Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 430

Pylon is above all a study of human motivation, of the diverse mechanisms and drives that make people act as they do. These range from concrete, external circumstances to inner desires, compulsions, and obsessions, and they are all brought to bear on the specific character as he thinks, feels, and acts. Pylon especially investigates what might be termed the claims of “romance” or romantic glamour. They form an aura that surrounds the activity of flying, above all the competitive flying in air fairs. The principal characters in the book all feel the pull of this nongravitational force, which comes to alter and definitively change their lives. It assumes a different form depending on their specific personalities. With the opportunistic, cynical Jiggs, who counts his pennies, it is nevertheless potent; with Roger Shumann, it takes on an idealistic, aesthetic form; with LaVerne, it is associated with love; with the reporter Lazarus, it assumes the most extraordinary form of all—unbalanced, voyeuristic, totally impractical, and all-consuming.

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The primary tool for exploring these complex motivations is the novel’s style. With Faulkner, this is often close to the process of free association, but it is not chaotic or purposeless. On the contrary, the style always significantly advances the narrative at the same time that it renders the thought processes of the principal characters. This closeness to actual thought characterized the practice of modernists such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf during the period between the two world wars, but since 1946, this intimacy has been abandoned by most novelists in favor of a more formal point of view located in the middle distance. In Pylon and other novels by Faulkner during the same period, there is an impressive breadth in the presentation of character largely lacking in the post-World War II novel: a thought-for-thought, heartbeat-for-heartbeat intimacy with characters combined with an ability to step back, assume distance and a sweeping perspective, then once again to enter the thoughts of that character or another. Faulkner excels at this combination of amplitude and intimacy.

The technique of jumping in and out of different people’s thoughts can have drawbacks. The reader is sometimes lost, missing the firm hand of a considerate guide. Faulkner incorporates much of the complexity and some of the chaos of real life into his narrative; many readers do not seek these when they pick up a book. On the other hand, Pylon contains a living and breathing solidity and depth of meaning found in few other novels. After reading Faulkner, numerous readers will wish that other novelists were as daring as he.

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