History of Literature












William Faulkner



 



William Faulkner



 


William Faulkner



William Faulkner, in full William Cuthbert Faulkner, original surname Falkner (b. Sept. 25, 1897, New Albany, Miss., U.S.—d. July 6, 1962, Byhalia, Miss.), American novelist and short-story writer who was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Youth and early writings
As the eldest of the four sons of Murry Cuthbert and Maud Butler Falkner, William Faulkner (as he later spelled his name) was well aware of his family background and especially of his great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, a colourful if violent figure who fought gallantly during the Civil War, built a local railway, and published a popular romantic novel called The White Rose of Memphis. Born in New Albany, Miss., Faulkner soon moved with his parents to nearby Ripley and then to the town of Oxford, the seat of Lafayette county, where his father later became business manager of the University of Mississippi. In Oxford he experienced the characteristic open-air upbringing of a Southern white youth of middle-class parents: he had a pony to ride and was introduced to guns and hunting. A reluctant student, he left high school without graduating but devoted himself to “undirected reading,” first in isolation and later under the guidance of Phil Stone, a family friend who combined study and practice of the law with lively literary interests and was a constant source of current books and magazines.

In July 1918, impelled by dreams of martial glory and by despair at a broken love affair, Faulkner joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) as a cadet pilot under training in Canada, although the November 1918 armistice intervened before he could finish ground school, let alone fly or reach Europe. After returning home, he enrolled for a few university courses, published poems and drawings in campus newspapers, and acted out a self-dramatizing role as a poet who had seen wartime service. After working in a New York bookstore for three months in the fall of 1921, he returned to Oxford and ran the university post office there with notorious laxness until forced to resign. In 1924 Phil Stone’s financial assistance enabled him to publish The Marble Faun, a pastoral verse-sequence in rhymed octosyllabic couplets. There were also early short stories, but Faulkner’s first sustained attempt to write fiction occurred during a six-month visit to New Orleans—then a significant literary centre—that began in January 1925 and ended in early July with his departure for a five-month tour of Europe, including several weeks in Paris.

His first novel, Soldiers’ Pay (1926), given a Southern though not a Mississippian setting, was an impressive achievement, stylistically ambitious and strongly evocative of the sense of alienation experienced by soldiers returning from World War I to a civilian world of which they seemed no longer a part. A second novel, Mosquitoes (1927), launched a satirical attack on the New Orleans literary scene, including identifiable individuals, and can perhaps best be read as a declaration of artistic independence. Back in Oxford—with occasional visits to Pascagoula on the Gulf Coast—Faulkner again worked at a series of temporary jobs but was chiefly concerned with proving himself as a professional writer. None of his short stories was accepted, however, and he was especially shaken by his difficulty in finding a publisher for Flags in the Dust (published posthumously, 1973), a long, leisurely novel, drawing extensively on local observation and his own family history, that he had confidently counted upon to establish his reputation and career. When the novel eventually did appear, severely truncated, as Sartoris in 1929, it created in print for the first time that densely imagined world of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County—based partly on Ripley but chiefly on Oxford and Lafayette county and characterized by frequent recurrences of the same characters, places, and themes—which Faulkner was to use as the setting for so many subsequent novels and stories.


The major novels
Faulkner had meanwhile “written [his] guts” into the more technically sophisticated The Sound and the Fury, believing that he was fated to remain permanently unpublished and need therefore make no concessions to the cautious commercialism of the literary marketplace. The novel did find a publisher, despite the difficulties it posed for its readers, and from the moment of its appearance in October 1929 Faulkner drove confidently forward as a writer, engaging always with new themes, new areas of experience, and, above all, new technical challenges. Crucial to his extraordinary early productivity was the decision to shun the talk, infighting, and publicity of literary centres and live instead in what was then the small-town remoteness of Oxford, where he was already at home and could devote himself, in near isolation, to actual writing. In 1929 he married Estelle Oldham—whose previous marriage, now terminated, had helped drive him into the RAF in 1918. One year later he bought Rowan Oak, a handsome but run-down pre-Civil War house on the outskirts of Oxford, restoration work on the house becoming, along with hunting, an important diversion in the years ahead. A daughter, Jill, was born to the couple in 1933, and although their marriage was otherwise troubled, Faulkner remained working at home throughout the 1930s and ’40s, except when financial need forced him to accept the Hollywood screenwriting assignments he deplored but very competently fulfilled.

Oxford provided Faulkner with intimate access to a deeply conservative rural world, conscious of its past and remote from the urban-industrial mainstream, in terms of which he could work out the moral as well as narrative patterns of his work. His fictional methods, however, were the reverse of conservative. He knew the work not only of Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville but also of Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, and other recent figures on both sides of the Atlantic, and in The Sound and the Fury (1929), his first major novel, he combined a Yoknapatawpha setting with radical technical experimentation. In successive “stream-of-consciousness” monologues the three brothers of Candace (Caddy) Compson—Benjy the idiot, Quentin the disturbed Harvard undergraduate, and Jason the embittered local businessman—expose their differing obsessions with their sister and their loveless relationships with their parents. A fourth section, narrated as if authorially, provides new perspectives on some of the central characters, including Dilsey, the Compsons’ black servant, and moves toward a powerful yet essentially unresolved conclusion. Faulkner’s next novel, the brilliant tragicomedy called As I Lay Dying (1930), is centred upon the conflicts within the “poor white” Bundren family as it makes its slow and difficult way to Jefferson to bury its matriarch’s malodorously decaying corpse. Entirely narrated by the various Bundrens and people encountered on their journey, it is the most systematically multi-voiced of Faulkner’s novels and marks the culmination of his early post-Joycean experimentalism.

Although the psychological intensity and technical innovation of these two novels were scarcely calculated to ensure a large contemporary readership, Faulkner’s name was beginning to be known in the early 1930s, and he was able to place short stories even in such popular—and well-paying—magazines as Collier’s and Saturday Evening Post. Greater, if more equivocal, prominence came with the financially successful publication of Sanctuary, a novel about the brutal rape of a Southern college student and its generally violent, sometimes comic, consequences. A serious work, despite Faulkner’s unfortunate declaration that it was written merely to make money, Sanctuary was actually completed prior to As I Lay Dying and published, in February 1931, only after Faulkner had gone to the trouble and expense of restructuring and partly rewriting it—though without moderating the violence—at proof stage. Despite the demands of film work and short stories (of which a first collection appeared in 1931 and a second in 1934), and even the preparation of a volume of poems (published in 1933 as A Green Bough), Faulkner produced in 1932 another long and powerful novel. Complexly structured and involving several major characters, Light in August revolves primarily upon the contrasted careers of Lena Grove, a pregnant young countrywoman serenely in pursuit of her biological destiny, and Joe Christmas, a dark-complexioned orphan uncertain as to his racial origins, whose life becomes a desperate and often violent search for a sense of personal identity, a secure location on one side or the other of the tragic dividing line of colour.

Made temporarily affluent by Sanctuary and Hollywood, Faulkner took up flying in the early 1930s, bought a Waco cabin aircraft, and flew it in February 1934 to the dedication of Shushan Airport in New Orleans, gathering there much of the material for Pylon, the novel about racing and barnstorming pilots that he published in 1935. Having given the Waco to his youngest brother, Dean, and encouraged him to become a professional pilot, Faulkner was both grief- and guilt-stricken when Dean crashed and died in the plane later in 1935; when Dean’s daughter was born in 1936 he took responsibility for her education. The experience perhaps contributed to the emotional intensity of the novel on which he was then working. In Absalom, Absalom! (1936) Thomas Sutpen arrives in Jefferson from “nowhere,” ruthlessly carves a large plantation out of the Mississippi wilderness, fights valiantly in the Civil War in defense of his adopted society, but is ultimately destroyed by his inhumanity toward those whom he has used and cast aside in the obsessive pursuit of his grandiose dynastic “design.” By refusing to acknowledge his first, partly black, son, Charles Bon, Sutpen also loses his second son, Henry, who goes into hiding after killing Bon (whom he loves) in the name of their sister’s honour. Because this profoundly Southern story is constructed—speculatively, conflictingly, and inconclusively—by a series of narrators with sharply divergent self-interested perspectives, Absalom, Absalom! is often seen, in its infinite open-endedness, as Faulkner’s supreme “modernist” fiction, focused above all on the processes of its own telling.


Later life and works
The novel The Wild Palms (1939) was again technically adventurous, with two distinct yet thematically counterpointed narratives alternating, chapter by chapter, throughout. But Faulkner was beginning to return to the Yoknapatawpha County material he had first imagined in the 1920s and subsequently exploited in short-story form. The Unvanquished (1938) was relatively conventional, but The Hamlet (1940), the first volume of the long-uncompleted “Snopes” trilogy, emerged as a work of extraordinary stylistic richness. Its episodic structure is underpinned by recurrent thematic patterns and by the wryly humorous presence of V.K. Ratliff—an itinerant sewing-machine agent—and his unavailing opposition to the increasing power and prosperity of the supremely manipulative Flem Snopes and his numerous “poor white” relatives. In 1942 appeared Go Down, Moses, yet another major work, in which an intense exploration of the linked themes of racial, sexual, and environmental exploitation is conducted largely in terms of the complex interactions between the “white” and “black” branches of the plantation-owning McCaslin family, especially as represented by Isaac McCaslin on the one hand and Lucas Beauchamp on the other.

For various reasons—the constraints on wartime publishing, financial pressures to take on more scriptwriting, difficulties with the work later published as A Fable—Faulkner did not produce another novel until Intruder in the Dust (1948), in which Lucas Beauchamp, reappearing from Go Down, Moses, is proved innocent of murder, and thus saved from lynching, only by the persistent efforts of a young white boy. Racial issues were again confronted, but in the somewhat ambiguous terms that were to mark Faulkner’s later public statements on race: while deeply sympathetic to the oppression suffered by blacks in the Southern states, he nevertheless felt that such wrongs should be righted by the South itself, free of Northern intervention.

Faulkner’s American reputation—which had always lagged well behind his reputation in Europe—was boosted by The Portable Faulkner (1946), an anthology skillfully edited by Malcolm Cowley in accordance with the arresting if questionable thesis that Faulkner was deliberately constructing a historically based “legend” of the South. Faulkner’s Collected Stories (1950), impressive in both quantity and quality, was also well received, and later in 1950 the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature catapulted the author instantly to the peak of world fame and enabled him to affirm, in a famous acceptance speech, his belief in the survival of the human race, even in an atomic age, and in the importance of the artist to that survival.

The Nobel Prize had a major impact on Faulkner’s private life. Confident now of his reputation and future sales, he became less consistently “driven” as a writer than in earlier years and allowed himself more personal freedom, drinking heavily at times and indulging in a number of extramarital affairs—his opportunities in these directions being considerably enhanced by a final screenwriting assignment in Egypt in 1954 and several overseas trips (most notably to Japan in 1955) undertaken on behalf of the U.S. State Department. He took his “ambassadorial” duties seriously, speaking frequently in public and to interviewers, and also became politically active at home, taking positions on major racial issues in the vain hope of finding middle ground between entrenched Southern conservatives and interventionist Northern liberals. Local Oxford opinion proving hostile to such views, Faulkner in 1957 and 1958 readily accepted semester-long appointments as writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Attracted to the town by the presence of his daughter and her children as well as by its opportunities for horse-riding and fox-hunting, Faulkner bought a house there in 1959, though continuing to spend time at Rowan Oak.

The quality of Faulkner’s writing is often said to have declined in the wake of the Nobel Prize. But the central sections of Requiem for a Nun (1951) are challengingly set out in dramatic form, and A Fable (1954), a long, densely written, and complexly structured novel about World War I, demands attention as the work in which Faulkner made by far his greatest investment of time, effort, and authorial commitment. In The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959) Faulkner not only brought the “Snopes” trilogy to its conclusion, carrying his Yoknapatawpha narrative to beyond the end of World War II, but subtly varied the management of narrative point of view. Finally, in June 1962 Faulkner published yet another distinctive novel, the genial, nostalgic comedy of male maturation he called The Reivers and appropriately subtitled “A Reminiscence.” A month later he was dead, of a heart attack, at the age of 64, his health undermined by his drinking and by too many falls from horses too big for him.


Assessment
By the time of his death Faulkner had clearly emerged not just as the major American novelist of his generation but as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, unmatched for his extraordinary structural and stylistic resourcefulness, for the range and depth of his characterization and social notation, and for his persistence and success in exploring fundamental human issues in intensely localized terms. Some critics, early and late, have found his work extravagantly rhetorical and unduly violent, and there have been strong objections, especially late in the 20th century, to the perceived insensitivity of his portrayals of women and black Americans. His reputation, grounded in the sheer scale and scope of his achievement, seems nonetheless secure, and he remains a profoundly influential presence for novelists writing in the United States, South America, and, indeed, throughout the world.

Michael Millgate

 

 

 


FAULKNER

Place is no less important in William Faulkner (1897-1962), whose mythical Yoknapatawpha County reflects Lafayette County in Mississippi where his family had long been established and where he lived nearly all his life. The history and legends of the South, including his own family, furnish the material for most of his books and all of the better ones. Encouraged by Sherwood Anderson (1876—1941), a leading naturalistic writer famous for his stories of Winesburg, Ohio, he began writing fiction while working as a journalist in New Orleans. His first two novels were based respectively on his experiences as a trainee pilot in the Royal (British) Air Force and bohemian life in contemporary New Orleans.
Moving back to his home town of Oxford (Jefferson in the novels), Faulkner began to write the remarkable novels that presented a fictional illustration of the doom-laden history of the South, containing plenty of tragedy and horror but also much humour. Though his literary career was long and productive, Faulkner's fame rests chiefly on the novels written in the late 1920s and early 1930s, persistently experimental in style and earning him recognition as a leader of Modernism (a slightly later development in North America). The Sound and the Fury (1929) has several narrators, one of them mentally disabled. As I Lay Dying (1930) brilliantly employs the stream-of-consciousness technique. Light in August (1932), the immense and complex Absalom, Absalom! (1936) and Intruder in the Dust (1940) consolidated his reputation. Faulkner also wrote short stories, including the classic 'The Bear' which is an episode in Go Down, Moses (1942), and two volumes of poetry. By the time he won the Nobel Prize in 1949, his best work was some years behind him, though his last novel, The Reivers (1962) is genial and entertaining.

 



William Faulkner


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Faulkner (born William Cuthbert Falkner), (September 25, 1897–July 6, 1962) was an American author. One of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, he was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. His reputation is based on his novels, novellas, and short stories. However, he was also a published poet and an occasional screenwriter. Most of Faulkner's works are set in his native state of Mississippi, and he is considered one of the most important "Southern writers," along with Mark Twain, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams. While his work was published regularly starting in the mid 1920s, he was relatively unknown before receiving the Nobel Prize. He is now deemed among the greatest American writers of all time.Faulkner was born William Cuthbert Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi. He was raised in and heavily influenced by the state of Mississippi, as well as by the history and culture of the South as a whole. When he was four years old, his entire family moved to the nearby town of Oxford, where he lived on and off for the rest of his life. Oxford is the model for the town of "Jefferson" in his fiction, and Lafayette County, Mississippi which contains the town of Oxford, the model for his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Faulkner's great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, was an important figure in northern Mississippi who served as a colonel in the Confederate Army, founded a railroad, and gave his name to the town of Falkner in nearby Tippah County. He also wrote several novels and other works, establishing a literary tradition in the family. Colonel Falkner served as the model for Colonel John Sartoris in his great-grandson's writing. The older Falkner was greatly influenced by the history of his family and the region in which they lived. Mississippi marked his sense of humor, his sense of the tragic position of blacks and whites, his characterization of Southern characters and timeless themes, including fiercely intelligent people dwelling behind the façades of good old boys and simpletons. After being snubbed by the United States Army because of his height, (he was 5' 5½"), Faulkner first joined the Canadian and then the British Royal Air Force, yet did not see any World War I wartime action. The definitive reason for Faulkner's change in the spelling of his last name is still unknown. Faulkner himself may have made the change in 1918 upon joining the Air Force or, according to one story, that a careless typesetter made an error. When the misprint appeared on the title page of Faulkner's first book and the author was asked about it, he supposedly replied, "Either way suits me."Although Faulkner is heavily identified with Mississippi, he was living in New Orleans in 1925 when he wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay, after being influenced by Sherwood Anderson to try fiction. The small house at 624 Pirate's Alley, just around the corner from St. Louis Cathedral, is now the premises of Faulkner House Books, and also serves as the headquarters of the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society. Faulkner served as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia from 1957 until his death at Wright's Sanitorium in Byhalia, Mississippi of a heart attack at the age of 64.




 

In the early 1940s, Howard Hawks invited Faulkner to come to Hollywood to become a screenwriter for the films Hawks was directing. Faulkner happily accepted because he badly needed the money, and Hollywood paid well. Thus Faulkner contributed to the scripts for the films Hawks made from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. Faulkner became good friends with director Howard Hawks, the screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides, and the actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. An apocryphal story regarding Faulkner during his Hollywood years found him with a case of writer's block at the studio. He told Hawks he was having a hard time concentrating and would like to write at home. Hawks was agreeable, and Faulkner left. Several days passed, with no word from the writer. Hawks telephoned Faulkner's hotel and found that Faulkner had checked out several days earlier. It seems Faulkner had spoken quite literally, and had returned home to Mississippi to finish the screenplay. Faulkner's Hollywood experience is fictionalized in the Joel and Ethan Coen 1991 film Barton Fink, whose supporting character, W.P. Mayhew, is intended as a composite of Faulkner and his Lost Generation peer, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Faulkner married Estelle Oldham in June 1929 at College Hill Presbyterian Church just outside of Oxford, Mississippi. They honeymooned on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at Pascagoula, then returned to Oxford, first living with relatives while they searched for a home of their own to purchase. In 1930 Faulkner purchased the antebellum home Rowan Oak, known at that time as "The Bailey Place". He and his family lived there until his daughter Jill, after her mother's death, sold the property to the University of Mississippi in 1972. The house and furnishings are maintained much as they were in Faulkner's day. Faulkner's scribblings are still preserved on the wall there, including the day-by-day outline covering an entire week that he wrote out on the walls of his small study to help him keep track of the plot twists in the novel A Fable. Faulkner accomplished what he did despite a lifelong serious drinking problem. As he stated on several occasions, and as was witnessed by members of his family, the press, and friends at various periods over the course of his career, he did not drink while writing, nor did he believe that alcohol helped to fuel the creative process. It is now widely believed that Faulkner used alcohol as an "escape valve" from the day-to-day pressures of his regular life, including his financial straits, rather than the more romantic vision of a brilliant writer who needed alcohol to pursue his craft[citation needed]. Faulkner is known to have had two extramarital affairs. One was with Howard Hawks's secretary and script-girl, Meta Carpenter. The other, lasting from 1949 to 1953, was with a young writer, Joan Williams, who considered him her mentor. She made her relationship with Faulkner the subject of her 1971 novel The Wintering.






From the early 1920s to the outbreak of WWII, when Faulkner left for Hollywood, he published 13 novels and numerous short stories, the body of work that grounds his reputation and for which he was awarded Nobel Prize at the early age of 52. This prodigious output, mainly driven by an obscure writer's need for money, includes his most celebrated novels such as The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Faulkner was also a prolific writer of short stories. His first short story collection, These 13 (1932), includes many of his most acclaimed (and most frequently anthologized) stories, including "A Rose for Emily," "Red Leaves", "That Evening Sun," and "Dry September." Faulkner set many of his short stories and novels in Yoknapatawpha County—based on, and nearly geographically identical to, Lafayette County, of which his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi is the county seat. Three novels, "The Hamlet", "The Town" and "The Mansion", known collectively as the "Snopes Trilogy" document the town of Jefferson and its environs as an extended family headed by Flem Snopes insinuates itself into the lives and psyches of the general populace. It is a stage wherein rapaciousness and decay come to the fore in a world where such realities were always present, but never so compartmentalized and well defined; their sources never so easily identifiable. Additional works include Sanctuary (1931), a sensationalist "pulp fiction"-styled novel, characterized by André Malraux as "the intrusion of Greek tragedy into the detective story." Its themes of evil and corruption, bearing Southern Gothic tones, resonate to this day. Requiem for a Nun (1951), a play/novel sequel to Sanctuary, is the only play that Faulkner published, except for his The Marionettes, which he essentially self-published -- in a few hand-written copies -- as a young man. Faulkner is known for an experimental style with meticulous attention to diction and cadence. In contrast to the minimalist understatement of his peer Ernest Hemingway, Faulkner made frequent use of "stream of consciousness" in his writing, and wrote often highly emotional, subtle, cerebral, complex, and sometimes Gothic or grotesque stories of a wide variety of characters—ranging from former slaves or descendents of slaves, to poor white, agrarian, or working-class Southerners, to Southern aristocrats. In an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, Faulkner remarked, "Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him". Another esteemed Southern writer, Flannery O'Connor, stated that, "The presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down." Faulkner also wrote two volumes of poetry which were published in small printings, The Marble Faun (1924) and A Green Bough (1933), and a collection of crime-fiction short stories, Knight's Gambit.
 

Faulkner received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature for "his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel". He donated a portion of his Nobel winnings "to establish a fund to support and encourage new fiction writers", eventually resulting in the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He donated another portion to a local Oxford bank to establish an account to provide scholarship funds to help educate African-American education majors at nearby Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Faulkner won two Pulitzer Prizes for what are considered as his "minor" novels: his 1954 novel A Fable, which took the Pulitzer in 1955, and the 1962 novel, The Reivers, which was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer in 1963. He also won two National Book Awards, first for his Collected Stories in 1951 and once again for his novel A Fable in 1955. In 1946, Faulkner was one of three finalists for the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award. He came in second to Manly Wade Wellman.


 

 

 

The Hamlet

William Faulkner
1897-1962

The Hamlet is the first of the "Snopes" trilogy, completed by The Town (1957), and The Mansion (1959). For the idiot, Ike Snopes, to enter a cow would seem to be tantamount to making love to a hole in the ground. Ike, via his loving bestiality, is intimate with the earth. Faulkner gives the cow a human equivalent in Eula Varner, daughter to the chief landholder of Frenchman's Bend, and her courting is central to Faulkner's great comic novel. Eula, for the male inhabitants of the hamlet, is little more than a uterus decorated with mammaries and a ruminant "damp mouth." Her marital fate allows Faulkner to explore the inheritance of Southern land, even as that land was subject to a class war, fought over for control over the means of production. During the 1880s and early 1890s, enclosure of common land forced a tenantry, unable to graze stock on the newly enclosed commons, to commit to the cotton cash crop, and in so doing to maximize the profits of the landowning class and their own dependency on that class. Eula, impregnated and deserted, is given by her father to his commissary store clerk, the frog like Flem Snopes—a decision that indicates that the future belongs not to those who love the land, but to those who will capitalize it. Flem, named for what little he emits, is probably impotent and says virtually nothing during the entire novel, preferring to chew on nickels. The Hamlet records the early stages of his rise from cropper's cabin to banker's mansion.



 

Go Down, Moses

William Faulkner
1897-1962

Originally published as Go Down, Moses and Other Stories, the first edition's title met with Faulkner's disapproval; despite the short-story format, Faulkner considered the work a novel, and reference to the "other stories" was subsequently dropped. Seven stories, mainly but not exclusively,about the McCaslin family plantation, are here set side by side. Initially it is hard to see the common thread between them;for example, the link between "Pantaloon in Black," the story of the grief-unto-death of a giant African-American timber yard worker in 1941, and "Was,"the first story, set in 1859, about a runaway slave, a game of poker, and the preservation of the celibate amity of Buck and Buddy McCaslin, twin inheritors of the McCaslin lands, seems tenuous indeed.
But by the end of the book, connections, such as the focus on black mobility, emerge. The social mobility of wage-earning non-agricultural workers and runaway slaves threatened white dominance by late 1941; U.S. entry into the Second World War had restarted the Great Migration of black workers from the South, with labor needs in the North stimulated by the war. As black workers took to the roads and rails, so the white landowning class suffered its own social death.
The disjunctions in the novel are evidence of the difficulty in recognizing that a revolution in the region's long-preserved archaic labor practices would mean that the South may cease to be Southern, at least outside the realm of elegy.

 

 




ABSALOM, ABSALOM!
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: Nineteenth century
Locale: Mississippi
First published: 1936

 


Instead of his usual sustained interior monologue technique, Faulkner here uses the device of three narrators, each of whom relates the family saga of Thomas Sutpen from his or her unique point of view. This device imparts to Absalom, Absalom!, which is a metaphor for the rich and chaotic Southern experience, a complexity, a depth of psychological insight, and an emotional intensity which might have been lost in a narrative of more traditional format.

 

Principal Characters

Thomas Sutpen, the owner of Sutpen's Hundred in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Born of a poor white family in the mountains of Western Virginia, he grows up to become an ambitious man of implacable will. After his arrival in Mississippi he thinks he can win his neighbors' respect by building a huge mansion and marrying the daughter of a respectable merchant. When he is not driving his wild African slaves and a kidnapped French architect to finish construction of his magnificent house, he seeks relaxation by fighting his most powerful slaves. Wishing to found a family dynasty, he wants, more than anything else, to have a male heir. When one son is killed and the other disappears, Sutpen. now aging, fathers a child by Milly, the granddaughter of Wash Jones, one of his tenants. After learning that the child is a girl, he rejects and insults Milly. Because of his callous rejection old Wash Jones kills him.
Ellen Coldfield, the wife chosen by Thomas Sutpen because he believes she is "adjunctive" to his design of founding a plantation family. A meek, helpless woman, she is completely dominated by her husband.
Henry Sutpen, the son born to Thomas and Ellen Sutpen. Unlike his sister Judith, he faints when he sees his father fighting with slaves. At first, not knowing that Charles Bon is also Sutpen's son, impressionable Henry idolizes and imitates that suave young man. Later he learns Bon's true identity and kills him, after their return from the Civil War, to keep Judith from marrying her half brother, who is part black.
Charles Bon, Thomas Sutpen's unacknowledged son by his earlier marriage in Haiti. A polished man of the world, he forms a close friendship with the more provincial Henry, whom he meets at college, and he becomes engaged to Judith Sutpen. When the two return from the Civil War, Bon's charming manner does not prevent his being killed by Henry, who has learned that his friend and sister's suitor is part black.
Judith Sutpen, Thomas Sutpen's daughter. After Charles Bon has been killed and Henry flees, she vows never to marry. She dies of smallpox contracted while nursing Charles Bon's black wife.
Goodhue Coldfield, a middle-class storekeeper in the town of Jefferson, the father of Ellen and Rosa Coldfield. When the Civil War begins, he locks himself in his attic and disdainfully refuses to have any part in the conflict. Fed by Rosa, who sends him food that he pulls up in a basket, he dies alone in the attic.
Wash Jones, a squatter on Thomas Sutpen's land and, after the Civil War, his drinking companion. While his employer is away during the Civil War, Wash looks after the plantation. Ignorant, unwashed, but more vigorous than others of his type, he serves Sutpen well until the latter rejects Milly and her child by declaring that if she were a mare with a foal he could give her a stall in his stable. Picking up a scythe, a symbol of time and change. Wash beheads Sutpen.
Rosa Coldfield, Goodhue Coldfield's younger daughter. She is an old woman when she tells Quentin Comp-son that Sutpen, whom she calls a ruthless demon, brought terror and tragedy to all who had dealings with him. A strait-laced person, she recalls the abrupt, insulting fashion in which Sutpen had proposed to her in the hope that she would be able to bear him a son after his wife's death. Never married, she is obsessed by memories of her brother-in-law.
Clytemnestra Sutpen, called Clytie, the daughter of Thomas Sutpen's former slave, who hides Henry Sutpen in the mansion when he returns, old and sick, years after the murder he committed. Fearing that he will be arrested, she sets fire to the house and burns herself and Henry in the conflagration which destroys that dilapidated monument to Thomas Sutpen's pride and folly.
Milly Jones, the granddaughter of Wash Jones. She and her child are killed by Wash after Sutpen's murder.
Charles Etienne de Saint Velery Bon, the son of Charles Bon and his octoroon mistress. He dies of smallpox at Sutpen's Hundred.
Jim Bond (Bon), the half-witted son of Charles Etienne de Saint Velery Bon and a full-blooded black woman. He is the only survivor of Sutpen's family.
Quentin Compson, the anguished son of a decaying Southern family. Moody and morose, he tells the story of the Sutpens to his uncomprehending roommate at Harvard. Driven by personal guilt, he is later to commit suicide. Before leaving for Harvard he learns about Thomas Sutpen from Rosa Coldfield.
Shrevlin McCannon, called Shreve, a Canadian student at Harvard and Quentin Compson's roommate. With great curiosity but without much understanding, he listens to Quentin's strange tale of Southern passions and tragedy leading to decay and ruin.

 

The Story

In the summer of 1909, when Quentin Compson was preparing to go to Harvard, old Rosa Coldfield insisted upon telling him the whole infamous story of Thomas Sutpen, whom she called a demon. According to Miss Rosa, he had brought terror and tragedy to all who had dealings with him.
In 1833, Thomas Sutpen had come to Jefferson, Mississippi, with a fine horse and two pistols and no known past. He had lived mysteriously for a while among people at the hotel, and after a short time, he had disappeared from the area. He had purchased one hundred square miles of uncleared land from the Chickasaws and had had it recorded at the land office.
When he returned with a wagon load of wild-looking blacks, a French architect, and a few tools and wagons, he was as uncommunicative as ever. At once, he set about clearing land and building a mansion. For two years he labored, and during all that time he rarely saw or visited his acquaintances in Jefferson. People wondered about the source of his money. Some claimed that he had stolen it somewhere in his mysterious comings and goings. Then, for three years, his house remained unfinished, without windowpanes or furnishings, while Thomas Sutpen busied himself with his crops. Occasionally he invited Jefferson men to his plantation to hunt, entertaining them with liquor, cards, and savage combats between his giant slaves—combats in which he himself sometimes joined for the sport.
At last, he disappeared once more, and when he returned, he had furniture and furnishings elaborate and fine enough to make his great house a splendid show-place. Because of his mysterious actions, sentiment in the village turned against him. This hostility, however, subsided somewhat when Sutpen married Ellen Coldfield, daughter of the highly respected Goodhue Coldfield.
Miss Rosa and Quentin's father shared some of Sutpen's revelations. Because Quentin was away in college, many of the things he knew about Sutpen's Hundred had come to him in letters from home. Other details he had learned during talks with his father. He learned of Ellen Sutpen's life as mistress of the strange mansion in the wilderness. He learned how she discovered her husband fighting savagely with one of his slaves. Young Henry Sutpen fainted, but Judith, the daughter, watched from
the haymow with interest and delight. Ellen thereafter refused to reveal her true feelings and ignored the village gossip about Sutpen's Hundred.
The children grew up. Young Henry, so unlike his father, attended the university at Oxford. Mississippi, and there he met Charles Bon, a rich planter's grandson. Unknown to Henry, Charles was his half brother. Sutpen's son by his first marriage. Unknown to all of Jefferson, Sutpen had gotten his money as the dowry of his earlier marriage to Charles Bon's West Indian mother, a wife he discarded when he learned she was part black.
Charles Bon became engaged to Judith Sutpen. The engagement was suddenly broken off for a probation period of four years. In the meantime, the Civil War began. Charles and Henry served together. Thomas Sutpen became a colonel.
Goodhue Coldfield took a disdainful stand against the war. He barricaded himself in his attic and his daughter, Rosa, was forced to put his food in a basket let down by a long rope. His store was looted by Confederate soldiers. One night, alone in his attic, he died.
Judith, in the meantime, had waited patiently for her lover. She carried his letter, written at the end of the four-year period, to Quentin's grandmother. Sometime later on Wash Jones, a tenant on the Sutpen plantation, came to Miss Rosa's door with the crude announcement that Charles Bon was dead, killed at the gate of the plantation by his half brother and former friend. Henry fled. Judith buried her lover in the Sutpen family plot on the plantation. Rosa, whose mother had died when she was born, went to Sutpen's Hundred to live with her niece. Ellen was already dead. It was Rosa's conviction that she could help Judith.
Colonel Thomas Sutpen returned. His slaves had been taken away, and he was burdened with new taxes on his overrun land and ruined buildings. He planned to marry Rosa Coldfield, more than ever desiring an heir now that Judith had vowed spinsterhood and Henry had become a fugitive. His son, Charles Bon, whom he might, in desperation, have permitted to marry his daughter, was dead.
Rosa, insulted when she understood the true nature of his proposal, returned to her father's ruined house in the village. She was to spend the rest of her miserable life pondering the fearful intensity of Thomas Sutpen, whose nature, in her outraged belief, seemed to partake of the devil himself.
Quentin, during his last vacation, had learned more of the Sutpen tragedy. He now revealed much of the story to Shreve McCannon, his roommate, who listened with all of a Northerner's misunderstanding and indifference.
Quentin and his father had visited the Sutpen graveyard, where they saw a little path and a hole leading into Ellen Sutpen's grave. Generations of opossums lived there. Over her tomb and that of her husband stood a marble monument from Italy. Sutpen himself had died in 1869. In 1867, he had taken young Milly Jones, Wash Jones's granddaughter. After she bore a child, a girl, Wash Jones had killed Thomas Sutpen.
Judith and Charles Bon's son, his child by an octoroon woman who had brought her child to Sutpen's Hundred when he was eleven years old, died in 1884 of smallpox. Before he died, the boy had married a black woman, and they had had an idiot son, James Bond. Rosa Coldfield had placed headstones on their graves, and on Judith's gravestone she had caused to be inscribed a fearful message.
In the summer of 1910, Rosa Coldfield confided to Quentin that she felt there was still someone living at Sutpen's Hundred. Together the two had gone out there at night and had discovered Clyde, the aged daughter of Thomas Sutpen and a slave. More important, they discovered Henry Sutpen himself hiding in the ruined old house. He had returned, he told them, four years before; he had come back to die. The idiot, James Bond, watched Rosa and Quentin as they departed. Rosa returned to her home, and Quentin went back to college.
Quentin's father wrote to tell him the tragic ending of the Sutpen story. Months later, Rosa sent an ambulance out to the ruined plantation house, for she had finally determined to bring her nephew, Henry, into the village to live with her so that he could get decent care. Clyde, seeing the ambulance, was afraid that Henry was to be arrested for the murder of Charles Bon many years before. In desperation she set fire to the old house, burning herself and Henry Sutpen to death. Only the idiot, James Bond, the last surviving descendant of Thomas Sutpen, escaped. No one knew where he went, for he was never seen again. Miss Rosa took to her bed and died soon afterward, in the winter of 1910.
Quentin told the story to his roommate because it seemed to him, somehow, to be the story of the whole South, a tale of deep passions, tragedy, ruin, and decay.

 

Critical Evaluation

Absalom, Absalom! is the most involved of William Faulkner's works, for the narrative is revealed by recollections years after the events described have taken place. Experience is related at its fullest expression; its initial import is recollected, and its significance years thereafter is faithfully recorded. The conventional method of storytelling has been discarded. Through his special method, Faulkner is able to re-create human action and human emotion in its own setting. Sensory impressions gained at the moment, family traditions as powerful stimuli, the tragic impulses—these focus truly in the reader's mind so that a tremendous picture of the nineteenth century South, vivid down to the most minute detail, grows slowly in the reader's imagination.
This novel is Faulkner's most comprehensive attempt to come to terms with the full implications of the Southern experience. The structure of the novel, itself an attempt by its various narrators to make some sense of the seemingly chaotic past, is indicative of the multifaceted complexity of that experience, and the various narrators' relationship to the material suggests the difficulty that making order of the past entails. Each narrator has, to begin with, only part of the total picture—and some parts of that hearsay or conjecture—at his disposal, and each of their responses is conditioned by their individual experiences and backgrounds. Thus, Miss Rosa's idea of Sutpen depends equally upon her Calvinist background and her failure to guess why Henry Sutpen killed Charles Bon.
Quentin's father responds with an ironic detachment, conditioned by his insistence upon viewing the fall of the South as the result of the workings of an inevitable Fate, as in Greek drama. Like Quentin and Shreve, the reader must attempt to coordinate these partial views of the Sutpen history into a meaningful whole—with the added irony that he must also deal with Quentin's romanticism. In effect, the reader becomes yet another investigator, but one whose concern is with the entire scope of the novel rather than only with the Sutpen family.
At the very heart of the novel is Thomas Sutpen and his grand design, and the reader's comprehension of the meaning of the work depends upon the discovery of the implications of this design. Unlike the chaos of history the narrators perceive, Sutpen's design would, by its very nature, reduce human history and experience to a mechanical and passionless process which he could control. The irony of Sutpen's failure lies in the fact that he could not achieve the design precisely because he was unable to exclude such human elements as Charles Bon's need for his father's love and recognition. Faulkner, however, gains more than this irony from his metaphor of design. In effect, Sutpen's design is based upon a formula of the antebellum South which reduces it to essentials. It encompasses the plantation, the slaves, the wife and family—all the external trappings of the plantation aristocracy Sutpen, as a small boy from the mountains, saw in his first encounter with this foreign world. Sutpen,
who never really becomes one of the aristocracy his world tries to mirror, manages, by excluding the human element from his design, to reflect only what is worst in the South. Southern society is starkly revealed to have at its heart the simple fact of possession: of the land, of the slaves, and, in Sutpen's case, even of wife and children. Thus, Faulkner demonstrates here, as he does in his great story "The Bear," that the urge to possess is the fundamental evil from which other evils spring. Sutpen, trying to insulate himself from the pain of rejection that he encountered as a child, is driven almost mad by the need to possess the semblance of the world that denies his humanity, but in his obsession, he loses that humanity. Once the idea of the design and the principle of possession in Absalom, Absalom! is established, Sutpen's treatment both of Charles Bon and Bon's mother is more easily understood. In Sutpen's distorted mind, that which is possessed can also be thrown away if it does not fit the design. Like certain other Faulkner characters—Benjy of The Sound and the Fury being the best example— Sutpen is obsessed with the need to establish a perfect order in the world into which he will fit. His first vision of tidewater Virginia, after leaving the timeless anarchy of the mountains, was the sight of perfectly ordered and neatly divided plantations, and, like a chick imprinted by its first contact, Sutpen spends his life trying to create a world that imitates that order and a dynasty that will keep his spirit alive to preserve it. His rejection of Bon is essentially emotionless, mechanical, and even without rancor because Bon's black blood simply excludes him from the design. Similarly, the proposal that Rosa have his child to prove herself worthy of marriage, and the rejection of Milly when she bears a female child are also responses dictated by the design. Thus, Sutpen, and all whose lives touch his, ultimately become victims of the mad design he has created. Sutpen, however, is not its final victim: the curse of the design lives on into the present in Jim Bond, the last of Sutpen's bloodline.
Sutpen's rejection of Charles Bon and the consequences of that rejection are at the thematic center of Absalom, Absalom! In the fact that Charles is rejected for the taint of black blood, Faulkner very clearly points to the particularly Southern implication of his story. Bon must be seen, on one level, to represent the human element within Southern society that cannot be assimilated and will not be ignored. Faulkner implies that the system, which denies the rights and needs of some of its children, dehumanizes all it touches—master and victim alike. In asserting himself to demand the only recognition he can gain from his father—and that only at second hand through Henry—Charles Bon makes of himself an innocent sacrifice to the sin upon which the South was founded. His death also dramatizes the biblical admonition so relevant to Absalom, Absalom!: A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Sutpen's history is a metaphor of the South, and his rise and fall is Southern history written in one man's experience. The Sutpens, however, are not the only victims in the novel: The narrators too are victims and survivors of the Southern experience, and each of them seeks in Sutpen's history some clue to the meaning of his or her own relationship to the fall of the South. Their narratives seek to discover the designs which will impose some order on the chaos of the past.

 

 



AS I LAY DYING
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: Early twentieth century
Locale: Mississippi
First published: 1930

 

Centering around the effect ofAddie Bundren's death and burial on members of her family, this novel has a powerful unity not always found in Faulkner's longer works. Although his method of shifting between the multiple points of view of the different family members binds Faulkner's characters into a homogeneous unit through their common suffering, individual personalities with their special emotions and abnormalities nevertheless emerge.

 

Principal Characters

Anse Bundren, an ignorant poor white. When Addie, his wife, dies, he is determined to take her body to Jefferson, as he had promised, even though the town is forty miles away. In a rickety old wagon he and his sons must get across a flooding river which has destroyed most of the nearby bridges. Ostensibly, the shiftless and unlucky man is burying Addie there because of the promise. After a long trip with her unembalmed corpse, now dead more than a week, he arrives in Jefferson, pursued by a flock of buzzards which, like a grim chorus, hang apparently motionless against a sultry Mississippi sky. On reaching Jefferson, his family learns Anse's true reason for the trip: a set of false teeth and the "duck-shaped woman" whom he marries, to the surprise of his children.
Addie Bundren, Anse's overworked wife. Though dying, she wants to see her coffin finished. Anse does not know it, but she has always thought him to be only a man of words; and words, she thinks, are useless. Feeling isolated from him and her children, she has always tried to break through the wall of isolation surrounding her, but despairing, she never finds any meaning in her grinding existence. To her, sexual relationship means only violation, whereas, to Anse, it means love. Before her death she knows her father's words to be true: "The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time."
Darl Bundren, Addie's strange son, thought by his family to be feebleminded. Unlike the others, he seems to have the gift of second sight. Knowing the true reasons why Anse and the others are going to Jefferson, he tries to burn the barn housing his mother's body. For this act of attempted purification, his family declares him insane, and he is taken to the asylum at Jackson.
Jewel Bundren, Preacher Whitfield's illegitimate son. A violent young man, he loves only his horse, which cost him many long hours of labor at night. Although devoted to the animal, he allows Anse to trade it to Snopes for a badly needed team of mules. Like the rest of the Bun-drens, he tenaciously hauls his mother on the long eventful trip, all the while cursing and raging at his brothers. When Darl tries to burn the corpse, it is Jewel who manages to save her body for burial.
Cash Bundren, Anse's son, a carpenter. While his mother is dying, he busily saws and hammers away at her coffin, just outside her window. Carefully beveling the wood (he hates shoddy work) and show ing his mother each board before nailing it in place, he finishes the job shortly after Addie's death. At the flooded river he desperately tries to save his treasured tools when the wagon overturns. His leg broken on the trip, he stoically endures the pain, even after his father uses cement to plaster the swollen and infected leg.
Vardaman Bundren, Anse's son. Constantly, he repeats to himself, "My mother is a fish."
Dewey Dell Bundren, Anse's daughter. A girl of seventeen, she has a reason for going to Jefferson. She is pregnant and wants to buy drugs which she hopes will cause a miscarriage.
Dr. Peabody, a fat, seventy-year-old country doctor. During his long practice he has ministered to many poor-white families like the Bundrens. When his unpaid bills reach fifty thousand dollars, he intends to retire.
Vernon Tull, Anse's helpful neighbor. He does what he can to help Bundren on his ghoulish journey.
Cora Tull, Vernon's fundamentalist wife. Constantly praying and singing hymns, she tries to make Addie repent.
Preacher Whitfield, Addie's former lover, the father of Jewel. Hearing of her sickness, this wordy man goes to confess his sin to Anse. On the way he decides that his fight against the elements, as he crosses the flooding river, helps to expiate his sins. After she dies, he does not feel that a public confession is necessary.
Lafe, a field hand, the father of Dewey Dell's unborn child.
Mr. Gillespie, in whose barn Addie's coffin lies when Darl attempts to burn it.

 

The Story

Addie Bundren was dying. She lay propped up in a bed in the Bundren farmhouse, looking out the window at her son Cash as he built the coffin in which she was to be buried. Obsessed with perfection in carpentry, Cash held up each board for her approval before he nailed it in place. Dewey Dell, Addie's daughter, stood beside the bed, fanning her mother as she lay there in the summer heat. In another room, Anse Bundren, Addie's husband, and two sons, Darl and Jewel, discussed the possibility of the boys making a trip with a wagonload of lumber to earn three dollars for the family. Because Addie's wish was that she be buried in Jefferson, the town where her relatives lay, Anse was afraid the boys might not get back in time to carry her body to the Jefferson graveyard. He finally approved the trip, and Jewel and Darl set out.
Addie died while the two brothers were gone and before Cash could finish the coffin. When it was obvious that she was dying, Dr. Peabody was summoned, but he came too late to help the sick woman. While Dr. Peabody was at the house, Vardaman, the youngest boy, arrived home with a fish he had caught in the river; his mother's death somehow became entangled in his mind with the death of the fish, and because Dr. Peabody was there when she died, Vardaman thought the doctor had killed her.
Meanwhile, a great rainstorm came up. Jewel and Darl, with their load of lumber, were delayed on the road by a broken wagon wheel. Cash kept working through the rain, trying to finish the coffin. At last it was complete, and Addie was placed in it, but the crazed Vardaman, who once had almost smothered in his crib, tried to let his mother out by boring holes through the top of the coffin.
After Jewel and Darl finally got back with the wagon, neighbors gathered at the Bundren house for the funeral service, which was conducted by Whitfield, the minister. Whitfield had once been a lover of Addie's after her marriage, and Jewel, the son whom she seemed to favor, had been fathered by the minister.
Following the service, Anse, his family, and the dead Addie started for Jefferson, normally one hard day's ride away. The rainstorm, however, had so swollen the river that the bridge had been broken and could not be crossed by wagon. After trying another bridge, which had also been washed out, they drove back to an old ford near the first bridge. Three of the family—Anse, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman, with the assistance of Vernon Tull, a neighboring farmer—got across the river on the ruins of the bridge. Then Darl and Cash attempted to drive the wagon across at the obliterated ford, with Jewel leading the way on his spotted horse. This horse was Jewel's one great possession; he had earned the money to purchase it by working all day at the Bundren farm and then by working all night clearing ground for a neighbor. When the wagon was nearly across, a big log floating downstream upset the wagon. As a result, Cash broke his leg and nearly died; the mules were drowned; the coffin fell out, but was dragged to the bank by Jewel; and Cash's carpenter's tools were scattered in the water and had to be recovered one by one.
Anse refused the loan of anyone's mules, insisting that he must own the team that carried Addie to the grave. He went off to bargain for mules and made a trade in which he offered, without Jewel's consent, to give the spotted horse as part payment. When Jewel found out what his father had done, he rode off, apparently abandoning the group. Later it turned out that he had put the spotted horse in the barn of Snopes, who was dickering with Anse. Thus, they got their new mules, and the trip continued.
By the time they arrived in Mottson, a town on the way to Jefferson, Addie had been dead so long that buzzards followed the wagon. In Mottson, they stopped to buy cement to strengthen Cash's broken leg. The police and citizens, whose noses were offended, insisted that the wagon move on, but they would not budge until they bought the cement and treated the leg. While they were in the town, Dewey Dell left the wagon, went to a drugstore, and tried to buy medicine that would abort the illegitimate child she carried, for she had become pregnant by a man named Lafe, with whom she had worked on the farm. The druggist refused to sell her the medicine.
Addie Bundren had been dead nine days and was still not buried. The family spent the last night before their arrival in Jefferson at the house of Mr. Gillespie, who allowed them to put the odorous coffin in his barn. During the night, Darl, whom the neighbors had always thought to be the least sane of the Bundrens, set fire to the barn. Jewel rescued the coffin by carrying it out on his back. Anse later turned Darl over to the authorities at Jefferson; they sent him to the asylum in Jackson.
Lacking a spade and shovel to dig Addie's grave, Anse stopped at a house in Jefferson and borrowed these tools. The burial finally took place. Afterward, Dewey Dell again tried to buy medicine at a drugstore. One of the clerks pretended to be a doctor, gave her some innocuous fluid, and told her to come back that night for further treatment. The further treatment took the form of a seduction in the basement of the drugstore.
Cash's broken leg, encased in cement, had by now become so infected that Anse took him to Dr. Peabody, who said Cash might not walk for a year. Before starting on the trip home, Anse bought himself a set of false teeth that he had long needed. He then returned the borrowed tools. When he got back to the wagon, he had acquired not only the new teeth but also a new Mrs. Bundren, the woman who lent him the tools.

 

Critical Evaluation

Considered by many contemporary critics the greatest American fiction writer, William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1949, after a prolific career that included nineteen novels and two volumes of poetry. Although his formal education was limited, Faulkner read prodigiously in the Greek and Roman classics, the Bible, Shakespeare, the English Romantics, Conrad, Joyce, and Eliot. After relatively undistinguished early attempts in poetry and prose, Faulkner was advised by Sherwood Anderson to concentrate on his "own postage stamp of native soil." This led to the saga of Yoknapatawpha County, a partly true regional history (based on Oxford, Mississippi) merging imperceptibly into a coherent myth, introduced in Sartoris (1929) and continued in The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930).
In the Yoknapatawpha novels, Faulkner placed himself in the forefront of the avant-garde with his intricate plot organization, his bold experiments in the dislocation of narrative time, and his use of the stream-of-conscious-ness technique. His stylistic view of time was affected by his sense that past events continue into the present. As he once said, "There is no such thing as was; if was existed, there would be no grief or sorrow." These stylistic characteristics v/ere undergirded by the development of a complex social structure that enabled Faulkner to explore the inherited guilt of the Southern past, the incapacity of the white aristocracy to cope with modern life, the relations between classes, and the relations between the races.
Starkly realistic, poignantly symbolic, grotesquely comic, and immensely complicated as an experiment in point of view, As I Lay Dying ranks with Faulkner's greatest novels: The Sound and the Fury, Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932). and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). The relative simplicity of its style, characterized by stac-catolike sentences and repetitive dialogue, enhances the tragicomic effect. At the same time, the prosaic quality of the narrative often renders into poetry—as when Dewey Dell becomes the symbol of heedless motherhood by wiping everything on her dress, when Darl sees stars first in the bucket and then in his dipper, when Jewel's horse appears "enclosed by a glittering maze of hooves as by an illusion of wings," when the buzzards accompanying Addie's coffin are juxtaposed suddenly with the sparks that make the stars flow backward for Vardaman, or when Darl, in his visionary fashion, speculates: "It is as though the space between us were time: an irrevocable quality. It is as though time, no longer running straight before us in a diminishing line, now runs parallel between us like a looping string, the distance between the doubling accretion of the thread and not the interval between."
The novel's theme, in the very widest terms, is man's absurdly comic distinction between being and not-being.
Peabody describes death as "merely a function of the mind—and that of the ones who suffer the bereavement." The theme is stated most clearly in the single chapter narrated from Addie's viewpoint: "I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time." Addie has long since considered Anse dead, because she realizes that he. like most humans, cannot distinguish between the "thin line" of words that float upward into nothingness and the terrible reality of "doing [that] goes along the earth. clinging to it." Her attitude is expressed tersely and succinctly when she comments, after allusively revealing her affair with Whitfield: "Then I found that 1 had Jewel. When I waked to remember to discover it. he was two months gone."
Nineteen of the fifty-nine chapters are narrated from Darl's viewpoint, making him the primary persona of the novel. His references to his family's conglomerate madness sets the tone: "In sunset we fall into furious attitudes, dead gestures of dolls." The novel proceeds in a jerky, doll-like movement, as the narration passes through the viewpoints of fifteen different characters, not without occasional retrogression and hiatus. Although Darl might be called the primary narrator, whose voice is most representative of the author's own, he is not the only interesting one. Vardaman, with ten chapters, displays a mentality reminiscent of Benjie's in The Sound and the Furx. showing readers the crazy events connected with the burial through the eyes of a confused and simple-minded child. The third chapter from his viewpoint consists of a single sentence: "My mother is a fish." Only three chapters present Anse's viewpoint, but that is enough to show-that he is a bizarre combination of his sons' characteristics: Darl's imagination, Vardaman's insanity. Cash's stubborn practicality, and Dewey Dell's earthincss (which also sets her in contrast with the bitterness of Addie's outlook toward sex and motherhood).
As he does in The Sound and the Fury, with Jason's chapter, Faulkner achieves his greatest artistic success with the least intrinsically interesting character, Cash. The first chapter (of five) from Cash's viewpoint is an artistic coup. Until this point, readers have heard, through many different viewpoints, the steady buzzing of Cash's saw preparing his mother's coffin—a sound that provides the thread of continuity through the first half of the novel. Even through the rain and through the night, Cash will not cease his labor: "Yet the motion of the saw has not faltered, as though it and the arm functioned in a tranquil conviction that rain was an illusion of the mind." Finally, his own voice is heard in chapter 18: "I made it on the bevel." After this statement, Cash proceeds to explain what he means as Faulkner presents the carpenter's methodological mind in a straightforward list: "1. There is more surface for the nails to grip," ending with, "13. It makes a neater job." Cash's second chapter is a nine-line warning to his impatient father and brothers that the coffin "wasn't on a balance" in the wagon. When the tragedy in the river results from their ignoring his warning, Faulkner presents Cash's third chapter in three lines, beginning with, "It wasn't on a balance," and not even mentioning  the fact that Cash's leg has been broken. Cash's single-minded craftsmanship and superhuman patience become  a reflection of the author's own technique. The final chapter  is Cash's.
 

 



A FABLE
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Type of plot: Religious allegory
Time of plot: 1918
Locale: Western Front in France
First published: 1954

 

Like many of Faulkner's other novels, A Fable is steeped in mythic allusions, both biblical and pagan. Yet, the work still has a life of its own, a statement equally true for Faulkner's other works. Nine years in the writing, the novel obviously alludes to the events of Christ's Passion and Crucifixion; these elements are interwoven into a narrative set during World War I. The work departs, as does The Wild Palms, from Faulkner's ambitious and spectacularly successful development of his own mythic creation, Yoknapatawpha County.

 

Principal Characters

The Corporal, a Christlike soldier. Accompanied by his twelve squad members, the Corporal brings about a cease-fire along the entire Western front by preaching peace on earth. His story bears a strong, yet often subtle resemblance to the life of Christ, the Passion, and the Crucifixion as events unfold which correspond in some degree to the birth, the betrayal, the denial, the Last Supper, and the death of Christ. Refusing an offer of freedom, the Corporal is executed between two murderers and buried at his sister's farm. Shellfire destroys the grave, but ironically his body is recovered and placed in the Unknown Soldier's tomb. These events suggest resurrection and immortality of a sort.
The Marshal, commander in chief of the Allied Armies in France. As a young man stationed in the Middle East he had seduced a woman and fathered a son who turns out to be the Corporal who instigated the mutiny. The old man never seems surprised by the turn of events and apparently is omniscient. He offers the Corporal an opportunity to escape, but must order his execution when he refuses.
General Gragnon, the French division commander. When his regiment refuses to attack the German line, he arrests the entire three thousand and insists upon his own arrest. While in prison he is executed by a brutal American soldier named Buchwald.
The Quartermaster General, the Marshal's former fellow student. After the Corporal's execution, he loses faith in the cause for which the Marshal stands.
The Runner, a former officer. Sympathizing with the Corporal's aims, he is crippled in a surprise barrage while fraternizing with the Germans. At the Marshal's funeral he throws a medal obtained at the Corporal's grave at the caisson and shouts his derision and defiance.
Marthe, the Corporal's half sister.
Marya, the Corporal's feeble-minded half sister.
Polchek, the soldier in the Corporal's squad who betrays him.
Pierre Bouc, the soldier in the Corporal's squad who denies him.
The Corporal's Wife, a former prostitute.
Buchwald, the American soldier who executes General Gragnon.
The Reverend Tobe Sutterfield, an American black preacher.
David Levine, a British flight officer who commits suicide.

 

The Story

On a Monday in May, 1918, a most unusual event took place on a battlefield in France where French and German troops faced one another after four years of trench warfare. At dawn, the regiment under the command of General Gragnon refused to attack. Another unbelievable event occurred when the Germans, who were expected to take advantage of the mutiny, did not move either. At noon, the whole sector of the front stopped firing, and soon the rest of the front came to a standstill. Division
Commander Gragnon requested execution of all three thousand mutineers; he also demanded his own arrest.
On Wednesday, the lorries carrying the mutinous regiment arrived at headquarters in Chaulnesmont, where the dishonor brought on the town aroused the people to noisy demonstration. Relatives and friends of the mutineers knew that a corporal and his squad of twelve, moving in a mysterious way behind the lines, had succeeded in spreading their ideas about peace on earth and good will toward men among the troops. Four of the thirteen men were not Frenchmen by birth; among those only the Corporal spoke French, and he was the object of the crowd's fury.
This situation created uncertainty among the Allied generals because a war ended by mutiny was not reconcilable with military principles. To clarify the confusion, a conference to which a German general was invited took place, and an agreement was reached for continuation of the war.
To young Flight Officer David Levine, the unsuspected pause in war meant tragedy. Determined to find glory in battle but realizing that he might miss his opportunity, he committed suicide. To another soldier, the Runner, the truce at the front was a welcome sign. A former officer, he had rejected submissive principles and abuse of authority by superiors, and he had been returned to the ranks. Having heard about the Corporal from the Reverend Tobe Sutterfield, an American black preacher who had arrived under unexplainable circumstances in France, the Runner tried to show once again the power of the Corporal's ideas. He forced a sentry, who profi teered by collecting fees for life insurance among the soldiers, to leave the trenches and join a British battalion in a peaceful walk toward the German line. When they showed their empty hands, the Germans also came unarmed to meet the French. A sudden artillery barrage by French and German guns, however, killed the sentry and crippled the Runner.
The man to decide the fate of the mutineers was the commander in chief of the Allied Armies, an aged French marshal. The orphaned son of a prominent family, he had attended France's St. Cyr. There his unselfish attitude combined with his devotion to studies had made him an outstanding and beloved student. Especially attracted to him was the man who was now his quartermaster general. After leaving school, the Marshal had been stationed in the Sahara, where he incurred blood-guilt by sacrificing a brutal legionnaire to tribal justice. Later, he spent several years in a Tibetan monastery. In the Middle East, he had met a married woman with two daughters. His affair with her resulted in the birth of a son in a stable at Christmas. The mother died in childbirth, and Marthe, one of the daughters, cared for the boy. When World War I broke out, the Marshal became the Allied commander and the hope of France.
The mutinous troops were kept in a former factory building while awaiting trial. The Marshal, not surprised by the court proceedings, seemed to anticipate all answers. Marthe and Marya, the Corporal's half sisters, and his wife arrived in Chaulnesmont and, in an interview with the Marshal, revealed that the Corporal was the Marshal's son. Marthe had married a French farmer, Dumont, and her half brother had grown up on her farm. Soon after the outbreak of war, he had enlisted in the army and received a medal for bravery in action. He had married a former prostitute from Marseilles. Again, the old Marshal was not surprised and seemed to know every detail.
On Thursday, a meal was served to the squad during which it became known that soldier Polchek had betrayed the Corporal. Another soldier, Pierre Bouc, denied his leader thrice. After the meal, the Corporal was called away to meet the Marshal. On a hill overlooking the town, the Marshal tried to explain the futility of his son's martyrdom. When he promised a secret ocean passage to allow him to escape the death penalty, the Corporal refused the offer. Later the Marshal made a last attempt to influence his son with the help of an army priest. Recognizing his own unworthiness before the humble Corporal, the priest committed suicide. On the same evening, General Gragnon was executed by an American soldier named Buchwald.
On Friday, the Corporal was tied to a post between two criminals. Shot, he fell into a coil of barbed wire that lacerated his head. The Corporal's body and his medal were buried on the Dumont farm near St. Mihiel. After the burial, a sudden artillery barrage plowed the earth, leaving no trace of the Corporal's grave.
After the war, a unit was sent to reclaim a body to be placed in the Unknown Soldier's tomb under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. As a reward, the soldiers were promised brandy. Near Verdun, they obtained a body and drank the brandy. While they were guarding the coffin, an old woman approached. Having lost her mind because her son had not returned from the war, she had sold her farm in order to search for him. Knowing about the mission of the soldiers, she wanted to look at the body. Convinced that the dead soldier was her son, she offered all her money for the corpse; the soldiers accepted and bought more brandy with the money. They secured another body from a field adjoining the Dumont farm. Thus, the body of the Corporal reached Paris. Four years later, the Runner visited the Dumont farm and picked up the medal.
Six years later, the Marshal's body was carried to the Arc de Triomphe, with dignitaries of the Western world following the coffin on foot to pay their respects to the dead leader. As soon as the eulogy started, a cripple made his way through the crowd. It was the Runner, who threw the Corporal's medal at the caisson before an angry mob closed in and attacked him. Rescued by the police, he was dragged into a side street, where a few curious onlookers gathered around the injured cripple. While he lay in the gutter, a man resembling the old Quartermaster General stepped forward to comfort the Runner, who declared that he would never die.

 

Critical Evaluation

A Fable is probably the most ambitious, though not the most successful, work of one of the twentieth century's most ambitious novelists. By juxtaposing elements of the Passion of Christ to a story of trench mutiny in World War I, William Faulkner attempts to combine two very different types of narrative: an allegorical "fable" based upon parallels between the events of his story and those of the original "myth" as well as a realistic narrative of war, politics, and personal relationships.
Most of the similarities to Christ's life and death are obvious. The Corporal, who was born in a stable and is thirty-three years old, leads a mutinous group of twelve followers, and the events surrounding his capture and execution suggest the Passion: one disciple betrays him for money, another denies him three times; the followers have a "Last Supper"; the Corporal is executed between two thieves in a manner that suggests Christ's Crucifixion; he acquires a crown of thorns; he is mourned by women who resemble Mary Magdalene and Mary; and his body vanishes three days after burial. It is necessary, however, to remember that A Fable is not the Passion retold in modern dress. Faulkner does not simply update or interpret Christian myth: he uses it. Therefore, any attempt to come to terms with A Fable must consider the unique, personal vision that Faulkner presents in his book.
Some critics have faulted the novel on the grounds that the Corporal's personality is insufficiently developed. It is true that he is not strongly individualized, but to present the character in greater detail would risk either the creation of a purely symbolic figure or one too humanized to maintain the Christ parallel. Instead, the Corporal remains a silent, mysterious embodiment of man's spiritual side; the concrete presentation of his "meaning" is entrusted to other characters. The most important thing is that, for all the biblical allusions, the Corporal is not the chosen Son of God, but is definitely a son of man— specifically of the Marshal—and the thematic center of the novel is dramatized in the conflict between the Corporal and his father-Marshal antagonist.
In the novel's most powerful and important scene, the final confrontation between the two men, the Marshal defines their basic natures as

two articulations . . . not so much to defend as to test two inimical conditions which . . . must contend and one of them—perish: I champion of the mundane earth . . . while you champion of an esoteric realm of man's baseless and his infinite capacity—no passion—for unfact.

Thus, A Fable is not really about man's relationship to God, or even to society, but to himself. Each of these men stands for one aspect of the human personality, and the conflict between them can be seen in several ways: son versus father, youth versus age, idealist versus realist, common man versus authority, heart versus mind. In short, the major conflict of the book is, in the words of Faulkner's Nobel Prize speech, "the human heart in conflict with itself"—man's basic dualism: the major theme of Faulkner's late fiction.
If the Corporal remains the shadowy incarnation of man's spiritual side, the Marshal, both in his symbolic and his realistic functions, is a much more vivid and complicated character. On the literal level, it is he, as the supreme commander of the Allied Armies in France, who masterminds the successful military counterstra-tegy; symbolically, as the primary representative of secular power, the Marshal represents everything in human society that denies personal autonomy and spiritual freedom to man.
Any attempt to pin down the Marshal's symbolic antecedents more precisely is very difficult. At times he suggests Satan, at times Pilate or Caesar, or simply military authority, but in the central confrontation scene, his role seems to most closely resemble that of the "Grand Inquisitor," who appears in the greatest of earlier "Second Coming" fictions, Ivan Karamazov's parable in Fyodor Dostoevski's The Brothers Karamazov.
Like the Grand Inquisitor, the Marshal faces a Christ surrogate who poses a threat to the established order. Likewise, the Marshal makes an offer to his antagonist of life and freedom in return for betrayal, which he knows in advance will be refused. The Marshal's background also resembles the Inquisitor's in that he, too, began life with a spiritual quest by renouncing the world in favor of the desert and the mountains. Like the Inquisitor— and Christ—the Marshal was tempted and, like the Inquisitor—but unlike Christ—he accepted the temptations and the view of life they represented in return for temporal power.
Thus, although he knows and understands man's duality, the Marshal rejects the spiritual and creative side of man and accepts him only as a mundane, earthbound creature who needs security and control rather than individual freedom and spiritual fulfillment. Further, on the practical level, he commits himself to the human institution that fixes and formalizes this view of man. Like the Inquisitor, the Marshal justifies his actions on the grounds that they are what man needs and wants. He taunts his opponent with the notion that he, not the Corporal, is the true believer in man: "after the last ding dong of doom has rung and died there will still be one sound more; his voice, planning still to build something higher and faster and louder. ... I don't fear man, I do better: I respect and admire him. . . . Because man and his folly—they will prevail."
These words echo the Nobel Prize speech but differ in one important respect from the novelist's own; in the address, Faulkner went on to add: "He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance." This statement defines the essence of the conflict between the Marshal and the Corporal and their visions.
If the Marshal's view of mankind is correct, then the military hierarchy, the rituals and institutions it supports, and the war itself are things man creates for himself and needs for survival. The Corporal's mutiny is, therefore, not only foolish, but even destructive to man's well-being. On the other hand, if the Corporal's vision is true, such things are artificial, malevolent restraints on man's potential. The mutiny in this context becomes a necessary act in the struggle to cast off the life-denying lies and organizations imposed on him and to fulfill his own human and spiritual capacities by taking control of his own destiny. Because the immediate secular power belongs to the Marshal, the earthbound view seems to win, but the question Faulkner raises is whether the impact of the Corporal's actions and martyrdom does not postulate the ultimate triumph of the spiritual vision.
To answer that question, Faulkner attempts to work out the implications of the Corporal's ethic in the actions of several other characters and especially in the attempt of the English Runner to foment a second and wider mutiny. Here lies the primary critical problem of the book: Do these secondary actions establish and elaborate the novel's main thrust, or do they obscure and finally bury it?
Although he borrows Christian symbolism, Faulkner is clearly not presenting a conventionally religious message. He affirms the human spirit, but his attitude toward its ultimate fate is ambiguous. If the Corporal dies a heroic martyr, the other witnesses to the human spirit— the English Runner, the Sentry, the Reverend Sutterfield, the Quartermaster General—suffer dubious or ignominious fates, and even the Corporal's death has no clear effect beyond stimulating the Runner's quixotic gestures. Faulkner postulates hope and faith as vital elements in man's fulfillment, but they are presented as ends in themselves; it is unclear what man should hope for or have faith in.
It seems likely that Faulkner began to write A Fable with a number of abstract concepts in mind rather than a special set of human experiences. (In his best works, in contrast, the meanings grow out of concrete situations.) Consequently, the novel is not completely satisfying on either the realistic or the symbolic level. Yet, even with these problems, A Fable is a powerful novel. If it fails to fulfill completely Faulkner's most ambitious intentions, it does present separate characters and scenes that are powerful and memorable, and if all of Faulkner's concepts are not completely clear, his dramatization of man's basic duality is stimulating and provocative.



 

The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner
1897-1962

William Faulkner insisted that The Sound and the Fury "began with the mental picture" of a small girl's stained undergarment up a tree. Under the tree, two of her three brothers regard it. In post-publication interviews, Faulkner suggests that the four sections of the novel, three of them streams of consciousness belonging to the brothers, "grew" from his repeated attempt to explain that very "symbolical picture."
This begs two questions: why should the first viewpoint on this fictional account of a declining Southern middle-class family be that of an idiot incapable of drawing temporal distinctions? The idiot's section consists of fragmented scenes, drawn non-chronologically from between 1898 and 1928, which have no determinable pattern save concern for a sister. Since each brother is preoccupied with his sister's sexuality, the second question must be: why should a hymen elicit such sound and fury? In plantation Mississippi, in the 1920s, a sister's virginity signifies {the titular allusion to Macbeth not withstanding) "something." Where a regional economy depends on black agricultural labor held in place by debt, and black males are seen to pose a sexual threat, they are ever vulnerable to white violence in the preservation of the region's integrity. Sisters' drawers are therefore matters for surveillance. Where better to hide their wearer's integrity, and that of her region, than in the barely penetrable but fascinating consciousness of an idiot?



THE SOUND AND THE FURY
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Tyре of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: 1910-1928
Locale: Mississippi
First published: 1929

 

The Sound and the Fury, an extremely complex yet rewarding novel, traces from 1910 to 1928 the decline of a once-aristocratic but now degenerated Southern family. Faulkner's method of narration, involving the consciousness of different members and servants of the Compson family, provides four distinct psychological points of view.

 

Principal Characters

Jason Lycurgus Compson (III), grandson of a Mississippi governor, son of a Confederate general, and father to the last of the Compsons. Like his illustrious ancestors, his name suggested his passion, the classics. Unlike his forebears, he is unable to make a living or to fulfill his deepest ambition, the study of the Greek and Latin epigrammatists, but his stoic philosophy, culled from his reading, stands him in good stead. He speaks wisely, does little, drinks much, and is weary of his complaining wife, his wayward daughter, and his bickering sons.
Caroline Bascomb Compson, his wife, who resents the Compson lineage and feels that hers is more glorious. A neurotic woman with psychosomatic symptoms, she complains constantly of her grievances and ills. Reluctant to face reality and rejoicing that she was not born a Compson, she indulges her fancies and pretends to be an antebellum Southern gentlewoman. Her fortitude in tragedy is even more remarkable for all her complaining, but she victimizes her children and devoted servants to maintain her resentment and illnesses.
Candace Compson, their only daughter, affectionate, loyal, libido-driven. Called Caddy, a name which results in great confusion for her idiot brother whose playground is the pasture sold to a golf course where he hears her name, she herself is doomed, though devoted to her dead brother, her weak-minded brother, her own illegitimate daughter, her loving father. She is at odds with her mother, her vengeful brother Jason, and several husbands. So promiscuous is she, even urging her sensitive brother Quentin to abortive intercourse, that she does not really know the father of her child. As an adventuress she travels widely, and in the postlude to the novel appears as the consort of a Nazi officer in Paris.
Quentin Compson, her beloved brother for whom she names her child even before the baby's birth. Obsessed by a sense of guilt, doom, and death, he commits suicide by drowning in June, 1910, two months after his sister's marriage to a man he calls a blackguard. Because he is deeply disturbed by family affairs—the selling of a pasture to pay for his year at Harvard, the loss of his sister's honor, the morbid despair he feels for his idiot brother, his hatred of the family vices of pride and snobbishness—his death is predictable, unalterable.
Jason Compson (IV), the only son to stay on in the old Compson place, loyal to his weak, querulous mother, determined to gain his full share of his patrimony, bitter over his deep failures. His tale is one of petty annoyances, nursed grievances, and egotistic aggressiveness in his ungenerous and self-assertive mastery of his niece and the black servants. This descendant of aristocrats is a small-town redneck, wily, canny, cunning, and deceitful. Not without reasons for his bitterness, he finally rids himself of his enervating responsibilities for a dying line by himself remaining a bachelor and having his idiot brother castrated.
Quentin, the daughter of Candace and her mother's own child. Reared by Dilsey, the black cook, Quentin is the last of anything resembling life in the old Compson house. As self-assertive as her uncle, she steals money he calls his (but which is rightfully hers) and elopes with a carnival pitchman. Beautiful in the wild way of her mother, she has never had affection from anyone except her morbid old grandmother and a brokenhearted servant. Her father may have been a young man named Dalton Ames.
Dilsey Gibson, the bullying but beloved black family retainer, cook, financier (in petty extravagances), and benefactress, who maintains family standards that no longer concern the Compsons. Deeply concerned for them, she babies the thirty-year-old Benjamin, the unfortunate Quentin, and the querulous old "Miss Cahline," though she resists the egocentric Jason. A woman whose wise, understanding nature is beyond limits of race or color, she endures for others and prolongs the lives of those dependent on her shrewdness and strength.
Benjamin Compson, called Benjy, at first named Maury after his mother's brother. He is an idiot who observes everything, smells tragedy, loves the old pasture, his sister Caddy, and firelight, but cannot compose his disordered thoughts into any coherent pattern of life or speech. Gelded by his brother Jason, he moans out his pitiful existence and is finally sent to the state asylum in Jackson.
Maury L. Bascomb, Mrs. Compson's brother. A bachelor, a drunkard, and a philanderer, he is supported by the Compsons. Benjy Compson was christened Maury, after his uncle.
Roskus, the Compsons' black coachman when the children were small.
T.P., a black servant who helps to look after Benjy Compson. He later goes to Memphis to live.
Luster, a fourteen-year-old black boy who is thirty-three-year-old Benjy Compson's caretaker and playmate.
Frony, Dilsey's daughter.
Sydney Herbert Head, a young banker, Caddy Compson's first husband. He divorces her after he realizes that her daughter Quentin is not his child. The divorce ends young Jason Compson's hope of getting a position in Head's bank.
Shreve McCannon, Quentin Compson's Canadian roommate at Harvard.

 

The Story

The Compson family had once been a good one, but the present generation had done everything possible to ruin the name of Compson for all time. In the little Mississippi town in which they lived, everyone laughed and made slighting remarks when the name Compson was mentioned.
Mrs. Compson had come from what she considered good stock, but she thought she must have sinned terribly in marrying a Compson and now she was paying for her sins. For eighteen years she had been saying that she did not have long to live and would no longer be a burden to her family. Benjy was her greatest cross. He was an idiot who moaned, cried, and slobbered all day long. The only person who could quiet Benjy was Candace, his sister. When they were small, Candace loved Benjy very much and made herself his protector. She saw to it that the other children of the family and the black servants did not tease him. As Candace grew up, she continued to love Benjy, but she also loved every man she met, giving herself freely to any man who would have her. Mrs. Compson thought Candace was another cross she had to bear and did very little to force her daughter to have better morals.
Quentin, another son, was a moody, morose boy whose only passion was his sister Candace. He loved her not as a sister but as a woman, and she returned his love. Quentin was sent to school at Harvard. Although she loved Quentin in the spirit, Candace could not keep away from other men. Sydney Herbert Head was the one serious lover she had. He wanted to marry her. Head, a banker, promised to give her brother Jason a job in his bank after they were married. When Quentin learned that Candace was in a condition that made her marriage necessary, he was wild. He lied to his father and told him that he had had incestuous relations with Candace and that she must not be allowed to marry. His father did not believe him, and the family went along with their plans for the wedding. At last Quentin could stand no more. Two months after his sister's wedding, he drowned himself in the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mrs. Compson resigned herself to one more cross.
When Candace had a baby too soon, Head threw her out of his house with her child. Her mother and father and her brother Jason would not let her come home, but they adopted the baby girl, Quentin. Jason believed that Quentin was the child of his brother Quentin and Candace, but the rest of the family refused to face such a possibility and accept it. They preferred to believe, and rightly, that Quentin was the child of some other lover who had deserted Candace. Candace stayed away from the little town for many years.
Quentin was as wild as her mother as she grew up. She, too, gave herself to any man in town and was talked about as her mother had been. Every month, Candace sent money to Mrs. Compson for Quentin's care. At first Mrs. Compson burned the checks, for she would have none of Candace's ill-gotten money. When Mr. Compson died, Jason became the head of the family. He blamed Quentin for his not getting the job in the bank, for if the child had not been born too soon, Head would not have left Candace and would have given Jason the job. Hating his sister, he wrote checks on another bank and gave those to his mother in place of the checks Candace had sent. The old lady was almost blind and could not see what she burned. Jason then forged her signature on the real checks and cashed them, using the money to gamble on the cotton market.
Quentin hated her Uncle Jason as much as he hated her, and the two were always quarreling. He tried to make her go to school and keep away from the men, but Mrs. Compson thought he was too cruel to Quentin and took the girl's side.
A show troupe came to town, and Quentin took up with one of the performers. Her grandmother locked her in her room each night, but she climbed out of the window to meet her lover. One morning, she did not answer when old Dilsey, the black woman who had cared for the family for years, called her to breakfast. Jason went to her room and found that all her clothes were gone. He also found that the three thousand dollars he had hidden in his room had been stolen. He tried to get the sheriff to follow the girl and the showman, but the sheriff wanted no part of the Compson family affairs. Jason set out to find the fugitives, but he had to give up his search when a severe headache forced him to return home for medicine. Jason felt more than cheated. His money was gone, and he could not find Quentin so that he could punish her for stealing it. He forgot that the money really belonged to Quentin, for he had saved it from the money Candace had sent for the girl's care. There was nothing left for Jason but blind rage and hatred for everyone. He believed that everyone laughed at him because of his horrible family—because Benjy was an idiot, Candace a lost woman, Quentin a suicide, and the girl Quentin a village harlot and a thief. He forgot that he, too, was a thief and that he had a mistress. He felt cursed by his family as his mother was cursed.
When he saw Benjy riding through town in a carriage driven by one of the black boys, he knocked the black boy down and struck Benjy with all his force, for there was no other way to show his rage. Benjy let out a loud moan and then settled back in the carriage. He very gently petted a wilted flower, and his face assumed a calm, quiet blankness, as if all the strife in the world were over and things were once more serene. It was as if he had understood what old Dilsey meant when she said she had seen the beginning and the end of life. Benjy had seen it all, too, in the pictures he could never understand but which flowed endlessly through his disordered mind.

 

Critical Evaluation

After early undistinguished efforts in verse {The Marble Faun, 1924) and fiction (Soldier's Pay, 1926; Mosquitoes, 1927), William Faulkner moved suddenly into the forefront of American literature in 1929 with the appearance of Sartoris and The Sound and the Fury, the first installments in the artistically complex and subtly satirical saga of Yoknapatawpha County that would be spun out further in As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Go Down, Moses (1942), The Unvanquished (1938), Intruder in the Dust (1948), the Hamlet-Town-Mansion trilogy (1940, 1957, 1959), and Requiem for a Nun (1951)—the last an extension of materials in Sanctuary (1931). Chiefly in recognition of the monumental literary importance of the Yoknapatawpha saga, Faulker was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949.
The Sound and the Fury marked the beginning of the most fertile period of Faulkner's creativity, when he was in his early thirties. Both for its form and for its thematic significance this novel may well be considered Faulkner's masterpiece. Never again would his work demonstrate such tight, precise structure, combined with the complexities of syntax and punctuation that became his most characteristic stylistic trait. Furthermore, the themes recorded in his simple but not elegant Nobel Prize speech— "love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice"—are already present in this novel with a force-fulness of characterization that could hardly be improved upon. It was in this novel that Faulkner found a way of embodying his peculiar view of time in an appropriate style, a style much influenced by Joycean stream of consciousness and by Faulkner's own stated desire ultimately to "put all of human experience between one Cap and one period." That concept of time, most emphatic in Quentin's section, can be summarized by Faulkner's statement that "there is no such thing as was; if was existed there would be no grief or sorrow." The continuation of the past into the present, as a shaping influence that cannot be avoided, is the larger theme of Faulkner's life work.
In this novel, that theme is embodied specifically in the history of the decline of the aristocratic Compson family. Nearly twenty years after the original publication of the novel, at the instigation of his publisher Malcolm Cowley, Faulkner wrote the background history of the Compsons as an "appendix" that appears at the front of the book. The appendix records the noble origins of the Compson land, once the possession of a Chickasaw king named Ikkemotubbe, or "the man." After proceeding through the Compson succession—beginning with Quentin Maclachan Compson, who immigrated from Glasgow, and proceeding to Jason III, the "dipsomaniac" lawyer who could not tear himself away from the Roman classics long enough to preserve the vestiges of his family's good name, Faulkner presents terse but invaluable insights into the chief characters of The Sound and the Fury. Candace knew she was doomed and regarded her virginity as no more than a "hangnail," and her promiscuity represents the moral sterility of the family. Quentin III, who "identified family with his sister's membrane," convinced himself he had committed incest with her, but really loved only death—in his sublimation of emotions into a kind of latter-day courtly love mystique—and found his love in June, 1910, by committing the physical suicide that the destruction of his grandfather's watch symbolized. Benjy, the "idiot" whose "tale" forms the remarkable first section of the novel, "loved three things: the pasture ... his sister Candace (who 'smelled like trees'), and firelight" and symbolizes both the mental deterioration of the family and, through his castration, its physical sterility. Jason IV, "the first sane Compson since before Culloden and (a childless bachelor) hence the last," commits Benjy to an asylum, sells the house, and displays the pathetically mediocre intelligence that alone is able to cope with the incursions of the modern world as symbolized by the Snopes family. Quentin IV, the child of Candace, "already doomed to be unwed from the instant the dividing egg determined its sex," is the last Compson and the final burden destined for Mrs. Compson, the personification, to Jason, of all the evil and insanity of his decaying, decadent family.
Benjy's section takes place on April 7, 1928, the day before Quentin IV steals her uncle's money. It is written with incredibly delicate perception, revealing the lucidity of a simpleminded innocence that can yet be accompanied by a terrible sharpness and consistency of memory. In its confusion of his father's funeral with Candace's wedding, in its constant painful reactivation—the sound of the golfers' cry of "caddie" causes him to bellow out his hollow sense of his sister's loss—Benjy's mind becomes the focus of more cruelty, compassion, and love than anyone but Dilsey imagines. Quentin Ill's section, taking place eighteen years earlier on the day of his suicide at Harvard, is one of the most sustained lyrical passages of twentieth century prose. The concentration of Quentin's stream of consciousness around the broken, handless watch is one of Faulkner's greatest achievements. Just as the leitmotif of Benjy's section was the smell of trees associated with Caddy's loss, the recurring refrain of Quentin's is the desperate rhetorical question, "Did you ever have a sister?" Jason's theme is hate, a hate as pitiful as is the diminution of Compson pride into pathetic vanity; and this third section of the novel may be the greatest for its evocation of deep, moving passions from even the most mediocre. The last section is focused on Dilsey, who "seed de first en de last" and who represents, to Faulkner, the only humanity that survives the fall of the house of Compson—the only humanity to endure.

 

 
     
         
 

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