Inward Turmoil Outward Expression

Delta Winds cover 2011Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Inward Turmoil, Outward Expression: Overcoming The Dark Night of the Soul, or Not!

Barbara Armstrong

Every human being goes through valleys of darkness while searching for answers to life. Some people face up to and go toe-to-toe with their demons in those dark places and come out victorious on the other side; others succumb to its resident evil emerging with only the mask of an overcomer. In "The Psychology of Racism," Peter Loewenberg describes the authoritarian personality who easily represents this second character. He is one who hides behind a "façade of strength . . . [is] preoccup[ied] with issues of power such as who is strong and who is weak . . . [of] masters and slaves . . . [while] playing the role of the 'tough guy'" (217). John McLendon, in William Faulkner's "Dry September," fits Loewenberg's description of the authoritarian personality as he plays the role of the tough guy, thinks in terms of dominance and submission, and seeks to destroy any form of weakness, whether in himself or others.

Throughout "Dry September," McLendon operates in a role that Loewenberg coins the "tough guy." McLendon's initial entrance into the story sets this dimension of his character. The script says, "[t]he screen door crashed open . . . his feet apart . . . his heavy set body poised easily . . . his hot, bold glance swept the group" (194). He presents himself in the barber shop as someone who is strong and battle ready and immediately demands that the group take a stand against the accused black man, Willy Mayes. When one of the men rises to reiterate Hawk's argument on Mayes' behalf, "McLendon whirled on that speaker and says, "What the hell difference does it make? Are you going to let the black sons get away with it until one really does it" (194)? This confirms Loewenberg's report on the study done by T.W. Adorno stating that "[h]e acts the role of the 'tough guy' trying to appear hyper masculine" (217). Whether or not the accusation against Mayes is true makes no difference to McLendon; he's ready to charge. Just like when "[h]e had commanded troops at the front in France" (194), he assumes the lead role in this situation, and in that hyper masculine stance tries to shame the other men into following his lead.

Loewenberg then explains, "[t]he authoritarian thinks in rigid categories of dominance and submission, those who command and those who obey, masters and slaves" (217). As McLendon incites a few of the men to come under his command, he then leads the charge to the lynching scene. His most prominent display of these rigid attributes is seen when the group charges at Mayes to kill him, but McLendon forcefully stops them because he is in command and wants absolute control of how Mayes will be dealt with. There is no physical sign of weakness in his character at this point.

McLendon's tough exterior typifies Loewenberg's speculation that when "relationship between father and child is cold and remote . . . [t]he son tends to see the father as an oppressor . . . creat[ing] a compelling fear of weakness which is defended against by a façade of toughness" (217). With Loewenberg's insight, it becomes apparent that by McLendon's aggressive behavior he is trying to rid himself of this profound fear of weakness. And in order to escape it, he projects that which he hates in himself onto a weaker vessel that can then be destroyed, thereby confirming Loewenberg's theory that "what is [projected onto another] can be repudiated and destroyed" (212). The story goes on to say, when McLendon returns home he "glared at [his wife] with his hot eyes . . . caught her shoulder . . . released her and half struck, half flung her across the chair" (201). He is now a reflection of Loewenberg's "classic example [of] the man who is mistreated or misunderstood by his [father] . . . comes home to yell at his wife and beat his children . . . displac[ing his hostiliy] from its true source, which is too remote or powerful to be attacked, to a closer defenseless object" (214). In spite of his activity in France, the lynching of Mayes, and the subsequent erratic behavior against his wife, he has not received a reprieve for his inner frustration. In the end, he is still angry. The question is, if he doesn't face up to his inner turmoil, who will be his next victim?

In one of his final thoughts on the authoritarian personality, Loewenberg concludes, "because the pressure of his anxiety weakens his personal controls . . . he seeks relief through prejudice, which . . . facilitates the discharge of hostility" (218). However, McLendon proves this theory weak since he obviously is not able to dispel the darkness of his soul through destructive means. The authoritarian personality hides from whom or what he really is and isn't able to address the dark areas of his inner man. When man seeks to clear himself of evil by destroying another human being, it only serves to fuel that evil in an unending cycle of prejudice, hatred, frustration, and destruction. So in actuality, at each event, the authoritarian is worse off than he was before.

The test of a healthy psyche is determined by the cleanness of a man's soul.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. "Dry September." English 1D Handbook Critical Composition. Ed. Anna Villegas. Stockton: San Joaquin Delta College; 2012. 193-202. Print.