Saturday, 7 June 2014

William Faulkner as a Novelist

SHUAIB ASGHAR
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
GOVT. RAZVIA ISLAMIA COLLEGE
HAROONABAD, PAKISTAN
 
William Cuthbert Faulkner, an American writer, worked in a variety of media; he wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays during his career. He is primarily known and acclaimed for his novels and short stories. He was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. Some of his great works are ‘The Sound and the Fury’, ‘As I Lay Dying’, ‘Sanctuary’, ‘Light in August’, ‘The Hamlet’, ‘The Wild Palms’, ‘Absalom Absalom’.

William was the eldest of the four children but he did not get on very well with his brothers, and these early disparities between him and his brothers caused his some anxieties which were aggravated by his father’s strange hostility to him. In the meantime, William’s father started drinking more heavily than before, with the result that William’s mother felt miserable though she did try to adjust herself to her husband’s drunkenness. However, there were some positive elements in William’s environment favoring the growth of his innate artistic tastes. There were his mother’s books by Conard, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Mark Twain, and his father’s western romances to read.

When he was seventeen, Faulkner met Philip Stone, who would become an important early influence on his writing. Stone was then four years his senior and came from one of Oxford's older families. He was passionate about literature and had already earned bachelor's degrees from Yale and the University of Mississippi. Stone read and was impressed by some of Faulkner's early poetry and was one of the first to discover Faulkner's talent and artistic potential. Stone became a literary mentor to the young Faulkner, introducing him to writers such as James Joyce, who would come to have an influence on Faulkner's own writing.

Faulkner’s Experiments With Form


Faulkner has made a number of experiments. Some of these include:

  1. his use of more or less incoherent narrators such as Benjy, Quentin, Darl, Rosa Coldfield, and Gavin Stevens;

  1. his disordered time sequence;

  1. his juxtaposition of largely independent stories;

  1. and his very long sentences which do not observe the laws of syntax.

Because of these experiments Faulkner is notoriously difficult, and has never attained widespread readership.

His Three Methods of Handling a Narrative


We may distinguish in his works three basic methods of handling a narrative.

1.    One is best typified in ‘Sanctuary’, where there is a tightly organized plot, laconic style, an objective presentation of characters. This is impersonal method.

2.    Another method is best typified by ‘As I Lay Dying’, or ‘The Sound and the Fury’, where each character unfolds the story in his own language (Stream of Consciousness). This may be regarded as dramatic method because the author here does not obtrude.

3.    The third method is best seen in the stories ‘Was’, and ‘The Bear’, where the organization of the narrative is episodic and a narrator’s presence is almost felt.

Faulkner’s Style


Faulkner does not begin his story at the beginning. Likewise, he does not use a straightforward method of relating the story. In other words, he will tell the reader a little about a certain event, and then he will drop it and later return to the event and tell the reader more and then drop it and then later return once more and tell more. During this technique of circumlocution (that is, a technique whereby the author approaches his material in circular movements rather than heading directly to the heart of the story), the reader gradually becomes aware of events, facts, motivations, and emotions.

It would be dangerous to go too rapidly into the story. If the sentences surround you and envelop you and entangle you in the story, this is Faulkner's method of making you become a part of the story. Faulkner's style has served its purpose: First, it held the reader back and confused him, and then gradually it brought the reader into the story so personally that he became one of the actors or participants.

Subjective Quality of His Work / Autobiographical Elements


Faulkner’s work proves to be extremely subjective. Faulkner admitted that ‘I am telling the same story over and over, which is myself and the world’. Later he said, ‘that’s all any writer ever does, he tells his own biography, talking about himself in a thousand different terms, but himself’. Faulkner knew that his fiction was all about Faulkner. Like so many writers, he was in one way or another many of his characters, from Julian Lowe to Bayard Sartoris, Quentin Compson, and Lucius Priest.

In ‘The Sound and the Fury’, Faulkner put a bit of himself into his portrayal of Benjy, much more of himself in his portrayal of Quentin, and something of his father in his portrayal of Jason. The failure of parents in this novel reflects Faulkner’s own feeling about the failure or at least inadequacy of his own parents. Caddy in this novel represents the sister whom Faulkner never had, but for whom he felt a great longing. The portrayal of Caddy filled the vacuum in Faulkner’s own heart. That was perhaps the reason why Faulkner, till the very end of his life, spoke of Caddy with deep affection. She was, he suggested, both ‘the sister of his imagination’ and ‘the daughter of his mind’.

Faulkner vs Hemingway


While they lived through the same time period, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway were two very different writers. Even to the simplest part of writing they're different. Faulkner wrote many long sentences while Hemingway wrote mainly short ones. Faulkner embedded a lot of emotion in his writing unlike Hemingway, who seemed to write without emotion. However, both writers wrote about what can be considered universal truths. Both of them would be open to new ideas, even if they didn't, or weren't capable of writing in the way of the other.

His Noble Prize Speech


Faulkner was awarded the Noble Prize for Literature in 1950. His Noble Prize speech became almost one of Faulkner’s best-known works. Here are a few lines from that speech. “I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The writer’s privilege is to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” In this way Faulkner affirmed both man’s splendor and the great role of the artist.

Title of 'The Sound and the Fury'

SHUAIB ASGHAR
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
GOVT. RAZVIA ISLAMIA COLLEGE
HAROONABAD, PAKISTAN

Out, out, brief candle!
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.
(Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5)


When Macbeth learns of his wife's death, he cries out the above lines, which can be used as a clue to the meaning of the novel or to the structure of the novel. Certainly Faulkner plays with the idea that life is nothing but a shadow. The word shadow appears continually throughout Quentin's section, and it also occurs frequently throughout the rest of the novel.

The implication of life is used by Faulkner to suggest that the actions performed by modern man are only shadows when compared with the greater actions performed by men of the past — that modern man is only a shadow of a being, imperfectly formed and inadequate to cope with the problems of modern life. Man is forced to commit suicide, as Quentin does, and while performing this destructive act, he sees his shadow rising up from the water beneath him. If man does not take his own life, then he is either a materialist like Jason, who values nothing except money, or else he is an "idiot" like Benjy, who can see only shadows of life.

“The Sound and the Fury” has as its major theme the decay and disintegration of an aristocratic family living in the American South. This family has had distinguished ancestors and a highly respectable tradition. But the family has now fallen on evil days and has to face crises after crisis, disaster after disaster, setback after setback and falls victim to those vices which Faulkner believed were responsible for the problems in the reconstructed South: racism, avarice, selfishness, and the psychological inability of individuals to become determinants. Over the course of the thirty years or so related in the novel, the family falls into financial ruin, loses its religious faith and the respect of the town of Jefferson, and many of them die tragically.

The first section of this novel is literally a tale told by an idiot Benjy. The second section tells of the sordidness of the lives of Quentin and Caddy. The third section acquaints us with the monstrous nature of Jason. The final section deals with the theft committed by Miss Quentin, her flight from home, and the discomfiture of Jason. Faulkner’s vision of life as revealed through his chronicle of the Compson family is, indeed, gloomy and pessimistic. None of the members of the Compson family represent any positive values with the possible exception of Quentin whose finer side is, however, swamped by his negative impulses.