William Faulkner's Sanctuary: The Original Sin Of Temple Drake

William Faulkner's Sanctuary: The Original Sin Of Temple Drake

Understand Temple Drake from William Faulkner's "Sanctuary."
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This is MLA-style, published version of a literary analysis thesis paper in its original form.

Sanctuary: The Original Sin of Temple Drake


"Sanctuary" features author William Faulkner’s most persistent theme, the human heart in conflict with itself. He exemplifies this through Temple Drake, an affluent socialite with an inclination toward vice. She is restrained by the social mores of southern society until released from the obligation of virginity when raped by a vicious bootlegger. Thereafter, she is seduced into the Memphis underworld where she is persistently exposed to evil, and ultimately lost to carnality. Temple, exemplifies the darkness that exists in all of us when planted in the wrong environments, and the caustic nature of corruption.

From Temple’s first introduction she is running. Briefly illuminated in the light of her college dormitory called the Coop she vanishes into the shadow of Gowen Steven’s car. She rejects the company of her typical dates the “town boys,” for a man from the University of Virginia, Gowen. It is quickly revealed that Temple is a familiar figure among the car owning town boys, and that she has a reputation as a coquette. She holds their interest by pulling them in then strategically drawing away. When they complain that she is not forthcoming enough she cites her powerful family as a means to explain why she could not possibly dally with them. Her father and brother’s employment in the justice system mean that the young men do not dare cross the line with her, and she is fully conscious of this privilege. Temple’s story begins by “fleeing the coop,” for a night time drive with a man she barely knows. This act is the first time that Temple runs from light and security to darkness and uncertainty.

Olga Vickery, author of “Crime and Punishment,” establishes the idea that Temple’s sanctuary rests in the financial prosperity and influence of her family (Vickery 17). When she attempts to utilize the power of her family at the Old Frenchman Place it is not respected by the law flouting bootleggers. When she behaves provocatively with the men, she expects them to respect her decision to then pull way again. Especially after she informs them of her father’s prestigious position within society. However, she eventually learns that they are not bound to the same code of conduct as her men in Jefferson (Vickery 17).


Within Sanctuary, Faulkner evokes a strong moral theme of “crime and punishment” (Vickery 15). While the novel does not cross the boundaries of a “moralistic” work it certainly qualifies as “behaviorist.” Irving Howe, author of William Faulkner: A Critical Study, explains that the actions of each character have a clear consequence that remind some readers of moral allegory. He then expresses confusion as to why a traditionally unbiased writer like Faulkner would suddenly evoke behaviorism in his work. He attributes this change to Faulkner’s “hatred for the world of his own novel” (Howe 194). Furthermore, he accuses him of “dwell[ing] on details of appearance and behavior with a hard, sometimes overfocussed (sic) intensity, so much so that the novel, breaking past the aim of faithful representation, moves toward the autonomous realm of grotesque emblems and events” (Howe 194).

When Temple and Gowen arrive at the Old Frenchman Place, owned by Lee Goodwin, they do not understand that they must conform to a new set of behavioral rules. Being rich and entitled they cannot perceive that they have an utter lack of control over the environment in the house, and persist in trying to enforce their own set of values and behavioral codes on the residents. Gowen, deeply conscious of his position as a Virginia gentleman believes that the man who handles his whiskey best is in the dominant position (Doss 77). While Temple, uses her sexuality as a means of control. The residents of the Old Frenchman Place cannot understand, nor tolerate their behavior. They respond in the only way they know toward the unwanted visitors—violence. The behavior of Temple and Gowen, already indecent within the context of Jefferson, becomes intolerable in the setting of Goodwin’s home (Vickery 18). Their actions continuously reap negative consequences lending further credibility to Howe’s assertion that the novel "Sanctuary" is behaviorist.

Temple’s experience in the Old Frenchman Place is one of simultaneous terror and semi-conscious fascination with corruption. She by turns attempts to seduce the men present and run away from them. Ruby, catching on to Temple’s manic indecision, attempts to reason with her. She explains in barely controlled anger “Do you think you’re meeting kids now? kids (sic) that give a damn whether you like it or not” (Faulkner 59)? She aptly tells her “Man? You’ve never seen a real man. You don’t know what it is to be wanted by a real man.” She correctly guesses Temple’s strategy of managing local boys and states, “I know your sort. I’ve seen them. All running, but not too fast” (Faulkner, 61). She warns her to leave the house before nightfall. Temple, unable to decide between her world in Jefferson and the exciting danger of the Old Frenchman Place, spends the evening in cowering fear and flirtation. Arthur F. Kennedy writes of her actions at the Old Frenchman Place stating, “Her actions appear indiscriminant and naive; she seems to bring to her new landscape the same gestures she has been accustomed to at Old Miss— gestures of flight, impulsiveness, vulnerability, invitation, confusion” (Kennedy 116). Temple’s nonconformance to her new surroundings reveal that she has neither the wisdom, nor the inclination, nor ability to make adult decisions. When at the table with Ruby, she asks for a cigarette, and holds it in her hand. She toys with it, but does not actually smoke it. Once again, she is “playing at it.”

Temple’s stay at the Old Frenchman Place reveals the divergent desires warring in her heart. Until that point, her corruption has been on her own terms and within the bounds of college mores (Vickery 17). Her name might be written on public bathroom stalls naming her a flirt, but she does not have a reputation as a “good time girl.” She understands that upon crossing the threshold of the dilapidated mansion that she is exceeding the accepted social boundaries of Jefferson Mississippi, but still does not understand the new rules before her. She knows that evil resides in the Goodwin home, but cannot decide how she wants to respond to it. She hopes that she can control the evil behaviors of the men, and dictate them to her own terms because she still does not understand that her social position is meaningless in this setting.

When Ruby orders Temple to eat in the dining room with the men, she transitions from the dark kitchen into a bright room. She is “dazzled and dazed” and blind to the danger which surrounds her” (Arnold, Trouard, 74). Ruby pleas with Temple to leave the property, or at least remain discreet, but Temple cannot resist the intoxicating brew of panic and arousal she feels at the prospect of engaging with rough men. She wants danger, without fully understanding what danger is. She is partially eager for corruption, and possesses an idealized concept of violation while also fearing it. Vickery writes, “Her fascination with violence holds her immobile. For only by becoming a victim of violence can she participate in Ruby’s world without losing her position in her own” (Vickery 18). The scene in the dining room reveals clearly to the reader that Temple both dreads and desires violation.

The rest of the night passes with Temple in conflict over her thoughts toward experiencing violence until she retires to a lockless room. She hides beneath the covers of a corn shuck bed, then dons two coats in a flimsy attempt to protect herself. Once in the bed she examines herself in her compact mirror and applies make-up. This action reveals that she hides behind her appearance, and takes comfort in her habit of vanity. Sexuality is how she controls her environment, and she persists in her belief that an attractive face is her best defense. However, her absence does not dispel the men’s interest once aroused, and they harass Temple in her room. Her simple-minded protector Tommy, and the homeowner Lee Goodwin eventually intercede on her behalf to expel the strange men from her room. They leave the drunken and bloody Gowen Stevens on the bed, his physical state proving that he could neither hold his liquor nor fight—violating the Virginia code of conduct. At this point, with the night well established, Temple’s heart is not in conflict. Laying in the darkness, she singularly fears the results of violence and corruption and remains in bed.

In the reassuring light of day, Temple wakes up to find that Gowen has abandoned her. She does not respond with panic as she is soothed by the beauty of the May morning. Her mind is on the Sabbath and her typical Sunday routine, believing that the worst is in the past. In her world-view evil only abides in darkness, therefore she lacks the urgency to leave the property she had felt the night before (Arnold and Trouard, 88).

Once in the kitchen with Ruby, she realizes her need to use the restroom and heads into the woods instead of the dirty barn. Her trip into the woods also presented an ideal moment to slip away, but she persists in her illusion that daylight indicates safety. This believe is shattered when she discovers that Goodwin is spying on her while she relieves herself. Once again, she returns to the Old Frenchman Place. She is beginning to understand that evil can exist in any environment, but her heart is conflicted on where she will find sanctuary. When she returns to the house she seeks out the safety of Ruby, but also to the danger of the evil characters who reside there.

In the darkness of night, Temple semi-consciously desires the men, but also desires some measure of control. She attempts to use flirtation to both seduce and control those around her. However, part of her also wants the rough men to be violent with her. Subconsciously, she is excited by the prospect of her own rape (Vickery 18). Her desires concerning the men are purely within moral context in the light of morning, and all she wants from them is a ride to Jefferson. According to her understanding evil is a remote prospect, even impossible on such a beautiful day. That is why Goodwin’s behavior terrified her without provoking excitement, as it destroyed all her notions concerning evil.

Temple, seeing Goodwin approach fled not into the street, but the barn. Once there she is confronted with the reality of Goodwin’s sexual interest. Tommy her protector, agrees to guard the door of the barn from her attacker. Unbeknownst to him is that Popeye also intends to harm Temple, and kills Tommy for getting in the way of his lust. The moment of the rape brings all three of the doomed men together. Faulkner uses this to symbolize that either through indirect or direct actions on the part of Temple, they will die as a consequence of her violation.

Upon realizing the inevitability of rape, Temple faces it with acceptance. Her hands lay limp, and her body positioned like a ragdoll. Having heard Tommy’s murder she understands that Popeye is capable of brutality (Arnold and Trouard, 99). The thought of violence, which she had previously idealized now horrified her its fruition. Lawrence S. Kubie author of Sanctuary: An Analysis, writes of Temple, she “exists in the book only to taunt and tantalize men with promises which are never fulfilled, until finally the fulfilling of the promise is taken out of her hands…” (Kubie 30). The rape means that Temple’s choice is made for her. She does not get the chance to make the final decision concerning sex and chastity.

Temple’s rape releases her from the obligation of virginity. She understands that she can now engage in the seedy sub-culture of the Old Frenchman Place without the guilt of having chosen sexual immorality. Rape has removed her from personal and societal blame, allowing her to cast herself in the part of Popeye’s captive. She does not initially embrace the world of the bootlegger, but allows herself to participate in a passive way. She enjoys thinking of herself in the role of “victim-prisoner,” and therefore refuses every opportunity presented to escape (Vickery 18). She is fascinated by Popeye’s lifestyle, and while she may not love the gangster himself she cannot find the will to remove herself from the Memphis underworld he whisks her in to.

In Memphis, Temple is placed in Mrs. Reba’s brothel. There she weakly complains about the bleeding caused by the corn cob, and appears in agony over her rape. However, once in the presence of a doctor she makes no effort to report the crime done to her. Instead, throughout her stay at Mrs. Reba’s she remains locked inside her room accepting Popeyes gifts and abuse. She even goes as far as to alter her appearance to match those of her surroundings. Faulkner writes, “Her face [is] puffed, two spots of rouge on her cheekbones and her mouth painted into a savage cupid’s bow” (Faulkner 216). While Temple presents the posture of “victim-prisoner” her actions undermine her pretensions.

Temple’s level of culpability in her circumstance is at last made clear, when she converses with Horace Benbow on the topic of her rape. By her first words it is clear that she is willing, even excited at the prospect of discussing the violence done to her. “Don’t think I’m afraid to tell” Temple said. “I’ll tell it anywhere” (Faulkner 216). Her tone is not that of a brave victim wishing to relieve her burden, but like someone excited at the prospect of divulging a fascinating personal story. The unworldly Horace Benbow, who typically understands the world in the box of “victim, perpetrator, and bystander” comprehends that Temple does not belong in any of those three boxes singularly. He quickly gathers that she is recounting the situation with “actual pride, a sort of naïve and impersonal vanity.” He describes her gaze “like a dog driving two cattle along a lane.” Meaning that she is watching Mrs. Reba and Benbow to see if she is driving them believe her story (Faulkner 216). When she recounts her version of events she presents her genuine aversion to the rape by describing her wish to transform her anatomy to that of a boy’s, but then adds that she also shouted “Come on. Touch me. Touch me! You’re a coward if you don’t” (Faulkner 218)! Neither statement discounts the other, but reflects her warring feelings toward the corruption and violence she experienced. She is simultaneously presented as a victim, bystander, and perpetrator. Such a concept baffles Benbow, and further contributes to his later cynicism and misogyny.

The moment of Temple’s complete corruption occurs at the nightclub. Until this time the evil inside her has been latent, and largely committed to her own destruction. Though the force of her presence has ruined both the lives of Goodwin and Tommy, she did not cause harm through direct action. However, she assumes the full identity of a perpetrator on the night of Red’s murder. When she discovers that Red, a man whom is both rapist and lover is going to be killed by Popeye she makes it a priority to call him. However, she does not attempt to warn him of his fate during their conversation, but rather to ensure that he will be present at the club. She desires to flaunt her relationship with the bouncer in Popeye’s face one last time. Even when Temple is present at the nightclub she does not warm him to Popeye’s intentions. Instead she dances with him and tries to seduce him. Her corruption is complete, due to her abandonment of all morality and behavioral codes (Vickery 19). She is revealed to be nothing more than a physical manifestation of greed and desire with neither empathy nor compassion.

While Temple’s transition occurs at the nightclub her rejection of a moral code is confirmed at Goodwin’s trial. She sits before the assembled crowd dressed in garish rhinestones and thick makeup. Her appearance is meant to reflect “how fragile respectability is, how easily the innocent child of any man in the courtroom could likewise be snatched away…” (Arnold and Trouard 222). The District Attorney is at the most central point of Temple’s examination when Judge Drake enters the room. Once seeing that the judge is present, the DA asks Temple to name Tommy’s killer and her rapist. She says that “He” did it. Never quite mentioning Goodwin, but allowing those present to believe it’s him. She lies without emotion, intentionally omitting the truth.

Having gotten what he wanted, the District Attorney cleverly concludes his questioning. He proclaims, “I shall no longer subject this ruined and defenseless child to the agony of--.” Pausing as Judge Drake decides to walk forward and claim his daughter from the witness stand. Initially unable to move, Temple finally allows him to walk her from the bench to her seat. She behaves distantly as though drugged. Horace Benbow does not dare to cross examine a girl whom the audience believe is a victim, and he certainly does not have the nerve to contest Judge Drake (Arnold and Trouard 223). So, Temple secure in her father’s authority calmly condemns a man to death, then takes a seat in restored favor with her powerful family.

In the presence of her father, Temple’s heart is no longer in conflict. She has neither excitement, nor fear, nor desire. There is no inner turmoil for her when she lies about Goodwin. She reveals only disinterest. The war in her heart is settled, and she has finally finished running the line between good and evil. Without passion, or motive, or incentive she reveals her complete corruption by allowing an innocent man to die.

Cover Image Credit: Moma

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