11 July 2006

"A Courtship", by William Faulkner, is about the competition a young Indian and a river-boat pilot engage in over Herman Basket's sister. Ikkemotubbe, who is also called Doom, is the finest of the Indian braves, while David Hogganbeck is a dashing fiddle player. The story begins when Ikkemotubbe returns to his people after an unexplained two year absence. He is smitten with Herman Basket's sister. He begins showing off for her; his displays are interrupted by the arrival of David Hogganbeck with the supply shipment. Hogganbeck also takes a shine to the girl, and an intense rivallery between the two springs up. As they try to decide who deserves the girl, they go through drinking, dancing, and eating contests; finally, having proven equal to one another, they undertake a death mission. They race 130 miles to The Cave, where the winner will fire a pistol shot that could cause a cave-in. If it does not, he will win the girl; if he dies, the other wins by forfeit. After helping each other through the race, they reach the cave almost simultaneously. As Ikkemotubbe fires his pistol, Hogganbeck rushes in. The falling rocks, which would have crushed Ikkemotubbe, catch him instead. Ikkemotubbe escapes, then pulls him out. The two agree on a winner, but ironically, learn on the way home that Herman Basket's sister has married, or will marry, Log in the Creek, who never did anything but play harmonica, instead.

This twist makes Log in the Creek and Herman Basket's sister, two minor characters, the story's most interesting. Very little is said about either of them. The girl is amazingly beautiful, and spoiled. Log in the Creek is written off immediately: he can not drink much, and is unimpressive in the other ways Hogganbeck and Ikkemotubbe consider important. All he does is hang around and play his harmonica. Yet they must be characters of some depth to reach the decision they do.

Throughout the story, which is told by a narrator sympathetic to Ikkemotubbe, Herman Basket's sister is treated as an object, and nothing more. This is presumably the attitude of the competitors, as well, who seem to see her as a prize to be won. It seems reasonable that while Ikkemotubbe and Hogganbeck are concentrating on one another, she is spending time getting to know and growing to love Log in the Creek. We are not told about their interactions, because they are not relevant to the competition. Indeed, the title itself must be seen as ironic, given the connotations courtship carries. One thinks of Othello and Desdemona, or Carl and Alexandra in O Pioneers! when one thinks of courtship. But instead of becoming acquainted with their intended, Hogganbeck and Ikkemotubbe concentrate on each other. She is simply the prize, the reason for their struggle.

Perhaps this can be read as a feminist fable, with the obvious moral that treating women as objects instead of as people is not wise. It should also be noted that such treatment is acceptable in the society Ikkemotubbe and Hogganbeck represent. Herman Basket's sister, while from the description given deserving of objectification, nonetheless asserts her personhood by rebelling against this system and choosing to marry the man who treats her as human. This act not only marks her as far from the object Hogganbeck and Ikkemotubbe conceive of her as, but even as a feminist herself. The same can be said for Log in the Creek, who does not buy into the objectification and ends up marrying the person others saw as a prize.


Blogger jen said...

I just read this story for my American Lit. class, a few of the important plot points eluded me, thank you for this clear synopsis.

11:38 PM  

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