Literary Techniques

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Faulkner plunges the reader deep into the minds of some characters, especially Temple and Horace. One result is to produce great sympathy for these disturbing characters. They suffer, grope toward the meanings of their suffering, miss those meanings, and suffer more. In the last chapter, Faulkner suggests that Popeye's life experience is similar to theirs.

This example illustrates one of the main characteristics of Faulkner's technique in Sanctuary. By means of style, the arrangement of incidents, the juxtaposition of images, and many other devices, he simultaneously repels and attracts the reader. For this reason, reading Sanctuary is a harrowing experience. While its popularity is partly explained by its sensational plot, that continued popularity over several decades seems mysterious in light of the abrasive reading experience it offers.

Social Concerns

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Sanctuary achieved a kind of notorious popularity, largely because of its controversial treatment of sexual themes in handling the abduction and rape of Temple Drake. But the novel shows much more serious concerns in its response to the sense of emptiness that many artists felt in the spiritual life of the West after World War I, echoing the despair of such major works as F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) and Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926). At the same time that it echoes a despairing world view, the novel also mocks the conventions and topics of popular fiction of the period: gothic romance, society romance, detective, crime, and thriller. One reason for this mockery is to undercut the various kinds of "easy" explanations such fictions frequently offer for social disorder and its solutions.

A central concern is how society deals with evil. The novel shows a variety of approaches to this problem, ranging from denial to corruption and from futile resistance to uncomfortable accommodation. Social institutions such as religion and the law are shown to be ineffectual at best, so that the novel seems to emphasize the importance of moral education and personal choice for the individual.

Literary Precedents

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Sanctuary, more than most of Faulkner's novels, draws heavily upon popular genres. Temple's story is a version of the story of the Gothic heroine from Horace Walpole to Stephen King. She moves from one Gothic mansion to another, from her dormitory at the University, to the decaying mansion of the Goodwin place, to the Victorian Memphis brothel, to the Jefferson courthouse. Popeye is almost a caricature of movie gangsters, and Horace tries to play the role of hard-boiled detective. The crisis of the novel takes place in a tense courtroom drama. There are elements of humor that recall Mark Twain and George Washington Harris as well as S. J. Perelman and Nathanael West. Andre Malraux said, "Sanctuary is the intrusion of Greek tragedy into the detective story."


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Sanctuary has been adapted twice for film: The Story of Temple Drake (1933) and Sanctuary (1961). According to Bruce Kawin, the earlier film is a serious attempt at adaptation bedeviled by the restrictions of the motion picture code. The later film combines Sanctuary with Requiem for a Nun to make a reasonably good adaptation of the whole Temple Drake story as Faulkner finally saw it in his sequel.




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