William Faulkner's Sanctuary. Horace Benbow and his fight against evil

Term Paper 2012 10 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature



1 Introduction

2 Horace and his World (and the Real World)

3 Horace's Low Self-Esteem and Fear of Failing

4 Horace's Relationship to the Female Characters around Him

5 Conclusion

6 Works Cited

1 Introduction

In Sanctuary, Horace Benbow desperately tries to help others (and him) out of unjust situations, but tragically fails in the end with Temple Drake having changed her mind and testifying not against her rapist, Popeye, but against the innocent Goodwin who is then convicted and lynched. Throughout the novel, Horace clings to fair justice and tries to fight any evil he comes across. But as he does not even accept it to be a part of the world, of humanity itself, he is doomed to lose this fight. An analysis of Horace's character regarding his ideals, his relationships and views (on himself, others, the world) is going to explain this statement.

2 Horace and his World (and the Real World)

Horace is a 43 year old lawyer. He went to Oxford. As Ruby observes when he drinks with and talks to the men at the Old Frenchman Place, he is "a man given to much talk and not much else" (Faulkner 8). Horace likes to observe and to talk about things, but when it comes to actions, he says himself that he lacks courage. (see Faulkner 10) So he sees and knows things. He mocks Popeye for not knowing the name of the bird singing in the first Chapter. He also thinks he knows better than Popeye which way to go in order to reach the Old Frenchman Place (which he does not even know) and that he knows better than Ruby that she ought to go back to town. So Horace is intelligent and educated and estimates those aspects as important and as something to be proud of. Additionally, he is innocent; he says to Popeye that he is "harmless" (Faulkner 2) and to Miss Reba that he won't bother her (see Faulkner 184). As he is held captive by Popeye, he tries to talk him out of it. That is what he – being a lawyer – does: he sees, he thinks and he talks. At the same time, he seems to be somewhat passive at times, for example when Popeye is scared by an owl and Horace does not even try to escape. Maybe that is due to the fact that he does not fight physically, but rather with words. He believes in civilized confrontation (by words) and in justice (by law). Goodwin having him as a lawyer, but not wanting to tell the truth does not fit into this image and is therefore confusing for Horace. In fact, he merely understands anyone around him, because he lives in another world. In a world where there is no evil, or at least none that is not going to be punished. He believes that law brings justice and therefore does not see why Goodwin (living in the real world, knowing that he has to be afraid of Popeye, too) is so passive. Horace has empathy for others, like e.g. for Ruby ("Think of her, alone, with that baby. . . Suppose it were you and Bory, and your husband accused of a murder you knew he didn't" (Faulkner 78)). His neat transfer of Ruby's situation to his sister's family shows that he can really imagine what others must feel like. He says he "cannot stand idly by and see injustice" (Faulkner 79). This empathy must be the reason why Horace can hardly stand any injustice, any evil. When he is confronted, when he has to face evil, his physical reactions speak volumes. When he still thinks of Temple purely as the poor victim of a brutal and cruel crime he asks Minnie for a big drink (see Faulkner 145) before talking to her. In face of the details he expects to hear about that crime, he needs a drink. He needs to drug his natural physical reactions, because he knows he can hardly stand the confrontation. His empathy is again apparent when he starts talking to Temple. He keeps saying "I know how you feel" (Faulkner 146) until he realizes that she seems to enjoy telling this story. (see Faulkner 147-148) This is a completely different type of evil than Horace had expected and he immediately starts regretting it, whishing this evil just did not exist. "Better for her if she were dead tonight, Horace thought, walking on. For me, too." (Faulkner 151) He wants the evil to be gone and additionally, he does not want to be exposed to evil anymore. At this point he starts realizing that there is no room for him and his ideals in the real world, thinking that it would have been better not to live in this world, being "[r]emoved, cauterized out of the old and tragic flank of the world" (Faulkner 151). So he knows about the existence of evil, but he feels incapable of accepting or baring it. His thought "Perhaps it is upon the instant that we realize, admit, that there is a logical pattern to evil, that we die" (Faulkner 152) seems to reinforce this statement. Once we realize that the evil is a part of life, we might as well be dead instead of having to live with evil. Nevertheless, he decides to fight this evil, to put all he can into one last effort to get rid of it. "He knew suddenly that it was the friction of the earth on its axis, approaching that moment when it must decide to turn on or to remain forever still" (Faulkner 152). He knows he can either try to move, to fight back or keep on living like before which would also mean a cease and destruction. He knows that evil does exist, but he wants to get rid of it by the means that he knows and that he considers appropriate: the law that must lead to justice. He feels physically bad and when he realizes that Temple has many things in common with his stepdaughter, it makes him that sick that he can barely reach the bathroom in time. (see Faulkner 153)



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Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Faulkner Sanctuary Benbow




Title: William Faulkner's Sanctuary.  Horace Benbow and his fight against evil