William Faulkner Faulkner, William (Vol. 14)

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Faulkner, William 1897–1962

Faulkner, an American novelist, short story writer, and poet, is considered one of the greatest writers America has produced. Although a variety of attitudes and themes are evident in his work, Faulkner is best known as the chronicler of the decadent South. His genius transcends regionalism, however: in his evocation of the mythical Yoknapatawpha, Faulkner's brilliant narrative technique, complexity of characterization, and innovative use of time sequence mark him as a major figure in American letters. Twice the recipient of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Faulkner also received the Nobel Prize in 1950. See also William Faulkner Criticisim (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 8, 9, 11, 18.

John T. Irwin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

My sense of the relationship between Faulkner, Freud, and Nietzsche is that they were writers who addressed themselves to many of the same questions, and that at numerous point their works form imaginative analogues to one another. (pp. 2-3)

It is precisely because I understand Faulkner, Freud, and Nietzsche to be related specifically as writers that I treat the works of all three as literary texts whose implications are ultimately philosophical. (p. 3)

The figure of Quentin Compson—the narrator locked in an incestuous, suicidal struggle with his dark twin, the story—is the shadow that falls in one form or another across the works of most postwar American novelists; it is a presence, a pervasive influence that the novelist who aspires to major status must come to terms with. (p. 20)

Of the many levels of meaning in [Absalom, Absalom!], the deepest level is to be found in the symbolic identification of incest and miscegenation and in the relationship of this symbolic identification both to Quentin Compson's personal history in The Sound and the Fury and to the story that Quentin narrates in Absalom; Absalom! (pp. 25-6)

One reason that the voices of the different narrators sound so much alike is that we hear those voices filtered through the mind of a single listener: Quentin's consciousness is the fixed point of view from which the reader overhears the various narrators, Quentin included. Since Quentin is the principal narrative consciousness in Absalom, and since the story of the Sutpens contains numerous gaps that must be filled by conjecture on the part of the narrators, it is not surprising that the narrative bears a striking resemblance to Quentin's own personal history and that of his family…. This is not to imply that the factual similarities between the stories of the Sutpen and Compson families are a product of Quentin's imagination, but to point out that, given these similarities of fact, Quentin as creative narrator could easily presume similarity of motivation. It is a mutual process in which what Quentin knows of the motivations in his own family life illuminates the story of the Sutpens and, in turn, the events in the Sutpens' story help Quentin to understand his own experiences. (pp. 26-7)

Faulkner did not need to make Quentin Compson a narrator of Absalom, nor did he need to involve the Compson family in the story of the Sutpens. The fact that he did both indicates that what we know of Quentin Compson and his family from The Sound and the Fury is somehow material to the meaning of Sutpen's story…. [For] Quentin the objectification of subjective contents is an effort to give a personal obsession a more than personal significance.

To what extent, then, does the story that Quentin tells in Absalom resemble his own life story in The Sound and the Fury ? We noted first of all that Quentin's failure to kill Candace's seducer and thus fulfill the role of protective brother has its reverse image in Henry's murder of Bon to safeguard the honor of their sister. Also, Quentin's incestuous love for Candace is mirrored by Bon's love for Judith. That Quentin identifies with both Henry, the brother as protector, and Bon, the brother as seducer, is not extraordinary, for in Quentin's narrative they are not so much two separate...

(The entire section is 14,010 words.)