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In Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! two paired male relationships, that of Quentin and Shreve in the novel's present and that of Henry and Charles in the novel's past, couple the sexual taboos of homosexuality and miscegenation. I offer here a reading of Absalom, Absalom! similar to Deborah McDowell's famous reading of Nella Larsen's Passing. McDowell explores the connection between passing for white and passing for straight, arguing that the "more dangerous story--though not named explicitly--[is] of Irene's awakening sexual desire for Clare" (xxvi). Corinne Blackmer points out that "[s]ince the term 'passing' carries the connotation of being accepted for something one is not, the title of the novel [Passing] serves as a metaphor for a wide range of deceptive appearances and practices that encompass sexual as well as racial passing" (100). Like Passing, Absalom, Absalom! overtly explores the "deceptive appearances" that resist society's attempts at racial classification. Furthermore, Absalom, Absalom! invokes a shadow theme about the complexities of desire. As Richard Dyer wryly puts it, "the problem with queers is you can't tell who is and who isn't" (Culture 97). In Faulkner's novel, the obvious homoeroticism of Charles's and Henry's relationship is mirrored by the homoeroticism between Quentin and Shreve. Both Quentin and Henry, however, young men brought up in the patriarchal South, divert their attention away from their homosexual desires onto a more open topic for their time and region: the taint of black blood. Blackness is offered as the final answer for which the narrators and readers search to explain why Henry kills Charles. The novel shows race to be a simplifier and (as in McDowell's reading of Passing) the safe(r) zone that permits evasion and/or erasure of homosexuality. However, repressed desires and homosexual panic lead to hysteria and self-destruction in both Quentin and Henry. This repressed homoeroticism finds veiled expression in the narrative structure of the text itself. By blurring the boundaries and emphasizing the interconnections of race, gender, and sexuality, Faulkner reveals that hierarchical categories are arbitrary, they serve to facilitate denial, and they are mutually imbricative, relying on each other to function. (1)

Professional & Technical
September 22
The Faulkner Journal

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