Places Discussed

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Yoknapatawpha County

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Yoknapatawpha County (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Fictional county in northwestern Mississippi that Faulkner called his “little postage stamp of native soil.” By the time Faulkner wrote Absalom, Absalom! he had used this setting in five novels. For this novel, however, he drew a map of the county on which he identified places used in both this and the earlier novels. Faulkner gave the county an area of 2,400 square miles and a population of 6,298 white residents and 9,313 black residents. With the Tallahatchie River serving as the northern boundary, the Yoknapatawpha River—an old name for the actual Yocona River—as the southern boundary, Yoknapatawpha bears a remarkable resemblance to, but is not identical with, Mississippi’s real Lafayette County.

Jefferson

Jefferson Yoknapatawpha’s fictional county seat, is likewise patterned after Oxford; however, Faulkner also includes a town called “Oxford” in the novel. A rural, agricultural county with a large number of plantations, including Sutpen’s Hundred, Yoknapatawpha is a miniature of the South during the nineteenth century. Amid a society permeated with racial prejudice and class consciousness, the character Thomas Sutpen is both spurred toward his goal and denied the opportunity for success. Despite his efforts to achieve respectability, most members of Jefferson’s aristocracy regard him as an outsider and fail to recognize that he mirrors the flaws of their society.

Sutpen’s Hundred

Sutpen’s Hundred (SUHT-penz). Plantation built by Thomas Sutpen on a “hundred square miles of some of the best virgin bottom land in the country.” Having failed in an earlier attempt in the West Indies to achieve his “design,” Sutpen purchases land from a local Chickasaw chief. With the help of a French architect and slave labor, he ruthlessly sets out to establish a dynasty in Yoknapatawpha County. He spends two years building his mansion, leaves it unfinished and unfurnished for three years, and finally completes it in time for his marriage to Ellen Coldfield. It serves as the setting for the major actions of the story. Although the house is unquestionably grand in its early days, the various narrators of the novel focus on its later rotting, decaying, desolate stage with “its sagging portico and scaling walls, its sagging blinds and blank-shuttered windows.” The house clearly symbolizes Sutpen’s failed dream and the fallen South. When it finally goes up in flames, years after Sutpen’s death, Sutpen’s only living descendant, the idiot Jim Bond, “howls” about the place.

*West Virginia

*West Virginia. Originally part of Virginia, West Virginia became a state in 1863. Sutpen is born in a primitive farm society of the region’s mountains in 1807. During his first ten years he lives there with no real awareness of racial prejudice and class distinctions. His earliest years contrast sharply with his later experiences.

*Virginia

*Virginia. When Sutpen’s family moves from the mountains into Virginia’s tidewater region, the ten-year-old Sutpen encounters the aristocratic southern social code in a humiliating experience that changes his life. Sent as a messenger to the home of a wealthy plantation owner, he is told by the black servant to go around to the back of the house. From his experience in this society, Sutpen formulates his “design”—his plan to gain, through whatever means necessary, the possessions and position in society to prevent ever being similarly humiliated again.

*Harvard University

*Harvard University. Prestigious institution of higher learning in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although Mississippi is the setting for most of Sutpen’s story, the last half of the novel is narrated by Jefferson native Quentin Compson and Shreve McCannon, his Canadian roommate at Harvard. In a cold dormitory room far from his Jefferson home, Quentin tries to come to terms with his feelings about the South as he and Shreve piece together Sutpen’s story. His confusion and intense feelings about his place of birth are reflected in his response to Shreve’s asking him why he hates the South. He quickly responds that he does not hate it; however, his subsequent reiterated thoughts clearly reflect his anguished ambivalence: “I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!”

*Haiti

*Haiti. West Indian island nation ruled by descendants of African slaves and the site of Sutpen’s first failure to achieve his design. As a young man Sutpen emigrates to Haiti. Amid a slave insurrection, he heroically helps a landowner save his plantation and subsequently wins the hand of the man’s daughter, who then bears him a son. Soon thereafter Sutpen discovers that his wife has African blood and renounces her and all the possessions he has gained through his marriage. The romanticized land of promise has left him bereft, and his only hope is to start anew elsewhere.

*Oxford

*Oxford. Site of the University of Mississippi, where Sutpen’s two sons, Henry Sutpen and Charles Bon, meet. The university atmosphere enables them to become close friends despite Charles’s being ten years older.

Historical Context

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The Civil War Aftermath
Almost one-third of the southern men who went to fight in the Civil War (1861–1865) died, and almost as many suffered serious injuries. Because slaves were available to perform work, nearly eighty percent of eligible (by age and health status) white southern men were able to fight in the Civil War. They all brought home emotional, if not physical, scars. During the war, thousands of refugees in the South, black and white, lost everything they owned and faced uncertainty and terror about the future. Many families were forced to seek ways to get by without their fathers, husbands, and brothers to support them. Children who grew up without men in their families felt incomplete, and they often grew up thinking that they could never achieve the bravery and nobility of their fallen relatives.

To make matters worse, the South was in financial ruin at the end of the war. Railroads, manufacturing equipment, farm machinery, and livestock were destroyed. The destruction was so severe that industry in the South was set back a full generation. During Reconstruction (1865–1877), the North and South struggled to come to terms with the new legal and social parameters of the nation. The central concerns of the Reconstruction Period were: defining the relationship between the former North and the former South; determining who was responsible for the Confederate rebellion and whether punishment was in order; deciding which rights would be granted to former slaves; and conceiving a recovery plan for the southern economy. The transition was tense and arduous because Southerners were angry and uncooperative in the wake of their defeat. Memorials to the war in the South were slow coming, but, in time, Southerners renewed their sense of regional pride.

Southern Social Life
In the South, gender roles were specific and were taught at an early age. According to Encyclopedia of American Social History, a young man in the North entered adulthood by undertaking religious training or an apprenticeship and by reading works by English moralists, while young men in the South read traditional courtly works and planned their futures with a focus on the land. Young southern men demonstrated their manhood to their families by working hard to show that they would be good providers for their future families. Social structure and habits in the South were rooted in chivalry and hierarchy, and the prevailing code of honor sometimes included the aristocratic tradition of dueling. In contrast, the ideology of the North was based on ethics and conscience. The courtly foundation of many southern traditions extended to its treatment of women. Women were regarded as delicate creatures to be admired for their beauty and grace. They were expected to avoid competition and to prepare for romantic, submissive love relationships with their future husbands. Young people were taught to respect their elders, a characteristic exhibited by Quentin when he insists that Shreve refer to Rosa as “Miss Rosa,” not as “Aunt Rosa” or as an “old dame.”

During the Civil War, women were given an opportunity to be more independent and to adopt formerly masculine roles as nurses, factory workers, farmers, and clerks. At the end of the war, however, women returned to their positions as domestic figures, except that their status was reduced because of the absence of slaves. Now, women were expected to do more work in their homes and to occupy the most submissive position in the house.

Although their duties were concentrated on domestic affairs and their power was non-existent, southern women symbolized the virtue and goodness of the South. When men returned from the war, they depended on their women to provide reassurance and comfort. The southern patriarchy quickly reestablished itself, and the women were integral in helping men recover from the horrors of war and the humility of defeat.

Naturalistic and Symbolistic Period in American Literature
The Naturalistic and Symbolistic Period in American Literature extended between 1900 and 1930. Early in the century, the country witnessed a rise in journalistic exposés, and a movement toward unflinching realism in literature was seen in the works of Henry James, Theodore Dreiser, and Jack London. After World War I came the emergence of the Lost Generation, a group of writers disillusioned by American idealism. These writers longed for something new and innovative and found it in French symbolists like James Joyce and Marcel Proust. They rejected many aspects of American culture, in some cases creating a new polished style of writing, in other cases writing satire, and in still other cases recalling simpler times in American history when society was more structured and had a sense of tradition. In this last group were many prominent southern writers, including Faulkner.

Setting

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Absalom, Absalom! is set in the fictional city of Jefferson, Mississippi, and in Yoknapatawpha County, the setting of fourteen other novels by Faulkner as well as for many of his short stories. Faulkner knew the setting well because he fashioned Jefferson after the Mississippi town of Oxford where he grew up. He thus provides detailed descriptions of the plantation houses, the run-down shacks of the tenant farmers, the rivers, the railroads, and the dirt roads. By the time Faulkner wrote Absalom, Absalom!, his vision of this mythic world he created was complete. He includes a map of the county as well as a chronology of historical events and a genealogy of the characters, all of which bring the county to life as a real place in the American South and an appropriate setting for Faulkner's analysis of Southern culture and ideals.

Faulkner's realism is convincing because he details the county's past as well as its present to give his story historical perspective. Readers know the roads the characters traveled and the houses in which they lived, but they also know the history of those roads and those houses. Faulkner details the setting so well that readers become immersed in Yoknapatawpha County; they can almost feel the muggy weather and see the run-down plantation houses. The map of the county gives locations to the events that occur in all the books in his Yoknapatawpha series. True to Faulkner's vision of making his story a living legend, Yoknapatawpha County epitomizes the mythical South.

Literary Style

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Narrative Structure
Absalom, Absalom! is considered to be one of Faulkner’s most difficult novels because of its complex narrative structure. In a sense, the story becomes part of an oral tradition among the residents of Jefferson and, as Shreve becomes involved, people living beyond Jefferson. Many of Faulkner’s characteristic structural innovations are employed in Absalom, Absalom!, such as long sentences, flashbacks, and multiple points-ofview describing the same events. Because the narrative structure is so unusual, the reader is kept off balance from the opening pages to the end of the novel and must learn how to read it as the book unfolds.

There are four characters narrating the story, and a fifth omniscient narrator also occasionally speaks to the reader. The challenge is often determining who is speaking at any given time because Faulkner switches from narrator to narrator without always signifying the change. The reader must be particularly adept in chapter five when the narration switches between Quentin and Shreve and then back to Quentin as he tries imagining how Shreve would tell the story. Further, the novel’s overall design is not clear until the end of the book. There is no introductory paragraph to provide a framework for the reader. Instead, the book begins with Rosa talking to Quentin with Quentin wondering why she called for him. This lack of context is very perplexing to readers, and navigating the headwaters of the novel requires a great deal of effort. Additionally, readers expect a novel to start at the beginning of a story and move through a se- ries of events toward a satisfying end. In Absalom, Absalom!, however, there is no true beginning or end, so the reader must submit to hearing each narrator’s version of the same story and come to understand what the story means on individual and social levels.

Of the four characters who narrate the story, none of them is completely reliable. Each has his or her own bias, and it is up to the reader to determine what the biases are and how they affect the telling of the story. In her old age, Rosa experiences the memory of the events differently than she experienced the events when they happened. For this reason, she is an unreliable narrator. Mr. Compson knows the story from his father, who admired and respected Sutpen. This, coupled with the fact that Mr. Compson did not witness the events of the story himself, makes him an unreliable narrator. Quentin is even further removed from the story than his father is, and he seeks answers to some of life’s big questions, so he is also unreliable. Shreve is not invested in the story at all and hears the story after it has come through various people’s biases (General Compson’s, Mr. Compson’s, Rosa’s, and Quentin’s), so he is also unreliable. Many critics note that because of the burden on the reader, he or she essentially becomes a narrator, hearing the story numerous times and being forced to make assumptions about missing or conflicting information.

Faulkner also tends to mention new characters in passing, as if the reader knows who they are. Not until later does the reader learn how they fit into the overall story and structure. Then, the reader struggles to recall what was said earlier in the novel about the various members of the growing cast of characters.

Regionalism
Absalom, Absalom! is regional in scope although its themes extend well beyond the South. Except for the room that Quentin and Shreve share at Harvard (where they sit and tell the story of Sutpen), all the action of the novel takes place in the South; the concerns of the characters are confined to the small southern town of Jefferson, Mississippi. Although there are no dialects, the novel portrays the manners, habits, and lore of the South. As with any truly regional novel, Absalom, Absalom! would not work in any other setting. Its characters would not be believable in another geographic area, and its depiction of the consequences of slavery is unique to the South.

Literary Devices
Faulkner employs a variety of literary techniques throughout Absalom, Absalom!, notably several significant instances of irony. He uses irony when Rosa speaks of Henry’s murder of Charles as being almost fratricide. (She is not aware that the two men were half-brothers.) Another instance of irony is when, after all his failed efforts to be accepted by Sutpen as his son, Charles is buried in the family graveyard. Another even more disturbing example of irony is the fact that Charles, who has black ancestry, fights as an officer for the Confederacy.

A simile appears near the beginning of the novel where Faulkner writes that Sutpen came upon “a scene peaceful and decorous as a schoolprize water color.” And, describing Quentin, Faulkner employs a metaphor, noting that

his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth. He was a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts still recovering.

Through various literary techniques, Faulkner creates a mythic atmosphere for Sutpen’s saga. The reiteration of the story is reminiscent of the legends and folktales kept alive by oral tradition. Rosa describes Sutpen in supernatural terms including ogre, djinn, fiend, and demon. In fact, she believes that his evil is so intense that he brings curses on those with whom he comes in contact. In this way, Sutpen becomes almost a supernatural figure. Further, the grand scale and headstrong ambition of Sutpen’s plans align him with mythical and heroic figures.

Biblical and classical allusions appear throughout the novel. Ellen is likened to Niobe, a character in Greek mythology who is turned to stone while weeping for her children. Rosa is compared to Cassandra, the daughter of the King of Troy who possessed prophetic powers, according to Greek mythology. The book’s title is a biblical reference to David’s mournful cry at the death of his son Absalom.

Literary Qualities

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Absalom, Absalom! is a difficult book for some readers because Faulkner uses a technique called circumlocution to convey his story. Rather than tell his story from beginning to end in chronological order, he relates each event piecemeal and at different points in time. When a plot structure is circular rather than linear, readers often have a difficult time piecing together the entire story, and in this novel Faulkner makes this piecing together more difficult by using four separate narrators. In order for each narrator to tell their side of the tale, each must return to the same parts of the story the other narrators have already related.

The use of multiple viewpoints adds complexity to a story that is full of complexities itself. Because each narrator injects their personal opinions and prejudices into their story, none of them can be considered reliable, and readers must therefore distinguish fact from opinion. Readers must also understand that none of the narrators has all of the information pertinent to the story available to them, and that much of the information they do have is simply hearsay. Though readers gradually become aware of facts and events, they must take the emotions of each narrator into account as well as attempt to understand their motivation for telling the tale as they do. Faulkner's use of multiple narrators certainly adds depth to his characters, but it disrupts the chronology of the Sutpen story. While Faulkner's lengthy sentences serve to further complicate the story, it has been suggested that these lengthy sentences also help establish the time continuum as well as convey the complex nature of re-creating true accounts of times past.

The concept of time assumes primary importance in the novel, for Faulkner believed it was essential to create a vivid picture of the past. Because the Sutpen story so absorbed the people of Yoknapatawpha County, Faulkner wanted to establish the story as legend, and in order to do so he had to give his story a strong historical perspective. One way Faulkner accomplishes this is by telling the entire tale in the first chapter. This placed the story in the past right away and gave it credibility as an established myth. None of the narrators knows all of the facts of the Sutpen story because the events happened long ago and because each of them is affected by events in different ways. Only Faulkner, as author, knows the facts, so he uses omniscient narration in the first chapter to reveal them. He outlines the events as they happened, then allows the four narrators to embellish the events and thus establish a mythic tone. It is only after the story is told and the basic facts of the story are revealed that Faulkner allows his four narrators to repeat the tale and inject their own interpretations into the telling. This repetition and interpretation of the story helps characterize it as legend. Readers understand that, in Yoknapatawpha County, the Sutpen story has been accepted as true, ingrained in the minds of the people, and re-interpreted over time in many ways.

Faulkner's frequent use of literary references also helps to establish a mythic tone. The title Absalom, Absalom! refers to the biblical story of David and Absalom, related in the Book of Samuel, which, like Faulkner's story, deals with the themes of incest and murder and relates the moralistic message that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." Biblical references permeate the novel, as do age-old themes such as guilt and injustice, which are critical to the literary interpretation of the novel as a legend from the South. But the fact that Faulkner uses the story as a complex metaphor is just as significant to its literary interpretation; for the rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen is analogous to the rise and fall of the South.

The history of the Sutpen family is analogous to the history of the South in that Thomas Sutpen pretends to uphold the values of the South, yet he epitomizes its moral degeneration. Sutpen dedicates himself to his "design" and creates a dynasty based on his obsession with creating a perfect, ordered world. This clearly parallels the dedication of the Confederacy to create a perfect, ordered South. Both Sutpen and the Confederacy strove to establish their own sense of greatness, yet both sacrificed human concerns in the process. Sutpen's design, by nature, dooms its creator to failure. Working to preserve his own honor and his own freedom, Sutpen, like the Confederacy, winds up epitomizing the dishonorable slaveholder and symbolizing the injustices carried out in the Antebellum South.

In the volumes of criticism that have been written about Absalom, Absalom!, the Sutpen story emerges not only as a metaphor for the Southern experience but as a metaphor for the process of writing fiction. Faulkner pieces together fragments of gossip and creates a viable tale. The fact that Faulkner uses bits and pieces of information, most of them hearsay, makes readers question the possibility of interpreting history and producing a viable account of the past. Indeed, the job of any author or storyteller involves the tasks of interpreting information and ordering facts. Faulkner seems to challenge his narrators, and his readers, to do this as well. Then, too, by challenging them to create something believable out of things they do not know to be true, Faulkner not only challenges them to assign meaning to a sequence of events but to question the reliability of history in the first place.

Social Sensitivity

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The plot of Absalom, Absalom! focuses on so many sensitive situations that the story seems almost too sensational to be true. However, each of the themes in Faulkner's masterpiece have existed in human societies throughout history. Faulkner deals with lust, greed, incest, miscegenation, discrimination, slavery, and murder, all of which have been considered sins and have caused societal upheavals. Faulkner's characters profess to uphold the ideals set forth for a Southern society, yet they expose Southern society as a place of hypocrisy. Jefferson, Mississippi, as a representative of the South in general, emerges as a place where those who fought to create a grand society did so by committing heinous crimes against humanity and thus betrayed the very values they strove to uphold.

One of the hypocrisies Faulkner reveals is that Southern societies profess to value a strong sense of family, yet they forfeit family readily in favor of upholding some predetermined social structure. They let community values rule their thinking and undermine their regard for human feelings. The fact that Henry was willing to condone incest, yet killed to prevent miscegenation, reveals the nature of this social structure as one based on hatred and illustrates Faulkner's staunch criticism of the segregation and discrimination that permeated Southern society during the Civil War era. Even more telling is the fact that Sutpen, who claims to be a "Southern gentleman," denies his own blood in order to carry forth his design. Charles Bon did not fit into the design because he was part black, even though he was one of Sutpen's sons. Image was more important than family, and morality, tolerance, and even human kindness simply got in the way of creating a "perfect" society, or a perfect design.

An examination of the significance of "Sutpen's design" forces an evaluation of humanitarian ethics. The controversy surrounding slavery dominated the South and Faulkner outlines the evils that result from the Southerners' inhumane treatment of black people. The slave owners in the novel are particularly cruel. Thomas Sutpen engages in savage fights with his slaves, and thus he not only condones racism but treats his black slaves as beasts. If the act of denying Charles Bon is viewed as an analogy for the act of denying Southern Negroes, then this one incident serves as the pivotal incident that illustrates Faulkner's condemnation of Southern morals. Thomas Sutpen, as the stereotypical "Southern gentleman," violated the very structure he claimed to create, and thus Sutpen's design was doomed to failure.

Compare and Contrast

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1800s: Heroes are drawn from legends and from stories of people (usually men) demonstrating great bravery and wisdom.

1900s: Heroes are often men who figured prominently in the Civil War, such as Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. Often, soldiers, returning to their hometowns after the war, become local heroes.

Today: Heroes are more often celebrities than historical figures, and hero status is more a product of success than of bravery. Professional athletes, captains of industry, and entertainers are most often named as heroes. A person who commits an act of courage is often a hero for a short while, usually because of press coverage. The effect of the media on hero status is profound; few people who remain out of the public eye are idolized as heroes.

1800s: Social status is primarily the product of lineage. In early America, social status often dictates marriage choices, occupational decisions, and political affiliation.

1900s: Social status is the product of lineage and wealth. In the South, where many “respectable” families fall on hard economic times, the ability to build wealth brings more social influence.

Today: Social status is primarily the product of wealth. While there are privileged “dynasties” in some major cities, anyone who can acquire enough wealth can move up in society. Social status, however, is less a determining factor in people’s lives than it was in the past.

1800s: Slavery provides the backbone of economics in the South. Slaves are the source of labor for everything from farming to domestic duties.

1900s: With the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, slavery is outlawed. Slaves are given their freedom, but their struggles are far from over as they seek to support themselves and their families in a culture that fears and despises them. Racism is harsh and overpowering.

Today: African Americans continue to grapple with the pain, injustice, and indignity of their history in America. Although the civil rights movement of the 1960s made great strides for minorities in terms of rights and liberties, racism is still a divisive force that serves as a grim reminder of the past.serves as a grim reminder of the past.

Media Adaptations

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Audio adaptations of Absalom, Absalom! have been made by Everett/Edwards in 1977 and Books on Tape in 1993.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources
Brooks, Cleanth, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, Yale University Press, 1963.

Caesar, Judith, “Patriarchy, Imperialism, and Knowledge,” in North Dakota Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 4, Fall 1994–1995, pp. 164–74.

“Manners and Etiquette,” in Encyclopedia of American Social History, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993.

Millgate, Michael, The Achievement of William Faulkner, Constable, 1966.

Minter, David, American Writers, Retrospective Supplement, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998.

Further Reading
Backman, Melvin, Faulkner, The Major Years: A Critical Study, Indiana University Press, 1966. Backman reviews Faulkner’s major writing, both novels and short stories, and provides a critical overview of the author’s development and contribution to American letters.

Brooks, Cleanth, William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond, Yale University Press, 1978. Respected literary critic Cleanth Brooks focuses on Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha stories, exploring why they are important to Faulkner’s writing as a whole and what importance they have in the American literary tradition. Brooks evaluates early influences and innovations made by Faulkner over the course of his writing career.

Cowley, Malcolm, ed., The Portable Faulkner, Viking, 1946. When Cowley, a literary historian and poet, collected Faulkner’s writing in this volume, he renewed interest in Faulkner at a time when Faulkner’s work was being neglected and narrowly categorized as regional writing. Critics often note that many of Faulkner’s novels had gone out of print prior to the publication of Cowley’s collection.

Edenfield, Olivia Carr, “‘Endure and Then Endure’: Rosa Coldfield’s Search for a Role in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!,” in Southern Literary Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, Fall 1999, pp. 59–70. Edenfield examines Rosa Coldfield’s quest for a feminine role in Faulkner’s novel.

Faulkner, William, Collected Stories, Random House, 1950. This volume collects Faulkner’s short stories. It has been reprinted over the years for its value to students of Faulkner.

———, A Fable, Random House, 1954. This is the novel for which Faulkner was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1955.

———, The Reivers, Random House, 1962. This is the novel for which Faulkner won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize.

———, William Faulkner’s Speech of Acceptance Upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Delivered in Stockholm, 10th December 1950, Chatto and Windus, 1951. This booklet contains Faulkner’s memorable and moving acceptance speech upon winning the Nobel Prize for literature.

Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate, eds., Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926–1962, Random House, 1968. This collection of interviews contains the reclusive author’s views on literature and a variety of other subjects.

Bibliography

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Suggested Readings

Backman, Melvin. Faulkner, the Major Years: A Critical Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966.

Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1974. A lengthy biography of William Faulkner’s life and work. Shows how Absalom, Absalom! evolved to become what Blotner considers Faulkner’s most important and ambitious contribution to American literature.

Brooks, Cleanth. “History and the Sense of the Tragic.” In William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963.

Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1978. The appendices are an especially valuable aid. One essay discusses Brooks’s answer to the question of how typical Thomas Sutpen is of the “Southern planter.” Another focuses on the narrative structure of the novel.

Ladd, Barbara. “The Direction of the Howling’: Nationalism and the Color Line in Absalom, Absalom!American Literature 66, no. 3 (September, 1994): 525-551.

Leary, Lewis. William Faulkner of Yoknapatawpha County. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1973. Chapter 5 describes Absalom, Absalom! as disclosing the way history is made and legends develop. Cites examples of how Thomas Sutpen’s story emerges as a jigsaw puzzle, as various narrators’ contributions finally fit together to disclose a design.

Minter, David. William Faulkner: His Life and Work. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. Provides a context for the writing of Absalom, Absalom! Identifies the force of the novel as emerging from entangled relationships among generations of “doomed” families, races, and sexes. Discusses relationships between the narrators’ stories and their lives.

Poirier, Richard. “Strange Gods’ in Jefferson, Mississippi: Analysis of Absalom, Absalom!” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Absalom, Absalom!”: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Arnold Goldman. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971.

Volpe, Edmond L. A Reader’s Guide to William Faulkner. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1964. An earlier treatment of Faulkner’s novels, this volume remains valuable. Sections on narrative structure and technique as well as on key characters. Contains a genealogy and a helpful chronology of events.

For Further Reference

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Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1974. In addition to presenting detailed coverage of Faulkner's career, this biography discusses the production of Absalom, Absalom! and its importance to the body of American literature.

Gray, Richard. The Life of William Faulkner: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. Written by a noted Faulkner scholar, this work contains a detailed discussion of Faulkner's use of setting, his creation of Yoknapatawpha County, and his treatment of historical time.

Minter, David. William Faulkner: His Life and Work. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. Minter gives critical insight into Absalom, Absalom! by discussing how the narrators' lives relate to their perceptions of the Sutpen story and how relationships between different races and sexes characterize the novel's themes.

Parker, Robert D. Absalom, Absalom!: The Questioning of Fictions. Hall, G. K. & Company, 1991. This critical study includes a chapter-by-chapter analysis of the novel which helps students understand the complexities of the story. The book also discusses in detail the roles of each of the narrators, the twists in the plot, the role of history in Absalom, Absalom!, and the novel's literary importance. It includes an outline of the novel's narrative structure and a chronology of Faulkner's life.

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