The state of Maine is located at the north-easternmost point of the United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west and Quebec to the north. It is famed for the beauty of its natural scenery — jagged coastline, spruce forests, rolling mountains and clean lakes — and for its tranquil atmosphere.
The use of cosmetics by women from ‘good families’, not to mention the revealing clothes Quentin favours, was a new phenomenon associated with the flourishing aspirationalism of the ‘roaring twenties’ and the rise of the flapper. Though these social changes were felt with less force in the rural South than in the heaving metropolises of New York and New Orleans, the era nonetheless fostered the possibility for greater female self-expression. However, ‘painting’ was still considered to be a byword for prostitution and those who practiced it were perceived as having loose sexual morals.
The twenties also saw a huge increase in the demand for electrical household goods and by the end of the decade, around half of all American households possessed a telephone. 1928 witnessed the development of Western Electric's 102 model, the first to combine receiver and transmitter in a single handset.
The ‘mammy’ figure, of which Dilsey is a key example, is the best-known stereotype of African-American women. Originating from the antebellum era, her bulky physique and ready smile have made her an instantly recognisable caricature. The mammy personifies a romanticized vision of slavery and servitude, her boundless devotion to her white ‘family’ being her defining feature. She is maternal but not sexual, loving towards her young charges but unafraid to dole out physical punishment when necessary, warm-hearted and equipped with boundless fortitude. She occupies an ambivalent position in the white heart, being on the one hand the embodiment of 'home' and locus of a good deal of sentimentality and on the other a buttress to notions of white superiority. A fascinating account of the uses to which her image has been put can be read here.
The boll-weevil is quarter-inch long beetle whose main diet consists of cotton buds and flowers, the very plant on which the southern economy was dependent. Native to Mexico, it migrated into south Texas in 1892 and, advancing at a rate of about 70 miles a year, had infested all cotton-growing areas by the 1920s. The destruction it wreaked was so great that cotton yields were halved between 1914 and 1923, and the annual loss in profits amounted to tens of millions of dollars.
During the antebellum era only women of low socio-economic status worked, but the combined effects of post-Civil War financial pressures and industrialization led to a growing ‘feminization’ of the workforce. Women were typically engaged as factory operatives, domestic servants, textile manufacturers and teachers, but from the late 19th century onwards, a growing number began to move into jobs and careers traditionally supposed to be better-suited to the more practical and rational sex. The transition was tied in with the women’s rights movement and its rebellion against the limitations imposed through gender norms. This quotation from The Convert (1907) by southern suffragette Elizabeth Robins nicely demonstrates the conflict in male and female positions:
Men have never told us it was unfeminine for women to do the heavy drudgery that's badly paid. That kind of work had to be done by somebody, and men didn’t hanker after it. Oh, no! Let the women scrub and cook and wash, or teach without diplomas on half pay. That’s all right. But if they want to try their hand at the better-rewarded work of the liberal professions – oh, very unfeminine indeed. (p. 253)
The custom of having new clothes at Easter is a tradition imported from Europe. It was believed that failure to provide these would result in bad luck during the ensuing year.
With 75 per cent of the world’s cotton being grown on southern plantations it was, at the time of the Civil War, the main source of the region’s wealth. However, over the ensuing decades, things would begin to change drastically. During the war, Abraham Lincoln imposed an embargo on the export of cotton, resulting in increased production in rival countries. As a result, when the veto was lifted there was a huge glut of cotton on the global market and prices fell dramatically, plunging many growers into poverty. The ravages of the boll-weevil also took their toll and cotton production increasingly moved west to areas which had been less badly affected. Ultimately, the South paid the price for its over-reliance on a single crop and was forced to diversify.
The ubiquitous soft drink was invented in 1886 by druggist John Pemberton as a Prohibition-friendly version of his French Wine Coca. A year later, the entrepreneurial Asa Candler would buy the formula and, through his aggressive marketing, carve coca cola the position it holds in the international market today. Invented in Georgia and first bottled in Mississippi, its popularity runs especially high across the South.
The corrected edition of the Sound and the Fury, based on Faulkner’s original manuscripts, uses ‘dope’ instead of ‘cocacola’. This slang term derives from the product’s original formula: it contained cocaine until around 1905.
After slavery was abolished, share-cropping — whereby a landowner would allow a tenant to use his land in exchange for 50 per cent of the crop produced — came to dominate the cotton industry. These farmers were predominantly former slaves and poor whites who had lost their land during the Civil War. As Jason observes, they did not fare well under this system. Land-owners' own fortunes had been so reduced by the war that they had to borrow money to produce crops and were charged interest at 15 per cent. Rather than worsen their own situations, they paid this back by deducting it from the share-croppers' portion. Share-croppers were also required to reimburse land owners for seeds and tools, with interest added. As a result, many were plunged into deep debt that bound them to the land.
Though Jews have been part of America since colonial times, their numbers would increase dramatically during the 19th century. Rising anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe saw a number of pogroms in which Jews were slaughtered and their properties and businesses destroyed. As a result, many sought refuge abroad with roughly two million migrating to the U.S. between 1880 and 1914. The shift this caused in America’s demographic led to an increase in anti-Jewish sentiment and a series of immigration restrictions were introduced over the 1920s.
This essay by Mark Twain provides a detailed, and typically rambunctious, exploration of the perception of Jews in America.
The American pioneers were those who travelled west to settle and extend their territory. As political barriers to expansion fell away during the early 1760s, hordes of Europeans, fleeing oppression in their own countries or attracted by the siren song of the American Dream, arrived in great numbers. The initial movement from the settled East Coast areas into the “Dark and Bloody Ground” of Kentucky marked the genesis of the movement that would see the whole of the present-day United States settled and Manifest Destiny fulfilled. The image of the rugged, heroic pioneer — the personification of the cherished ideals of independence and self-sufficiency — is the key-stone of America's self-perception.
This film from the 1930s not only tells the story of America’s pioneers but reflects the glorified light in which they were seen at this time.
I.e., donated money to a missionary organization working in China. The American desire to convert the ‘heathen’ was a product of the country’s view of itself as a progressive force whose destiny it was to elevate cultures it viewed as spiritually and morally unenlightened. In the case of China, this verged on a national obsession. Initially the Protestant missionaries — or ‘foreign devils’, as the Chinese preferred to term them — were not well-received: in 1814 a law was passed condemning them to death and any converts to slavery. However, in the latter 19th and early 20th century they played a prominent role in westernizing China.
The University of the South, located in Sewanee, Tennessee, is a private liberal arts college founded in 1857. Owned by the Episcopal Church, its outlook and syllabi are solidly traditional and it is well-regarded academically. It’s also known for a culture of heavy drinking and Jason is here implying that this is where his father picked up his alcoholic tendencies.
Tom Browning’s seminal film Freaks (1932), of which this is a key scene, stars many famous 1920s performers.
These pungent stems can be chewed to mask the smell of alcohol.
The strait-jacket was introduced in the late 18th century as a ‘humane’ alternative to the iron collars and chains that had previously been used to restrain the mentally ill. The patient’s arms are inserted into its over-long sleeves and then crossed over his or her chest; the sleeves are then tied behind the back. This prevents patients from attacking others or destroying their surroundings, for the more violently one struggles, the tighter the restraint becomes. Strait-jacket use declined dramatically after antipsychotics became available in the 1950s.
This is, of course, a cynical play on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) marked a major development in scientific thought with its then-revolutionary argument that, through a process of natural selection, modern humans had evolved from chimpanzees. Though Darwin did not make any value judgements, this process has typically been viewed as a progression from inferior to superior. In keeping with his nihilistic tendencies, Mr Compson sees the reverse pattern.
Darwin’s theory was hugely controversial in the South at this time. Though moderates assimilated it into their Christian beliefs through a figurative reading of select Biblical passages and by reassuring themselves that the human soul, at least, was created by God, fundamentalists saw it as an attack on traditional religious thought. Following the precedent set by Tennessee, Mississippi introduced an Act banning the teaching of “any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals” in 1926. These laws were not repealed for over forty years and even today evolution remains highly controversial in the South.