William Faulkner is considered one of the greatest Southern writers in American literature. An innovative Modernist, Faulkner's stories take place in the American South and often use multiple narrators to explore the social tensions between generations, social classes, and races.
William Faulkner is considered one of the greatest Southern writers in American literature. An innovative Modernist, Faulkner used experimental stylistic devices sometimes compared to the writing of the Irish literary giant, James Joyce. Faulkner’s focus on Southern history and culture and his fearless exploration of their complex legacy earned his works a firm place in the American literary canon.
Born in 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi, Faulkner grew up steeped in family history, learning at a young age the legend of his Confederate great-grandfather who died in a duel. The history of his family and region became the basis for his best writing, although he took some time to realize this. A high school dropout, Faulkner worked dozens of odd jobs while trying to establish himself as a writer. He wrote wrote several short stories, essays, novels, and even some poetry in his twenties, but it wasn’t until he was encouraged to write about his native region that he found success, publishing the popular The Sound and the Fury in 1929.
The Sound and the Fury, along with more than 20 other short stories and novels, is set in the fictional region of Yoknapatawpha County. Although the county and its people are based on the inhabitants of Faulkner’s own region, the characters and their histories were painstakingly invented. For his own authorial purposes, Faulkner wrote fictional family trees and Yoknapatawpha history going back hundreds of years. This background allowed him to work fluidly within his fictional world, creating a seamless tapestry of a realistic civilization as he jumped from character to character, decade to decade throughout his stories. Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha works garnered fame for their bold and often brutal portrayal of the South’s idiosyncrasies and deep-seated prejudices. Through the lens of various unlikely characters, he exposed the social tensions between generations, social classes, and races. His protagonists range from wealthy Southern aristocrats, to poor white single mothers, to orphaned black children trying to find their way in society.
Perhaps more striking than Faulkner’s subject matter, however, was his style. His radical experiments with voice, perspective, and structure successfully added depth to his writing. Faulkner’s stories are generally character-driven, with relatively little action in the story’s present timeline. He used multi-voiced narration, often relying on stream-of-consciousness first-person monologues to convey parallel stories which jumped around between characters and time periods. This narrative flexibility allowed him to reveal the psychological complexity of his characters and present layered historical and emotional perspectives informing the story’s action. Faulkner’s sentence structure and diction reinforced his character studies. He wrote with accurate Southern speech and dialect and varied his sentence length and complexity to reflect both simple and complex characters. He is known for using long descriptive lists to great effect, defying the traditional writing precept that too many adjectives and adverbs weaken writing. Faulkner’s bold style and uniquely American subject matter won him many awards during his lifetime along with a lasting position as one of America’s literary giants.
“Your illusions are a part of you like your bones and flesh and memory.”
”An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.”
“I draw no petty social lines. A man to me is a man, wherever I find him.”