I’m rereading Faulkner’s AS I LAY DYING. The title itself gives consciousness to the dead woman, which of course becomes our consciousness. The problem, simply, is to build her a coffin and take her to a cemetery, a task of staggering complexity. The novel is a portrait of the family.
And to my mind, it’s a portrait of our desperate need for dignity. “We don’t want to be beholden” is a common phrase, whether it’s a refusal of shelter from the rain or giving the mule an extra chew of alfalfa. With the help of weather and defunct bridges, the family is constantly yelling at one another, refusing well-meant help. Theirs is an irrational insistence on self-worth.
Irrational, yes, but deeply felt. Proven by placing the blame for all misfortune on “God’s will.” Proven by their own rage against anything that challenges their self-reliance. Proven by the anger against anyone, whether Blacks or the privileged, who seem to claim special favors. And perhaps proven by our own reading of the novel as a caricature of these people
And certainly I’m projecting this outward from our own demands of dignity. In my lower moments, I’ve felt deprived of fame for my writing or stage-directing talent—wrong place, wrong time, wrong genre, or perhaps just the roll of the dice. But is that vastly different from everyone on this planet, the fictional Bundrens included? Many of those who support Trump do so because he gives them a team to be on; he echoes their self-worth by standing as a self-made success; he insults someone else, while from the progressive Left they hear only, “Dummy! Dummy! Dummy!” It’s a frail strand of dignity, but for that we’d kill our grandma. For that, our grandmas would kill us
Our problem, it seems to me, is our habit of grading on the curve: not just in third grade, but on a national scale. Someone has to be on top, so someone’s head goes in the toilet. If the other team wins, you lose. If the strikers succeed, the consumers pay. It matters not how you play the game, but if you win.
A friend was accosted at night on the street of a city. The mugger demanded his wallet. He resisted and was shot in the leg. My friend was told—and I’d have told him too—that he was nuts, he could have been killed, just hand over the money. But to be mugged was a humiliation. I could feel how he felt.
The mugger was arrested. What was his story? The same?
You win even if you’re dead. How many mass shootings are suicides, whether by self or by cop? But at least they’ve made somebody feel it. They’ve had an effect. The possession of the gun isn’t consciously intended to kill, or for the countless reasons cited. It’s held onto most vehemently as the last remnant of our self-worth. We’ll kill to preserve our dignity.