The Devolution Of Mankind

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade September 2001

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It is humankind's dearest wish to be separate and elevated from nature, engendering the belief that the human species is superior to others. This desire permeates through every part of culture and society. It is illustrated in art, poetry, films, literature, and even forms a basis for the most widely spread religious beliefs in America. Often when we do not match up to this perception of ourselves we try to hide the truth in order to preserve our illusions. It is vital for people to realize that humans are a composition of nature and when environmental conditions turn adverse they are also affected. In "Dry September" by William Faulkner the inviable setting causes the breakdown of the human values while the visceral will of survival produces impetus in people to destroy what they believe they fear.

The story tells an account of the abduction and murder of an African American by a group of male townspeople.

The victim, who was thought to have raped a white woman, is more than likely innocent, however few people assess the evidence or take into account the personal testimonials of the dissenting barber. A former officer, McLendon, leads the group out to the factory in order to capture and "punish" the Negro. The barber is the only constant voice of reason throughout the work, and even he reacts violently when inadvertently struck by the victim. While driving to the place where the murder is blatantly going to take place the barber jumps out of the moving car, believing he can do nothing to save the unfortunate victim and not wanting to be part or witness to the murder. The author describes the woman who supposedly was raped as idle and prone to "furious unreality." After the murder she goes out with her friends to the movies, enjoying the new attention that the situation has brought her, but at the movies her happy demeanor gives way to screaming neurotic laughter. The last scene is at McLendon's house where he physically assaults his wife and goes to bed.

Faulkner's essay is set in the early 19th century, presumably in the south. The tale begins during a severe drought in the south, where ever living thing seems to be wounded and dieing, "Through the bloody September twilight, aftermath of sixty two days"¦" The first sentence also mentions the time of day as twilight symbolizing the death and decay that will come with the night's darkness. As the story progresses it is evident from the author's use of diction clearly portrays nature as dieing or dead: "reverberant in the dead air", "in the lifeless air", "The day had died." Dust is the most prominent symbol, used ubiquitously, Faulkner paints it so thick that people cannot see far. "The day had died in a pall of dust" "the darkened square, shrouded by the spent dust" "The second car dropped back out of the dust" dust is a conspicuous metaphor for the clouded and illogical mental state of the people in the story. Metaphorically allied to the dust is the enduring stagnant air that cannot be remedied by human designs "ceiling fan stirred, without freshening it, the vitiated air, sending back upon them, in recurrent surges of stale pomade and lotion." The staleness in the air relates to the anxiousness present in the characters "poised on the balls of his feet." Faulkner has blanketed his dieing world with a volatile trepidation that foreshadows depraved violence.

Faulkner creates strong symbolic connections between the humans in the story and the expiring natural environment that they live in. For one Faulkner uses terrene adjectives in describing his characters "a thin, sand-colored man with a mild face" "he looked like a desert rat in the moving pictures." People are also reacting to the heat of the environment by sweating away their precious bodily fluids. Anyone who commits any act of violence in the piece sweats at one time or another "He drew his sleeve across his sweating face", "he could feel himself sweating." The sweat has two separate connotations attached to it making it a strong literary device. At first glance we see sweat as the mortal connection between people in the story. The only trait that links the barber, and McLendon, who the narrator describes as "looked like men of different races," as well as the Negro is the human act of sweating. However the men are so heated with hate and prejudice that they do not recognize the Negro part of their species. Sweat also symbolizes the suffering and struggle for survival that people are barely struggling through. Once again Faulkner ties humanity back in with the landscape by likening the dried up remains of a once living nature "a thin vicious crackling of sapless stems" to the parched and dehydrated men "they seemed to sweat dryly for no more moisture came." It is obvious that nature has died and that humans are struggling for their own survival, living off their instincts and violently reacting to their primal fears.

Nature initiates the breakdown of human values in it use of dust to cloud the reasoning and logic of the people in the story. The barber is the only one who retains his sense of reason through the story but even he is a victim to his vicious instincts when he is struck "The others expelled their breath in a dry hissing and struck him with random blows and he"¦swept his manacled hands across their faces and slashed the barber upon the mouth, and the barber struck him also." The barber strikes out of a violent instinct for self-protection, while ironically the others have attacked out of a similar intrinsic survival reason. The hate and fear that they hold for the emancipated black man constitutes an illogical but natural reason to attack him. The state of man due to the condition of nature acting through the human will to survive bears the fruit of murder and violence against entrenched fears. If the environment did not force man to the brink of destruction the men would have responded to the threatening rumor so frantically. Nature has succeeded in breaking down values of human logic, human sympathy and finally justice and any standard of morality.

The nature of human beings is most easily comprehensible at the brink of human existence when people's lives are at stake. Faulkner leaves his characters to die in a world that is well on its way to ruin. Under these circumstances he delineates the manner that people react to their newly surfaced fears. This involves the process of breaking down every human value and returning man to his instinctual and bestial nature. Man experiences his own devolution.