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About this guide
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of three of William Faulkner’s greatest novels: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! We hope that they will provide you with new ways of thinking and talking about three works that stand as major landmarks in the history of modern American literature, works that exemplify Faulkner’s bold stylistic and formal innovations, his creation of unforgettably powerful voices and characters, and his brilliant insight into the psychological, economic, and social realities of life in the South in the transition from the Civil War to the modern era. In their intellectual and aesthetic richness, these novels raise nearly endless possibilities for discussion. The questions below will necessarily be limited and are meant to open several, but certainly not all, areas of inquiry for your reading group.
About THE SOUND AND THE FURY
The Sound and the Fury, published in October of 1929, was Faulkner’s fourth novel—and clearly his first work of genius. Now considered to be one of the strongest American contributions to the fiction of high modernism, it has generated countless critical interpretations. In writing the novel, Faulkner experienced a creative absorption and passion that he was never to forget; he said of The Sound and the Fury, “It’s the book I feel tenderest towards. I couldn’t leave it alone, and I never could tell it right, though I tried hard and would like to try again, though I’d probably fail again.”
The novel tells the story, from four different perspectives, of the disintegration of a Southern family. The father is cynical and passive, and though he clearly loves his children, he drinks himself to death; the invalid mother has no love for her children and continuously demands that she herself be taken care of; Benjy, the mentally retarded son of whom his mother is ashamed, is castrated after he begins to exhibit sexual behavior; Quentin, the neurotic and romantic son, goes off to Harvard to fulfill his mother’s lifelong wish and commits suicide there; Caddy, the only daughter, becomes pregnant while still a teenager and quickly marries a man who turns her out of the house when he discovers that their child is not his; Jason, his mother’s favorite, loses his chance at a lucrative job when Caddy’s marriage fails and is reduced to supporting the family by working in a general store. Caddy’s daughter—named after her brother Quentin—is brought up in the unhappy Compson household although everyone is forbidden to speak her mother’s name. She has her revenge upon her uncle Jason when she steals the $7000 he has amassed by embezzling from his mother and from funds sent to Quentin by Caddy. The family is supported and cared for by a family of black servants, led and held together by the matriarch Dilsey.
Because of its experimental style, The Sound and the Fury presents a daunting challenge for readers. By 1929 Faulkner had given up trying to please publishers and reviewers, and, as the critic Albert J. Guerard has noted, now seemed “to write only for himself and a happy few.” Traditional aspects of the novel like exposition, plot, and character development are cast aside in the attempt to find a narrative form that could represent the realities of mental chaos, the fluidity of time and memory, and the painful interweaving of separate selves in family life. Though at times Faulkner’s material may seem so inchoate as to be barely containable within language at all, The Sound and the Fury attains heights and depths of expression that are truly breathtaking: it is an unforgettable work that richly rewards the reader’s efforts.
For discussion: THE SOUND AND THE FURY
1. The novel’s title is taken from a monologue spoken by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who has attained the throne of Scotland through murder and has held it through the most brutal violence and tyranny; at this point in the play he has just heard that his wife has killed herself. Sated with his own corruption and looking forward to his imminent defeat and death, he says: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/ To the last syllable of recorded time/ And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/ The way to dusty death. 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.” Why do you think Faulkner chose a phrase from this passage for his title? How is this passage applicable to the novel? Do you find the novel as pessimistic and despairing as Macbeth’s speech?
2. In The Sound and the Fury Faulkner makes use of the stream of consciousness technique, which was also used earlier in the 1920s in such experimental works as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. He further complicates matters for the reader by scrambling, as it were, the time frames referred to by the narrating consciousness of the opening section of the novel. How do you learn to find your way in Benjy’s chapter? How many time periods are interspersed? What are some of the events Benjy is remembering? If Benjy is the “idiot” of Macbeth’s speech, in what ways can he be seen, nonetheless, as both a sensitive and sentient observer of his family?
3. All of the novel’s crucial events are registered in Benjy’s section and are later recapitulated or expanded upon by other narrators, for Benjy is in many ways the central and most important narrating consciousness. Faulkner said of Benjy, “To that idiot, time was not a continuation, it was an instant, there was no yesterday and no tomorrow, it all is this moment, it all is [now] to him. He cannot distinguish between what was last year and what will be tomorrow, he doesn’t know whether he dreamed it, or saw it.” What are some of the effects of the opening section upon your experience of the Compson family story? Why would Faulkner choose Benjy to introduce the reader to his story? What is Benjy’s importance in a novel that is dominated by memory rather than action?
4. Which characters, if any, serve as registers of emotional and moral value? In whom do we find love, honor, loyalty, strength? Is Jason the embodiment of the opposite traits? How does Caddy’s daughter, Quentin, fit into the scheme of value here? What about Mrs. Compson? Do Benjy’s perceptions function as a sort of touchstone for the reader?
5. Each of the four sections has a date rather than a chapter number. Note that three of the narratives take place on three sequential days in April of 1928 though they are not presented in chronological sequence. The second of the four, Quentin’s narrative, is dated June 2, 1910—the day he drowned himself at the end of his first year at Harvard. With each section the narrative voice becomes more coherent, and we finish with a fairly straightforward and traditional third-person voice. Why do you think Faulkner has chosen to present things in this way and in this order?
6. What are the reasons for Quentin’s decision to drown himself? Why does Faulkner choose to have Quentin narrate his own section, even though he has been dead for nearly eighteen years? What do you see as the meaning of his dual obsession with his sister’s virginity and the loss of the family honor? Why does he attempt to make, in a crucial conversation with his father, a false confession of incest? Given Quentin’s state of mind at the time, what do you think of Mr. Compson’s response to him?
7. For her brothers, Caddy is the traumatic absence at the center of their experience. For Faulkner, Caddy was the image around which the novel took shape; she was “the sister which I did not have and the daughter which I was to lose,” and it all began with the image of “the muddy bottom of a little doomed girl climbing a blooming pear tree in April to look in the window” at the funeral of her grandmother. While Caddy is presented as maternal, erotic, promiscuous, and imperious, she is also unknowable, given that she can only be glimpsed in the rather unreliable narrations of her brothers. Does she appeal to you as a sympathetic character? Is Caddy’s fall the cause of the family tragedy or is she just another child-victim of the abdication of parental responsibility? Why do Caddy’s brothers each have a narrative voice, while Caddy has none?
8. Jason is an embittered young man with a nasty sense of humor. Nonetheless, he is the querulous Mrs. Compson’s favorite, the son upon whom she depends. He imagines people saying of his siblings, “one of them is crazy and another one drowned himself and the other one was turned out into the street by her husband…” [p. 233]. Do you think he succeeds in preserving the appearance of normality that is so important to him? How would you describe Jason’s mode of thinking and reasoning? What are some of his activities and preoccupations? What is the effect of his narrative’s mood and voice, following as it does upon Benjy’s and Quentin’s?
9. What role does Dilsey play in the novel? Why does the narrative of the fourth and final section focus upon her, and why do you think Faulkner chose not to give her a narrative in her own voice? What is the significance of the black community and its church in the final section? The novel ends on Easter Sunday; how does this turn to an overtly Christian context work for you as a reader?
10. The novel takes into its scope a number of serious philosophical and psychological issues—the meaning of time, for instance, and the psychopathology of the family—but it does not devote itself to a cohesive exploration of any of them. What, then, would you say this novel is “about”? Think again about the Macbeth quotation—life is “a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.” What does Faulkner’s tale, told four times, signify? What does it achieve? In what ways does the novel focus our attention upon the problem of representing consciousness realistically within the novel form? How does The Sound and the Fury change or affect your experience as a reader of novels?
About AS I LAY DYING
Faulkner drafted As I Lay Dying in six weeks while he was working the night shift at a power plant. He later said, “I set out deliberately to write a tour-de-force. Before I ever put pen to paper and set down the first word I knew what the last word would be and almost where the last period would fall.” He clearly succeeded in what he set out to do: As I Lay Dying is a work in which Faulkner’s talent is fully within his control, and the result is one of the twentieth century’s finest and most beloved novels.
Unlike The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying has a clearly delineated plot line: it is the tale of a journey, and despite the many delays in that journey, nothing impedes the straightforward movement of the plot toward its destination—the arrival in Jefferson and the burial of Addie Bundren’s body. However, the way the story is presented embodies an experiment in narrative technique that is brilliantly achieved. Removing himself completely as an author-narrator figure, Faulkner breaks his story into fifty-nine separate monologues, each spoken or thought by one of fifteen characters. There is no exposition, no description of character or action outside of the way the characters see themselves, one another, and the events in which they are involved.
Like The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying centers upon a single family. It is the often comic, often grotesque story of their singleminded effort to carry out their father’s promise to his dying wife: Addie Bundren wishes to be buried with her family in the town of Jefferson, forty miles away. This journey, delayed by flood and fire and attended by a growing flock of buzzards, takes nine days. Throughout their absurd and quixotic ordeal, the family members exhibit a deep respect for their mother’s desire, but they also have desires of their own that might be fulfilled by this chance at visiting the town. The father, Anse, wants a new set of teeth; the only daughter, Dewey Dell, is pregnant and hopes to get a pill to bring on a miscarriage; Cash wants a gramophone; Vardaman, the youngest, wants a toy train. The two remaining brothers, Jewel and Darl, want nothing for themselves, but the journey brings to its crisis a rivalry that has deep roots in their relationship with their mother.
At once ludicrous and profound, the novel shows us a group of people responding to grief and to the loss of the most important person in their lives. At the same time, it illuminates the nature of love within the family and the responsibility that family members have to one another and to themselves.
For discussion: AS I LAY DYING
1. Which are the most intelligent and sympathetic voices in the novel? With whom do you most and least identify? Is Faulkner controlling your closeness to some characters and not others? How is this done, given the seemingly equal mode of presentation for all voices?
2. Even the reader of such an unusual book may be surprised to come upon Addie Bundren’s narrative on page 169, if only because Addie has been dead since page 48. Why is Addie’s narrative placed where it is, and what is the effect of hearing Addie’s voice at this point in the book? Is this one of the ways in which Faulkner shows Addie’s continued “life” in the minds and hearts of her family? How do the issues raised by Addie here relate to the book as a whole?
3. Faulkner allows certain characters—especially Darl and Vardaman—to express themselves in language and imagery that would be impossible, given their lack of education and experience in the world. Why does he break with the realistic representation of character in this way?
4. What makes Darl different from the other characters? Why is he able to describe Addie’s death [p. 48] when he is not present? How is he able to intuit the fact of Dewey Dell’s pregnancy? What does this uncanny visionary power mean, particularly in the context of what happens to Darl at the end of the novel? Darl has fought in World War I; why do you think Faulkner has chosen to include this information about him? What are the sources and meaning of his madness?
5. Anse Bundren is surely one of the most feckless characters in literature, yet he alone thrives in the midst of disaster. How does he manage to command the obedience and cooperation of his children? Why are other people so generous with him? He gets his new teeth at the end of the novel and he also gets a new wife. What is the secret of Anse’s charm? How did he manage to make Addie marry him, when she is clearly more intelligent than he is?
6. Some critics have spoken of Cash as the novel’s most gentle character, while others have felt that he is too rigid, too narrow-minded, to be sympathetic. What does Cash’s list of the thirteen reasons for beveling the edges of the coffin tell us about him? What does it tell us about his feeling for his mother? Does Cash’s carefully reasoned response to Darl’s imprisonment seem fair to you, or is it a betrayal of his brother?
7. Jewel is the result of Addie’s affair with the evangelical preacher Whitfield (an aspect of the plot that bears comparison with Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter). When we read Whitfield’s section, we realize that Addie has again allied herself with a man who is not her equal. How would you characterize the preacher? What is the meaning of this passionate alliance, now repudiated by Whitfield? Does Jewel know who his father is?
8. What is your response to the section spoken by Vardaman, which states simply, “My mother is a fish”? What sort of psychological state or process does this declaration indicate? What are some of the ways in which Vardaman insists on keeping his mother alive, even as he struggles to understand that she is dead? In what other ways does the novel show characters wrestling with ideas of identity and embodiment?
9. This is a novel full of acts of love, not the least of which is the prolonged search in the river for Cash’s tools. Consider some of the other ways that love is expressed among the members of the family. What compels loyalty in this family? What are the ways in which that loyalty is betrayed? Which characters are most self-interested?
10. The saga of the Bundren family is participated in, and reflected upon, by many other characters. What does the involvement of Doctor Peabody, of Armstid, and of Cora and Vernon Tull say about the importance of community in country life? Are the characters in the town meant to provide a contrast with country people?
11. Does Faulkner deliberately make humor and the grotesque interdependent in this novel? What is the effect of such horrific details as Vardaman’s accidental drilling of holes in his dead mother’s face? Of Darl and Vardaman listening to the decaying body of Addie “speaking”? Of Vardaman’s anxiety about the growing number of buzzards trying to get at the coffin? Of Cash’s bloody broken leg, set in concrete and suppurating in the heat? Of Jewel’s burnt flesh? Of the “cure” that Dewey Dell is tricked into?
12. In one of the novel’s central passages, Addie meditates upon the distance between words and actions: “I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other; and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words” [pp. 173-74]. What light does this passage shed upon the meaning of the novel? Aren’t words necessary in order to give form to the story of the Bundrens? Or is Faulkner saying that words—his own chosen medium—are inadequate?
13. What does the novel reveal about the ways in which human beings deal with death, grieving, and letting go of our loved ones?
About ABSALOM, ABSALOM!
When he completed Absalom, Absalom! in May 1936, Faulkner said, “I think it’s the best novel yet written by an American.” He described it as “the story of a man who wanted a son through pride, and got too many of them and they destroyed him.” It is the epic tale of Thomas Sutpen, who grows up as a dirt-poor boy in backwoods Appalachia and has his first glimpse of social hierarchy when his family moves to a plantation in Tidewater Virginia. One day he goes to the mansion’s front door, carrying a message, and is told by a slave wearing the master’s livery that he must go around to the back door. This experience has a searing effect on the boy’s consciousness. From that moment forward, he sets in motion his grand design: to become, at any cost, a man of wealth and power. He goes to colonial Haiti and marries the daughter of a plantation owner he has saved from death during the slave revolt there, but he abandons his wife and newborn son, Charles Bon, when he learns that his wife has a strain of Negro blood. In 1833 he arrives in Mississippi with a gang of Haitian slaves, cheats a Chickasaw Indian out of a hundred square miles of land, and begins with a ruthless and fanatical determination to build a mansion in the wilderness, to carve out a plantation, to gather wealth, to acquire a second wife and forge a dynasty that will carry on his name. But the son he left behind returns to haunt him. At the university Charles Bon becomes the best friend of Henry, the son of Sutpen’s second marriage, and eventually Henry kills Charles in order to prevent him from marrying their sister Judith. Henry repudiates his father and flees; ultimately Sutpen, with his plantation in ruins after the Civil War, is reduced to selling trinkets in a backwoods general store. After his plan to breed yet a third family with the sister of his dead wife fails, Sutpen impregnates the teenage daughter of a poor white man, who kills him with a scythe when he insults the girl because she has given birth to a daughter. In an ironic coda to Sutpen’s dream of dynastic grandeur, the only descendant who survives to carry on the Sutpen blood is the grandson of Charles Bon, another of Faulkner’s “idiots.”
While it is the most challenging of Faulkner’s works, Absalom, Absalom! also contains the most mature and profound examination of his greatest themes: the South’s mixture of horror and pride in its own history, the interrelationship of incest and miscegenation, the tragic legacy of slavery, and, as always at the heart of it all, the family drama.
For discussion: ABSALOM, ABSALOM!
1. Any reader bewildered by the opening pages of Absalom, Absalom! will realize immediately that its greatest challenge lies in its complex narrative structure, and as with The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, you must learn how to read it as you go. How many narrators are there, and what is their relationship to one another? What are the sources of their authority as tellers of the Sutpen story? What, so far as you can make out, “happened,” as opposed to what is conjectured by the various narrators? Why might Faulkner have chosen such a challenging narrative form, despite the difficulties it presents for his readers?
2. At the center of the novel is the gigantic figure of Sutpen—a man who drives himself to extraordinary lengths in the pursuit of his “design.” Sutpen means different things to different people: to Rosa, he is a monster, but one she would have married, whereas to Colonel Compson, he is a human being with sympathetic characteristics. How does your view of Sutpen change as the web of his story emerges? How do you come away from the novel feeling about him? Is he evil? innocent? superhuman? mad? heroic? Does Sutpen’s history, which he has told to Colonel Compson, justify his behavior?
3. Why do the various tellers of the story interpret and embroider the tale so differently? What is Faulkner telling us about the human need to order and interpret the past? How does each teller affect your response? Whose version of events do you find most attractive, most compelling? Whose version makes most sense to you? Is “truth” largely irrelevant?
4. Faulkner’s original title for the novel was “Dark House,” and as in much of his work, we see in Absalom, Absalom! strong elements of the gothic literary convention: a ruined and possibly haunted house, a demonic hero, family secrets, hints of incest, a melodramatic plot, an overwhelming mood of decadence and decay. Yet in its depth and intensity, the novel clearly transcends the often trivial melodrama of much gothic fiction. How does Faulkner’s use of gothic elements contribute to the novel’s dramatic effect?
5. Consider Faulkner’s brilliant development of the character of Charles Bon, the son that Sutpen has cast off. In both Quentin and Shreve’s retelling and in Miss Rosa’s, he is a figure of romance, while in Mr. Compson’s version he is an opportunist, using both Judith and Henry to revenge himself upon his father. Which of these perspectives is more satisfying to you, and why? Why is the element of doubt about Bon’s motivation—even about the extent of his knowledge about his origin—so crucial to Faulkner’s plan?
6. The book’s title is taken from the biblical story of Absalom, son of King David, told in the second book of Samuel—a dynastic tale of incest, rebellion, revenge, and violent death. How is your perspective on the novel enlarged after reading the Absalom story? How does the biblical tale inflect the novel’s themes of incest, dynastic hopes and failures, rivalry between father and son? How does David’s grief at the death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33) compare with Thomas Sutpen’s seeming lack of feeling for his sons—or for anyone else?
7. Charles Bon is at heart of the incest plot, and it is the dual threat of incest and miscegenation that ruins Sutpen’s great design. How do incest and miscegenation mirror each other? What is it that makes these two forms of mixing blood—endogamy and exogamy—so taboo? Do you agree that it is the thought of miscegenation, rather than incest, that Henry can’t endure? Why do rage, self-loathing, and masochism play such a large role in the stories of Charles Bon’s two direct descendants, Charles Etienne St. Valery Bon and Jim Bond?
8. What do you think of Mr. Compson’s theory of the incestuous triad formed by Henry, Bon, and Judith, described as follows: “The brother…taking that virginity in the person of the brother-in-law, the man whom he would be if he could become, metamorphose into, the lover, the husband; by whom he would be despoiled, choose for despoiler, if he could become, metamorphose into the sister, the mistress, the bride” [p. 77]? Does Faulkner assume that a strong incestuous component is part of the psychology of every family? Or only of extremely unusual families like the Sutpens?
9. The concept of racial hierarchy is at odds with the domestic intimacy in which blacks and whites lived together in the South. During the Civil War, Judith, Clytie, and Rosa live together as sisters, eating the same food, working side by side. But when Rosa returns to the house in 1909, she warns Clytie not to touch her: “Let flesh touch with flesh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell shibboleth of caste and color too” [p. 112]. How does the novel expose the mental convolutions by which people tried to maintain the notion of an essential difference—a species difference—between black skin and white, even among members of the same family? What, in these circumstances, do you think of Clytie’s loyalty and her efforts to protect Henry?
10. To what degree do you see the self-destructiveness displayed by just about all of the figures in this novel as Faulkner’s deliberate allegory of the South?
11. Many critics have commented that Faulkner takes his stylistic eccentricity to its most involuted and exaggerated extremes in Absalom, Absalom!, making inordinate demands upon the reader’s attention and patience. An anonymous reviewer for Time called this book “the strangest, least readable, most infuriating and yet in some respects the most impressive novel that William Faulkner has written.” What use does Faulkner make of repetition, circularity, accumulation, and confusion? Are there aesthetic and intellectual reasons he takes his rhetoric and syntax to such exhaustive lengths, or do you feel that his style is too self-indulgent?
12. Absalom, Absalom! is a novel about the meaning of history, and about the extreme pressure of the past, particularly in the South, upon the inhabitants of the present. More importantly, it is about the doubtful process of coming to know, reconstruct, and come to grips with history. Mr. Compson says to Quentin, “We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales…we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting…performing their acts of simple passion and violence, impervious to time and inexplicable” [p. 80]. Why does Quentin, who is unrelated to Sutpen, seem to understand the tale as bearing directly upon his own identity and fate? If history is “a dead time” [p. 71], as Mr. Compson calls it, why does it command so much mesmerized attention in this novel?
13. Absalom, Absalom! shares certain characteristics with classical tragedy, and Faulkner uses Mr. Compson to make the connection clear. He alludes to Aeschylus’s great play Agamemnon with his discussion on pages 48-49 of the name of Sutpen’s daughter by a slave, suggesting that Sutpen might have meant to call her Cassandra rather than Clytemnestra. Elsewhere, Mr. Compson sees the story as a dramatic tableau, with “fate, destiny, retribution, irony—the stage manager” [p. 57]. Aristotle noted that a certain blindness, a character flaw he called hamartia, was common to tragic heroes. What are the flaws in Sutpen that contribute to his tragedy? If Sutpen is a character who stands for pure, unswerving will, what role does fate play in the story?
14. Why does Faulkner have Quentin tell his story to Shreve McCannon, a Canadian, in a room at Harvard in January, 1910? Why does this reconstruction of a uniquely Southern tale take place on Yankee soil? What is the meaning of the relationship between story and setting, as contained in the following phrase: “that fragile pandora’s box of scrawled paper which had filled with violent and unratiocinative djinns and demons this snug monastic coign, this dreamy and heatless alcove of what we call the best of thought” [p. 208]? What do you make of the book’s final line, in which Quentin hysterically insists that he doesn’t hate the South?
15. In the last few pages of the novel we learn at last, as in a mystery, what Quentin’s role in the story has been. He has entered into the final chapter of the nightmare of the Sutpen family with his own eyes, accompanying Miss Rosa to Sutpen’s Hundred, where he sees the dying Henry. He seems unable to emerge from this experience into ordinary life. Why does the past have such hallucinatory power for Quentin? What does his meeting with Henry mean to him? Do you see Clytie’s burning of the house, with herself and Henry in it, as a final purgation of the family curse? Why then does this history seem to be a nightmare from which Quentin is unable to awaken?
Comparing the three novels:
1. In all three of these novels the family is central to structure, plot, and meaning. It is the source of grief and identity as well as the locus of all individual psychic struggles. Do you see all of Faulkner’s characters eternally trapped within their familial roles? How do the families differ in each of these novels, and how are they similar? How do the particularly important symbolic roles of the mother and the father differ from book to book?
2. Faulkner tries to make himself disappear in these works. Instead of using the traditional third-person narrator that most readers associate with the author, he directs a chorus of voices that intertwine, complement, and contradict one another. As readers, we must rely on what we learn from the characters themselves as to time, place, plot, and matters of cause and effect. Why do you think Faulkner prefers to make his characters speak “directly” to his readers? How does this technique affect your ability to believe in the worlds that exist in these novels? How would more direct intervention by an authorial voice change your experience?
3. In which of these works do you think Faulkner’s style, his use of language, and his formal innovations are most finely tuned, most powerfully worked out? In which do you feel that his stylistic quirks are most annoying, most distracting?
4. All of these novels question our assumptions about time as regular, linear, sequential, predictable. What are some of the ways in which time is disrupted in these works?
5. The Compson family of The Sound and the Fury (1929) plays a central role in Absalom, Absalom! (1936) as well. Does Faulkner want readers of Absalom, Absalom! to assume that Quentin’s involvement in the Sutpen story is one of the reasons for his suicide, which takes place three months later in The Sound and the Fury? Do you see a seamless characterization of Quentin and Mr. Compson in the two books?
6. Faulkner is interested in the causes and effects of extreme psychological pressures, as we see in Quentin and Benjy Compson, Henry and Thomas Sutpen, Rosa Coldfield, Vardaman and Darl Bundren, and many other characters in these novels. What are some of the forms that psychopathology takes in Faulkner’s world?
7. Faulkner has often been accused of an extremely misogynistic representation of women. Consider Caddy Compson, Dilsey, Dewey Dell and Addie Bundren, Judith Sutpen, Rosa Coldfield, the wife of Charles St. Valery Bon, and other female characters in these three novels. How would you describe Faulkner’s notion of the feminine, as compared with the masculine? Do you agree with the critic Irving Howe that “Faulkner’s inability to achieve moral depth in his portraiture of young women clearly indicates a major failing as a novelist”?
8. Is the work of Faulkner necessarily different in its impact depending upon whether one is from the North or the South, whether one is black or white?
Suggestions for further reading
Fiction: Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio; Erskine Caldwell, Tobacco Road, Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim; James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man; Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird; Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus; Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man Is Hard to Find; Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher;” Reynolds Price, Mustian; Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner and Lie Down in Darkness.
Nonfiction: Joseph Blotner, Faulkner: A Biography; Malcolm Cowley, The Portable Faulkner; John Richard Dennett, The South As It Is: 1865-1866; Irving Howe, William Faulkner: A Critical Study; John T. Irwin, Doubling and Incest/Repetition and Revenge: A Speculative Reading of Faulkner; James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate, eds., Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner 1926-1962; V. S. Naipaul, A Turn in the South; Eric Sundquist, Faulkner: A House Divided; Robert Penn Warren, Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays.
About William Faulkner
Read an author bio and view a complete list of titles by William Faulkner available from Random House here.