Throughout this story, Faulkner keeps a constant theme of, and toys with, the concept of people playing chance with life or the decisions they make. Most of the time however, the chances don’t always seem as logical as other chances we make might seem. For instance, one of the main focuses of the story is to recapture the slave “Tomey Turl” at the cost of $500 through the bet made by Uncle Buck and Mr. Hubert. What is interesting is that this particular slave always returns anyway AND that $500 is a lot of money, especially during the early/mid 1900’s. Logically speaking, why risk $500 on a bet to recapture someone that will return anyway? This bet sets off a variety of other chance related bets between the characters. Some of those following bets/chances we see not only being grouped together in the final game of poker (truly a game of chance), but the game itself was an illogical game of chance. By this I mean everyone knew that Uncle Buddy was indeed a great poker player, yet Mr. Hubert still risked what he had already gained to try to “win” everything he wanted to in the whole situation by accepting Uncle Buddy’s challenge.
What is ironic about how Faulkner uses chance in this story is that even if a decision may not seem like the smartest decision to make when playing chance, many people make them. Faulkner uses these scenarios possibly as an author’s commentary to the fact that your average person takes both good and bad chances in their life, and while it may not make much sense, it is just something people do. This makes the characters much more relatable (in a sense) than if they simply did the logical thing.
Though this passage is lengthy, it effectively capture Faulkner’s usage of sentence structure to manipulate the pace of the story. The sentences preceding the passage are similar to the first sentence: they are of relatively normal structure, and in terms of the story, Uncle Buck has just about given up on searching for the escaped slave. The wild chase has slowed as the sentence structure also reflects. However, when the fyce spots the slave, the structure shifts to a lengthy, stream of consciousness-style format. When I read the portions stylized in this manner, the pace of the story felt accelerated, as the characters again pick up speed in their chase.
In addition to the syntax helping to pace the story, this particular passage captures the inhumanity and its normalcy of the southern attitude towards slaves in this era. In the beginning of the story, I found the identity of Turl to be extremely ambiguous from the conversations of the characters (whether he was human or an animal). Also, though it was common practice, it is unsettling to consider the usage of dogs to hunt down and chase escaped slaves as if though they were animals-the word “treed” is often reserved for trapped game.
I found this sentence to be important because this idea of a race is brought up several times in the text and it seems to reflect not only the plot but also the style and form of Faulkner’s writing in “Was.” The story itself is about a number of different “races” or competitions: Uncle Buck and McCaslin Edmonds are racing to get to Tomey Turl, Tomey Turl is racing to get to his love, Tennie, Miss Sophonsiba is racing to get Uncle Buck for her husband, Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy gamble with Mr. Hubert, and the dogs and foxes are racing around the house. The story is separated into four different parts that, to me, seemed almost like separate heats or rounds in a race, each focused on different aspects of the competition to capture Tomey Turl and each developing a new level of competition to add to the story. The structure of the sentences in the story also struck me as possibly reflecting this same race idea. They tended to be really long (especially in the beginning and end) dragging on until the main point was made, until the finish line was finally met and the real “winning” idea or purpose was discovered. Some of the few sentences that were especially succinct and direct were comments on different “races” on pages 4, 8, 13, 14, 22, and 28. These sentences dispersed through out the story seem to separate different stages of the grand race to get Tomey Turl back but also describe the various minor competitions within the plot. Even though the race to get Tomey Turl back was “a fine race while it lasted” (28), some of the other races continue still. The fact that the “race” that started the story, the fox and dogs, is the same never-ending race that concludes the story, shows the continuous struggle of racing through life, facing both new and old battles.
Reading “Was” reminds me of the memory of a lazy summer day—everything carefree and more importantly, suspended in time. Time suspension can be seen in “Was” through the use of parallel structure throughout the story, but especially in the fox scenes that serve as its beginning and ending.
Instead of viewing the events in “Was” as a time line, where the events in the past leads smoothly into the present, I find it more conducive to imagine them like a circle of time, where the “was” is neatly bundled up within itself and thus completely separated from the present. We can view the past as essentially a memory, which it is in the story, as Cass is retelling the story to Ike, whom was born after these events and has no knowledge of them. Our memories then are like circles, loops of film in which we can chronologically order the events that happen within the film, but can’t definitively say when the memory begins or ends, and how it links seamlessly with another memory. Likewise, Faulkner’s “Was” reads like a looped tape—we’re not sure how it transitions from the present to the past and vice versa.
The story ends and begins with the same fox chase, thus completing the circle of time (4, 28). Faulkner cleverly uses the word “treed” (p 5) to demonstrate how the fox uses the mantle to escape. “Treed” usually refers to a hunted animal being forced to take refuge in a tree, thus the mantle serves as a metaphorical tree. Later, he brings this metaphor back when he describes the fox as “scrabbling up the lean-pole, onto the roof—a fine race…” This time the race refers to the fox and the pole, and the pole is referred to as a tree “…the tree was too quick” (28). In both descriptions of the fox race, Faulkner uses a tree metaphor. This use of parallel structure in the narratives of the fox chase, and of the narratives, demonstrates the suspension of past time as well as its circulatory nature.
Welty illustrates the crass environment of Leota’s parlor stall. Oafishly, Leota encourages Mrs. Fletcher to treat herself with a view of the Traveling Freak Show’s Siamese twins. The bodies of which, are assumably bobbing in a jar of formaldehyde, poised on some staged shelf for added attraction. The conversation is hauntingly evoked by the confirmation of Mrs. Fletcher’s own pregnancy. “They was about this long – pardon – must of been full time,” she notes, “Kinda pathetic.”
Welty winks at the reality of the reader’s higher intellect, as well as her own. The “pathetic” pickled twins are paralleled with Leota’s pickling of Mrs. Fletchers hair, while pinning on her own person, a badge for being worldly; or knowing the in’s and outs of the town freak show. Welty provides additional nudges throughout the text through means of similar moral deficiency and Mississippi twang.
The scene comes across as common, or everyday, but simultaneously the portrayal of the characters leaves them somewhat un-relatable. While Mrs. Fletcher and Leota are the main characters, they aren’t necessarily the focus. In this scene and in the bulk of the narrative, the focus is instead on the business of alternative characters. This angle supplies more logistical information on Mrs. Pike or even “Billy Boy,” but allows only the moral compass of Mrs. Fletcher and Mrs.Pike to be seen through an un-skewed lens.
I find this quote to be one of the most ironic quotes in the story. One of the main themes throughout this story is that everything is not as it seems. All the characters portrayed have underlying personalities that the reader must decipher. The real “freak show” lies within the beauty shop itself. Mrs. Fletcher spends her time criticizing and judging others, just as she does with Mrs. Pike. Leota runs a beauty shop that fuels itself on gossip. Leota is a flaky character; she appears to defend Mrs. Pike in the beginning of the story but turns on her later when she identifies Mr. Petrie, seemingly jealous of the fact that Mrs. Pike used her magazine to find the ad and make some quick cash. And of course, Mr. Petrie appeared as another act in a freak show, but he turns a wanted criminal and rapist. This story is a series of illusions. These women plan their lives around Lady Evangeline’s readings; she determines how they make decisions. The harsh language used here, especially the word despised, indicates Mrs. Fisher’s denial to acknowledge her inability to fit within societal norms. She lacks confidence in herself and her marriage, masking it by jesting at others and pointing out their flaws. For example, she becomes infuriated when she realizes someone in the town gossiped about her pregnancy. The only character that seems exempt from this freak show is the young child Billy Baron, who serves as a voice of reason within the story. He has not yet been damaged by the society of these women.
Welty’s use of enthusiastic exclamations throughout the story make the text read like a play. The use of consistent dialogue incites the type of back and forth one would imagine on stage. The active words and use of exclamation points gives the phrases and sentences more feeling that the reader can comprehend.
Welty establishes a very contained and well defined setting for the story: a southern beauty shop. One could imagine this type of set-up on a stage in a theater. This creation helps to reinforce what she establishes through the writing of her dialogue. It is an intimate place where the ladies share personal information and gossip in a very engaging way.
Along with the use of emotional exclamations throughout the story, the dialogue is written phonetically to reflect this idea of live-action. All the women in the beauty shop are excited about the gossip, and are jumbling their words and speaking in colloquialisms. When one reads passages that use this tactic, he often imagines what it would be like to actually hear the words being spoken allowed. Again, this is a very theatrical structure. People in shows always speak colloquially as opposed to formally.
Also, by focusing on the back-and-forth conversations between the characters, Welty allows what they say to be the driving force behind the story. The narration takes a backseat to the dialogue. By focusing on these passionate expressions and exchanges, Welty really rounds out the idea of a live-action story that acts itself out right in front of the reader.
In Petrified Man, Eudora Welty guides the reader through the gossipy, chatty, dialogue-heavy text by utilizing consistent and immensely descriptive interjections that revolve around the process of Leota doing Mrs. Fletcher’s hair. These continual interjections serve to make Mrs. Fletcher’s head the main focus of the text within the context of everything else, so that the reader realizes that there is some sort of significance surrounding Mrs. Fletcher’s head. This stylistic use of descriptive interjections to break up the dialogue and bring focus to Mrs. Fletcher’s hair is made even more interesting in how the descriptions are very much characterized by violent and forceful imagery. There are countless examples of this imagery surrounding the descriptions of Leota’s beautification process for Mrs. Fletcher’s hair. Leota “puff[s] and press[es] into Mrs. Fletcher’s scalp with strong red-nailed fingers” (1094), she “drenches Mrs. Fletcher’s hair with a thick fluid” (1095), she “stuff[s] cotton balls into [Mrs. Fletcher’s] ears” (1099), she “[digs] her hands into [Mrs. Fletcher’s scalp” (1100), she yank[s] her up by the back locks and sat her up” (1101-1102), and moving down from the head to the neck, Leota almost chokes Mrs. Fletcher “with the cloth, pinning it so tight” so that “she couldn’t speak clearly” (1100). The control over and abuse of Mrs. Fletcher’s head is very evident – especially in the yanking her up by the back locks of her hair, which is very reminiscent of a puppeteer pulling the strings of his puppet. The violent imagery that characterizes these stylistic interjections serve a profound purpose in relating to the reader the stupidity and ridiculousness that is the petty gossip these women chatter about. Throughout the story, Mrs. Fletcher’s head, as seen through the interjections, takes a large amount of abuse and is very much controlled by Leota, which serves as a subtle commentary on how petty, seemingly harmless gossip can actually be dangerous in the way that it can abuse and control the mind.
By far the most striking feature of Welty’s style is her use of dialogue. Throughout the story the reader learns about the characters almost solely through conversation. There is no external action in the short story and the real “action” or drama of the story takes place in the dialogue. This style of writing contrasts sharply to Ernest Hemingway’s, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. In this story, Hemingway uses only very short snippets of dialogue and we learn most of what we know about the main character through long dense sections of prose. Welty however, is able to capture the sharp details of the triviality and pompousness of life in this town through the dialogue between Mrs. Fletcher and Leota.
From the first lines of the story we are immediately thrown into a beauty shop with these two women exchanging banter about nonsense. The colloquial use of language helps add to the gossipy nature of the conversations. Upon hearing that people have been gossiping about her, Mrs. Fletcher becomes furious and demands to know who said she was pregnant. We can see by the reaction of Mrs. Fletcher that public opinion shapes everything about the lives of these self-centered women. From this time on she remains very defensive about her own life. The idea of being shaped by public opinion surfaces again and again throughout the story. For example, Leota tries to organize her life around the way another person, the fortune-teller, said her life was going to play out. This clearly shows that she is not a strong or independent woman but instead tries to conform to the way someone else says her life will be. Another example comes from the fact that they believe in stereotypes and are concerned with horoscopes. Nothing is unique about their conversations. Their lives seem purposeless and adjust themselves according to outside influences.
ENLT 2514 at the University of Virginia, Spring 2014