William Faulkner Essay - William Faulkner American Literature Analysis

William Faulkner American Literature Analysis

Faulkner’s works, like their creator, are highly complex. His style has caused much difficulty for readers, especially if The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, As I Lay Dying, or Absalom, Absalom! is the reader’s introduction to Faulkner. These best of his earlier Yoknapatawpha novels vary in structure but are alike in one point—an obscurity that results from unusual, complicated organization and presentation. The Sound and the Fury has multiple narrators, extended streams of consciousness, and subtle time shifts. It is divided into four, at times seemingly disconnected, parts. Light in August has three narratives interwoven, with past and present intermixed. As I Lay Dying is a series of numerous brief chapters, each a stream of consciousness, usually but not always by a member of the Bundren family. Absalom, Absalom! is told using various levels of time and narrator viewpoint.

Faulkner himself and some of his major critics have recommended The Unvanquished as the best starting place. In spite of multiple narratives, real and metaphorical, there is one narrator: Bayard Sartoris, an old man recalling experiences of his early life during the American Civil War. Several viewpoints are presented, but all by him. Time is interrupted by an occasional flashback or digression, but generally the thrust is chronological, once the digressive nature of the entire narrative is recognized. Violence and hardship are moderated by generous doses of good-natured humor. The novel’s focus is on two races, blacks and various classes of Mississippi whites. Because Bayard Sartoris is a rather normal adolescent through much of the plot, his viewpoint is not tedious. Another good entree into Faulkner is Intruder in the Dust, in which the traditional form of single narrator and chronological time are, with some lapses, followed.

Place is extremely important to Faulkner; in most of his better works his setting is the fictional Yoknapatawpha County (based in part on his own home county of Lafayette), with its town of Jefferson, largely Oxford renamed and without the state university (he moves Oxford and the university to another site). Faulkner uses local people, including members of his own family: His grandfather, J. W. T. Falkner, becomes old Bayard Sartoris; his great-grandfather, a mythic figure with a shady past and a record of violence, Civil War experience, and public leadership, becomes Colonel John Sartoris. V. K. Surratt, Faulkner’s genial peddler/storyteller, is lifted from real life and temporarily given his real name. Various other characters are based on one or more real people. Similarly, the narratives are based on tales, often traditions handed down by his family or others.

In turn, he might borrow freely from history or classical mythology, from existentialism, psychology, the Bible, or any of the numerous books that he read. Next to the Bible, he most often mentioned Miguel de Cervantes, author of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha, 1605, 1615 (Don Quixote de la Mancha, 1612-1620). Other influences on Faulkner included Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Polish-British novelist Joseph Conrad.

Following the philosophy of Henri Bergson, the French thinker, Faulkner did not view time as chronological. Having watched a man write the Lord’s Prayer on the head of a pin, Faulkner sought to write the history of the human soul in one sentence. Faulkner’s style is often verbose, especially if a talkative narrator is speaking or a troubled individual is pouring out thoughts in a stream of consciousness. There may even be an occasional sentence that goes on for pages. The later novels, with obvious exceptions (the commissary section of “The Bear” in Go Down, Moses, for example), and the short stories are written in a style much more readable than some of the earlier novels.

Although Faulkner’s writing is recognized as excellent by critics both in the United States and abroad, it should be noted that his work is uneven; this fact is especially obvious now that almost everything he wrote is now available, including apprenticeship poems and stories. Even his mature work, however, is somewhat uneven; critics regard his earlier Yoknapatawpha novels and a few later ones such as The Hamlet and Go Down, Moses, for example, to be of better literary quality than the apprenticeship novels (Soldiers’ Pay and Mosquitoes) or Pylon.

Faulkner’s philosophy has been difficult for many critics. He believed in God but did not pretend to be a Christian. He borrowed freely from the Bible, yet used as parallels to Christ uncouth characters such as Joe Christmas in Light in August. His attitude toward race, especially toward black and white relations, angered whites and blacks, integrationists and segregationists. He was in favor of moderate, gradual integration. In his works, he often treats the themes of incest and miscegenation; sometimes they are combined, as in Absalom, Absalom!

His attitude toward the American South combines regional pride with shame at offenses past and present. His complex treatment avoids the two extremes that one often finds in works about the South—squalid poverty on one hand, magnolias and hooped skirts on the other. His setting is more a particular region—northern Mississippi—than the entire South. A most successful regional writer, he nevertheless achieves universality by combining the local perspective with a broad treatment of the human condition. Both a Greek stoic and a Christian humanist, he believed in the worth of the individual, most especially his or her ability to endure and prevail; thus, in spite of much darkness in Faulkner’s works, they possess an overriding optimism in an age of pessimistic trends in literature.

Sartoris

First published: 1929

Type of work: Novel

A troubled World War I ace returns home to seek and eventually find a violent death.

Sartoris, Faulkner’s first published mature novel, and the first to treat the people and places of his fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, is a fitting introduction to his settings and characters. The title is the name of one of his leading families. In one sense, young Bayard Sartoris is the protagonist; in another, it is the entire Sartoris family (at least the first, second, and fourth generations). Also introduced are two members of the Snopes clan—Flem and Byron, employees of old Bayard Sartoris’s bank. Protagonists of an interwoven subplot are the Benbows—brother and sister Horace and Narcissa. Other characters include the MacCallums (spelled McCallum in later works).

The setting begins in Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha, and moves to other parts of the region (and occasionally other parts of the United States) in the main narrative but shifts to the Civil War and World War I in digressions.

Colonel John Sartoris, the legendary ancestor of the two Bayards, was modeled after Faulkner’s great-grandfather, Colonel William C. Falkner, a colorful adventurer of the periods before, during, and after the Civil War. Colonel Sartoris’s twin brother, Bayard, was killed while engaged in a prank during the Civil War; Colonel John’s presence still permeates the atmosphere three generations later. Old Bayard is passive and nonviolent. Young Bayard experiences guilt because he has seen his twin brother John’s plane shot down; he is also driven by the Sartoris penchant for violent endings—partly fatalism, partly recklessness. He drives his car too fast, endangering himself and his passengers. Once he drives off a bridge and breaks his ribs; another time he drives over a cliff and back onto the road, only to learn he has caused his grandfather, old Bayard, to die of a heart attack.

The Benbow house is in Jefferson, as are the cemetery, the courthouse, the church, and other places of interest. Horace is a young lawyer recently returned from wartime experience as a YMCA worker in Italy; he is interested in poetry and art, bringing a glassblowing apparatus home with him. He becomes involved with another family, Harry and Belle Mitchell and their daughter, little Belle. Eventually Belle divorces Harry and marries Horace. Narcissa and Horace are very close, with strong emotional ties to each other. She is friends with old Bayard’s aunt, Miss Jenny DuPre, whose common sense offers a contrast to the Sartoris attitudes and actions. Byron Snopes writes anonymous letters to Narcissa, eventually breaking into her house and stealing an undergarment. He, like his people, is low-bred, amoral, and grasping.

The Sartoris family is also treated at length in The Unvanquished; the Benbows are among the important characters of Sanctuary. The MacCallums(McCallums) are the protagonists of the short story “The Tall Men” (1941). In Sartoris, their hill farm home, more than fourteen miles north of Jefferson, becomes young Bayard’s refuge after old Bayard’s death. Here drinking and hunting (two of Faulkner’s favorite avocations) take place. Another family, a nameless and poverty-stricken black family, share their hospitality on Christmas Day. They stand in contrast to others in the novel who are stereotypes of black characters in literature and drama of the time. Following the death of young Bayard, who has foolheartedly flight-tested an unsafe plane in Dayton, Ohio, the focus is on Benbow Sartoris, who represents a new generation of the family. Bayard’s wife, Narcissa, has named the son Benbow in hopes that he will avoid the curse of the Sartoris men.

The Sound and the Fury

First published: 1929

Type of work: Novel

A once-distinguished family degenerates and eventually disintegrates.

The Sound and the Fury is about another family, the Compsons; like the Sartorises, they are of the aristocratic social level, the planter class. Unlike the Sartorises, who live north of Jefferson, the Compsons live in town. They consist of Mr. and Mrs. Compson and four children: Quentin, the oldest son, commits suicide while a student at Harvard University; he is attracted to his sister Caddy. Benjy, born Maury, is an idiot son. Jason, the youngest son, is grasping and amoral, without feeling for other people. The other important members of the household are Miss Quentin, Caddy’s illegitimate daughter (named for her uncle), and the black servant Dilsey, modeled to a great extent after the Falkner family’s Mammy Callie.

Faulkner’s most esoteric novel, especially through the first two of the four parts, The Sound and the Fury is his most difficult to read, causing problems for both scholar and beginner. Obviously modeled after James Joyce’s novel Ulysses (1922), it consists of three streams of consciousness, each by a male character, followed by a fourth section in omniscient viewpoint with strong partial focus on a female. Part 1 unfolds the thoughts and emotions of Benjy, who on his birthday (he is thirty-three), Saturday, April 7, 1928, confuses the present with the past of 1910. His pasture, sold to pay for Caddy’s wedding and Quentin’s education at Harvard, is now a golf course; players’ shouts to their caddies remind him of his sister and of his former dependence on her.

Quentin’s section is set at the earlier time of Thursday, June 2, 1910. During the events before his death, he tears the hands off his watch, wanders through the town, becomes friends with a young girl, has a violent confrontation as he tries to find her people, and eventually dresses and brushes his teeth before killing himself. His death results from his inability to accept his sister’s infidelity, an act foreshadowed by an experience on the day of their grandmother’s wake: Climbing up to look in the window after having sat in the mud, she has revealed her soiled drawers.

Jason’s section is less esoteric, more direct, because it pours out the thoughts of a crass, greedy, cruel man who is unimaginative. Remaining at home after the deaths of Quentin and his father, he works in a business. He extorts money from Caddy by insisting that she avoid contact with her daughter and by threatening to expose Miss Quentin’s background. The money that Caddy sends her, Jason takes for his own. His section is set in the present: Friday, April 6, 1928, the day before Benjy’s birthday and two days before Easter. Miss Quentin, now seventeen, runs off with a man from a carnival, stealing money from Jason, who ironically had previously stolen it from her.

Much of the section serves to characterize Jason, especially his contempt toward Quentin, Benjy, Caddy, Miss Quentin, Dilsey, women in general, and nearly everyone else. Throughout the sections, the parents and a relative, Uncle Maury, are also characterized: The father fails to assume authority, the mother is a whining, dependent hypochondriac, and the uncle is an immoral ne’er-do-well.

Jason’s conflict with Dilsey, who tries vainly to keep the family from disintegrating, and his pursuit of Miss Quentin are depicted in both the third and fourth sections. The latter, sometimes called the Dilsey section in spite of its third-person narrator, reaches its grand climax in Dilsey’s worship experience on Easter Sunday morning, April 8, 1928, the day after Benjy’s birthday. She takes Benjy with her and walks to the Second Baptist Church, the black church, where a small, unattractive substitute minister preaches. In the course of the Reverend Sheegog’s sermon, she reaches a state of ecstasy—one of the rare genuine religious experiences in all of Faulkner’s work. The setting of the days of Easter week, though not in chronological order, parallel those in Dante’s La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802). The year 1928 reflects a Faulkner custom often employed: to make the time of writing the present in a work in progress.

Sanctuary

First published: 1931

Type of work: Novel

This novel’s characters are the victims of murder, rape, lynching, and miscarriages of justice.

In 1929, while angered at the poor reception of his The Sound and the Fury (and possibly at the previous rejection of Flags in the Dust), Faulkner wrote a first version of Sanctuary as the most violent, most salacious novel possible, in order to make money. Later, Phil Stone, his lawyer friend and mentor, persuaded him that the work was unworthy of the author of The Sound and the Fury or of the short stories “A Rose for Emily” and “That Evening Sun Go Down” (1931). Faulkner did extensive revision, toning down the violence and sex (although much remains) and rewriting Sanctuary as a work of excellent literary quality. Whereas the earlier version had been rejected, the later was published.

Sanctuary’s main characters include Horace Benbow and, to a lesser extent, his sister Narcissa, already seen in Sartoris. She is living in the family home with Aunt Sally (no blood kin); he is out in the country, a troubled soul separated from his wife, Belle, and her daughter Little Belle. Horace comes to some property closely guarded by a criminal element of people: Popeye is an amoral, almost inhuman, unfeeling psychotic killer, a petty gangster; Lee Goodwin is a bootlegger in business with Popeye; Ruby Lamar is his wife. Horace is sexually attracted to Ruby. Eventually, he is allowed to leave the premises.

Later, Gowan Stevens, a self-centered young Virginia man, gets drunk and causes Temple Drake, an eighteen-year-old college student who is the daughter of a judge, to forfeit a trip to a football game. Eventually they, too, find themselves at Goodwin’s place, Gowan too drunk to cope and Temple, warned by Ruby of her danger and shocked by the men she observes, hysterical, running all around the place.

One of the men is murdered by Popeye, who attacks Temple and later holds her captive in a Memphis brothel. Lee Goodwin is imprisoned in Jefferson for the murder, and Horace agrees to defend him, presumably to be paid in services by Goodwin’s wife if he is acquitted. Horace is not the proper attorney; not only is he not a criminal lawyer, but also he is personally involved. Narcissa betrays Horace’s confidence to her, as does state senator Snopes, with the result that a politically ambitious prosecuting attorney gets Temple freed (from Popeye), and he, rather than Horace, uses her as a witness.

Temple’s false testimony that Goodwin is the murderer, in the emotional climate created by her revelation that she has been raped with a corncob, causes mass hysteria in the courtroom. Horace does not even cross-examine her. Goodwin is later taken from jail and, in Horace’s presence, burned to death in the courthouse square. Popeye, who has escaped prosecution for this and other murders, is later arrested and convicted for one that he did not commit. His early life, in the manner of that of Joe Christmas in Light in August, is revealed as he awaits execution in Florida. His death is poetic justice.

Certainly, the plot is effective enough, especially for those who like mystery, crime, violence, and sex, but the question remains whether Sanctuary as published is more than a violent, salacious fiction. A literary novel is a proper balance of three elements, all fully effected: a structured plot, clearly realized (delineated) characters, and manners (the characterization of a society in a particular time and place). Sanctuary is highly effective in all three respects. The plot is structured effectively. The manners of both the criminal class and the respectable people are delineated. Ruby is the wife of a criminal and is herself a former prostitute, but she is a faithful wife to an unworthy husband who was untrue to her while in the armed forces; her prostitution was to earn money to free him from prison. She shows concern and a gruff type of kindness to intruders into her sordid world; she shows courage by telling Horace about Popeye and Temple. She is also willing to pay in the only way she can to free her husband.

The genteel class are also of mixed virtue. Both Horace and Gowan are immoral and given to drink. They are both weak men who bring violence to others by their weakness yet bear no responsibility for their actions. Temple, who could prevent her rape and a man’s murder simply by walking away from Goodwin’s place, succumbs to panic and fails to act. Once she is in court, her father is concerned that she testify no longer; he should know that testimony without privilege of cross-examination is a travesty. The presiding judge should certainly know that it is inadmissible as evidence. Horace puts his lust ahead of his client’s life. Narcissa is willing to let an innocent man die so that her brother can return to her—or to his wife—rather than becoming involved with a fallen woman. The characters function within the plot as individuals and as members of a society.

Light in August

First published: 1932

Type of work: Novel

A man of uncertain origins and race turns to violence and is himself a victim of violence.

Light in August, Faulkner’s fifth Yoknapatawpha novel, brings together, in and near Jefferson, characters with varying backgrounds and personalities but with one common bond—they all have deep-seated problems. Lena Grove arrives in town from Alabama, pregnant but unmarried and in search of Lucas Burch, the father of her child. She finds instead Byron Bunch, a good man who is timid and withdrawn. Burch, using the name Brown, has just burned Miss Joanna Burden’s house to cover her murder by Joe Christmas, who killed Joanna after being her lover for three years. Joe had lived at her place while being partners with Brown in the bootleg whiskey business.

Gail Hightower, a defrocked minister who withdrew from society after its rejection and mistreatment of him, now has a different religion: ancestor worship of his grandfather, who fought in the Civil War. Hightower is friends with Bunch, who involves him with Lena (he delivers her baby) and with Joe (he lies when Joe takes refuge in his house, attempting to prevent the fugitive’s murder at the hands of his pursuers). The leader of the three-man posse pursuing Joe is Percy Grimm, a deputized young man who has a storm-trooper mentality years before Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. He shoots the armed Joe Christmas and mutilates his body.

Much of the novel is devoted to the events and people that have influenced Joe’s character. The son of a Mexican (or black) carnival worker and Doe Hines’s granddaughter, he is left at a Memphis orphanage on Christmas Day (thus his assumed name). His questionable parentage and his age (thirty-three when arriving in Jefferson), together with his name, suggest parallels to Jesus. The parallels were even more obvious in earlier versions, but Faulkner later toned them down. The use of biblical matter paralleling Jesus or some other biblical character or incident with an opposite type of person is a Faulknerian technique known as an inversion. Doe Hines takes a job at the orphanage so that he can watch the boy. Hines is an extreme religious fanatic and a racist; he tells people that Joe is a Negro. Joe’s foster parents, the MacEacherns, are strict Calvinists, Mr. MacEachern harshly so.

The belief in Joe’s black blood, though it is never actually established in the novel, is the focus of much of the action. Doe Hines’s attitude is primarily racist. Joe himself has ambivalent feelings: At times he calls himself a Negro, but he always functions as a white man in a white-dominated society. After killing Joanna, Joe disturbs worship at a Negro church, thinking to establish himself in their society but only terrifying them and doing violence to one of the worshippers.

The novel closes as it opened, quietly, with the focus on Lena Grove. The final chapter is told by a furniture maker and dealer who has given Lena, Byron Bunch, and the baby a ride from Mississippi to Jackson, Tennessee. Byron cannot get Lena to marry him, and he is unsuccessful in his attempt to rape her, but he continues to be her traveling companion.

Absalom, Absalom!

First published: 1936

Type of work: Novel

A man with dreams of affluence and family dynasty sees everything crumble around him.

Absalom, Absalom!, another Yoknapatawpha novel and another work with multiple structures, has different levels of narrator viewpoint; that of Quentin Compson and his Canadian roommate at Harvard University is the primary level. Shreve McCannon has asked Quentin to tell him about Mississippi; the result is a story told in true Faulkner fashion. It is far from chronological; sometimes Quentin speaks from his own observation, but most often he repeats a secondhand narrative as given him by Miss Rosa Coldfleld, Jason Compson III, and others. Some gaps are filled in by the boys’ speculative dialogue.

The story is about Thomas Sutpen, who as a young man left his western Virginia home and was severely rebuked by a black servant at a tidewater Virginia mansion. Emotionally scarred, he traveled to the West Indies, where he married the daughter of a wealthy planter and became a man of wealth himself. Upon discovering that his wife was part black, he left her and traveled to Mississippi.

The novel opens with Miss Rosa’s earliest childhood memory of Sutpen, who has taken her sister as his second wife. Sutpen’s violent manner of driving his horses up to the front of the church outrages the townspeople; his cockfights and brutal boxing matches have left her with a sense of terror. He has fathered a daughter, Judith, and a son, Henry, by this marriage, and he dreams of family, dynasty, and great wealth. A few miles out from Jefferson, he has built a mansion and established a large plantation; he owns many slaves. Problems arise when Charles Bon is brought into the family: He is Sutpen’s son by his previous marriage. Charles’s friendship with Henry and his budding relationship with Judith present the problems of incest and miscegenation.

Sutpen is generally regarded more highly throughout the novel than he is in the eyes of Miss Rosa, who despises him because he has offered to marry her on the condition that she will bear him a son. He is characterized as a worthy soldier, being elected commander of the battalion organized and led by Colonel John Sartoris. When, after the Civil War, he is threatened by a vigilante committee, he faces down the group. He cannot cope, however, with the disintegration of his family and his fortune.

The end of the novel is uncertain; Quentin describes having found the aged Henry, who has been hiding at the old Sutpen place after killing Charles Bon. A sequel to Absalom, Absalom! is the short story “Wash,” which tells of the death of Sutpen at the hands of a “poor white” employee and drinking companion, Wash Jones, whose daughter Millie’s child Sutpen has fathered and spurned. As is typical of Faulkner’s chronology, the story was published in 1934, two years before the novel.

“The Bear”

First published: 1942 (in Go Down, Moses)

Type of work: Short story

A boy is initiated into manhood and participates in the killing of a great bear that symbolizes the wilderness.

“The Bear” is Faulkner’s best-known and most highly regarded story; it takes its place among his wilderness narratives, such as Old Man (one of the two novellas that make up The Wild Palms), “Red Leaves” (1930), the best of Faulkner’s Indian stories, and the escape of the black architect in Absalom, Absalom! Its genesis is typical of Faulkner’s writing and publishing career: He used his material to the greatest degree. A short story titled “Lion” appeared in 1934; it was enlarged in 1941 and 1942 as “The Bear,” to be a section of the novel Go Down, Moses.

A shortened form was published in a magazine in 1942; then, two days later, the novel appeared, with what is sometimes called “The Bear II” included. Because this contained section 4, which adds to the novel but detracts from the hunting story, the novel version without section 4 was anthologized in Big Woods in 1955; with section 4, it appeared in Three Famous Short Novels in 1961.

The work symbolizes the destruction of the wilderness. It is also concerned with the mythic initiation of a boy, young Isaac (Ike) McCaslin, into manhood. In the later versions, Quentin Compson as narrator is dropped in favor of omniscient narration, and “the boy” becomes Ike. The magazine and novel versions differ in that the bear is killed only in the latter.

Old Ben is a mythic two-toed bear who has eluded hunters for years; Lion is the huge dog, the appearance of whom foreshadows the end. Sam Fathers, Major De Spain, General Compson, McCaslin Edmunds, and Boon Hogganbeck are among those chasing but not killing Old Ben; the major’s hunting camp is on what was once Thomas Sutpen’s estate. McCaslin (Cass) is Ike’s older cousin; Sam, an Indian of noble blood, is Ike’s friend and wilderness mentor; Boon is a big man (partly of plebeian Indian blood) with the mind of a child.

The time of the opening and of the climactic killing of Ben is 1883, when Ike is sixteen. Through digressions, previous events are related: At ten, Ike had gone on his first hunt with the men; at eleven, he had seen Ben for the first time. At thirteen, he killed his first deer and underwent initiation when Sam marked his face with the blood. When Ike was fourteen, the special dog, Lion, was brought into camp; when he was fifteen, Lion attacked Ben, and Ben was wounded by a gun. Comic interludes have to do with Boon—his attitude toward Lion and his ineptitude with a gun.

Section 4, sometimes called “The Land,” consists of one 1,600-word sentence unfolding a dialogue between Ike (now twenty-one) and Cass regarding ownership of the land: Ike will waive his right to his inheritance. The brief final section is two years after the last hunt on this land; Ike at nineteen revisits the site (two years before section 4) to find Boon under a lone tree full of squirrels: Having broken his gun, Boon is clubbing at the squirrels and shouting at would-be intruders. The high, serious tone of the novella gives way to the comic, seeming to contrast the awe and majesty of the now-departed wilderness with the civilization that has taken its place.

“Spotted Horses”

First published: 1931 (collected in Three Famous Short Novels, 1958)

Type of work: Short story

People experience injury and loss when they are sold wild horses.

As did “The Bear,” Faulkner’s “Spotted Horses” evolved over a period of years. As early as 1927 and 1928, he was writing about the Snopeses in a work titled “Father Abraham” (it was never published as such). In Flags in the Dust and Sartoris, Flem and Byron Snopes appear as minor characters. The first-published fuller treatment of Flem was in the short story version of “Spotted Horses” in 1931; originally titled “Aria con Amore,” it had been revised into this version for Scribner’s magazine. It was also enlarged into a novella and was included as a key episode in the first Snopes novel, The Hamlet, in 1940. Five years later, parts were included in Malcolm Cowley’s collection The Portable Faulkner.

“Spotted Horses,” then, marks the beginning of the Snopes stories (others include “Barn Burning,” 1939, and “Mule in the Yard,” 1934) and (as part of The Hamlet) the Snopes novels. Flem’s rise from obscurity to prominence and affluence is the subject of the Snopes trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion); his first important stride is his gaining ascendancy over the Varners. By marrying the pregnant Eula, he gains not only a most desirable woman but also opportunities for advancement. “Spotted Horses” opens with Flem, Eula, and her baby returning from a honeymoon in Texas. They bring with them a stranger, the Texan Buck Hipps, and a string of wild pinto horses straight from the range.

In this work Faulkner uses some of the people and places of As I Lay Dying, including the farmers of Frenchman’s Bend. In addition to the Snopeses and Varners are the Armstids, the Littlejohns, and others. V. K. Suratt is an outsider but no stranger; he has already appeared briefly in Sartoris (by The Hamlet, his name will be V. K. Ratliff). Here, he is driving a wagon pulled by a mixed team. Buck Hipps is a congenial but tough man; he carries a pistol in his pocket and continually eats ginger snaps.

The setting, Frenchman’s Bend, is based on the region in and around Taylor, southeast of Oxford. One might consider the community the protagonist and Flem the antagonist. As elsewhere, Faulkner effectively blends violence with robust humor. The horse auction and the farmers’ attempts to claim their purchases cause inconvenience, injury, and property damage. Faulkner based the story on a real-life incident that had happened in Ripley. As a boy, after outgrowing his pony, Faulkner himself had purchased and tamed one of these very horses; it became his first horse.