Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
A work of literary modernism influenced by T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), William Faulkner’s first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, brings “the lost generation” to Faulkner’s native ground. In describing the impact upon a small Southern town of the return and slow death of an aviator horribly wounded in World War I, the novel re-creates the mood of disillusionment, deflation, and spiritual malaise which was prevalent in postwar American society and art. Eliotic despair is substantially countered, however, by Faulkner’s insistence, often in rich, poetic prose, on natural cycles of renewal, on the essential decency, strength, and humanity of the principal characters, and on the faith and integrity of the blacks who have remained impervious to white society’s spiritual alienation.
The novel opens with an ironic epigraph taken from an “Old Play (about 19-?),” a fragment of dialogue about shaving between Achilles and Mercury cast as sergeant and cadet. The scene is a graphic undercutting of the heroic mood and an effective introduction to Joe Gilligan and Julian Lowe, a demobilized soldier and a young air cadet, respectively, whose opportunity for martial glory has been “cruelly” thwarted by fate: The Armistice had been declared before they could reach the Western Front. On a train heading south from Buffalo, they give vent to their frustration in drunkenness, dramatizing their essential isolation while casting themselves...
(The entire section is 1033 words.)
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