Faulkner's females and relative morality

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Until recently, criticism concerning the women in William Faulkner's novels has been comparatively sparce. Some early critics (particularly Maxwell Geismar) have labeled Faulkner a misogynist, and recent criticism, if it has not agreed with Geismar, has tended to group Faulkner's women into three general categories: the all-good women, the all-bad women, and the symbolic women. Those critics who acquiesce to such rigid categories use as their prime examples (1) Temple Drake of Sanctuary as the personification of evil, (2) Dilsey of The Sound and the Fury as the essence of goodness, and (3) Lena Grove of Light in August as the symbolic "earth goddess." Although it is true that the women in Faulkner's novels (because they play a secondary role) are many times the motivating forces for his protagonists, and, consequently, seem to be representative of good or evil, it is erroneous to suppose (as one critic does) that Faulkner considers all women beyond menopause as worthy, or all women before menopause as forces of evil. These critics fail to consider Faulkner's technique of ironic inversion and his utilization of the concept of relative morality. The young women in Faulkner's novels react as individuals in individual situations, but ironically, those women who exhibit real love and compassion are those whom society labels "immoral" whereas those who are inwardly cruel, self-centered and selfish are often not only respected but are considered paragons of virtue. It is the intent of this thesis to show that the women in Faulkner's novels who are capable of love and sacrifice are drawn with sympathy and understanding, and illustrate Faulkner's firm belief in the relative morality of their actions. Three such women are Ruby Goodwin in Sanctuary, Everbe Corinthia in The Reivers, and Nancy Manigoe in Requiem for a Nun.