William Faulkner's "Golden Land" Analysis
“Golden Land” portrays Los Angeles as a place without traditional values.
Ira is described as an immoral person. He is not only an alcoholic, but also an abusive adulterer.
Although Ira shares Faulkner’s distaste for Los Angeles, he has been affected by the culture and does not desire to return to Nebraska.
While Nebraska is portrayed as a moral place, grounded by the land, Los Angeles is represented as a place of detachment.
Even the people of Los Angeles are described as fake “with bronzed, unselfconscious bodies."
By naming it “Golden Land,” Faulkner alludes to the fact that it is purely the idealized location that produces immoral beings.
Faulkner’s “Golden Land” is a story about Los Angeles as a theatrical production. Faulkner is disgusted by consumer culture and attempts to portray this attitude about the city through this story.
William Faulkner’s short story, “Golden Land,” is about a man who has become successful in Hollywood at the expense of morality. The main character, Ira, is an alcoholic that moved from Nebraska to Los Angeles. Like Faulkner, Ira is disgusted by the Los Angeles lifestyle and consumerism, yet has become a product of this culture. This essay will examine the ways in which “Golden Land” portrays Los Angeles as a place without traditional values and will aim to understand what makes Ira become an immoral person.
Faulkner moved to Los Angeles in the 1930’s and is known to have disliked his time there. “Golden Land” illustrates Faulkner’s feelings about the location and its affects on human behavior. Ira is described as an immoral person. He is not only an alcoholic, but also an abusive adulterer. Although he shares Faulkner’s distaste for Los Angeles, he has been affected by the culture and does not desire to return to Nebraska. In the beginning of the story, the narrator describes why Ira left:
He was fleeing the scene itself, the treeless immensity in the lost center of which he seemed to see the sum of his father’s and mother’s dead youth and bartered lives as tiny forlorn spot which nature permitted to green into brief and niggard wheat for a season’s moment before blotting it all with the primal and invincible snow as though (not even promise, not even threat) in grim and almost playful augury of the final doom of all life. (1-2)
Ira felt trapped in Nebraska; his ability to achieve the “American Dream” seems impossible in that location. He moves to Los Angeles in search of success and obtains it, but at what expense?
Ira’s mother is an important character within this story because she seems to be the only moral character. When she was around Ira’s children, she saw them steal money from their mother’s purse. It doesn’t surprise her to know that Samantha is in the tabloids as a pornographic figure, or that Voyd is a transvestite. Ira’s response to his daughter’s shameful fame is, “She has made her bed; all I can do is help her up: I can’t wash the sheets. Nobody can” (7). His mother does not agree because of her traditional values. Ira attempts to defend his stance: “But you did not choose me when you elected a child; neither did I choose my two” (7). Throughout “Golden Land,” the reader finds that Los Angeles becomes a place where morality is traded for wealth, success and fame.
The story’s title, “Golden Land,” seems to contrast the tone of the story itself. This title, however, symbolizes the effects of the physical location on a person’s morality:
The sun, strained by the vague high soft almost nebulous California haze, fell upon the terrace with a kind of treacherous unbrightness. The terrace, the sun-drenched terra cotta tiles, butted into a rough and savage shear of canyon-wall bare yet without dust, or on which a solid mat of flowers bloomed in fierce lush myriad-colored paradox as though in place of being rooted into a drawing from the soil they lived upon air alone… (3)
Throughout the story, the reader can find images that represent Los Angeles’ rootlessness. While Nebraska is portrayed as a moral place, grounded by the land, Los Angeles is represented as a place of detachment: “…had he looked, he could have seen the city in the bright soft vague hazy sunlight, random, scattered about the arid earth like so many gay scraps of paper blown without order, with its curious air of being rootless, of houses bright beautiful and gay, without basements or foundations, lightly attached to a few inches of light penetrable earth…” (10). Faulkner is showing his reader that Los Angeles has the power to corrupt an individual through its construction.
For example, Ira mother’s house is described as “…backed into a barren foothill combed and curried into a cypress-and-marble cemetery dramatic as a stage set and topped by an electric sign in red bulbs which, in the San Fernando valley fog, glared in broad sourceless ruby as though just beyond the crest lay not heaven but hell” (6). The images used to describe this place are very theatrical; creating the sense that Los Angeles is like a dramatic performance—a fake production to satisfy the audience.
Even the people of Los Angeles are described as fake “with bronzed, unselfconscious bodies. Lying so, they seemed to [Ira] to walk along the rim of the world as though they and their kind alone inhabited it…and they turn into precursors of a new race not yet seen on the earth: of men and women without age, beautiful as gods and goddesses, with the minds of infants” (11). Contrastingly, the older woman that Ira visits the beach with is much more appealing to him. He describes that she is not perfect and hopes that God himself removed the young girls from the earth:
Now he watched her slip off the cape ad kneel at the cellarette, filling a silver flask, in the bathing costume of the moment, such as ten thousand wax female dummies wore in ten thousand shop windows that summer, such as a thousand young girls wore on California beaches; he looked at her, kneeling back, buttocks and flanks trim enough, even firm enough…but still those of forty. But I don’t want a young girl, he thought. Would to God that all young girls, all young female flesh, were removed, blasted even, from the earth. (9)
Faulkner describes this consumer culture as a product of Los Angeles. He finds this repulsive as is evident in his description of the young girls with fake bodies. Contrastingly, Ira’s mother finds peace and beauty in Los Angeles:
The sun was high; she could see the water from the sprinkler flashing and glinting in it as she went to the window. It was still high, still afternoon; the mountains stood serene and drab against it; the city, the land, lay sprawled and myriad beneath it the land, the earth which spawned a thousand new faiths, nostrums and cures each year but no disease to even disprove them on beneath the golden days unmarred by rain nor weather, the changeless monotonous beautiful days without end, countless out of the halcyon past and endless into the halcyon future. (13)
This heavenly image is followed by a quote from Ira’s mother, saying that she will stay in Los Angeles and live forever. Realistically, she cannot live forever; Faulkner is alluding to the potential opportunities that Los Angeles offers. Similar to the way Ira found success, his mother puts faith into Los Angeles and the possible opportunities it brings.
Faulkner’s “Golden Land” is a story about Los Angeles as a theatrical production. Faulkner is disgusted by consumer culture and attempts to portray this attitude about the city through this story. By naming it “Golden Land,” Faulkner alludes to the fact that it is purely the idealized location that produces immoral beings. Because of the potential Los Angeles has to better a person’s life financially, it is rootless and causes people to do anything for wealth, riches or fame.
Faulkner, William. Golden Land. 1988. pp. 1-13. PDF.