A Practical Approach to Faulkner’s Literary Style
Our paper is based on a fragment from The Sound and the Fury quoted beneath:
“April Seventh, 1928
Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence. Luster came away from the flower tree and we went along the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.
‘Listen at you,’ Luster said. ‘Ain’t you something, thirty-three years old, going on that way. After I done went all the way to town to buy you that cake. Hush up that moaning. Ain’t you going to help me find that quarter so I can go to the show tonight.’
We went along the fence and came to the garden fence, where our shadows were.
‘Wait a minute,’ Luster said. You snagged on the nail again. Can’t you never crawl through here without snagging on the nail.
Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through. Uncle Maury said not to let anybody see us, so we better stoop over, Caddy said. Stoop over, Benjy. Like this, see. We stooped over and crossed the garden, where the flowers rasped and rattled against us. The ground was hard. We climbed the fence, where the pigs were grunting and snuffing. I expect they’re sorry because one of them got killed today, Caddy said. The ground was hard, churned and knotted. Keep your hands in your pockets, Caddy said. Or they’ll get froze. You don’t want your hands froze on Christmas, do you.
‘It’s too cold out there.’ Versh said. ‘You don’t want to go outdoors.’
‘What is it now.’ Mother said.
‘He want to go out doors.’ Versh said.
‘Let him go.’ Uncle Maury said. […]
‘Keep him out about half an hour, boy. Uncle Maury said. ‘Keep him in the yard now.’
‘Yes, sir.’ Versh said. ‘We don’t never let him get off the place.’
We went out doors. The sun was cold and bright.
‘Where you heading for.’ Versh said. ‘You don’t think you going to town does you.’ We went through the rattling leaves. The gate was cold. “You better keep them hands in your pockets.’ Versh said.
‘Here some hickeynuts. Whooey. Git up that tree. Look here at this squirl, Benjy. I couldn’t feel the gate at all, but I could smell the bright cold. ‘You better put them hands back in your pockets.’
Caddy was walking. Then she was running, her booksatchel swinging and jouncing behind her.
‘Hello, Benjy.’ Caddy said. She opened the gate and came in and stooped down. Caddy smelled like leaves. ‘Did you come to meet me.’ she said.
‘Did you come to meet Caddy. What did you let him get his hands so cold for, Versh.’ ‘I told him to keep them in his pockets.’ Versh said. ‘Holding on to that ahun gate.’
‘Did you come to meet Caddy.’ she said rubbing my hands. ‘What is it. What are you trying to tell Caddy.’ Caddy smelled like trees and like when she says we were asleep.
What are you moaning about, Luster said. You can watch them again when we get to the branch. Here. Here’s you a jimson weed. He gave me the flower. We went through the fence into the lot.
‘What is it,’ Caddy said […]…we stopped in the hall and Caddy knelt and put her arms around me and her cold bright face against mine. She smelled like trees.
Cant you shut up that moaning and slobbering, Luster said. Aint you shamed of yourself, making all this racket. We passed the carriage house, where the carriage was.
‘Git in, now, and set still until your may come.’Dilsey said. She shoved me into the carriage. T.P. held the reins.
Mother came out, pulling her veil down. She had some flowers.
‘Where’s Roskus.’ she said.
The chosen fragments represent the beginning of the first section of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. The fragment is reproduced exactly as it was printed, namely most of the novel is written in Roman type, but we also face several changes in type face when Faulkner intends to warn us that a shift in time occurs.
In the following pages I attempted an applied analysis of Faulkner’s use of stream of consciousness technique and the devices used to establish the transition between thoughts. The novel opens with a precise date and the year of the action, April seventh, 1928. The date is significant because it is Benjy’s birthday and the day before Easter.
The setting is a garden with flowers, tress and grass. The first character that appears is Luster of whom we do not learn much except that he was hunting for something in the grass “Luster was hunting in the grass.” (Faulkner, 1992:2). Everything that happens is presented to the reader by a person that accompanies Luster in his search in the grass. The dialogue that occurs shortly after the opening of the novel introduces the reader to a new detail, namely the person that narrates what he sees is a thirty-three years old man: “Ain’t you something, thirty-three years old.” (Faulkner, 1992:2).
Luster argues the thirty-three years old man complaining about the latter’s moaning saying that the least he can do is to stop moaning since he went to such trouble as to go into town and buy him a cake: “After I done went all the way to town to buy you that cake. Hush up that moaning” (Faulkner, 1992:2). This passage also provides another piece of information that clarifies the reason why the two were in the grass; Luster was looking for a quarter that he had lost and with which he intended to go to a show that evening.
At a first reading the passages renders no coherent information and we encounter difficulties every step that prevent us from an adequate understanding of the action itself.
The first passage is a monologue belonging to the narrator of the section and it is made up of a series of frozen pictures, offered without bias: “Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence” (Faulkner, 1992:2). “In the opening monologue of The Sound and the Fury Faulkner gives the impression that an idiot’s unconscious mind is somehow responsible for the narration. But the function of the monologue is to provide dramatic exposition while creating misleading atmosphere of psychological chaos.”
Next, Luster reproaches the idiot his incapacity of crawling through the fence without snagging on the nail. This is the first truly confusing moment when a change in type occurs, namely a passage written in italics used to indicate the first shift in time, from spring to a cold winter day many years ago. Therefore, a shift from the present to the past takes place. Immediately, the reader is introduced to a recollection relived by the idiot in chronological sequence with specific detail since his mind works slowly. It is not difficult to realize that the recollection was triggered in this case by a common phrase crawl through here and thus the shift is to a winter day when a new character is introduced, Caddy: “Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through”(Faulkner, 1992:2).
The idiot’s mind was stimulated by a stimulus associated with a sequence from the past. Getting caught on a nail as he goes through a hole in the fence with Luster stimulates Benjy’s memory and he suddenly starts to relive a December day when together with Caddy, they were supposed to do a task for Uncle Maury: “Uncle Maury said not to let anybody see us, so we better stoop over, Caddy said” (Faulkner, 1992:2).
After this sequence typed in italics, Benjy’s memory shifts to the beginning of the sequence when he is inside the house and wants to go out. A new character appears, Versh who tells the others in the house, Mother and Uncle Maury that Benjy wishes to go out. Although Mother asks Versh not to let Benjy step out of the house, Uncle Maury allows Versh to take him out for a few minutes. Outside, the cold is so terrible that Benjy could smell it. He came at the gate with the sole purpose to meet Caddy; everything in Benjy’s memory is associated with his beloved Caddy: “Caddy smelled like trees.” (Faulkner, 1992:3).
The recollection of Caddy smelling like trees made Benjy moan which triggered another shift in time, from past to present when Luster told him that he should be ashamed for making such a racket saying that: “We passed the carriage house, where the carriage was.” (Faulkner, 1992:3). The phrase carriage stimulated another shift in time to an event from his childhood. Benjy can begin reliving a scene from the past but, nevertheless, he can be distracted momentarily by something that arrests his attention in the present. The idiot relates everything with no interference, he centers only on what he sees or hears. What he tells is life. Benjy’s imagination simply experiences reality as a series of equal impressions that flow before the mind’s eye is an unbroken stream.
As it can be easily seen, Benjy’s sentences are rather short, simple, without any complexity. However, many of them are linked by the conjunction and, thus, making them seem longer: “Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence” (Faulkner, 1992:2). Another important aspect concerning the sentences regards Benjy’s references which belong to location, we find several examples of adverbial clauses that begin with the adverb where: “They were coming toward where the flag was… We stooped over and crossed the garden, where the flowers rasped and rattled against us… We climbed the fence, where the pigs were grunting and snuffing” (Faulkner, 1992:2, 3).
We can easily notice that most of Benjy’s sentences begin with pronouns, namely the first singular and plural ones I and WE. The tense used is paste tense simple aspect and also the progressive aspect. The first fragments have a large number of intransitive verbs such as went, coming, and hunting. However, the analysis of his use of the progressive aspect results in the idea that none of the actions in progress belongs to Benjy, they all refer to the others: “Luster was hunting ”, “they were hitting”, “They were coming…” (Faulkner, 1992:2). Benjy’s vocabulary is a limited one, made up mostly of nouns, verbs and a few adjectives, he uses only concrete nouns, mostly name of places, things and people that pertain to his microcosm. The adjectives employed relate to the senses, smell, touch, see. Benjy relies heavily on his senses because through them he can connect with the surrounding environment. The definite article The is used many times usually as a modifier of an element of nature: “The ground was hard, The sun was cold and bright” (Faulkner, 1992:2-3)
Benjy’s monologue is actually to a great extent a reported conversation, being rather a: “a mosaic or patchwork of many voices seemingly recorded at random by an unselective mind.” His monologue, in a way, transfers the reader into the illogic world of the infants, a section in which the innocence and naiveté of an idiot’s language cause problems to the readers.
The section as style is a simple one due to its being made up of simple sentences, a facile vocabulary is employed because the vocabulary of a retarded cannot be a complex one. However, the section as such is far from being a simple one, it gives one the impression of a total chaos and the only justification one can find is that the narrator of the section is an idiot and, consequently, he cannot be reproached anything, especially the air of confusion with which he impregnates the entire section.
In the contemporary world, William Faulkner has been the perfect embodiment of dream power. The barrel from which he drew his stories was inexhaustible since it was filled with memories from a history of a land that had a surplus of data.
In his attempt to recreate the myth of his homeland, Faulkner used his imagination and effort to the limit, but he could not ignore the consequences of the passing of time, of the present moment of writing upon the legend and therefore, the latter transformed itself into a modality of appreciation of reality and what could have become merely a vast parable of the South, tuned into a tormenting debate on the human condition in the present time.
Faulkner’s novels are all projected within the limits of a
traditional epoch whose pillars began to erode with the burst of the modern
world. Although his Yoknapatawpha county was a fictitious one, being the result
of an intense labor of imagination, it draws heavily on the tradition of the
Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha mythology corresponds very closely to the archaistic legends of the South about a proud society compound to deal with the humiliation of defeat, and consequently fall caused by an external force.
The writer does not dose the effects of the decline of his homeland and at the same time he does not draw back when it comes to admitting that the aristocratic South is responsible for its own degeneration, and that the subsequent misery and damage are consequences of inward decay. Impressively, he emphasizes the fact that past social ideals, however corrupt they might have been, are unquestionably superior to the debased values of modern life.
Faulkner’s masterpieces display a style heavily debated by critics throughout the decades. He uses the stream of consciousness technique and multiple points of view; moreover he brings the interior monologue into its full play, joggles with sudden shifts in time, thus creating a rather difficult style for the readers.
Faulkner’s use of first person narration automatically rules out methods involving indirect discourse. The result is a lack of the flexibility required for a full scale exploration of mental reality. Faulkner’s monologuists are also the narrators of the physical events taking place around them. The writer, quite often, creates characters who are themselves detached witnesses of the main action and whose monologues are interior in form only. Even in genuine stream of consciousness passages there are many shifts to ordinary discourse and to conventional flashback description.
Faulkner’s style is difficult, and it seems that sometimes he does this on purpose by omitting the punctuation devices; dashes are frequent, quotation marks and apostrophes almost all the times are omitted and commas are rarely used where they are supposed to be, the length of the sentences hardens the reading since very often the extreme use of words is unnecessary.
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