Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1048

Intruder in the Dust is an excellent introduction to William Faulkner’s numerous and complex novels of the Deep South. Set in Faulkner’s mythical Yoknapatawpha County, his standard fictional location, Intruder in the Dust also includes such familiar inhabitants as attorney Gavin Stevens and farmer Carothers Edmonds. This novel, however, includes only a few examples of such famous Faulknerian stylistic devices as elongated, periodic sentences, disconnected narratives, multiple narrative perspectives, psychological time, and stream of consciousness. While the very substance of The Sound and the Fury (1929), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Light in August (1932), and As I Lay Dying (1930) consists of these variations in style or form, Intruder in the Dust (except for Chick Mallison’s meditations and flashbacks) is a relatively straightforward narration. Faulkner novels typically use parable and folklore as a basis for forming a vision of life as a neurotic and involved psychological process. Intruder in the Dust, however, blends folklore and parable with a formula mystery story and strikes a much simpler note than most of Faulkner’s work.

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Aspects of folklore permeate Intruder in the Dust. Faulkner’s panorama of rural local color includes a generous sampling of cracker-barrel philosophers, bigoted rednecks, mischievous and shoeless youngsters, and fading ladies of breeding long past their prime. The plot crackles with anecdotes, bits of country wisdom, humor, and superstition. It is thematically enriched by Stevens’s philosophical speeches. After Chick, Aleck, and Miss Habersham discover that Vinson Gowrie’s grave contains the body of Jake Montgomery, Intruder in the Dust becomes a highly suspenseful mystery story, with Sheriff Hampton and Stevens solving the crime in barely enough time to prevent Lucas Beauchamp from being lynched by a mob far more interested in violence than justice.

The novel also contains several parables, one of which is a southern version of the biblical Cain and Abel story. The brothers Vinson and Crawford Gowrie join forces in several business ventures, including timber dealing. Crawford, increasingly greedy for his own profits, steals timber from his brother and sells it to the shady Jake. When Lucas sees Crawford stealing the timber and threatens to expose him, Crawford kills his brother in a way that makes Lucas appear to be the murderer. Crawford relies on the townspeople’s readiness to blame a black man for the murder of a white man. Much like Mink Snopes in Faulkner’s The Hamlet (1940), Crawford learns too late that violence, instead of eradicating problems, creates more violence and eventually one’s downfall. Truth simply will not stay buried, Faulkner seems to be saying. In a hair-raising midnight scene combining the best of Edgar Allan Poe and Raymond Chandler, plus his own inimitable sense of place and wry humor, the author has three very frightened individuals uncover the truth that frees Lucas.

Beyond the Cain and Abel story, Stevens’s speeches expand Intruder in the Dust into a parable about the people’s right to govern themselves. Some critics condemn Stevens’s rhetoric as the propaganda of an unfeeling and aristocratic bigot. While this interpretation holds some validity, Stevens is not a mouthpiece for Faulkner’s views; nor should Stevens’s pleadings, however prolix, be discounted. In the filibuster tradition of southern oratory, he articulates a code of noninterference, following Candide’s words of “till your own garden.” The intruder of the title may refer not only to those who open Vinson’s grave but also to “outlanders” who would dictate moral action to these people. With their own sense of justice, the southerners close this incident in their own way. They come to realize that Lucas has little to do...

(The entire section contains 1048 words.)

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