Reverend Whitfield

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Reverend Whitfield
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Whitfield, Reverend
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Reverend Whitfield is the local preacher in Frenchman's Bend, and in four of the fictions set there. His character varies dramatically across those texts. He appears first in As I Lay Dying, in the part of a minister who has had an unconfessed affair with a married woman and is the father of an illegitimate child; many readers are reminded of Hawthorne's Dimmesdale, Hester and Pearl, not least because Addie Bundren, Whitfield's lover, names her son Jewel. In the section of that novel he narrates he reveals himself to be a self-righteousness hypocrite, happy to confuse his own moral cowardice with the will of God. He next appears, less dramatically, in The Hamlet, where the third person narrator describes him as a "farmer and a father; a harsh, stupid, honest, superstitious and upright man, out of no seminary, holder of no degrees, functioning neither within nor without any synod but years ago ordained minister by Will Varner" (223). His role in "Tomorrow" is functional - to preside over a wedding and a funeral - which he does competently within a single 18-word phrase (105). His last appearance, as the pastor of the church that Grier accidentally burns down in "Shingles for the Lord," is his most impressive one. He appears to the boy narrator as a man whose significance to the poor white community remains standing amid the ashes of a building: "Whitfield like always in his boiled shirt and his black hat and pants, standing there with his hat on, too, like he had strove too long to save what hadn't ought to been created in the first place . . . to need to take his hat off in any presence" (40-41). Maybe, says the narrator, "there was something that even that fire hadn't even touched" (42). In Requiem for a Nun Faulkner locates a "Whitfield" among the very earliest white settlers in Jefferson; he is almost certainly intended as an ancestor of this latter day Whitfield.