We talked of him, Thomas Stupen, of the end of the War (we could all see it now) and when he would return, of what he would do: how begin the Herculean task which we knew he would set himself, into which (oh yes, we knew this too) he would undoubtedly sweep us with the old ruthlessness whether we would or no;" (Faulkner, pg.127).
The most striking thing about this quote from William Faulkner's 1936 novel of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Absalom, Absalom, is the way in which the main protagonist Thomas Stupen's struggle of social climbing in the South both before and after the war is given the rhetorical dimensions of a strident military conflict. In Faulkner's book, Thomas Stupen begins as a poor Virginian man who sets about establishing his social and economic position the par of his aristocratic and genteel White neighbors. The "ruthlessness" by which Stupen attempts to become like his 'betters' is ironic, for the man approaches acquiring social graces with the single-minded determination of formulating and putting into action a game plan. Stupen sees himself like a "Hercules," a hero of old with brute strength, who must engage in a task of several set labors to be freed and realize a goal. Stupen does so immorally. Before the war, Stupen used slaves to amass wealth. Now these subjugating means of prosperity have been taken away from him -- but that does not mean he will not find another way, think his neighbors, marveling at the man as if he were a Hercules, possessed of strength beyond their own.
Note the passage's decision to put ht word "War" in capitals. The war is not referred to as the Civil War. It is simply the war, as in the Southern view; the Civil War was the war to end all wars, the war that ended the traditional antebellum way of life. The Civil War changed the South permanently and inextricably, but just as Stupen resisted common sense about keeping in one's place when creating his plantation-made wealth, the 'we' of the town assumes he will be able to resist common wisdom again, if not in the same way, then in similar fashion. The quote pits the town's 'we' against Stupen, suggesting as if Stupen were an extraordinary curiosity to be observed, and the town was made up of weaker, more common, but slightly in-awe people.
Editors. "Southern Gothic: Distinguishing Features." Oprah.com. 2008. 14 Oct. 2008. http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahsbookclub/heartisalonelyhunter/thlh_gothic_features
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom!. New York: Vintage International, 1990.
Yamaguchi, Ryuichi. Faulkner's Artistic Vision: The Bizarre and the Terrible. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004.
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage International, 1990.