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“Heavy with Plenty”

Writing Abundance in the Plantationocene

by Donald Mayfield Brown, Brian Williams

“Black southern literature is one of the few places where one can find resistance and survival articulated on Black southerners’ own terms.”

William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (1936) tells a history of the Deep South through the lens of an enslaver named Thomas Sutpen. Faulkner’s fictional protagonist grew up in the early 1800s as a dirt-poor white boy in backwoods Appalachia yet aims to obtain status and wealth by becoming a member of the planter elite. He fulfills his “grand design” by embarking on a journey that first takes him to Haiti and then to the fictional Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha with twenty “wild negroes” he bought in Haiti. In Mississippi, he acquires a hundred square miles of Chickasaw swampland from a colonial agent and ruthlessly actualizes his megalomaniacal vision by forcing his enslaved workers to carve out a plantation and build a mansion. Faulkner depicts the enslaved as “mostly still naked except for a pair of pants here and there” as they labored in the “mud they wore in the swamp to keep the mosquitoes off . . . with quiet and unflagging fury.” Over time, Sutpen becomes “the biggest single landowner and cotton-planter in the county.”

This article appears as an abstract above, the complete article can be accessed in Project Muse
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