Though most sources state that the bird returns to earth on a Saturday (which April 8th 1928 was), Faulkner, it seems, was familiar with some variant of this myth, for on p. 228 Luster instructs the jaybirds to “Git on back to hell, whar you belong to. Tain’t Monday yit”.
Unlike the crunchy British variety, American biscuits have a soft, bread-like texture similar to scones. They can be served in several ways and are popular as a breakfast dish with gravy. A classic American cookbook contains this economically-worded recipe:
Dilsey’s sombre, repetitive singing is reminiscent of the spirituals originally sung by black slaves during the antebellum era. These accompanied labour and were characterized by strong rhythm, improvisation, recurring patterns and overlapping call-and-response lines. The songs were both a communal expression of suffering under oppression and a means of alleviating its burden. Often they were underpinned by the affirmation of religious faith. In the 20th century, these songs had a profound influence on the music of blues singers.
Read W. E. B. Du Bois’ powerful and perceptive writings on spirituals — or ‘sorrow songs’ — here.
Listen to a recording of a slave spiritual entitled 'What Band is This?':
The daguerreotype, invented by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre in 1839, was the first commercially successful photographic process. The image forms directly on a silver iodide plate which is placed in a camera obscura. During exposure, the sunlight dries the silver iodide whilst leaving unexposed shadow areas still wet. The image is then developed by exposing the plate to mercury vapour to fix the dry areas before the unreduced iodide is removed with salt. The resultant image is a mirrory silver and exquisitely sharp. There was a brief craze for daguerrotype portraits amongst those able to afford them in the mid-1800s but they quickly fell out of use when cheaper and simpler methods were introduced.
Though there are almost as many meanings attached to the cornflower as there are books on flower symbolism, that which is most pertinent to Benjy is indicated by its alternative name, the bachelor’s button. Cornflowers are so-called because men used to wear the blooms as button-holes to announce their single status to the party whose attentions they hoped to attract. As a result, they are known as an emblem of celibacy.
In Faulkner’s personal florilegium, cornflowers also suggest purity and innocence. These are qualities which Benjy embodies on multiple levels. He occupies a prelapsarian state, free from all knowledge of good and evil and therefore incapable of either; he is innocent in his impeded awareness of what occurs around him; and, as he is castrated, he is condemned to the perpetual purity of asexuality.
Christianity spread to both free and enslaved Africans during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. The messages delivered by highly charismatic preachers spoke to people on a personal level and many aspects of the Bible, particularly the Exodus out of Egypt and the persecution of Christ, went to the heart of black experience. Though plantation areas held services overseen by a white minister which framed belief in white terms, the underground ‘invisible church’ allowed for the free expression of a specifically black identification and for the merging of Christian and traditional African patterns of worship. Services were much more charged and emotional than their white counterparts, incorporating gospel singing and rhythm and engendering a deep sense of communal experience. During the years of reconstruction, black Christians, keen to practice their faith without the impeding influence of white supervision, founded their own independent Methodist and Baptist church organizations. De jure and de facto segregation preserved the independence of black and white churches into the latter half of the 20th century.
It is interesting that this tree appears to have changed species. In the second section, Quentin remembers the room as it was when Caddy occupied it, “the curtains leaning in on the twilight upon the odour of the apple tree” (p.88). Pears and apples are intertwined in Christian mythology, for each has been thought to be the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This is highly apt in the context of the novel, for the tree is the site of Caddy’s introduction to mortality (see note for page 31) and of her daughter’s sexual fall. Apples and pears also feature among the fruits sacred to Venus, the Roman goddess of love and sex.
Despite black slaves’ position at the bottom of the social hierarchy they were, in some respects, slightly better off than poor white labourers. Since the latter were not the personal property of the plantation holder, he could have them perform hazardous work without risk of damaging his investment. This allowed for the emergence of the ‘white trash’ stereotype through which blacks elevated themselves above poor whites from the 1830s onwards. Contingent to this was the identification of African Americans with the social position of the white families to which they belonged, both as slaves and as servants.
The master would boast, “My servants are the best on all the plantations round, best workers, best mannered, most contented, the healthiest.” And the servants in turn would say, “Our white folks are quality folks—they’re none of your po’ white trash. Aint nobody in the world like ‘ole marster’ and ‘ole Mis’.” (p. 6)
The Reverend's unusual name comes from that of an Irish planter who commissioned the building of the decaying antebellum house which Faulkner then had his eye on. Robert Shegog (also spelt Sheegog) had built what was then known as the Shegog Place in 1844, After his death, it gradually fell into such a sad state of disrepair that it was eventually employed as a dairy. With his first substantial royalties to dispose of, Faulkner bought the building in 1930 and painstakingly restored it to its former grandeur. The house is now known as Rowan Oak, named after the traditional Celtic symbol of security and peace, and is a popular tourist haunt.
The alto horn is known as the tenor horn in the UK. The quality Faulkner describes is nicely displayed in this performance of Somewhere over the Rainbow.
The Lamb appears in the Bible and medieval mystical texts, such as the Pearl poem, as an avatar of Christ. The blood figures divine salvation.
These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7.14)
The depiction of Reverend Shegog’s sermon as a tableau vivant of Christ’s Passion brings up interesting questions regarding the depiction of Christ. Though the Bible states that God made humankind in his image, centuries of art rather reflect humanity’s desire to see its own image perfected in that of its saviour. Though the dominant western portrayal of Christ shows him as white-skinned, Ethiopia, on Africa’s east coast, has worshipped a black Jesus since 1 AD. The western areas formerly occupied by the slaves held ancestral belief systems and had not encountered this iconography. Therefore, when they adopted the religion of their new land, they also inherited the image of the white Jesus. This assumption was challenged by iconoclastic black preachers, such as Henry McNeal Turner, who alarmed the public with his attacks on the received representation.