Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (ii, vi, 343 pages) :

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Tom Cohen

Committee Members

Charles Shepherdson, Kevin Bell


Emotions, Genealogy, History, Race, William Faulkner, Families in literature, Race in literature

Subject Categories

American Literature


This dissertation is devoted to the close examination of two novels of William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! and Go Down, Moses. I find in them the repression and return of prohibited emotions and a consistent pattern of “the race between the pursuing white man and the fleeing black man.” I explore how these are related to the Faulknerian conception of time and the establishment and disruption of the conventional Southern notions of race, class, gender, and sexuality. The white man’s pursuit, performed in various forms, ultimately aims to prove his mastery and masculinity, racial superiority, or everything that whiteness means to him, by catching and pinning down evasive blackness. It then leads to the perfection of pure whiteness. Yet white men repeatedly, and almost on purpose, fail to consummate the pursuit. This is because prohibited and repressed emotions which, if acknowledged and pronounced, will destroy the racial divide and the whole social system of the South erupt when the pursuit comes to an end. In Absalom, this pattern is played out with love as its key emotion, and almost all the characters including Thomas Sutpen engage in the repression or dissimulation of prohibited love, perpetuating the pursuit. In Faulkner, because the attainment of the purity of whiteness is equivalent to the regaining of the lost ideal past, the end of pursuit is also the end of history, which is perceived as a genealogy of failures to overcome the temporal gap. In Go Down, Moses, then, it is grief that must be repressed; for, grief is an acknowledgement and reminder of absolute impossibility to regain the past, and therefore it invalidates the dream of pure whiteness and the white male version of history. In both novels, the pursuit is eventually consummated, and characters are forced to confront repressed emotions. Since the white male concepts of time, history, and genealogy are founded on the unending race, its end opens up a possibility for an alternative way to grasp them and a way to inherit the past differently. Faulkner’s thorough examinations of whiteness also entail explorations into femininity and blackness. Thus, I also argue how women contribute to the subversive ending of the race, and how, particularly in Go Down, Moses, the fleeing black man can be instrumental to it only by being caught and becoming a dead body, which shows the sincerity and limitations of Faulkner’s imagination.