Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 154

The Hamlet by William Faulkner is a book that has many southern jokes and metaphors that make it humorous. Despite the humor in it, Faulkner reveals a lot of suffering and sadness, as most of his characters are poor. The story is set towards the end of the nineteenth century...

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The Hamlet by William Faulkner is a book that has many southern jokes and metaphors that make it humorous. Despite the humor in it, Faulkner reveals a lot of suffering and sadness, as most of his characters are poor. The story is set towards the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century; Faulkner shows readers how black people and women were mistreated during that period. Furthermore, he focuses on themes such as antebellum aristocracy, which slowly fades away and is replaced by greedy people who are willing to exploit others for money.

The Hamlet is not a linear narrative. Instead, the author focuses on characterization and telling different stories; he later links them together. Faulkner constantly deviates from the main plot and gives in-depth descriptions of places, animals, and characters. For instance, he describes a character’s dog to the point that it stands out vividly in the story.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 736

Yoknapatawpha County

Yoknapatawpha County (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). County in Mississippi that resembles the region in northern Mississippi where Faulkner spent most of his life. Faulkner regarded his fictitious county (of which he called himself “sole owner and proprietor”) as a microcosm of the post-Civil War South. It is suffering through the disastrous legacy of slavery and, in a larger sense, is a microcosm of the entire world, with its lust, greed, exploitation, chicanery, violence, and endless struggle for existence.

Hamlet

Hamlet. Unnamed village of about three dozen dwellings; a general store; a cotton gin; a gristmill, which also serves as a blacksmith shop; a dilapidated one-room schoolhouse; a church; a livery barn; and a small hotel. Most businesses in this community and much of the surrounding farmland belong to Will Varner.

Frenchman’s Bend

Frenchman’s Bend. Plantation that before the Civil War was a single enormous farm worked by slaves. The plantation was destroyed by General Ulysses S. Grant’s army on his way to capture Vicksburg. After the war the plantation was subdivided into small farms, many of which are worked by sharecroppers. As in many of Faulkner’s novels, The Hamlet is haunted by a sense of the dramatic contrast between the past and present.

Old Frenchman’s place

Old Frenchman’s place. Great mansion that once stood like a feudal castle over the rich farmland, symbolizing the Old South. The name of the owner has been forgotten, and it is simply called the “Old Frenchman’s place.” The estate’s land is now “parcelled out . . . into small shiftless mortgaged farms for the directors of Jefferson banks to squabble over before selling finally to Will Varner.” Over the years the illiterate, indigent farmers of Frenchman’s Bend have stripped the stately building of its fences, banisters, oak floors, and outer walls for use as firewood. At night furtive figures can be seen digging around the ruin looking for the money the Frenchman reputedly buried before fleeing from Grant’s advancing army. Besides symbolizing the glory of the Old South, the Old Frenchman’s place plays an important role in Faulkner’s novel because it enables the hateful protagonist Flem Snopes to take the first major step in his rise from poverty to riches.

The people of Frenchmen’s Bend are tough because tough conditions make tough people. Cotton is king, but the one-crop economy is largely responsible for the general poverty. If crops are good, the price of a bale is driven down by the iron law of supply and demand. If the price of cotton is high in any given year, it is because crops are poor due to drought, floods, insect infestation, or other problems. In addition, the ignorant farmers are cheated by the local cotton buyer, Will Varner, who also forces them to buy their groceries and other necessities from his store. His prices are high, but his customers have nowhere else to go. They buy on credit and remain in debt all their lives. Most farmers and their wives and children go barefoot because they cannot afford shoes. They ride horses and mules in this era before the automobile.

Women have even harder lives than men here. They are dependent on the men and lack rights. Most are treated little better than farm animals. They are expected to bear large broods of children, who provide free labor for their husbands. The children grow up in the same ignorance and poverty that has kept their parents bound to the soil and enslaved to their creditors.

Racism is the norm: “There was not one negro landowner in the entire section. Strange negroes would absolutely refuse to pass through it after dark.” Lynchings and murders are commonplace. The male inhabitants are dangerous because most are embittered by toil and poverty. All possess guns and often enforce their own justice. They have been brutalized by hard, thankless, endless labor which profits other people and not themselves or their children.

All the inhabitants of Frenchman’s Bend take an interest in one another because there are no radios, no telephones, and not enough literacy to support a newspaper. Everybody knows everybody else’s business. Most conversation is gossip—but people express themselves in cautious circumlocutions and innuendo. The people’s characters, opinions, and modes of expression in Yoknapatawpha County have been shaped by the cruel, decaying environment in which they are forced to struggle for existence.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 223

Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1974. More of a vast collection of facts than a finely shaped biography, this study of Faulkner’s life and work contains perceptive observations on The Hamlet and its place in the Faulkner canon.

Greet, T. Y. “The Theme and Structure of Faulkner’s The Hamlet.” In William Faulkner: Three Decades of Criticism. Edited by Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga W. Vickery. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1960. A relatively brief but still useful overview of how Faulkner combined meanings and form in the novel.

Kenner, Hugh. A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974. The section on Faulkner places The Hamlet within the context of Faulkner’s own development as a writer and the range of modern American fiction.

Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. Its chapter on The Hamlet is a close reading of the intertwined themes of sex and economics as primal forces in human action and how they determine the actions of the characters in the novel.

Watson, James Gray. The Snopes Dilemma: Faulkner’s Trilogy. Coral Gables, Fla.: University of Miami Press, 1970. Argues persuasively that the heart of the Snopes trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion) is a conflict between moral verities and “amoral Snopesism.”

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