Truth-seeker, hero, reasonable man, and, perhaps, coward – these are some of the adjective that come to mind when we think of Henry "Hawkshaw" Stribling (or Hawk for short). We know his last name is Stribling because he is featured in a lesser know Faulkner story from These Thirteen, entitled "Hair." If you are interested in Henry, read "Hair." It gives you lots of background information, including how he got the nickname "Hawkshaw." In the context of "Dry September" the details of his personal life are for the most part excluded. We know that he's a barber, that he knows both Minnie and Will, and that he holds plenty of gender stereotypes. In the following sections we hope to expand on some of his functions in the story.
We first meet Hawkshaw in the sweaty, noisy barber shop in full Saturday night swing. He presents a cool and reasonable contrast to the men around him. He insists, in this scene and throughout the story, that no action should be taken against Will without investigation – he even hopes to involve the sheriff. He tries to get the men to think about what they already know about Minnie and Will, and to see that it's unlikely that Will raped or otherwise sexually abused Minnie. Hawkshaw doesn't claim that this prior knowledge is evidence that Will didn't commit crime, but just reason enough to give Will the benefit of the doubt. (Notice how "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't apply to Will at all according to the townspeople's logic.)
By publicly defending a black man, and vouching for his character, Hawkshaw takes a stand for truth and justice, and not without risk. But, he doesn't leave it at that – he joins the men in their hunt for Will. In the car on the way to the ice plant, Hawkshaw continues to use reason and rationality to stop McLendon and the other men from carrying out their plan against Will. Unfortunately, reason isn't always effective. When Hawkshaw participates in the initial beating and handcuffing of Will, his powers of rhetoric and reason are useless. Hawkshaw doesn't seem to have an alternative plan to save Will. Without such a plan, he might believe that if he stays in the car, he will become more and more implicated in the crimes against Will. This might be why he steps out.
Before Hawkshaw jumps from the car, Will, by speaking Hawkshaw's name (Mr. Henry), pleads for him to stay. This implies that Will still believes that Hawkshaw could save him from the bad guys. Perhaps he could have, if this were another kind of story. Faulkner isn't known for letting his characters escape their worst fates. Would we consider Hawkshaw more heroic had he died fighting for Will, or at least continued on with him? Do you think he could have helped Will if he had stayed in the car? Why or why not? We also wonder why Hawkshaw joined McLendon instead of going to the sheriff. It could be that he knew the sheriff would be unwilling to intervene once the plot against Will was in motion.
Hawkshaw probably joined McLendon because he thought it was the best thing for Will at the time. We don't know exactly why he jumps from the car after they nab Will, and we don't know what would have happened if he had stayed. Do you think Hawkshaw's jumping from the car is a cowardly act, or is there something else going on? Do you think Hawkshaw is a heroic character, even though he jumps from the car? Or is he somewhere in between hero and coward? Why do you feel the way you do?
This is where things get a little more tricky. On the one hand there seems to be some truth in what Hawkshaw suggests about Minnie. Indeed she appears to be sexually frustrated to the point of madness. But Henry seems to blame Minnie herself because she "g[o]t old without getting married […]" (1.9). In the eyes of the Jefferson community such a woman simply isn't acceptable. Whereas Hawkshaw doesn't let irrational racial prejudice interfere with his belief in Will's innocence, he ignores the reasons for Minnie's plight. While he can muster sympathy for a black man falsely accused, he is unable to see that the problem with Minnie has to do with the restricted role of women in society. Not to say that this is a simple case of men oppressing women. The women in this story aren't innocent either. Other women, in addition to the men, share blame in the tragedy of Minnie.Henry "Hawkshaw" Stribling Timeline