The Mansion Critical Evaluation
by William Faulkner

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Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Criticism often faults The Mansion for contradictions and discrepancies, hinting that William Faulkner’s talent was waning when he wrote the novel. Faulkner, who said his fiction was only about the “human heart in conflict with itself,” wrote that the discrepancies and contradictions resulted from his knowing the characters better, after living with them for thirty-four years. Critics are taking a closer look at Faulkner’s later works, seeing them afresh and discovering significant insights overlooked before. This novel shows society its own ugly warts.

The Mansion focuses on the plight of the downtrodden in the hands of the powerful; Faulkner depicts that society artfully. Far from being a faulty work by the Nobel Prize winner, The Mansion magnifies what Faulkner meant when he said, in his address to the Nobel academy, “I believe that man will not merely endure, he will prevail.” In this last novel of the Snopes trilogy, the reader learns, among much else, what Faulkner had learned about his most interesting “prevailer,” Mink Snopes.

The Mansion is divided into three sections: on Mink, Linda, and Flem. The book’s main character is Mink. The Linda section foreshadows her as a threat to Gavin, in some way Ratliff cannot fathom, and makes it believable in the end that she, not Mink, is the one who manipulates Flem’s murder. The section on Flem makes him a flat character who simply waits on Mink to shoot him. The novel debunks Gavin Stevens, the character critics have often championed as Faulkner’s most promising creation, exposing him as a willing pawn, manipulated (in ways Mink would never be) by Linda. He is also a self-confessed coward. From the first sentence to the last, The Mansion is Faulkner’s monument to Mink.

Physically, Mink, murderer of two, is “small, almost childlike.” Neither his physical appearance nor his physical actions endear him to anyone, but he is thoroughly complex in action, thought, and sentiment. While Flem is impotent, Mink is Faulkner’s most sexually potent male. The reader learns this in the first novel of the trilogy, and it resonates in the last when, in prison, Mink, thinking of the hardness of the land, recalls the “amazement . . . reverence . . . and incredulous excitement” he felt when he touched his bride, Yettie, on their wedding night. In the same moment, he regrets how their subsistence lifestyle, warring with earth, wore Yettie to “leather-toughness” and himself to “exhaustion.” Mink voices the regret he had when, looking at their two little girls, he saw “what was ahead of that tender and elfin innocence.”

In spite of physical smallness, Mink could do hard labor twenty-four hours a day: He paid off his fine to Houston by digging post holes and putting up a fence, simultaneously plowing and planting his own crops far into the night. At Parchman, the warden says Mink worked the cotton “unflaggingly,” harder than any man “of his stamp and kind” worked his own crop.

Philosophically, Mink is a self-contained man who lives by a personalized value system. He believes in an indefinite “them” and “they.” Life is a test by “them.” “They” make him account for any lie he tells, so he counts each lie, keeping rules and accounts carefully. He expects to beat “them.” To illustrate, Mink accepts an extra twenty-year prison term without complaint, because he had been warned not to attempt escape.

In prison, he merges “they” and “them” with “Old Moster.” He gains first a kind of bravado, then a tenacious faith that Old Moster plays fair with him. Mixed in with Mink’s philosophy is his relationship to the land. He expresses the Edenic view that sin makes humans earn their food by the sweat of their brows as they war with earth. He says the land “owned” the sharecroppers, passing “their doomed indigence and poverty from holding to holding.”

Mink lives tenaciously on the edges of life, a human being who prevails by remaining true...

(The entire section is 1,061 words.)