Yesterday, the US chose Donald Trump to be its next president; Hillary Clinton lost the election and a chance to be the first woman to lead the country.
But, as Tim Kaine, Clinton’s vice presidential candidate, told an audience gathered today in New York to hear her concession speech, “They killed us, but they ain’t whupped us yet.”
The line—a quote from William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!—drew thunderous applause from the crowd waiting to see Clinton speak. While the democratic nominee had conceded to Trump privately over a phone call last night, she had yet to make a public concession.
The Faulkner line appears in a few places in Absalom, Absalom!, variously as:
- “Well, Kernel, they kilt us but they aint whupped us yit, air they?”
- “Hyer I am, Kernel. Hit’s all right. They aint whupped us yit, air they?”
- “They mought have kilt us, but they aint whupped us yit, air they?”
It’s spoken by the poor white southern farmer Wash Jones to Thomas Sutpen, the story’s main character.
On a surface level the quote means something like “We’ve been defeated in battle, but we’re going to keep going.” After citing Faulkner, Kaine went on to say, “We know that the work remains. We know that the dreams of empowering families and children remains.”
There’s some irony to the choice of quote, though, that may have been lost on Kaine: the voice of Wash Jones is a stand-in for the socially disenfranchised poor whites of the American south. Jones idolizes the wealthy Sutpen, and clings to him for approval.
Or maybe Kaine is a Faulkner fan and knows he’s chosen the perfect quote to subtly dig at Trump: Jones eventually realizes Sutpen doesn’t care at all for him or his family, rises up against Sutpen, and kills him.