Page 226. " the walls of Mexican houses that have been plastered by hand "

Adobe wall in New Mexico
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAdobe wall in New Mexico - Credit: Dolor Ipsum
Mexico is one of the many places in which houses have been constructed of adobe, an extremely durable material made by combining sand, water, clay and some form of organic material, such as straw or manure. This substance was originally built up in wet layers until bricks were introduced by the Spanish in the 16th century. These are left to dry in the sun before being used to construct the walls. When the structure is complete, mud-plaster is applied to the exterior.

Page 226. " Beside the house, shading it in summer, stood three mulberry trees "

The Mulberry Tree
Public DomainThe Mulberry Tree - Credit: Vincent van Gogh
Though red mulberries are native to North America, the white mulberry — which is now more common — is an import from Asia. Its history is made up of an almost Faulkneresque blend of doomed hope, clashing ideals and bathetic comedy. With its warm climate, the British entertained high hopes that their new colony, America, would prove a profitable site for cultivating silk. Since the silkworm feeds almost exclusively on that tree, James I insisted that all planters grow at least 10 mulberries for every 100 acres of land or face the punishment of a £10 fine. Under the ravages of disease, intemperate weather and the reluctance of farmers to invest themselves in so labour- and time-intensive a pursuit for small profit, his efforts failed, as would those of many others over the centuries. Intended as a symbol of the supreme magnificence of the empire, the white mulberry, a highly invasive species, has instead become a pest. 

Page 226. " A pair of jaybirds came up from nowhere "

Blue Jay
Public DomainBlue Jay - Credit: Pearson Scott Foresman
The jaybird, or blue jay, is a type of corvid common across the United States. It features heavily in African American folklore and is said to be a servant of the Devil. Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (1926) by Newbell Niles Puckett contains this story:

 

Every Friday the jaybird.. [visits] hell to take kindling, sand, or a drop of water to the devil. Some say that this grain of sand is a ransom for the souls in hell, who cannot be released until all the sand on the surface of the earth has been carried below; while others take the view that the jaybirds sold themselves to the devil at one time for an ear of corn, and are obliged to take sticks and sand to him every Friday to make his fire hot. (p. 549)

 

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”. 

Page 229. " Dilsey prepared to make biscuit "
 

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: 

A typical southern breakfast of biscuits and gravy
Creative Commons AttributionA typical southern breakfast of biscuits and gravy - Credit: musical photo man
Recipe from the Young Wife's Cook Book (1870)
Public DomainRecipe from the Young Wife's Cook Book (1870) - Credit: Hannah Mary Peterson
Page 229. " she sang, to herself at first, something without particular tune or words, repetitively, mournful and plaintive "

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?': 

 

Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Public DomainSwing Low Sweet Chariot - Credit: Radiex
Watch members of Friends of Negro Spirituals talk about what the songs mean to them:

Page 233. " like that of children in daguerreotypes. "
Daguerrotype of a painted portrait of the Prince of Oldenburg’s family
Creative Commons AttributionDaguerrotype of a painted portrait of the Prince of Oldenburg’s family - Credit: Nordiska museet

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.

Page 233. " His eyes were clear, of that pale sweet blue of cornflowers "
Illustration from Bilder ur Nordens Flora
Public DomainIllustration from Bilder ur Nordens Flora - Credit: Carl Lindman
Cornflower
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCornflower - Credit: Reini68

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.

Page 237. " The darkies are having a special Easter service "
A rural African American church in South Carolina
Public DomainA rural African American church in South Carolina - Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

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.

 

Page 240. " A pear tree grew there, close against the house "
Venus with Apple
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeVenus with Apple - Credit: seier+seier
Venus offering a pear to Cupid
Public DomainVenus offering a pear to Cupid - Credit: Melchior Lorck

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.

Page 246. " de good Lawd don’t keer whether he smart er not. Don’t nobody but white trash keer dat. "
Poor white labourer from the Mississippi Delta
Public DomainPoor white labourer from the Mississippi Delta - Credit: Library of Congress

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.

 

Home of a poor agricultural labourer
Public DomainHome of a poor agricultural labourer - Credit: Library of Congress

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Civilization of the Old South (1916), Mildred Rutherford, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, paints this affiliation in typically sentimental and racially supremacist terms:

 

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)

Page 248. " Rev'un Shegog'll cure dat. "
Rowan Oak (the Shegog Place)
Creative Commons AttributionRowan Oak (the Shegog Place) - Credit: naslrogues

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.

Page 250. " a sad, timbrous quality like an alto horn "
Alto horn
GNU Free Documentation LicenseAlto horn - Credit: RWFanMS

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.

Page 250. " I got the recollection and the blood of the Lamb! "
Adoration of the Lamb, from the Ghent Altarpiece
Public DomainAdoration of the Lamb, from the Ghent Altarpiece - Credit: Jan van Eyck

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)  

Paschal Lamb
Public DomainPaschal Lamb - Credit: Josefa de Óbidos
Page 250. " with his body he seemed to feed the voice that, succubus like, had fleshed its teeth in him "
Lilith, the queen of the succubi
Public DomainLilith, the queen of the succubi - Credit: John Collier

The Vampire
Public DomainThe Vampire - Credit: Philip Burne-Jones
A succubus is a female demon believed to appear to men in dreams in order to take sexual advantage of them. She has existed in superstition since the middle ages and has undergone several metamorphoses since. Her first incarnation is as Lilith, Adam’s first wife in mystical Jewish texts, who, after refusing to take the subordinate position during sex, flees Eden and instead takes Samael, the angel of death, as her lover. This union begets vast broods of demons to whom she gives birth daily. Her ferocious carnality and diet of babies’ blood have led to an ongoing interrelation between succubi and vampires.

Page 250. " his whole attitude was that of a serene, tortured crucifix "
Extract from
Public DomainExtract from "Voice of Missions" - Credit: Henry McNeal Turner
Shrine to the African Christ
Creative Commons AttributionShrine to the African Christ - Credit: maveric2003

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.