A major theme in Faulkner's work. This entry will focus on the characters Dewey Dell Bundren (hereafter referred to as DD) of AILD and Lena Grove of LIA, and to a lesser extent the male character of Reverend Hightower and his metaphorical pregnancy.

Pregnancy in Faulkner's world is necessarily problematic for its possessors. Faulkner's first child, a daughter named Alabama, died in infancy, and one can see this painful experience reflected in his treatment of pregnancy. The ghost of Alabama haunts his work. Women do not excitedly announce their pregnancy to family, a lover, or husband. It is not a the source of great joy but rather of anxiety and distress. They are also isolated from the rest of the social environment they are in, and this is stressed by the fact that they are always in motion, always seeking. Both DD and Lena are alone in their dilemma. The fathers of all these women's unborn children are ambiguous and estranged. We know that Lafe is (presumably) the father of DD's child but he is totally absent from the novel. We also assume that Lucas Burch/Joe Brown is the father of Lena's child but he is always on the run, and the brief exchange he shares with Lena after her child is born is awkward and detached. Each woman bears her burden without the typical male partner for support, but it is precisely in this fact that they achieve their power and independence. Because both pregnancies happen outside marriage, the other men in these novels are threatened by this insurrection and reclaiming of feminine power. Lena has a pseudo-partner in Byron Bunch at the end of the novel, and although comic and unpredictable, they seem to have settled into a strange yet loving family. Byron, however, is drawn as a kind of hanger-on whose support has been accepted more than elicited, and this pronounces Lena's independence and feminine strength all the more. This brings me to the other elements of pregnancy in Yoknapatawpha: it is the source of agency, potential, and power. Let's examine each of these aspects of pregnancy in Faulkner's works, as well as pregnancy's connection to sexuality.

"I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth." This quote by DD reveals her pregnancy but also roots her in nature, thereby detaching her from the rest of her materialistic family. With Anse focused on his teeth, Cash his tools, and Jewel his horse, only Vardaman and Darl are left as possible human connections for DD. Vardaman dissociates and struggles to understand his mother's death on a metaphorical level. Darl and DD have a wordless, almost psychic connection but it fails DD in achieving her goal of abortion or miscarriage, and the relationship is not the alliance she desires it to be. DD is depicted as completely ignorant of the facets of child-bearing, and puts herself at the mercy of those around her. Her secret isolates her from her family and when she reveals it to persons of authority in hopes of getting an abortion she is either rejected because of the law or manipulated into prostituting herself. DD lacks money, knowledge, friendships, and parental or medical advice. This isolating effect -- within the sphere of mobility -- of a pregnant woman from her socioeconomic environment is central to Faulkner's artistic ideology of pregnancy.

On pages 26-27 Faulkner introduces the character of DD using the repeated image of a sack and the repeated phrase, "I could not help it." Thus from the outset DD is primarily associated with her pregnancy and, in her own mind at least, its inevitability. What does DD mean when she says, "Because I said will I or wont I when the sack was half full because I said if the sack is full when we get to the woods it wont be me."? I believe this line points to DD's self-awareness as a potential mother, but it also points to her awareness of its threat to obliterate her own sense of self. "It wont be me" suggests that, if pregnant (if the "sack is full") DD will no longer be DD; she will essentially be replaced by the thing inside her. One person becomes two, and in DD's mind it will have an erasing effect on her, not an expanding one. Her final resigned confession at the end of this paragraph states, "And so it was full when we came to the end of the row and I could not help it." Ostensibly DD and Lafe are picking flowers or berries into empty flower sacks, but when she asks Lafe, "What are you doing?" he responds, "I am picking into your sack." This brief, triple-layered exchange is heavy with meaning: it is the assertion by Lafe that he is about to penetrate DD (perhaps for their first time and/or her first time), it is the retrospective understanding by DD that she conceived as a result of this encounter, and it is Faulkner's suggestion that DD's "sack" is both something empty and yet having the power to contain, to hold. In a single paragraph Faulkner has expressed his take on the complex and paradoxical interior states of femininity in regards to pregnancy: its power, its potential, its problematic nature.

Important to note here is the inevitable, inescapable nature of pregnancy in AILD and Yoknapatawpha county as a whole: DD's insistence that "she could not help it" suggests that child bearing, in this place and time, is not so much a choice as it is a duty. Jill Bergman reminds us that, "In the decade or so before Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying, the subject of birth control was hotly contested, and the struggle for free access to birth control became a nationally known debate. The limitation of contraception information was systematized through state law "which made it a misdemeanor to give away or sell any information on contraception." (Bergman, 393) It becomes clear that AILD, as Bergman puts it, "calls attention to an ideology that attempts to define woman by her reproductive function," yet she also notes that the text both confirms and disclaims this ideology. We certainly see the former reflected in Addie's troubling confession that her children were compensatory offerings to her husband, which profoundly reduced her desire for living. And we see the latter being demonstrated, for example, by DD's difficulty in obtaining an abortion because of laws forbidding the dispersing of information about birth control. This reinforces the problematic shade of DD's pregnancy:
she is deeply troubled by it and throughout AILD her main objective is to rid herself of the baby--it is simply a problem that urgently needs to be fixed. But why? Aside from the threat of being disowned by her family (in the way Caddy is disowned in TSAF), because of her child's illegitimate status, DD is threatened on a more profound level of self-annihilation. Ultimately, perhaps, it becomes a matter of individual interpretation whether DD is defined by her child-bearing function, but more important is its role in shaping the central characteristics of the pregnant female in Faulkner's world.

If, of these three aspects of pregnancy in Faulkner's world, DD represents the problem more than any other, it is Lena Grove who transcends this problem and comes to represent its power and potential. One possible reading of the opening of LIA is that it is a continuation of sorts of the character of DD from AILD. Though the two have different backgrounds and are clearly not the same character, regardless of name, Lena certainly picks up where DD leaves off: a young pregnant woman (now dislocated from her family) looking for help finding (ostensibly) her baby's father for help. Yet the crucial difference in LIA is that Lena does not wish to rid herself of her baby. That possibility has been thrown out, or never existed, in this novel. It is not a search for someone to remove what she contains, but rather for fulfillment and someone to act as a witness to her forthcoming birth.

In an interview Faulkner himself suggests that Lucas Burch is not in fact the father of Lena's baby. (Bevis) Rather, he suggests that Lena's pregnancy was the result of incest. To do this helps readers question their assumptions and the logical conclusions we make, which reveals how we are conditioned to make the characters in novels fit our preconceived notions of family and social order. When there are blanks to be filled in we, as readers, rarely question the possibilities of what may be, and instead assume that what we want to be true is, in fact, true. But Faulkner brilliantly lays bare the reality of his heroine, Lena, by removing the paternal question altogether: by the end of the novel, it no longer matters who the father of Lena's baby is, or that she find him; it has become clear that her power is self-generated, and manifests because of her independence, not despite it. To have found Lucas and become a prototypical family would erase the strength of her character.

Lena, an orphan from Doane's Mill, is destitute and on a pilgrimage to find, as Faulkner himself put it, "her sweetheart." (Bevis) Lena's pregnancy is unique in that it serves simultaneously as both detriment and agency. In this same way Lena's pregnancy is the thing that allows her to continue moving forward -- indeed to continue being carried -- throughout the novel. She is the carrier and the carried. Her pregnancy is the thing that draws the sympathy and agency of Byron Bunch. Her pregnancy has a power that renders her specifically independent in a novel of "adjunct-females" who are blindly attached to their husbands and the social, religious, and racial philosophies those husbands hold. Richard Chase has pointed out that the major characters in LIA follow what we calls a "linear consciousness" and, as in the case of Joe Christmas, are trapped within the circle of their predictable fate. However, Lena is unique in that her geometric pattern of motion is a curved one. This seems fitting in its mirroring of the literal curve of a pregnant woman's belly. She is not stuck in a repeated, looping psychological pattern of unconscious repetition like Christmas and Hightower, nor is she stagnant. She makes progress and advances, grows as the baby grows in her womb, and seems to have matured by the end, now a fully realized mother. The power and potential of her pregnancy manifest, in a rare moment of hope in the novel (the "light" in the darkness) and what was purely internal has now become external. What served as a negative for DD has become a positive for Lena. Her spiritual quality proves genuine, and even seems to touch those around her. I see Lena's pregnancy as containing not only her child but the story of Joe Christmas (see the entry on Lena for a detailed analysis on the Lena-Christmas connection). What does it mean to contain another person, and why would this have importance for Faulkner in the Antebellum South? This question is loaded with an enormous amount of possible answers, but at the forefront of these is his major theme of miscegenation: the mixing of blood, the ability of a person to contain parts of another, and the social, economic, psychological, and spiritual implications that result.

This theme of pregnancy -- more specifically the idea of containment -- also holds true for some of the men in the novels, especially Reverend Gail Hightower, who is pregnant in a sense with the ghost of his grandfather. This ghost continues to haunt Hightower and keeps him stuck as a result. He is grossly overweight and, in a novel where all of the characters are on the move, either fleeing or in pursuit of someone, whether fast or slow, and even language and stories are on the move, Hightower is markedly immobile. However, perhaps Hightower's inertia exists but is purely internal. As John Williams writes, Hightower is the embodiment of "the drama of redemption, the movement from despair and bondage to the past to joy and responsible acceptance of that past." (Williams, 205). In this respect Hightower's pregnancy is also problematic, and it isn't until he works through the deep-seeded issue of the ghost of his grandfather in his mind, which is very much the psychological equivalent of giving birth, that he is freed from it. When he has accepted his role as an "instrument of someone outside myself" he resembles a mother post-birth: "He sits motionless in its aftermath, in his cooling sweat, while the sweat pours and pours. The wheel whirls on." (LIA, 491) It is precisely this painful deliverance of the past that Joe Christmas never experiences. Hightower has the courage to work through the ghost he carries, the wheel slowly turning, though the words "I do not want to think this" echo in his mind. It must also be noted that Hightower experiences much of his life vicariously, through the moral dilemmas brought to him by Bunch, including Lena and her delicate situation, which can only exist for Hightower as a fantasy. Bunch wrestling with his moral dilemma about Lena serves as a counterpoint to Hightower's wrestling with his family history and the impact it has on his sense of purpose. It is Lena that Hightower identifies with, more than any other character, and this shows in his disapproval of Bunch's desire to help her ("Ah Byron, Byron).

Pregnancy for Faulkner is also closely tied to sexuality. Indeed, one presupposes and therefore exposes the other. Diane Roberts has pointed to the etymology of DD's name, saying it "locates her identity in her vagina, marking her as a vessel for creation, defining her through 'old biology'." Merriam-Webster defines "dell" as "a secluded hollow" which appropriately suggests both the detached, isolated state of a pregnant woman in Faulkner as well as the interior space the woman contains, both in the womb and the vagina. The Roberts insight underlines the pronouncement of a pregnant woman's sexuality without words. Both DD's and Lena's names point to their sexuality, but whereas Lena's graphic and visible pregnancy suggests her sexuality in an external and thus socially stimulating way, DD's is all internal, a struggle with herself. We can see DD's sexuality begin to assert itself in her second monologue in AILD, when she is hiding out in the barn with a cow that needs to be milked. There is something secretive and highly sexual about her experience here; it is simultaneously vaginal, womb-like, and isolated from the others, until Vardaman is discovered and rebuked: "When I am out of sight of the house, I go fast. The cow lows at the foot of the bluff. She nuzzles at me, snuffing, blowing her breath in a sweet, hot blast, through my dress, against my hot nakedness, moaning. 'You got to wait a little while. Then I'll tend to you.'" (AILD, 61) There is erotic language charged with the heat of anticipation and yearning. Later DD says, "I feel my body, my bones and flesh beginning to part and open upon the alone, and the process of coming unalone is terrible." (AILD, 62) DD simultaneously feels her inner sexuality expressing itself as the fertilized egg within her begins to blossom and the implication of that blossoming as the threat of extinguishing her former identity. When she discovers Vardaman she reacts harshly, followed by a denial of something he hasn't verbalized: "You durn little sneak!" and "I never. I never." In my own interpretation the episode represents an aborted attempt by DD at masturbation. The irony is that at the same time DD is developing a personalized, individual relationship to her own sexuality, it is also the source of shame and isolation. She is also looking to destroy the very thing that is reanimating her, out of fear that it will destroy her purity of self.

The other connection between sexuality and pregnancy for Faulkner is that pregnancy is a woman's punishment for engaging in sex. Here then is the irony of the phenomenon of containment, for in risking the release of her sexuality a woman consequentially becomes a vessel for containment. As Bergman puts it, "Motherhood, in both the South and the North, became linked, paradoxically, with chastity and served as a means of containing and denying female sexuality." Pregnancy becomes both an expression and a denial of sexuality, and Faulkner displays both ideologies in his works. "By ensuring that sexual expression carried the threat of pregnancy, the dominant social order could theoretically keep female sexuality contained." (Bergman) This dominant social order is certainly evident in AILD and carries an oppressive weight on both DD and Addie concerning child birth. Addie's blooming sexuality turns into the painful, sexless life of maternity, and her children are a burden, the source of resentment, exhaustion, and regret, rather than joy and fulfillment. The parallel of Addie's dying happening at the same time as DD's growing awareness of the child within her underlines these negative sentiments.

A final perspective on this theme is that, for Faulkner, pregnancy is the ultimate symbol of his own works, with each novel the equivalent of an unborn child, born anew to each of its readers. The novels are problematic to say the least, yet they "contain multitudes" as Whitman said of himself, they are full of power. Their power is in their potential, which is infinite so long as they are unread. Faulkner was often his own harshest critic, yet also arrogant of his own talent, and this juxtaposition is reflected in his thinking of his own work as a failure, perhaps wanting it destroyed (like DD's baby) and yet wanting them to persevere and walk the earth (like Lena's baby). Like Lena and DD, the books carry and are carried, from one reader to the next.

–Herbert Plummer

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