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ID 25195
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Structured Violence as a Form of Southern Culture : The Emmett Till Case and Faulkner's "Dry September"
creator
NDC
English and American literature
abstract
This article is an attempt to explore the structured violence in the South as a form of culture, focusing on such an actual outburst of violence as the Emmett Till case and on William Faulkner's "Dry September" (1931) as a fictional rendering of it. In The American Way of Violence (1972) Alphonso Pinkney detects the strong connection between American Calvinism and the Social Darwinism which helped to advance the tendency of American society to dichotomize human society into two groups such as the saved and the damned, the superior and the inferior, or the good and the evil—a dichotomization which was taken advantage of to justify black slavery and the massacre of Native Americans. William Styron presents in his masterpiece, Sophie's Choice (1979), the idea of the two greatest absolute evils in human history, which, in his view, were materialized in black slavery and theholocaust: the slavery as a collective social enforcement of white supremacy and the holocaust as an outcome of the 'overdetermination' of many social influences, that is, a composite agency of anti-Semitism and other factors such as religion, economics, politics, or nationalism.

This article first highlights an episode in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926) in which Robert Cohn was awakened to his Jewish identity and the latent habitus of anti-Semitism at Princeton. We see the same kind of awakening in the Jewish character Nathan Landau in Sophie's Choice, who seems in the end to be crushed by the huge dogma of anti-Semitism. We can recognize the tremendous violence of anti-Semitism in society from the ordeal which the young Lionel Trilling experienced as a Jew at Princeton. In the same vein, we can see the agony of Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks (1967), a work that makes a splendid analysis of the great bias of European Christian culture towards regarding the color black as a stigma, as it is closely connected with Satan, evil, immorality, or darkness—a bias which, in association with the concept of the great chain of being, seems greatly responsible for the view of black people as racially inferior in the human scale. Toni Morrison also draws our attention to such problems as "the pain of being black" in tightly racialized American society which had been shaped not only by the prevalence of Social Darwinism in the late nineteenth century but also by the enforcement of the Jim Crow laws and the twisted interpretation of the Bible endorsed by the idea of white supremacy.

The murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago, by two white supremacists, which took place in Money, Mississippi, in the summer of 1955, is symbolic of the structured violence, which resembles a Southern version of Louis Althusser's idea of "Ideological State Apparatuses" and which is based on the racial fanaticism peculiar to the Deep South. Morrison wrote a play entitled Dreaming Emmett, with the hope that the white and the black could make the nightmare their common memory. William Faulkner wrote a letter of grief and lamentation about this case to a newspaper, deploring the irredeemable violent bigotry of his native soil. In "Dry September" Faulkner describes such bigotry in a Southern small town as revealed in the ex-soldier's effort to maintain "the power structure in which they 'protect' women and terrorize blacks." Nevertheless, we should feel the shock of recognition, as if we were dazzled by the deep chasm between actuality and fiction, when we read his mysterious 1931 letter published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, a letter saying that lynch mobs "have a way of being right."
journal title
The American Review
issue
Issue 40
start page
39
end page
56
date of issued
2006-03-25
publisher
アメリカ学会
issn
0387-2815
ncid
language
jpn
nii type
Journal Article
HU type
Journal Articles
DCMI type
text
format
application/pdf
text version
publisher
department
Graduate School of Letters



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