“How many more are there? How much longer is this going on?”: eugenic discourse and themes in Faulkner’s snopes trilogy

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University of Alabama Libraries

William Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy (comprised of The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion) follows the rise of the Snopeses, an impoverished white family that moves into Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, and begins to replace the area’s aristocrats. It is remarkably easy to read the Snopes trilogy as an epic saga primarily revolved around social climbing and class anxieties, but a reading such as that must take into account how the socioeconomic themes in the trilogy are intersected and influenced by eugenic discourse. This thesis argues that, in all three novels, Faulkner engages in eugenic characterization, rhetoric, and language and portrays eugenic situations in order to capture the zeitgeist of the American eugenic era and expose eugenic discourse as illogical and potentially dangerous. While Jay Watson believes that eugenic discourse simply “represented a complex, ambiguous cultural legacy for Faulkner” and that Faulkner may have had complicated sentiments regarding the eugenics movement, this thesis will establish the idea that the Faulkner that appears in the Snopes trilogy is staunchly critical of eugenic ideology and continuously warns the reader of the folly and danger that lurks within it (J. Watson 53). A thesis of this sort is especially relevant today since the eugenic panic is just now reemerging into the public consciousness after years of being a distant memory avoided by history teachers who feel pressured to obscure one of America’s darkest moments.

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American literature