Brilliance and Difficulty in Faulkner’s Novels
William Faulkner is perhaps the most criticized contemporary American novelist for his style described as original, heavy, and versatile. Many critics spoke about the use of the stream of consciousness technique in the author’s novels. The term stream of consciousness was first used in 1890 by psychologist William James in his book Principles of Psychology in order to describe the way humans respond to daily life through thought and emotion, describing the unbroken flow of thought and awareness of the waking mind. The term is defined as the continuous flow of sense, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and memories in the human mind; or a literary method of representing such a blending of mental processes in fictional characters, usually in an unpunctuated or disjointed form of interior monologue.
Interior monologues usually consist of words presumed to be passing through individual minds. It cannot, therefore, be put in connection with the unconscious mind. Words are the markers of mental activity below the level of consciousness, but the words cannot be described as actually framed by or in the mind. All words framed by the mind can be ascribed to conscious mental processes, whether the individual is aware of making them or not. For an individual to hear his own words during animated discourse of any kind is the exception rather than the rule. “When the line is crossed between conscious and unconscious areas of the mind, the literary break must be sharp. The writer must turn from what he knows through experience to what he can only infer through an understanding of psychology and linguistics. The verbal content of his work pretend to be naturalistic, and the monologue form, as such, must be abandoned.”
The technique was first employed by Édouard Dujardin (1861–1949) in his novel Les Lauriers sont coupés (1888). The technique reveals the character’s feelings, thoughts and actions, often following an associative rather than a logical sequence, without commentary by the author. Stream-of-consciousness writing uses devices such as characters speaking to themselves, free association, and lists of words. Novels in which stream of consciousness plays an important role include James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), and Virginia Wolf's The Waves (1931). A typical device used by the writers who used this technique in their novels is that of alternating between the actual thoughts of a character and indirect paraphrases of what is said or thought. The narrative voice sometimes quotes and sometimes merely reports or summarizes what is passing through a character’s mind.
Faulkner employed stream of consciousness technique especially in The Sound and the Fury, but he did not respect in full what was considered to be the pattern of the genre created by James Joyce and Dorothy Richardson. Firstly, 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. Genette, when talking about the inner monolgues, cites Eduard Dujardin and characterizes such a monologue: “as discourse without an auditor and unspoken, by which a character expresses his most intimate thoughts, the closest to the unconscious, prior to all logical organization, or, simply, thought in its dawning state-expresses it by means of direct phrases reduced to their syntactical minimum, in such a way as to give the impression of hodgepodge interieur.”
Faulkner does more with the stream of consciousness technique; he develops his own stream of consciousness technique. In most of his densest paragraphs, he allows his characters, or dare we say he enables them the way to fall into reveries in which they perceive more deeply that their conscious minds possibly could. In the manner his characters are able to connect past and present and profoundly reflect on the meaning of events and on the relationships between them, we may easily recognize Faulkner himself.
The Sound and the Fury was Faulkner’s first novel to raise questions of form and technique and made this an unavoidable subject for the world-wide critics. The writer uses the stream of consciousness only in the first three parts of the novel and not in the fourth. By means of the interior monologue in the three sections, the past and the present are juxtaposed, the effects related to the cause. The first section of the book belongs to Benjy, a thirty-three year old idiot and takes place on Holy Saturday, 1928, the day before Easter and Benjy’s thirty-three birthday and can be viewed as a recreation of experience perceived by Benjy who reports both what he sees and what he remembers, without comment and without him understanding the significance of the events. The first section is especially fragmented and difficult to embrace, since its narrator cannot distinguish time and has not developed with time, and shows his inability to understand any abstract relationships by omitting all connective tissue between his sentences.
In the opening monologue of the novel Faulkner creates to the readers the impression that an idiot’s unconscious mind is somehow responsible for the narration: “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.”
The function of this monologue is to provide dramatic exposition while creating the misleading atmosphere of psychological chaos. For Benjy the notion of time does not exist and this is why his part is extremely difficult to read. Some of the time shifts in Benjy’s consciousness are indicated by passages in italics: “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.” The interesting part, but also difficult to follow is that the following lines are a second memory recalled by the first, as the first was recalled by the present occurrence. However, the next italicized text does not refer anymore to a past experience, but it indicates present time when he is interrupted by Luster: “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.” The next pages reveal his past memories of the cold winter day, Versh and Caddy as a child coming home from school. The language used by Benjy is a simple one, with short sentences displaying no complexity whatsoever.
Benjy lacks any sense of time, therefore, he feels the reality of 1902 or 1912 as close as that of 1928. However, only through a mind such as Benjy’s could the past be raised to the same level of equality with the present and both of them dissolved in a stream of chaotic impression: The Benjy section forces the reader to participate in the novel, to become, as it were, a surreptitious narrator; otherwise he cannot read it at all. Given the material of the past, or at least a shrewdly formed simulation of its chaos, he is then required to do the work which in an ordinary novel is done by the writer or narrator. This method exacts from the reader an increment of attention, prodding him to compose in his mind a conventional narrative which accompanies, registers, but finally submits to the narrative of the book. The bewilderment, produced by Benjy’s flow of memory, sharpens one’s responses, teaches one to look for clues, parallels and anticipations.”
One clue that can guide the reader in the understanding of time shifts is represented by Benjy’s Negro companions. As Versh is associated with the period from 1898, another nurse boy, T.P. is associated with the period after 1910, but in the scenes set in the present, the name Luster appears. The idiot’s world is static, ordered, and timeless being incapable of association of ideas, consequently his memory is stimulated by a physical sensation, a sound, a motion or the sight of an object either in the present or in a scene being relived. Such an example is when sitting with his feet in the water while Luster looks for a lost quarter, Benjy uses this sensation indirectly to remember the experiences in 1898 as he begins to relive the events of the day that his grandmother Damuddy died.
Benjy’s part is a risk as his section could easily become sentimental or incoherent when it comes to his sister Caddy, but this is prevented by the fact that he never cease to be an idiot, he never becomes aware of his pathos, never falls into mere shrewdness or saintliness. Faulkner’s concern is not with the mental life of an idiot, but with rendering a plausible effect, a flow of disturbed memory which, in the absence of contrary knowledge, can be associated with an idiot. A complex language is avoided and instead of an elaborate syntax, the reader comes across a series of short declarative sentences. The risk of using such syntax is monotony, but there are several means employed in order to avoid this: frequent time shifts in Benjy’s memory, a richness of concrete pictorial imagery, an abundance of sharply inflected voices: “I argue that the language of some schizophrenic persons is akin to the language of Benjy in Williams Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury, in one crucial respect: Faulkner displays to us language that, ironically, cannot be translated or interpreted into sense . . . without irreducible 'loss' or garbling.”
The internal regularity of the individual sentences is played off against the subtle pacing ant tonal variety of the sequence as a whole. Though the rhythm and the shape of the sentences vary a little, there is a wide range of speed. At first we encounter rather large units, but as we move on into the novel, Benjy’s memories are divided into small fragments until, at the climax, brief sentences of recalled incident whirl feverishly about one another, mixing events from 1898, 1910 and 1928. After these pages, the agitated spinning of Benjy’s mind comes to an abrupt stop, resting in memories of childhood. No elaborate similes or metaphors, no hyperbole or euphuism, only a few symbols are used. The writing completely eludes abstraction and reverie, it is precise absorbing its colour from the life it appropriates, the pictures of behaviour and accents of speech. Mostly used are nouns naming common objects, adjectives specifying blunt sensations and it favors concreteness and spareness. The use of such nouns and adjectives softens the path towards the transitions in time.
The stimuli that switch Benjy from one recollection to another are places, feelings, smells, names. As they impress themselves on him, jolting his mind backward or forward in time, they seem mere accidental distractions, and it is important for the credibility of the section to continue to seem so. Yet, they are carefully spaced and arranged with the purpose of intensifying Faulkner’s meanings by effects of association, incongruity and juxtaposition. Juxtaposition offers the readers: “sudden insights and shocks, which, in small symbolic presentiments or recapitulations, crystallize the meanings of the sequence, insights of the kind a man may have when he looks back upon a life’s work and knows, indisputably, that it is waste, or shocks of the kind a man may feel when he looks upon his child and considers the blows to which it is certain to be exposed. By making the past seem simultaneous with the present, Faulkner gains remarkable moments of pathos, moments sounding the irrevocable sadness that comes from recognition of decline and failure. And, remarkable, one must add, for the way small incidents and contrasts, little more than the slurred minutiae of life, suggest the largest issues in human conduct.”
The following section belongs to Quentin and where the stream of consciousness technique is clearly used. The voice used is a detached one which narrates in the first person everything it sees or hears, including Quentin’s thoughts. This detached voice has the ability of often crossing time barriers and describing events in the past as if they were taking place in the present. There are two flashback techniques used here, namely to remember and to relive; however, unlike Benjy who relived everything he remembered, Quentin only occasionally does seem to relive past events. Although Quentin is an intelligent, sensitive boy, a student with a rich vocabulary, he cannot make clear associations.
Benjy’s section is far more easy to interpret and follow than Quentin’s whose sophisticated intelligence makes his transitions and leaps more subtle and far-ranging that those of the idiot brother, and hence more difficult to follow. Quentin’s obsession is with emotion rather than action, he is not a detached observer, but a subjective interpreter.
Faulkner said that his purpose was not to make Benjy’s section obscure and that he considered that the story as such was clear in only one section. However, he added three more to try to clarify the first, not because any addition to the story was needed. After Quentin’s section and Jason’s he was still temporizing.
Quentin’s section is as well a difficult one since it is sometimes not clears what he remembers and what he imagines, thoughts and memories are frequently fused: shot his voice through the, by the nose seen. Quentin is obsessed with time, by breaking his watch he tries to destroy time, but the watch, though mangled and smeared with his blood, refuses to stop ticking. In his section too, time shifts are indicated by italics and many of the long memory passages are easily recognizable by their lack of any punctuation at all. The day of the present is June 2, 1910 and Quentin knows that this day is the last one of his life as he had taken the decision to commit suicide: “In three years I cannot wear a hat. I could not. Was. Will there be hats then since I was not and not Harvard then. Where the best of thought Father said clings like dead ivy vines upon old dead brick. Not Havard then. Not me, then. Not to me, anyway. Again. Sadder than was. Again. Saddest of all. Again.” Consequently, his thoughts are focused on the events and relationships that fostered his decision of killing himself. Quentin not only puzzles the readers but also generates a mist of confusion upon his section: “We sympathize with him but at the same time feel that he suffers as much from a pathological condition which falls for psychiatric care as from a tragic human dilemma which can claim our entire compassion. We recognize the tendency and even nobility of many of his feelings but also a certain amount of posturing, and we recognize that in his own way he is a self-centered as Benjy…no suicide is ever fully comprehensible to those who choose to live, but Quentin’s is especially difficult to understand.”
The opening pages of Quentin’s section give the impression
that the thoughts flashing trough Quentin’s mind have no connection with each
other, but soon the reader learns that they are indeed connected. Such an
eloquent example is represented by the scene when standing in his Harvard
dormitory window listening to the eight o’clock chimes and starring at the
sparrow on the edge, Quentin associates the lingering sounds of the last chime
with the dying last rays of time connecting the past and the present through
Jesus. A number of associations follow this thought, Jesus is put into relation
with St. Francis who called death little
sister and thus the next thought refers to incest as death and sister are
associated with hell and incest, an incest never committed by Quentin: “The hour began to strike. The sparrow quit
swapping eyes and watched me steadily with the same one until the chimes
ceased, as if he were listening too…Like all the bells that ever rang still
ringing in the long dying light-rays and Jesus and Saint Francis talking about
his sister. Because if it were just to hell; if that were all of it. Finished.
If things just finished themselves. Nobody else there but her and me. If we
could just have dome something so dreadful that they would have fled hell
except us. I have committed incest I said Father it was I it was not
The end of Quentin’s section illustrates the disjoint thoughts of the boy, all strands of the narrative seem to be collapsed between the tone for the three quarter and the hour on the clock at Harvard: “The three quarters began. The first note sounded, measured and tranquil, serenely peremptory, emptying the unhurried silence for the next one…Just by imagining the clump…it seemed to me that I could hear whispers secret surges smell the beating of hot blood under wild unsecret flesh watching against red eyelids the swine untethered in pairs rushing coupled into the sea and he we must just stay awake and see evil done for a little while its not always and i it doesn’t have to be even that long for a man of courage and he do you consider that courage and i yes sir don’t you and he every man is the arbiter of his own virtues whether or not you consider it courageous is of more importance than the act itself than any act otherwise you could not be in earnest and i you don’t believe I am serious and he I think you are too serious to give me any cause for alarm you wouldn’t have felt driven to the expedient of telling me you had committed incest otherwise and i i wasn’t lying and he you wanted to sublimate a piece of natural human folly into a horror and then exorcise it with truth…”
In telling Quentin’s story, Faulkner uses three points of view or modes of narration. Out of the three the most common one is the boy’s description in the past tense of his actions upon the day of his suicide. The second mode is a direct recording of Quentin’s thought processes during the final day of his life. The shift from one point of view to another is often hard to follow; moving fast from the boy’s describing a past event to his thoughts describing a present action.
Faulkner intended to use the past tense narration so as to deal with the narrative present and the present tense recording of the narrative present concentrate upon Quentin’s recollection of events prior to his life at Harvard. The first two modes make use of past tense verbs; he uses the past tense to relate the actions of the present day as well as the immediate thoughts of a past experience: “The only vacant seat was beside a nigger. He wore a derby and shined shoes and he was holding a dead cigar stub. I used to think that a Southerner had to be always conscious of niggers. I thought that Northerners would expect him to. When I first came East I kept thinking” Quentin’s recollections concerning his experiences with Negroes stop only when the nigger leaves the car. The past tense voice of Quentin is blended with a paraphrase of the thoughts of the streetcar Quentin, who, speculating in the present about the past, also uses the past tense. The distinction is dissolved between a narrative of Quentin’s actions as he thinks and a summary of the thoughts themselves. Quentin moves from an exterior point into his own mind; he becomes simultaneously himself and his own detached historian.
The third way of narration is detected when the reader is
transferred into the boy’s past when living in
Another such passage was added by Faulkner to complete
Quentin’s opening monologue which increasingly takes longer fragments and they
become more unified until they transcend the framework of the monologue form,
as in the passage leading up to Quentin’s fight with Dalton Ames: “And when he put
Many but not all of the extreme shifts from present to remembered reality are indicated by italics, elimination of punctuation, or some other typographical aid.
The narrated events consist mainly of dialogue and there are only a few past tense verbs, thus the effect created is that of remembered words passing through the character’s mind. The impersonality of the narration and the emphasis upon dialogue suggest that Quentin, in his distraught state, is temporarily reliving past experiences, or at least hearing past words.
Faulkner adopted an intensifying method toward the end of Quentin’s monologue as he wished to produce dramatic tension between the past and present throughout Quentin’s stream of consciousness and in order for this to be achieved, the writer decided to strengthen the signals regarding Quentin’s decision to commit suicide. In consequence, he added several passages dealing with the boy’s obsession with his disappearance: “…the shadow of the package like two shoes wrapped up lying on the water. Niggers say a drowned man’s shadow was watching for him in the water all the time. It twinkled and glinted, like breathing, the float slow like breathing too, and debris half submerged, healing out to the sea and the caverns and the grottoes of the sea. The displacement of water is equal to the something of something. Reducto absurdum of all human experiences and two six-pound flat-irons weigh more than one tailor’s goose.”
The second section of the novel can be viewed as a desperate cry of despair being one of the most moving expressions of disillusionment and suffering in literature, the story of a boy’s failure to reconcile reality with his rigid demands of what it should be and his removal from the area of conflict. Once, Mr. Compson told him that a man kills himself: “only when he has realized that even the despair or remorse or bereavement is not particularly important to the dark diceman…it is hard believing to think that a love or a sorrow is a bond purchased without design and which matures willy-nilly and is recalled without warning to be replaced by whatever issue the gods happen to be floating at the time no you will not do that until you come to believe that even she was not quite worth despair.”
An important use of the stream of consciousness technique is the exploration of symbols in human consciousness and one major symbol is represented by the honeysuckle, whose heavy, choking fragrance dramatizes the conflict between Quentin’s order and the blind forces of nature which constantly threaten to destroy it. The honeysuckle acts as form of stability in Quentin’s quickly changing world: “metaphor…is the created ground of permanence in which change is eliminated' and it is the rife animality of sex, a world Caddy chose.
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.
Faulkner tried to tell the readers everything, every last origin or source or quality or qualification, and every possible future or permutation as well, in one terrifically concentrated effort, each sentence is a microcosm: “Because that’s what a Southern lady is. Not the fact that penniless, and with no prospect of ever being otherwise and knowing that all who know her know this, yet moving with a parasol and a private chamber pot and three trunks into your home and into the room where your wife uses the hand-embroidered linen, she not only takes command of all the servants who likewise know that she will never tip them, because they know as well as the white folks that she will never have anything to tip them with, but goes into the kitchen and dispossesses the cook and seasons the very food you are going to eat to suit her own palate-it’s not this, not this that she is depending on the keep body and soul together: it is as though she were living on the actual blood itself, like a vampire, not with insatiability, certainly not with voracity, but with that serene and idle splendor of flowers abrogating to herself, because it feels her veins also, nourishment from the old blood that crossed uncharted seas and continents and battled wilderness hardships and lurking circumstances and fatalities.”
Critics suggested that it is not pleasant to reach the end of a sentence and to realize that one cannot recreate at all the subject of the verb that dangles in vacuo, one finds oneself in the impossibility of understanding what had been read because one has to go back and sort out the meaning, track down the structure from clause to clause, only to reach the conclusion that the vagueness and obscurity was neither subtle nor important. In order to carefully work everything out the second time, one is imminently drawn back from the stream, and as Faulkner’s main means is a process of immersion, of hypnotizing the reader into remaining immersed in his stream, this occasional blunder results in irritation, confusion and failure. When writing those fluid, endless passages, Faulkner does not pause and most important is that he makes use of all the rhetorical devices of the speechmaker, namely words with a powerful emotive charge, colorful and grandiloquent words, repetition, parallel structure, a series of negative clauses preceding a positive, delayed climax: “…and now he seemed to see his whole native land, his home-the dirt, the earth which had bred his bones and those of his fathers for six generations and was still shaping him into not just a man but a specific man, not with just a man’s passions and aspirations and beliefs but the specific passions and hopes and convictions and ways of thinking and acting of a specific kind and even race: and even more: even among a kind and race specific and unique…”
A typical example of such a traditional rhetorical device as the flow of negatives against positives is to be found in Requiem for a Nun: “but the lock was gone; nor did it take the settlement long to realize that it was not to be escaped bandits and the aborted reward, but the lock, and not a simple situation which faced them, but a problem which threatened…” Another common device that the writer uses is the use of a large number of adjectives: “A month after that Varner brought a new runabout buggy with bright red wheels and a fringed parasol top, which, the fat white horse and the big roan in new brass-studded harness and the wheels glinting in vermilion and spokeless blurs, swept all day long along back country roads and lanes while Varner and Snopes sat side by side in outrageous paradox above a spurting loud of light dust, in a speeding aura of constant and invincible excursion.”
However, if one does not remain stung on all the blunders and the bad habits of willful bad writing, one has the moral obligation to admit that Faulkner’s style is extraordinarily effective, the reader does remain immersed, wants to remain immersed. Of one considers these queer sentences not simply by themselves, as monsters of grammar or awkwardness, but in their relation to the book as a whole, one sees a functional reason and necessity for their being as they are: “They parallel in a curious and perhaps inevitable way, and not without aesthetic justification, the whole elaborate method of deliberately withheld meaning, of progressive and partial and delayed disclosure, which so often gives the characteristic shape to the novels themselves. It is a persistent offering of obstacles, a calculated system of screens and obtrusions, of confusions and ambiguous interpolations and delays, with one express purpose; and that purpose is simply to keep the form-and the idea-fluid and unfinished, still in motion, as it were, and unknown, until the dropping into place of the very last syllable.”
Faulkner’s intention was that of creating a passage of the moment, from moment to moment: “the reader must be powerfully and unremittingly hypnotized inward and downward to that image-stream; and this suggests, perhaps, a reason not only for the length and elaborateness of the sentence structure, but for the repetitiveness as well. The repetitiveness and the steady iterative emphasis-like a kind of invocation or chanting-on certain relatively abstract words have the effect at last of producing, for Mr. Faulkner, a special language, a conglomerate of his own, which he uses with an astonishing virtuosity, and which, although in detailed analysis it may look shoddy, is actually for his purpose a life stream of almost miraculous adaptability. At the one extreme it is abstract, cerebral, time-and –space-obsessed, tortured and twisted, but nevertheless always with a living pulse in it; and at the other it can be as overwhelming in its simple vividness, its richness in the actual as the flood scenes in The Wild Palms.”
A part of Faulkner’s special language is the use of special constructions, such as a series of qualifying and amplifying phrases and clauses which follow a noun, but which may become difficult to be followed: “…the fragile wisp of a man ageless, hairless and toothless, who looked too frail even to approach a horse, let alone ride one six hundred miles every two weeks, yet who did so, and not only that but had wind enough left not only to announce and precede but even follow his passing with the jeering musical triumph of then horn:-a contempt for possible-probable-despoilers matched only by that for the official dross of which he might be despoiled, and which agreed to remain in civilized bounds only so long as the despoilers had the taste to refrain)…”
Faulkner’s language has a special relevance to a kind of still moment: such words as motionless, froze, arrested, immobile, suspended, soporific serve as indicators of the condition of static innocence: “…there should have been fixed in monotonous repetition the land’s living symbol-a formal group of ritual almost mystic significance identical and monotonous as milestones tying the county- seat to the county’s ultimate rim as milestones would: the beast the plow and the man integrated in one foundationed into the frozen wave of their furrow tremendous with effort yet at the same same vacant of progress, ponderable immovable and immobile like groups of wrestling statuary set against the land’s immensity…”
We deal in Faulkner’s work with a mingling of streams of consciousness, the mutilation and entangling of the thinking process. Faulkner’s characters live in archaic time, in the primordial, they live in mythical space. He never experimented with the novel’s form, he simply dismissed it. He imposes himself through force, virility, and the natural fury of the vision. Faulkner’s style can also be described as eccentric, achieved through various devices, such as the extreme use of parentheses, involution of sentences: “It should have been lather than it was; it should have been late, yet the yellow slashes of mote-palpitant sunlight were latticed no higher up the impalpable wall of gloom which separated them; the sun seemed hardly to have moved. It (the talking, the telling) seemed (to him, to Quentin) to partake of that logic- and reason-flouting quality of a dream which the sleeper knows must have occurred, stillborn and complete, in a second, yet the very quality upon which it must depend to move the dreamer to credulity-horror or pleasure or amazement-depends as completely upon a formal recognition of and acceptance of elapsed and yet-elapsing time as music or a printed tale.”
This long sentence may offer a key to Faulkner’s entire method and typify its artistic purposefulness, to create that logic and reason-flouting quality of a dream, yet to depend upon the recognized verisimilitude of elapsed and yet elapsing time: “Such a product is not necessarily mere nightmare; it is often a real quality of experience as its greatest intensity and acuteness. In his most characteristic writing Faulkner is trying to render the transcendent life of the mind, the crowded composite of associative and analytical consciousness which expands the vibrant moment into the reaches of all time, simultaneously observing, remembering, interpreting, and modifying the object of its awareness. To this end the sentence as a rhetorical unit is made to hold diverse yet related elements in a sort of saturated solution, which is perhaps the nearest that language as the instrument of fiction can come to the instantaneous complexities of consciousness itself. Faulkner really seems to be trying to give narrative prose another dimension.”
Another important aspect that had a huge influence on his writings was Faulkner’s romantic character, the lyricism integral to his style swells to a crescendo when nature, namely trees, flowers, sky, grass, earth are his subject: “Now he watches the recurrence of that which he discovered for the first time three days ago: that dawn, that light, is not decanted onto earth from the sky, but instead is from the earth itself suspired. Roofed by the woven canopy of blind annealing grass-roots and the roots of the trees, dark in the blind dark of time’s silt and rich refuse-the constant and unslumbering anonymous worm-glut and the inextricable known bones-Troy’s Helen and the nymphs and the snoring mitred bishops, the saviors and the victims and the kings-it wakes, up-seeing, attritive in uncountable creeping channels: first, root; then frond by frond, from whose escaping tips like gas it rises and disseminates and stains the sleep fast earth with drowsy insect-murmur, then, still upward-seeking, creeps the knitted bark of trunk and limb where, suddenly louder leaf by leaf and dispersive in diffusive sudden speed, melodious with the winged and jeweled throats, it upward bursts and fills night’s globed negation with jonquil thunder.”
Many symbols and images are drawn from nature as we come to realize that Faulkner was very sensitive to the sounds and smells of nature and to the shifting patterns of color and light: “Water chuckled and murmured beneath the bridge, invisible in the twilight, its murmur burdened with the voice of cricket and frog. Above the willows that marked the course of the stream gnats still spun and whirled, four bull bats appeared again from nowhere in long swoops, in mid swoop varnished, then appeared again swooping again swooping against the serene sky, silent as drops of water on a window-plane; swift and noiseless and intent as though their wings feathered with twilight and with silence.”
Faulkner developed in the year between 1928 and 1929 what he
considered the possibilities of fiction, and he explored them in As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury: the strong controlling plot, somehow
irrelevant to consciousness, and plot vanished, leaving consciousness without
an action in which to know itself. In The
Sound and the Fury event is made dim
by the explaining word, is lost in the voices of unrestrained monologue, whilst
in As I Lay Dying event checks voice; the short. Staccato utterances comically
punctuate the steady movement toward
When analyzing Faulkner’s style, critics laid emphasis on one passage in Absalom, Absalom! when sustaining the idea that his prose is perhaps the most elaborate, intermittently incoherent and ungrammatical, thunderous: “That’s what I found. Perhaps it’s what I expected, knew (even at nineteen knew, I would say if it were not for my nineteen, my own particular kind of nineteen years) that I should find. Perhaps I couldn’t even have wanted more than that, couldn’t have accepted less, who even at nineteen must have known that living is one constant and perpetual instant when the arras-veil before what is-to-be hangs docile and even glad to the highest naked thrust if we had dared, were brave enough (not wise enough: no wisdom needed here) to make the rending gash. Or perhaps it is no lack of courage either: not cowardice which will not face that sickness somewhere at the prime foundation of this factual scheme from which the prisoner soul, miasmal-distillant wroils ever upward sunward, tugs its tenuous prisoner arteries and veins and prisoning in its turn that spark, that dream which, as the globy and complete instant of its freedom mirrors and repeats (repeats? Creates, reduces to a fragile evanescent iridescent sphere) all of space and time and massy earth, relicts the seething and anonymous miasmal mass which in all the years of time has taught itself no boon of death but only how to recreate, renew; and dies, is gone, vanished; nothing –but is that true wisdom which can comprehend that there is a might- have- been which is more true than truth, from which the dreamer, waking, says not ‘Did I but dream?’ but rather says, indicts high heaven’s very self with : ’Why did I wake since waking I shall never sleep again?’ and not only critics, but also readers have used suggestive adjectives, both laudatory and derogatory when it came to talking about this kind of prose: ambiguous, eccentric, baroque, over-elaborate, archaic, surrealistic, turgid, garrulous, romantic, hypnotic, incantatory, picturesque, lyrical, precious, lush.
The readers quite often interpret Faulkner’s prose as a limitless stream of words that casts a cloud of obscurity over the story action rather than developing it. The difficulties assumed by the writer’s prose cannot be minimized since it is obvious that the syntax, the diction, all seems to obfuscate, not communicate. Faulkner sometimes deliberately withholds important details; moreover, quite often the narrators refer to people or events that the reader will not learn about until much later, making the style seem even more opaque than it really is. The long sentences represent an extra difficulty with clauses that proliferate, developing not from the main subject or verb of the sentence, but being a continuance of the preceding clauses. Consequently, one cannot keep the main idea for too long, thus it’s getting lost in the mass of amplifying or qualifying ideas. Faulkner’s style does not provide relaxing reading, but forces the reader to participate in the search for understanding and truth.
Faulkner’s critics, however, praised his use of dialogue and
his accuracy in diction giving as examples the precise use of Negroes language:
“One day we wuz gwine along a road. It
wuz a busted-up road and it didn’t look like no M.P. country. But day wuz some
of’em in de las’town we dodged, so we didn’t know we wuz so close to whar de
wae wuz gwine on’twell we walked on to a bridge and come right on a whole
regiment of Germans swimmin’ in de river. Dey seed us about de same time we
seed dem and div under de water, and me and de other boy grabbed up two mahine
guns settin’ dar and we sot on the bridge rail, and ev’y time a German stuck
his haid up fer a new breaf, us shot’im. It was jes’like shootin’ tuckles in a
slough. I reckon dey wuz close to a hund’ed us kilt’fo’ de machine guns dry.
Dat’s whut dey gimme dis fer.’ He drew from his pocket a florid, medal of
‘Umuhuh,’ Simon said. He sat with his hands on his knees watching his son with rapt astonishment. Elnora came up also, her hands daubed with flour.
‘Whut does dey look like?’ she asked. ‘Like folks?’
The poor whites also possess an authentic accent: ‘How’d you like the army, Buddy?’ Bayard asked.
‘Not much,’ buddy answered. ‘Ain’t enough to do. Good life for a lazy man.’ He mused a moment. ‘They gimme a charm,’ he added in a burst of shy diffident confidence and sober pleasure.
‘A charm?’ Bayard repeated.
‘Uhuh. One of them brass gimeracks on to a colored ribbon. I aimed to show it to you, but I fergot. Do it tomorrow. That ‘ere flo’s too cold to tech till I have to. I’ll watch a chance tomorrow when pappy’s outen the house.’
‘Why? Don’t he know you got it?’
Important clues abut his work were provided by the writer himself in a speech he delivered when awarded the Nobel Prize for literature suggesting that our tragedy today is a fear which is general and universal and that little can exist beyond the question When will I be blown up?. Due to this, young writers have perhaps given aside or have merely forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing. Therefore they have to learn them again starting with the most important lesson they could learn, namely of teaching themselves that the basest of all things is to be afraid, and teaching themselves this, forget it forever, leaving no room in their workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.
As far as time is concerned, we can mention two common uses of time in Faulkner’s novels: the slow, gradual, painstaking reconstruction of the past by narrators who exist in the present or existed in the recent past and the pattern of movement from to past to present to past, or within points in the past. Thus, time can be considered as a continuum since it flows from past into present and from present into past. Reality becomes less a matter of time and space than a condition of the consciousness. Faulkner recognizes and dramatizes a vital distinction between simple, clock or calendar time which is man’s chronology of the flow of change, and a pure Time. Simple time is a measuring device, and pure Time is experience, coextensive with the individual consciousness; it is not a chronology so much as it is a continuous attempt to assess real value.
Faulkner’s saga deals firstly, with the human mind and its struggle with the overwhelming reality of the history, the meaning of the present under hard circumstances and the questions about the future. He created interior monologues in stream of consciousness mode that alters normal time sequence, elaborates and fragments syntax, modifies the graphics of punctuation and capitalization, and through italics, articulates deep recesses of human consciousness.
Hoffman, Frederick J. (ed.), Vickery, Olga W. (ed.), William Faulkner: Three Decades of Criticism (Essay by
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