Many critics believe that the intellectual pursuits of William Faulkner and Ralph Waldo Emerson remain distinct. Emerson optimistically embraces the present, while the past imprisons many of Faulkner’s characters and even Faulkner himself. Quentin Compson, a profoundly troubled young man in the Sound and the Fury, relives his past until it kills him.
But in wanders Lena Grove, the first and the last voice readers hear in Faulkner’s Light in August. Unlike the notorious Compsons, she momentarily disrupts Faulkner’s past-obsessed paradigm and embraces an Emersonian appreciation of the present. Alone and pregnant, Lena travels for an astonishing four weeks from Alabama to Mississippi in search of her child’s father. She appreciates the simplicities of life such as her “sourdeens” and is adored by the young Byron Bunch. Although she seems comical, I find her sweet and lighthearted appreciation for the simpler things a crucial break within this otherwise grim novel.
My M.A. project focuses specifically on Lena and her embodiment of the ideals Emerson embraces in the “Over-Soul.” I argue that she models the Emersonian philosophy of living in and for the present. Her slow mules symbolize this heightened awareness of the present, and her actions reveal a profound relationship with the Over-Soul. According to Emerson, the sovereign soul exists in each of us, if only we do not allow the fixedness of time to suppress its influences. Naturally, Lena Grove’s tranquil love for all people and things elevates her from a “simple” country traveler to a profound transmission point for Emersonian ideals and invaluable optimism.
— Monica Kopenhaver (MA ’21)