and possibly pleasurable, kill for Popeye.
It is little wonder that the animal chosen to other Faulkner's intellectually disabled characters serves as a means of explaining the proximity of that disabled character to the community in question. Ike is viewed as a domestic farm animal because he lives in a community where many of the people depend on animals as a means of income. Othering Ike as a cow helps to frame him and his worth. Although the farmers may not believe cows are sentient, they keep them around and feed them based on the return (be it meat or milk) the animal can give. Tommy is framed in the context of a watchdog. Once more, his worth rests in his contribution. By framing him as a dog, the other characters are still able to view Tommy in the context of his return value (protecting the property and riding along on illegal liquor transport jobs), without having to assign him human status.
The employment of dehumanization is not limited to fictional characters. Faulkner used a form of authorial dehumanization when creating and discussing his intellectually disabled characters. This mechanism is evident in interviews Faulkner gave about The Sound and the Fury. For example, when discussing Benjy, Faulkner claimed: "The only emotion I have for Benjy is grief and pity for all mankind. You can't feel anything for Benjy because he doesn't feel anything" (Meriwether and Millgate 245). When asked in that same interview if Benjy could feel love, Faulkner responded:
Benjy wasn't rational enough even to be selfish. He was an animal. He recognized tenderness and love though he could not have named them, and it was the threat to tenderness and love that caused him to bellow when he felt the change in Caddy. He no longer had Caddy; being an idiot he was not even aware that Caddy was missing. He knew only that something was wrong, which left a vacuum in which he grieved. He tried to fill that vacuum. The only thing was he had one of Caddy's discarded slippers. The slipper was his tenderness and love which he could not have named, but he knew only that it was missing. He was dirty because he couldn't coordinate and because dirt meant nothing to him. He could no more distinguish between dirt and cleanliness than between good and evil. The slipper gave him comfort even though he no longer remembered the person to whom it had once belonged, any more than he could remember why he grieved. If Caddy had reappeared he probably would not have known her. (Meriwether and Millgate 246)
Faulkner never uses the word "human" or "man" to describe Benjy. Rather, he opens by classifying him as an animal. This classification allows Faulkner to deny Benjy sentience and humanity. Indeed, by employing a form of authorial dehumanization Faulkner was able to textually abuse characters like Ike, Tommy, and Benjy without the repercussion of refocusing the text on them. While Temple's presence and violation haunt Sanctuary, the only traces of Tommy after his murder are his corpse and the bullet that penetrated his skull. When discussing Benjy, Faulkner called him "a prologue like the gravedigger in the Elizabethan dramas. He serves his purpose and is gone" (Meriwether and Millgate 245). Tommy serves his purpose, as a corpse whose murder sets off a chain of events, and then is gone from the memory of the text.
The act of dehumanization, performed by both the author and his characters has the paradoxical effect of affirming the humanity of his intellectually disabled characters. If Tommy, Ike, and Benjy truly lacked sentience, there would be no need for the act of dehumanization. If they were truly inhuman, other characters could simply abuse, violate, and even murder the intellectually disabled without the need to frame them in the context of "lower" beings. And yet, elaborate reframings of intellectually disabled characters take place in all three texts. These reframings are used to quell the cognitive dissonance that is associated with the forms of maltreatment enacted by characters like Popeye, Jason, and the Snopses. For example, in The Sound and the Fury Jason Compson, the instigator of Benjy's castration, cannot allow himself to think in terms of the forced removal of his brother's body parts. Rather, he frames the castration in the context of animals. Jason's language mirrors the language used by those in support of eugenics. According to Gerald O'Brien, "In the United States and Nazi Germany, eugenic measures that were taken against people with cognitive disabilities were reinforced by comparing these people to animals, as well as by the wide-ranging use of animalistic metaphors to describe them" (333). Jason Compson denies his brother's humanity by referring to Benjy as a "gelding" (253). In most cases, the term is used to refer to a castrated male horse ("Gelding"; Blocksdorf). The castration process is used to "make [male horses] more even tempered" (Blocksdorf). Thus, by employing the term "gelding" Jason is not only repressing Benjy's humanness, but also trying to justify the act of castration as a means of calming Benjy's wild animal temperament. If Jason were to use words reserved for humans, he would admit Benjy's humanity and be faced with the dilemma of his own heinous actions.
In what is more than likely a subconscious revelation, Faulkner has admitted that intellectually disabled characters are human. This admission came in the form of a response to a question about Ike Snopes asked by a University of Virginia student. In his response Faulkner said:
To me Ike Snopes was simply an interesting human being with man's natural, normal failings, his-the baseness which man fights against, the honor which he hopes that he can always match. The honesty, the courage which he hopes that he can always match. And at times he fails. And then he is pitiable. But he is still human, and he still believes that man can be better than he is, and that is what the writer is trying to do, is interested in-to show man as he is in conflict with his problems, with his nature, with his own heart, with his fellows, and with his environment. That's all, in my opinion, any book or story is about. Of course it has mutations. The problems fall into the categories of money or sex or death. But the basic story is man in conflict with his own heart, with his fellows or with his environment. (Gwynn and Blotner 132)
Faulkner uses the words "human," "man," and "normal" to describe a character who is textually represented as having a "Gorgon-face of that primal injustice which man was not intended to look at face to face;" a character who is marked by his "drooling" and "slobbering mouth" with a "face … blasted empty and clean forever of any thought;" a character who, in the text, is referred to not as a man, but a "creature" and "it" (95, 90). In fact, the character Ike most closely resembles is Benjy who, as discussed earlier, Faulkner referred to as void of emotion, sentience, and humanity. Both Ike and Benjy are animalized within their respective texts. Likewise, Faulkner uses outward markers to signify their disabilities. The main difference between the two characters is that Ike has not had a part of his body forcibly removed and he has a significant amount of freedom compared to Benjy who is bound by the Compson fence. Yet, when viewed outside the text, they are differentiated by their proximity to the animal other. When Faulkner dehumanizes Benjy, he is able to deny him not only humanity, but sentience. In contrast, when Ike is isolated from the text and his subsequent animalization, he transforms from a grotesque "freak" engaged in a bestial relationship with a cow to a "human being with man's natural, normal failings" (Gwynn and Blotner 132).
This paper is simply the first step in what needs to be a longer and more thorough investigation of how intellectual disability functions in Faulkner's fictional worlds. Although Benjy is an important character, and perhaps the most well known, other characters with intellectual disabilities in Faulkner's works, like Ike and Tommy, present varying perspectives on representations of disability. An examination of The Hamlet and Sanctuary demonstrates the work of authorial and textual dehumanization of characters with intellectual disabilities. This form of dehumanization allows for not only Faulkner's fictional characters, but the author himself to abuse, neglect, and enact violence against characters with intellectual disabilities. While the consequences of dehumanization in Faulkner's texts are deplorable, the psychological act of dehumanization has the adverse effect of calling attention to the humanity of Faulkner's intellectually disabled characters. Although this paper's focus is on intellectual disability, Faulkner's novels and short stories provide fertile ground for exploration of a variety of disabilities including deafness and blindness as well as physical and mental disabilities. Expanding the critical focus to examine and challenge how disability is represented and operates in Faulkner's works can produce novel insight into the author's texts that can significantly contribute to the larger critical discourse surrounding the works of Faulkner.
- "Bellow." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Ed. Hoad, T. F. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Oxford Reference. 2003. Web. 1 Oct. 2013
- Blocksdorf, Katherine. "Gelding, Geld." About.com Horses. About.com, 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2012.
- Boucher, Bruce. "The Faun." Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies. 29.2 (2003):64-65. Web. 16 September 2013.
- Davis, Lennard J. "Constructing Normalcy." The Disability Studies Reader. Ed. Lennard J. Davis. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010. 1-19. Print.
- Faulkner, William. The Hamlet. New York: Vintage, 1991. Print. —-. Sanctuary. New York: Vintage, 1993. Print. —-. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.
- "Gelding." Merriam-Webster.com. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2012.
- Gwynn, Frederick L. and Joseph L. Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the University. Charlottesville: U.P. of Virginia, 1995. Print.
- Haslam, Nick. "Dehumanization: An Integrative Review." Personality and Social Psychology Review 10.3 (2006): 252-264. Web. 12 July 2013.
- Hönnighausen, Lothar. "Mythic Sex in Mississippi: Eula and Ike Snopes." Connotations 5.2-3 (1995/1996): 276-83. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.
- K9 Magazine. "Why do Dogs Tilt their Heads?" K9 Magazine. n.p., 2012. Web. 14 Mar.
- Keely, Karen. "Sexuality and Storytelling: Literary Representations of the 'Feebleminded' in the Age of Sterilization." Mental Retardation in America. Eds. Steven Noll and James W. Trent Jr. New York: New York U.P., 2004. Print.
- Kirkpatrick, David F. and Fred M. Hopkins "Safety Considerations in Working with Cattle." Animal Science: The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service. n.d. Web. 5 August 2013.
- Lammers, Joris and Diederik A. Stapel. "Power Increases Dehumanization. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations 14.1 (2010): 113-126. Web. 12 July 2013.
- Loughnan, Steve, et al. "Dehumanization and Social Class: Animality in the Stereotypes of 'White Trash,' 'Chavs,' and 'Bogans'." Social Psychology (2013): 1-8. Web. 15 September 2013.
- McLaughlin, Sara. "Faulkner's Faux Pas: Referring to Benjamin Compson as an Idiot." Literature and Psychology 33.2 (1987): 34-40. Print.
- Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate, eds. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962. New York: Random House, 1968. Print.
- O'Brien, Gerald V. "People with Cognitive Disabilities: The Argument from Marginal Cases and Social Work Ethics" Social Work 48.3 (2003): 331-337. Web. 8 July 2013.
- Roggenbuck, Ted. "'The Way He Looked Said Hush': Benjy's Mental Atrophy in The Sound and the Fury." Mississippi Quarterly 58.3-4 (2005): 581-93. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 14 Mar. 2013.
- Spence, Rick. "UC @ 150." University of Toronto Magazine. University of Toronto, Summer 2003. Web. 14 March 2013.
- Trent, James W., Jr. Inventing the Feeble Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Print.
- Truchan-Tataryn, Maria. "Textual Abuse: Faulkner's Benjy." Journal of Medical Humanities 26.2-3 (2005): 159-72. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.