Front Porch: Fall 1998

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Front Porch: Fall 1998

by Harry L. Watson
Southern Cultures, Vol. 4, No. 3: Fall 1998

"Ultimately, the white South's defense of tradition and the North's embrace of progress came to blows."

Most Faulkner lovers remember two bracketing passages from Absalom, Absalom! with special clarity. In the first, Shreve McCannon, a Canadian freshman at Harvard, asks his Mississippian roommate, Quentin Compson, to explain his homeland. “Tell about the South,” he demands. “What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live it all.” In replay, Quentin tells Shreve the tragic, convoluted saga of the Sutpen family, scarred by hubris, violence, brutality, racial oppression, miscegenation, and misplaced honor. It’s not a pretty story, but when it’s finally told, Shreve asks Quentin something else. “‘Why do you hate the South?'” he wonders, and evokes a famous answer. “‘I don’t hate it,’ Wuentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; ‘I don’t hate it,’ he said, I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!