Before embarking on the core review of William Faulkner’s work, it would be better to add to Paquette’s (163) statement that literature has the power not only to influence history, but also to influence the society’s perception and way of life. Paquette (163) rightly alludes to the historical influence that the hardly schooled William Cuthbert Faulkner has left among the society of South America. Despite his humble background, Faulkner has received a lot of criticism from ardent historians from South America who perceive his works as extreme exaggerations and distortion the South America’s history.
William Faulkner and His Works
Faulkner rose from a hardly known humble family, residing in the poorest region of Mississippi, to a Nobel Prize-winning novelist of the nineteenth and twentieth century. William Faulkner was born as the child and son of Mr. Maud Butler Falkner and Mrs. Murry Falkner on the twenty-fifth day of September 1897 (University of Mississippi, 2012). Though named after his great-grandfather, it might be an overstatement to say that Faulkner inherited his writing genius from this old author of the best-selling novel, The White rose of Memphis.
Faulkner first launched his novel writing career in 1926 when he authored Soldier’s pay, a novelthat came as result of his real life experience in the brief tenure as Cadet in the British RAF. This first novel can also be attributed to the influence by his fellow writer and friend, Sherwood Anderson (Williamson, 5). Through closer work and guidance, Anderson later became the literary the mentor in Faulkner’s writing journey. The glaring domination of southern culture and life in Faulkner’s works is highly attributed to Anderson’s advice that he write on native region. Anderson takes a lot credit in the success of Faulkner’s works in the consideration that the first two novels had lesser literary weight compared to his South-based novels.
However, Falkner (the original spelling of his name) severally tested his writing abilities while at the University of Mississippi, where he published poems such as L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune and other short stories (Williamson, 189). These publications appeared in the Mississippian, the then campus’ newspaper. The magnitude by which Faulkner has influenced the literary world is quite incomprehensible bearing in mind his seemingly unreliable personality. Revisiting the early life of Faulkner portrays a man who hardly cares about graduating from any school or college. He chose to live a carefree lifestyle. The favor of getting a job as a postmaster, after successively dropping out of high school and from the university seems inadequate to make him a responsible postmaster (Williamson, 192).
After realizing his writing potential, Faulkner sunk into novel writing by releasing the second book titled Mosquitoes, in 1927. In this book, Faulkner expressed discontent with the New Orleans society and its culture. Two years later, he published his two novels, Sartoris and The Sound and the Fury, where he stylistically explored a single family and an idiot characters to reveal the gradual demise of a southern family that was once prominent (University of Mississippi, 2012).
Out of these first novels, Faulkner’s publication of the “The Sound and the Fury” marked his turning point after putting greater effort that was lacking in the first two. Even though the pressure almost sent him off the writing career, the completion of this novel gave him the highest point in the American literature between 1926 and 1936 (Williamson, 6). The greater motivation from that high productivity saw him publish several famous novels like As I Lay Dying (1930), A Rose for Emily (1930), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), Pylon (1935) and the 1936’s Absalom, Absalom!
Through the creative development and presentation of characters in these novels, Faulkner created an everlasting and controversial image of the Southern society and their culture. It is from the presentation of characters such as Dilsey Gibson, Thomas Sutpen, Jason, Quentin and Joe Christmas that the Southern historians, like Paquette, have criticized Faulkner for misrepresenting the south. Some of the critical historians consider Faulkner’s work as total distortion of the southerners’ image resulting from Faulkner’s discriminatory tendency (Paquette, 65).
In the same breadth that Faulkner influenced the historical impression of the south, he dedicated some parts of his work, Absalom, Absalom for instance,to the practice of reading and the readers’ interpretation of evidences to construct narratives from such readings. After realizing the difficulty in the understanding of this novel, Faulkner offered to help readers. At the end of the novel, he provided the genealogy of his characters to facilitate in understanding the chronology of the novel’s main events (University of Mississippi). This is a unique style of writing in the history of literature and as a pioneer, Faulkner goes further to provide a map of the novel’s Yoknapatawpha setting.
The list of Faulkner’s publications is endless. However, the life and influence of such works cannot be adequately felt without mentioning his Snopes trilogy based in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Faulkner launched his great attack on the rising middle class among the southerners. In this series of three books was started in 1940 when he published The Hamlet, which was then followed by The Town in 1957. The last book in the series came in 1950 when he published The Manson. In the whole of this series, Faulkner sought to express his disapproval of the middle class members of the society who disregards the Southern tradition and heritage (Williamson, 263).
Being a writer of the late nineteenth century and twentieth century, Faulkner dedicated his novels to the description of the prevailing conditions in his Southern homeland. Reading through Faulkner’s works shows greater illumination of various aspects of life and culture in this region. His powerful descriptions of the southerners have left a lasting image of a very poor and unhealthy population. These images, created by such descriptions, have elicited sharp and mixed reactions from several historians. While historians such as Williamson, Jonathan Wiener and Jack Temple affirm Faulkner’s depiction of the Southerners, others like Paquette refute and seek to ‘fix’ Faulkner’s deception (Paquette, 64).
The very obvious impact of Faulkner’s literary works have been ever rising number of historians seeking to refute some of the fallacies created in the South by Faulkner’s works. Paquette (163) affirms that William Faulkner had the greatest impact on South historians that has never been witnessed in any novelist across the globe.
Paquette (165) picks up issues with Faulkner’s choice of characters, mostly from the south. He points out that Faulkner’s characters are exact expression of his biasness towards class segregation. The physical descriptions of such characters have left a clear mark of class differences between the southerners and the people from other regions. Their frail stature sets them apart from others. The overall influence is the negative attitude of his readers towards the southerners. Faulkner finds it hard to associate the south with anything good.
Several excerpts from Faulkner’s are seen to be supporting social and racial discrimination. In the novel A Rose for Emily, he sounds to be against the marriage between Emily and a day laborer. He perceives Emily’s Marriage to this man as stooping to low than her social class (Robinette and Faulkner, 21). While introducing Joe Christmas as a main character in his Light in August, Faulkner fails to recognize Joe’s race but rather describe him as an orphaned child from uncertain racial background.
The unequal development of his characters points to his support for the class and social discrimination. Even after playing an equally important role in the novel A Rose for Emily, the manservant remains to be an insignificant figure in the eyes the author (Robinette and Faulkner, 5). Arguably, Faulkner considers such characters as unworthy of his attention or of being developed.
Additionally, Faulkner’s choice of language given to his characters speaks many class differences. He chooses to use improper English when depicting the poor Southerners, an act that changes to the perfect English when depicting the rich Southerners. Readers have therefore been made to embrace these class differences, where the poor are negatively treated as the rich gets the glory. Besides the choice of language, Faulkner’s choice of words explains the social segregation that readers associated with him. While describing the poor southerners he uses words like fat, gaunt, mountainous, drunk, anemic and plump.
On a lighter and positive note, Faulkner has not failed to acknowledge the beauty of natural landscape of native home. Through his artistic description of this southern landscape, Faulkner has worn affection of his readers to cherish and appreciate this beauty decorated by Appalachian Mountains. He strives sell the beauty of his homeland through the beautiful sceneries depicted in most of his books. The beautiful and natural landscape of the mythical Mississippi stands out in the minds of Faulkner’s readers as a product of his genius literary descriptions. In order to show concern for his homeland, Faulkner dedicates fourteen novels out his nineteen works to the people of the south and their culture.
In spite of all flaws and criticism that might be labeled against Faulkner’s works, the power of his literature stands out in the history and life of the South America and beyond. Faulkner is celebrated as having influenced the literary world enormously while continuously shaping the history of the Southerners, so many years after his death on the sixth day of July 1962.