William Faulkner

William Faulkner (1897 – 1962) was an American author, who is best known for his novel The Sound and The Fury (1929). Faulkner is known for employing various narrative styles and for his rather complex prose. He is also known for utilizing a technique known as “stream of consciousness,” which was instigated by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Faulkner, like Woolf, belonged to the time period of Modern Literature, or Modernism in which concepts were heavily influenced by emotions and by matters pertaining to living matter, or humans. As the name of the technique suggests, works belonging to this genre typically explore the concept of consciousness and emotion as a whole. Furthermore, this style of writing focuses on expanding readers’ knowledge as to how our minds perceive the gargantuanly complex world in which we reside and morals relating to ubiquitous everyday situations. In Faulkner’s case, he focused on the American South in which he created the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, which was inspired by Lafayette County in Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. Yoknapatawpha County was featured in 14 out of his 19 novels. Some include The Sound and The Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), Sartoris (1929), and Sanctuary (1931). Faulkner himself even drew a map of the fictional county and pinpointed where each of his novels took place within. The following link is a recording of William Faulkner in which he pronounces “Yoknapatawpha” and explains the meaning behind the name of his fictitious county:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7lkDOvye34.

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William Faulkner was born William Cuthbert Falkner in Oxford, Mississippi in 1897. Faulkner was said to have been a prodigy or a genius of some sort and as such, some suspect he got bored due to being as intelligent as he was and consequently dropped out of school, thus meaning he never graduated high school or received a high school diploma. As a 12 year-old, Faulkner enjoyed reading and writing poetry immensely and began mimicking writers like Robert Burns and A.E. Housman. Furthermore, as a teenager, he was quite fond of drawing and would later go on to draw Jazz Age drawings and a map of his fictional county – both of which can be found online.

Faulkner’s writing career began in the early to mid-1920s and his works then deviated from what he is known for today; accurately depicting the American South through his works. At the start of his career, Faulkner would write about a trip to Paris, for instance. Fellow American writer and friend Sherwood Anderson advised Faulkner to write about Mississippi and the American South instead, as it was more familiar territory to be depicting or exploring.  From that blossomed Yoknapatawpha County in The Sound and The Fury in 1929.

The Sound and The Fury (1929) was not Faulkner’s first novel, but it is arguably one of his best known, if not his best known, novels due to the style of writing he employed, which consisted of several narrative shifts. This wasn’t always the case though. Several acclaimed authors nowadays were not as acclaimed when they first started out and that was the case here. Following the publishing of The Sound and The Fury, Faulkner didn’t receive much attention. That is, until he published Sanctuary in 1931, which he later stated was written for the sole purpose of making money due to having had little success prior to publishing Sanctuary. The Sound and The Fury garnered its name from a soliloquy, or monologue, from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow,

a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage

and then is heard no more.

It is a tale told by an idiot,

full of sound and fury,

signifying nothing.”

The novel is said to be incomprehensible or a bit jumbled, according to some readers. This is because Faulkner sometimes lacked punctuation, or unusual syntax structure, or utilized the stream of consciousness. The thing is, this was done deliberately. The three brothers in the story – Quentin, Benjy, and Jason – are the narrators and Benjy and Quentin are both fraught with ailments of some sort. Benjy has a mental disability and Quentin suffers from depression, which results in his committing suicide. In the case of the first two parts, which were narrated by Benjy and Quentin, the techniques or style of writing Faulkner used was deliberately implemented to align with their struggle by way of unconventional syntax or a lack of punctuation to match a state of depression through Quentin or to emphasize on the mental disability Benjy has, which does not enable him to fully process events and coherently string thoughts together. Benjy is linked to the Shakespearean soliloquy by way of the phrase, “It is a tale told by an idiot,” as that is how he is viewed as a result of his disability. In an earlier part of the Shakespearean soliloquy in Macbeth, it refers to death, which is seen through Quentin and his depression, which led to his committing suicide. The novel has various themes and depicts several events, such as the aftermath of the Civil War in which Southern Aristocratic families were falling apart. One major theme or recurring aspect of the novel and what makes it complex is the shift in narration and therefore, the use of various forms of language or expression – some of which are more coherent than others.  Time notably plays a large role, as it affects all three brothers in some way. Due to his disability, Benjy is unable to perceive or have any sense of time. Meanwhile, Quentin is practically imprisoned by the concept of time, as he is in a constant state of depression and is unable to let go of the past. Jason, who is known for his mean or rather bitter personality and for his capabilities to work without an ailment hindering him, views time to be an aspect that is to be used for personal gain; it is not to be taken for granted. He, unlike his brothers, focuses on the present and future, as he is not fraught with ailments of any sort. Readers are able to – if they can comprehend the text in the first place – to highlight to downfall of the Compson family as a result of circumstances and how each member has evolved and has influenced the other. The thing is, in Faulkner’s works, there are multiple themes and they are often debatable as a result of his style of writing that often shifts. Despite the fact that his writing is deliberately made all the more complex to an extent, that is one of many reasons Faulkner is as acclaimed as he is.

Why do I believe more people should read William Faulkner’s works? Well, first of all, I believe that it’s quite unfortunate that some of his works have long gone out of print or had been out of print for an extended period of time in the past. Furthermore, I cannot say that one is entirely wrong in shying away from what is made complex on purpose or made complex unintentionally even, but at the same time, that is one of the reasons one should not shy away in my opinion. Faulkner is arguably one of the most complex writers there are in contemporary times and I shall write more about him next week or at a later time because this is someone who deserves to be recognized for more than just his novels. The wisdom and rare interviews he left behind in records, alongside his legendary Nobel Prize speech have influenced several writers and have left a permanent mark on the literary world, as has Faulkner himself through his unique style of writing and complex integration of emotion in which readers are forced to immerse themselves in a unique way. For most of his life, he was neglected as a writer. Only after his death did he gain posthumous fame and was even considered to be “the most important American novelist of his generation and arguably of the entire 20th century.”

By Maya Abou El Nasr