Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 143

A primary theme of William Faulker's Soldiers' Pay is war and the irreparable damage it causes.

Another theme along these lines is present as well—personal conflict/inner turmoil. In a post-war world, where many key values and sources of hope have been destroyed, the characters of Soldiers' Pay struggle...

(The entire section contains 429 words.)

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A primary theme of William Faulker's Soldiers' Pay is war and the irreparable damage it causes.

Another theme along these lines is present as well—personal conflict/inner turmoil. In a post-war world, where many key values and sources of hope have been destroyed, the characters of Soldiers' Pay struggle to recreate these values and discover their own senses of meaning.

Faulker also focuses on the disillusionment that follows the war. Hope and optimism died along with millions of people during the war, and the characters struggle to not only come to terms with these losses but to find purpose in the post-war world.

The most important theme in Soldiers' Pay is faith, which is presented in many forms. For some characters, their faith is restored through religion. For others, they find faith in what remains after the war and strive to rebuild.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 286

Soldiers’ Pay portrays a world forever changed by the war, a world in which sustaining illusions have been shattered and old certainties dissolved. As in Eliot’s The Waste Land, the April of Soldiers’ Pay is a cruel month, a season of false renewal (the hollow Easter “resurrection” of Donald Mahon), unfulfilled desire (the breach between Margaret and Gilligan), and displaced sexuality (personified in Januarius Jones). Faulkner’s principal theme, however, is not the complete absence of meaning and the continual presence of despair, a fashionable theme of the 1920’s, but rather “the human heart in conflict with itself” (in Faulkner’s famous Nobel Prize formulation), the necessity of each individual’s struggle to create meaning in the absence of transcendental values. Though God may be dead, the eternal human verities of compassion, courage, pity, endurance, and sacrifice remain.

Faulkner’s concern for the individual’s struggle is reflected in the novel’s structure: At the center is Donald Mahon, and the novel unfolds according to a series of personal responses to him. The characteristic movement of each response is toward disillusionment. Though painful and enervating, disillusionment is a necessary prelude to a full and mature acceptance of self, nature, and society.

Moreover, the novel moves beyond despair in its richly comic and nonrealistic elements, in the festivity and symbolic resonances of its language, and in its final reference to an enduring black community, united in its faith in God. Though they feel the dust in their shoes, Gilligan and the Rector are fully responsive to the black congregation’s singing, to their expression of “all the longing of mankind for a Oneness with Something, somewhere,” and the novel makes it clear that they will endure.

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