Elnora Strother

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Elnora Strother
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Strother, Elnora
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The very first time Elnora appears in the very first Yoknapatawpha fiction, Flags in the Dust, she is described as "a tall mulatto woman" (9). Although that term is no longer in use, Faulkner's contemporaries knew it meant a person with one white and one black parent. The story that lies latent in that term is never developed in Flags, where as "Simon's tall yellow daughter" (36), the sister of Caspey and the mother of Isom, Elnora's role seems mainly to provide a kind of African American soundtrack for the Sartoris story, or as one passage puts it: "In the kitchen Elnora crooned mellowly as she labored" (222). Her loyalty to the Sartoris family she serves appears again in "All the Dead Pilots," which mentions the socks that she knitted and sent to a young Sartoris away at the First World War. But in the story "There Was a Queen" Faulkner excavates that term "mulatto" a bit more when he reveals that Elnora's father is Colonel John Sartoris, and so she is an (illegitimate) member of the family she serves. The story that story goes on to tell is not Elnora's, though she narrates a good bit of it. From her position in the kitchen as a black servant rather than as a Sartoris who is half white, she recounts for her children Isom and Saddie the Sartoris family history, referring to her own (unacknowledged) father as "Old Marse John" and explaining why Miss Jenny, born a Sartoris and the "queen" of the title, is "quality" while Narcissa, who marries a Sartoris, is "trash" (734). Letting Elnora identify an upper class white woman as "trash" does confer a kind of narrative authority on her, but she never seems aware of the irony of laboring so hard to establish the idea that Narcissa "won't never be a Sartoris woman," when it's even truer that, despite her genealogical credentials, she won't ever be one either (730). After "There Was a Queen," however, Faulkner will go on to write novels like Absalom! and Go Down, Moses, which look much more deeply into the cultural and moral depths that reside in that term "mulatto."