Sanctuary Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

William Faulkner, who was awarded the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and two National Book Awards, was one of the best fiction writers in America. Unsuccessful in his early attempts at poetry, Faulkner began selling his short stories to national magazines. This enabled him to support his family, in a manner of speaking, as he pursued fame. His first published short story, “A Rose for Emily,” was his favorite and it is perhaps his most often anthologized. Sartoris (1929), whose plot retells events in Faulkner’s grandfather’s life, was rather successful and so the soft-spoken southerner began to discover his “own postage stamp of soil,” Yoknapatawpha County (based on his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, and its environs).

Faulkner is known for the complexities of his novels, which are usually not told chronologically. Rather, the story of events is filtered through one or more observers who interpret these actions in the context of their own biases, needs, and confusions. In Faulkner’s world, the reader is often a witness at second hand. Sanctuary is an example of this element of his work. Although Faulkner claimed that he wrote Sanctuary as a cheap, lurid tale to make money, critics have come to recognize that it is as significant to his canon as Light in August (1932) or The Sound and the Fury (1929), which focus on the nature of evil and the influence of past actions on the present. As in other Faulkner works, the story of Sanctuary is told by a seemingly innocent bystander (Horace Benbow) who becomes enmeshed in the drama.

In one draft, Faulkner’s tale focused almost totally on Benbow, whose incestuous love of his sister becomes transferred first to a married woman he eventually marries (Belle), and then to her daughter (whose sexual adventures lead Benbow to see her as a twin of Temple Drake). Faulkner revised the book to focus more clearly on Temple and her encounter with her evil. Benbow’s judgment of her and her actions affects the reader’s reactions as he struggles to find justice in the courts and as he strives to find Temple’s basic decency, her goodness. Readers see everything through Benbow’s...

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