What made Faulkner’s vision so different from that of his contemporaries : the distinctive vision of Southern history T its chivalric and rural traditions broken apart by the Civil War, that lay sixty years in the past (Union-North against Confederacy-South 1861-1865) but was everywhere present in Southern consciousness when Faulkner began to write.
- This was one
major source of his writing : the defeat of the South,
the disorders of Reconstruction (the process, after the Civil War, of
reorganizing the Southern States which had seceded and reestablishing them in
- His writing was also marked by the impact of three important literary directions : Romantic, Decadent and modern literature. He came under the influence of Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg Ohio, 1919) and James Joyce’s Ulysses. Thus one might say that his great work linked the classic Southern romance (much influenced by Walter Scott0, with the modern sense of experimental form, a deep sense of regional history and an awareness of the fracture of historical time.
The Apprentice Novels
Soldier’s Pay (1926) - Faulkner’s first novel, belongs to the considerable number of books about postwar disillusionment that appeared in the 1920s. Its subject is the home-coming and death of the young airman Donald Mahon. Both physically and mentally wounded, this moribund soldier personifies the horror and violence of war. The portrayal of the other characters is conditioned to an important extent by their reactions and attitudes towards Donald Mahon, who, even though he is semi-conscious, functions as the novel’s central character.
Storyline : On his way home to
his father, the kindly Dr.Mahon, Donald is befriended and virtually adopted by
two strangers, Joe Gilligan, a war veteran, and Margaret Powers, a young and
attractive war widow. These two tke care of Donald bringing
him safely home and nurding him and protecting him until he dies.
Such themes as suffering, betrayal, guilt, grief, bereavement and despair are central to this novel.
The point about
Thus realism is sacrificed here to thematic continuity, pattern dominates plot and more attention is devoted to the establishment of a leit-motif (dominant theme or underlying pattern) than to the incident which justifies its existence. Faulkner has not yet learned at this stage to fuse technique with experience.
Mosquitoes (1927) - presents a satirical portrait of the
artists, writers and intellectuals of the literary circle in
Sartoris (1929) - of the “native soul” through which Faulkner
could interpret the fundamental drama of a Southern society eblematic of human
life in an age of war, lost hopes.
He is burdened with an oppressive sense of family honour. The Sartoris clan are renowned plantation owners, members of the Southern aristocracy. Johnny, his twin brother continued the family tradition by dying as dashingly as his ancestors. Bayard is tormented by his inadequacy in respect to Johnny and to himself, because he has accomplished nothing to match his reckless ancestors. In the end Bayard succeeds in dying as irresposibly and gloriously as his brother, proving himself a true Sartoris.
In developing a social context for the central action, Faulkner presents a portrait of of the life of the South. This novel is one of the most directly and explicitly Southern of Faulkner’s novels, and the sense of the Southern past dominates the atmosphere and the action.
Sartoris is the work in which Faulkner
discovered for the first time and explored the geographical, historical, social
and imaginative world of his mature
The Major Novels
The Sound and the Fury The great change came with this novel. It has rightly been acclaimed as the great American equivalent of Joyce’s Ulysses, which strongly influenced it, and its complex time scheme (the four narratives are set on four different days, three in 1928, one in 1910, not in consecutive order) and its stream-of consciousness methods which make it plainly Modernist. The story is told in four parts, through the stream of consciousness of three characters (the sons of the Compson family, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason), and finally in an objective account.
family, formerly genteel Southern patricians, now lead
a degenerate, perverted life on their shrunken plantation near
The Sound and the Fury is in part concerned with the elusiveness, the multivalence, of truth, with man’s persistent and maybe necessary tendency to make of truth a personal thing: each man, apprehending some fragment of the truth, seizes upon that fragment as though it were the whole truth and elaborates it into a total vision of the world, rigidly exclusive and hence utterly fallacious (delusive). This forms an essential part the conception which Faulkner dramatised through the interior monologues of the first three sections of the novel.
The pattern established by Faulkner’s disposition of the novel’s four sections can be viewed in a number of different ways :
* as exemplifying different levels of consciousness
* different modes of apprehension or cognition
*contrasted states of innocence and experience
Faulkner’s preoccupation with time has to do with the endless interlocking of personal and public histories and with the realation of the past to the lost chaotic present. Thus, a central theme of the novel is Quentin’s attempt to arrest both subjective and historical time defending his sister Caddy’s virginity from psychic corruption and time’s flow. Benjy himself is locked in a single continuous moment of time that removes all causality or consequence from his peceptions. Jason sees matters empirically, Dilsey from a patient sense of human continuity.
As I Lay Dying (1930) - tells the story of
the six-day funeral journey of the Bundren family through fifty-nine interior
monologues, reflections on movement and stasis, living and dying, as they
travel beside the moving wagon. Addie Bundren has died and her children intend
to fulfill her desire to be buried in her native
As I Lay Dying represents a development from The Sound and the Fury in that the authorial voice is entirely dispensed with. Here the concern with the many faces of truth merges with the examination of the many meanings of experience.
Light in August (1932) - tells the dramatic, intricate story of an orphan Joe Christman of black descent, a story of miscegenation (misijaneishan; here : marriage between a black and a white) and lynching. The technique is much more conventional than the one used in the previous novels.
Running throughout the book there is an irony exploring the gulf between appearance and actuality, the contrast between the public and the private self. Such is the contrast betweeen Joe Christmas’ outward face and his inner blackness.
Absalom, Absalom! (1936) - many of the previous characters are brought together. It tells the story of the downfall of a family, the tragedy of the house of Thomas Sutpen. Quentin Compson returns trying to understand and place the historical proces that has led the Sutpen family to its fate.
In the stories of The Unvaquished (1938) and Go Down, Moses (1942) he gave his characters wider room and a richer history, exploring the transformation of the land and the growth and the decay of its dynasties as they move towards a present of greed and expropration. In the latter volume we find one of the finest of all modern long short stories, “The Bear”, the tale of Ike McCaslin’s initiation into nature and the demands of time. In the late trilogy about the sharecropping, predatory Snopes family, The Hamlet(1940), The Town(1957), The Mansion(1959), Faulkner torns to comedy, and in his last novel, The Reivers (1962) to farce. In his late A Fable (1954) he attempted a summative work, using the First World War to tell an allegory of Christ’s suffering and the cricifixion of mankind. Faulkner had always been interested in the pains of Southern history and its relation to the crises of the modern psyche as well as in the plenitude of human nature, the lyrical and transcendental aspects of the natural world.
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