There are not enough vessels to keep the blood. So the blood runs, goes into the rivers, pools on porches, collects in hats, white blood black blood bad blood good blood, all the same. Red blood bleeds, but the blood of the South doesn’t clot than heal, it continues to flood the landscape. Reaching the attic of the dark houses, the blood is saturated into the wallpaper and stains the upholstery. Not to be cleaned, the layers upon layers of blood remain, new wallpaper pasted and forgotten. The blood continues to stew, to meld, and to blend, with a new profound stench burning the nostrils. Mixed blood. Unseen but known, unknown and seen, the mixing of blood is unavoidable when the blood surges so close. The tragic heroes of William Faulkner’s novels, The Sound and the Fury, Light in August and Absalom! Absalom!, encapsulate the horror and indefinable existence that is a consequence of having bad blood.


There is no bad blood. Modern science has disapproved the archaic notion of humors, and leeches are no longer swimming in bowls in apothecary shops. Even when the bleedings and the lobotomies and the shock treatments are no longer in practice, a stigma remains. Get rid of the bad blood, bad blood keeps on making more bad blood. Another Compson, one more Jason, one more Quentin, no more Bascomb. Mrs. Compson, illogical and concerned with old Southern ways, believes her son Jason to be truly of Bascomb stock. “You know if I had my way, you’d have an office of your own to go to, and hours that become a Bascomb. Because you are a Bascomb despite your name.” (TSAF 208) Jason is, clearly, not a Bascomb. “I’m Jason Compson. See if you can stop me.” (TSAF118) Mrs. Compson wants to be aligned with the rigid Jason and believes him to have better blood, to be of Bascomb blood and therefore more alike to she and her kin. Jason has, in theory, a “contradictory role” as the “Bascomb son as the head of the Compson household.” (Nussler 577) Mrs. Compson demonstrates little affection for her children other than their ability to care for her and improve the family name; therefore Jason will remain to be her favorite. Her preference is not correlated with Jason as a man, but his characteristics that she perceives as those belonging to her side of the family. She fears the foreign Compson blood, and looks at Jason “every day dreading to see this Compson blood beginning to show in him.” (TSAF 118) Her reverence for her Bascomb heritage alienates her children, to the extent that she changes her son’s name from Maury to Benjamin. Benjy is a scourge, her curse for marrying into the Compson family. To cleanse the stain upon her honor and to wage battle on bad blood, she removes the name that connects her brother Maury, the last Bascomb, to her mentally handicapped child. The name has more credence than her boy.

Maury’s name is more important than Benjy, Quentin’s education is more important than Benjy’s pasture, and castrating him is the solution to his troubled behavior. Benjamin the manchild is dismissed by his family, left to drool and stumble in the corner. With Quentin dead, Candace cast out, and Quentin the younger run away, Benjy remains to be an enigma. The end of the novel suggests that Dilsey welcomes Benjy into her family, and spiritually adopts him in the midst of an Easter service. His bad blood, his Compson curse upon his parents as a reparation for familial sins is Mrs. Compson’s attempt to justify the existence of Benjy. Dilsey, the embodiment of Christian ethos, dismisses the claim against Benjy and receives the sermon with an open heart in contradiction to her mistress. Dilsey “sat bolt upright beside [Benjy], crying rigidly and quietly in the annulment and the blood of the remembered Lamb.” (TSAF343) Dilsey connects the sacrificial blood of Christ with the scorned blood of Benjy, and receives the claim to Benjy like a dutiful foster mother. Comforting Benjy, Dilsey replaces Mrs. Compson as mother, and substitutes Candace as caregiver.

The Compson house is a place of substitutes, without any reliable adult figures, the children and house servants continue to adapt the responsibility that should have been allotted to Mr. and Mrs. Compson. Candace replaces Mrs. Compson and tends to her brothers like a mother, accommodating her siblings like a surrogate parent. The unusual arrangement proves more unusual when she and Quentin engage sexually, the family blood crossing. The crossed blood created a fracture that could have been evaded if the parents had been able to control their Compson blood, instead obligation and love is replaced with scorn and disbelief.

Ostracized by her family for her promiscuity, the beautiful Candace accepts her 'badness'. Benjy's narrative suggests that Caddie was a child that pushed boundaries, climbed up trees and wadded in rivers in her underwear. "I'm sick...I'm sick. I'm bad anyway you can't help it." (TSAF 173) For her, the bad blood is a derivative of her tainted sexuality, a damnation that she accepts. The sickness of Caddie, especially in Benjy's perspective, can be overshadowed by her innate sweetness towards her younger handicapped brother. And as the narrative melds from brother to brother, and then finally to housekeeper, the story of Candace unravels into a tale of familial woe. Incest. The perverse love of her brother Quentin creates a shadow, a cape of guilt that is worn by Candace, and will passed on like a family heirloom to her daughter.

Her mother might have climbed up a pear tree in muddy drawers, but her daughter Quentin will climb down the tree from her girlhood window. Mrs. Compson “knew the minute they named her Quentin this would happen.” (TSAF 327) Searching through her belongings, she looks for the suicide note. The Compson matriarch assumes that she has imitated her uncle, never assuming that her flight is a consequence of unstability and her hopeless search for identity. With a bad namesake and bad blood flowing through her veins, Quentin has been destined for an inevitable disaster. As Mrs.Compson rummages in her room, she is unable to decipher “Quentin’s love of eccentric dress as a silent but intense search for identity”, and the physical “freedom from a stifling environment that is only concerned with appearances.” (Gantt 410) Her provocative clothing is not necessarily a consequence of her behavior, but a reaction against the conceived identity that her family has created for her. Quentin, before her namesake, had been given an identity that originated not in her body, but in the blood of her mother. Cursed with a ‘fallen women’ as a mother, Quentin is destined to have bad blood, and to duplicate the sins of Candace. Mrs. Compson and Jason insist that “something must be done”, to prevent “people from thinking I permit her to stay out of school and run about the streets.” (TSAF 208) Disciplining Quentin is not derived in their love for her; it comes from the hope of dismissing rumors, to keep face in Jefferson. Yes, something must be done, because something had been done to Quentin. In the hope of extracting Candace from Quentin, an unquenched void remains where the love of a mother and a child would have prospered. Instead, resentment flowered. Quentin accuses Jason of corrupting her, “it’s [his] fault I’m bad”, and will make her uncle pay for her. (TSAF 343) With a lady ghost for a grandmother and an ogre for an uncle, Quentin has no friend but Dilsey. Dilsey tries to protect Quentin, like Benjy, but Quentin accepts the curse of her bad blood and flees with a handful of cash.

Quentin and Candace are able to survive their bad blood, to fight against it by accepting their ‘badness’. Candace is able to support herself with her ‘badness’, constantly sending money to Quentin that is secretly stashed away by Jason for his own use. The young Quentin runs away by hitching a ride with a carnie, she and her beau mock her uncle as they speed away. The survival of Candace and Quentin is stunted, limited by the boundaries that their families have created for them. Despite their bad blood, and the manipulations of their families, both women are determined to survive beyond their delinquency. The bad blood cannot be expunged, becoming an intrinsic, if perhaps factious, element to their personalities. The bad blood broods, dripping down from sinful mother to sinful daughter, obliterating the dreams of virgin sainthood. With bad blood goes mixed blood, and mixed blood is the worst blood. Bad blood can hide behind manners, but mixed blood infiltrates, spoiling the stew. The theme of mixed blood, “negro blood as a source of defilement and abomination”, but becomes an “obsession not present not only in the horror haunted mind of Faulkner, but also in the collective psyche of the South.” (Glicksberg 157) Those of mixed descent are disturbed by their ancestry because it creates racial drifters, eager to pursue or create an identity. Joe Christmas, the anti-hero of Light in August, is haunted, and hunted, for his badly mixed blood.

Neither black nor white, but neither and both at once, Christmas is the foundling of the South. Initially, his conception is unknown, he speculates whether he has some Negro blood while the other characters dismiss his attributes as those belonging to a ‘wop’. Christmas transcends what has been perceived as a racial superiority and inferiority because his mixed up body terrifies all. His body does not fit, it is beyond the borders of white and black and there cannot be oppressed or controlled by racial limitations. Faulkner uses the art of the paradox, the shadow of a shadow to illuminate. Neither here nor there, the Christmas story is the story of Southern miscegenation.

Miscegenation is the greatest offense in the Antebellum South, the curse greater than all other curses. Christmas suspects he has black blood; however, there is never any concrete evidence of his mixed ancestry. Within the orphaned and abandoned Christmas, “rages an incessant conflict between black and white” that permeates from his pores, the stench of bad blood. He continuously struggles with his own body, to “breathe into himself the dark odor, the dark thinking and being of Negroes, with each suspiration trying to expel himself the white blood and the white thinking and being.” His Negro blood becomes his justification, his prayer and his curse. He identifies his difference when it pleases him. Picking fights and using his blackness as a justification for not paying white whores, Christmas is more alarmed when people are not repulsed by his black blood.

Joanna Burden is not repulsed by Christmas, she is fascinated. Burden is the daughter of New England abolitionists; she lives in the outskirts of Jefferson, and on the fringe of normalcy. She tells Christmas her family story, recalling her father pointing to the grave of her grandfather “who was murdered not by one man but by the curse which God put on a whole race. The curse of every white child that ever was born and that will ever be born. None can escape it.” The curse she speaks of is not the curse of black blood, but the curse of white blood being haunted by the inevitable presence of black blood. The murdered legacy of her grandfather prevented her from “seeing Negroes as part of the landscape,” but a shadow in which all white people lived.” (Glicksberg 158) She thus devotes her life to the struggle of the Negroes, to educate them as reparation for the ‘curse’ of blackness.


It would be too simple to dismiss Joanna Burden as a character plagued by ‘white guilt’; rather, her Calvinist approach to philanthropy creates a situation that has her permanently attached to the ‘Negro’ as an entity. As a foreigner and as a women living in solitude, she justifies her existence in Jefferson as a presence that will remain in memory of her father and grandfather. Familial fidelity keeps her in the house but perverse conceit allows her to have a black lover. Christmas does not corrupt Joanna, he may enable her sexual fantasies of sleeping with a black man, but her promiscuity was a dormant creature awakened. Her life revolved around the idea of ‘blackness’, and blackness as ‘curse’ was her divine obligation to mend. Her Protestant rearing gave her the education and determination to pursue the racial cleanse, thus creating ‘blackness’ as untouchable, a fantasy. The mixed blood of Christmas captures her imagination, and makes him a lover suitable to quench her desire for the ‘curse of blackness’. Her sexual appetite fulfilled by Christmas mirrors the town’s appetite to fulfill their conceived notions of race and condemn Christmas for his ‘blackness’.


The town of Jefferson anticipates the story of Joanna Burden’s murder with a perverse intrigue, expecting and hoping the story to be more horrific than the truth. Joanna, a women detested for her ‘nigger loving’, becomes the impetus of the Jefferson mob. The town will use the death of a white woman to “confirm its fears and justify its oppression of blacks and the associated dangers of miscegenation and passing.” (Robinson 122) The truth of the story, that Joe was defending himself against a woman with a gun, means nothing in comparison to the “destructive intentions of the mob’s communal voice.” (ibid) The town of Jefferson is reduced from a community of people to a singular entity that urges the hate onward, to the lynching of Christmas. In Jefferson, “to be a black person is not to be a person at all but a code”, an expression “of an anonymous but ever-threatening mass.” (ibid) Like the nameless faceless mob, the black blood of Christmas makes him less than a man and little more than a manner of behavior.


In the Sound and the Fury, Quentin Compson contemplates the role of the Negro in the American South as he makes a return visit home from Harvard. As a young Southern living in the North, “he would have wasted a lot of time and trouble before [he] learned the best way to take all people, black or white, is to take them for what they think they are.” This is the moment that Quentin concludes that “a nigger is not a person so much as a form of behavior; a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among.” (TSAF 86) The skin color is not as important as the behavior it invokes, like a bad Vaudevillian black face, being a ‘nigger’ becomes an act. Christmas is able to mask his black blood, and live freely with blacks and whites because he is the reflection of Quentin’s hypothesis, that race is reduced to mannerism. The varied reactions that Christmas receives when he tells people that he may have black blood is a reflection of the social implications of their whiteness, not his blackness. His behavior transcends his black blood or his white blood, creating an identity for himself that is a reflection of his personally conceived identity not socially constructed behavior.


Unlike the parchment Christmas, Charles Bon’s son must learn of his mixed ancestry and is thus transformed, creating an identity that in relation to the discovery of his black blood. Christmas feels it in his body; he feels the white and black blood tussling in his veins. But the young Bon must be told, he must be informed of his difference before he can create and accept the difference. He chooses one, making one identity superior to the other. Far away from the life of poor blacks and raised in opulence, Valerie Bon knows little of blackness. Raised in New Orleans, Bon is from a place where “differences of colors played no part”, a city where the traditions and rituals transcend normalcy. According to the Creole tradition, his father would have been considered ‘married’ to his mistress, Valerie Bon’s octoroon mother. In rejection of his father, he scorns his white blood and takes on the role as a black man. Blackness, however, is not an alternative since he himself is both and neither, but a rejection of all his blood.

Like Christmas, the young Bon begins “to destroy himself with a kind of perverse fatalism”. The fatalism of Christmas, however, is an affect of his mixed blood and his fatal dedication to his identity. His unbending nature of Christmas and his obstinate disposition hinders him, and he chooses his composed identity rather than an easeful life with Joanna. Valerie Bon in his rejection of his white blood destroys himself. His father was murdered for the fear of miscegenation, but is guilty of committing social suicide and destroying his own life. Marrying a negress ‘gargoyle’ and ‘performing’ his black blood by fighting with anyone that dares inquire about his ancestry, is a strange protest. His protest against his white blood evolves into a skit, as a performer of social construct; Valerie Bon chooses to be a ‘nigger’ not a Negro. The fatalistic approach to his life and the rejection of his mixed blood by choosing his identity as a black man is a reaction against racial alienation. There is no place for mixed blood, the fatal dualism of Negro and white blood” becomes an “unabridged gulf that separating the two races” as a “response to different biological rhythms.” (Glicksberg 158) This ultimate fatal approach, that bad blood can be erased with hate is one of the greatest tragedies of Absalom! Absalom!, and the birth of Jim Bond.

Jim Bond is a metaphor, the consequence of bad blood when blood is believed to be bad. The child of self loathing, Bond is a creation of imagination and the power of fear. The world will be consumed by Bonds, because it is the Bonds that survive the Valerie Bons, and the Valerie Bons are better dead. The Candaces and the Quentins will be told, repeatedly, of their bad blood and fight. The Christmass’ will be told of their mixed blood and beaten, repeatedly, and they will fight. But the Valerie Bons will drink the lie and be consumed by the hate that was not theirs to drink, and will become infatuated with a fictional identity. The children of self hate will populate the earth, if blood becomes death and not life.


Bibliography
Gantt, Patricia M. "This Guerilla Warfare of Everyday Life: The Politics of Clothing in Faulkner's Fiction". Mississippi Quarterly: William Faulkner 49.3 (Summer 1996) pp. 409-23

Glicksberg, Charles. William Faulkner and the Negro Problem. Phylon: Vol. 10, No. 2 (2nd Qtr. 1949) pp. 153-160


Nussler, Ulrike. Reconsidering the Function of Mrs. Compson in Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury". Amerikastudien/ American Studies, William Faulkner Responses 1997 (1997), pp. 573-581

Robinson, Owen. "Liable to be anything": The Creation of Joe Christmas in Faulkner's Light in August". Journal of American Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (April 2003) pp. 119-133