Saturday, 17 December 2016

Deal Me in Challenge: Mountain Victory by William Faulkner

Card Drawn:

I am not sure that this is the picturesque mountain Faulkner had in mind but it will do.

Faulkner's Mountain Victory is the longest short-story that I have ever read in recent memory. Yes, I am well aware that this statement is an oxymoron but with eleven mini chapters, this story is a borderline novella. Based entirely on the title, I picked it at random from his Collected Stories, thinking that the premise might revolve around a bunch of southern rednecks engaged in a dramatic battle atop a giant mountain. Surprisingly, my initial presumption was not too far off although a violent confrontation does occur at the end of the story. The title is misleading and slightly ironic since there is no real victory here, only irreparable loss on both sides. 

I was expecting Faulkner's usual stream-of-consciousness but the story is quite straight-forward to follow although confusion does arise at times since he provides very little context and the southern dialect is difficult to comprehend. Moreover, the nonchalant and repetitive use of the word "nigger" is appropriated by Faulkner, augmenting the verisimilitude of the historical period. Taking place at the end of the American Civil War, a wounded Confederate soldier named Weddel and his black servant Jubal are both on their way back home to Mississippi after four years of fighting against the Union. On their journey, they decide make a pit stop at a remote cabin located on a mountain in Tennessee and encounter some unruly folk who want to kill them on sight (think 'Deliverance' but set in the late 1860's). My question is: Why not go around the mountain and avoid the hostile mountain people? This made no sense to me whatsoever but I suppose if Faulkner did this, his exploration of the central conflict between the Old South and New South would cease to exist. Additionally, core themes such as traditional values and war would also be less resonant. My knowledge of the American history is limited to say the least but I could also not figure out why the roughneck Tennessee family were so antagonistic towards Weddel since he fought for the south. Anyways, he foolishly decides to stay the night much to Jubal's chagrin, urging his master that they should just leave because these isolated mountain people cannot be trusted. It is interesting to note that even though Jubal is now a 'free slave', he is still remains subservient to Weddel. Jubal has every reason to suspect that their ungracious hosts but Weddel stubbornly refuses even after Jubal is poisoned with spiked moonshine. Weddel is clueless that the war has changed the South forever and thinks that he can return to the way things used to be. Faulkner often describes him as "quizzical" and "sardonic" which further exemplifies his fragmented sense of self. The war might be over but that does not mean it is over for everyone. Weddel must learn this fact the hard way although Faulkner's story meanders far too long before finally arriving at this crucial point. 

Overall, this was a decent story with so much potential but falls flat. We never get a real sense of these characters since Faulkner keeps the reader at a distance. Faulkner has written some excellent short-stories like A Rose for Emily and Dry September but Mountain Victory is rather forgettable.

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