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Faulkner’s penetrating exploration of the interstices of language and the profound aloneness of the human condition despite language is better viewed through a humanistic lens. Wannamaker states: “Addie sees language as a patriarchal construct that she stands outside of, that cannot explain her identity or her sexuality, and that she cannot use.” On the one hand, Addie Bundren most certainly never heard of a patriarchal construct in her beleaguered life, but, on the other hand, Addie’s chapter is full of musings about the uselessness, or inadequacy, of words, certain words like ‘motherhood’, ‘fear’, ‘pride’, ‘love’, ‘sin’, and ‘salvation.’ These words for heavily weighted concepts strike Addie as so far from adequate that those people who had never experienced the concepts embodied by those words must have made them up.
Wannamaker’s thesis, that “[m]ost importantly, Addie is a character who is acutely aware of the linguistic and social oppression that traps her into a life she does not want,” while certainly not a wholly satisfactory or comprehensive analysis, provides a starting point for thinking about this complex and obscure character. Wannamaker’s “lens” limits and diminishes a reader’s capacity to decode Faulkner’s intentions or to grasp the nature of Addie’s misery.
Describing her experience with Cash, her first child, Addie says: That was when I learned that words are no good; that words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at.
When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not.
Addie’s difficulties with language are much more attributable to her personality, her intelligent complexity and unique emotional make-up, than they are to a generalized theory of patriarchal oppression.
Patriarchal language repression would not explain Addie’s feelings as a young school teacher who hated the school children and could only feel connected to them or that she was making an impression on them when she was switching them.
She describes her hatred of the children by saying, “I would have to look at them day after day, each with his or her secret and selfish thought, and blood strange to each other blood and strange to mine” (170).
I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had fear; pride, who never had the pride.
(171) But is Addie’s frustration with the inadequacy of words due to the repressive patriarchal society she lives in and the exclusionary nature of patriarchal language? Wannamaker says that this particular passage “shows that Addie recognizes that language is constructed, that someone ‘invented it.’ [Addie] also realizes that language is a male construction; it was invented by someone who never experienced childbirth.” Unfortunately, this interpretation greatly constricts the meaning of the passage and disconnects it from many other points that Addie tries to make about her feelings throughout this paragraph and the rest of her chapter.
As an immediate example, what about Addie mentioning fear and pride in the same segment?
Would Ms Wannamaker say that Addie meant that fear and pride were emotions men could never have but would only make up words for not having?