William Faulkner’s Life and Writings Essay
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William Faulkner is one of the great American writers of the 20th century. He has written several highly-acclaimed novels, short stories and poems and was among the pioneers who revolutionized storytelling through the use of the stream of consciousness technique, something not common during the time. His works are considered brilliant and remain to be among the required studies for literature in colleges and universities in the United States as well as other English speaking countries. Faulkner’s literary accolades are numerous.
He won two Pulitzer Prizes for his 1954 novel A Fable, which received the Pulitzer a year later, and for his 1962 novel, The Reivers, which was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer in 1963. In 1949, or three years before his first Pulitzer, Faulkner received the Nobel Prize for “his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel”. But the journey to literary success was never “a walk in the clouds”, or so to speak, for William Faulkner who struggled to get recognition for his earlier works.
His first book, a collection of poems entitled The Marble Faun, published in 1924 did not immediately hit the mark as it barely got any serious attention from readers. It is also said that it was during this time that William Faulkner decided to change the original spelling of his family name to make it “sound more British” for the publication of his first book. His real family name came from an old Customer’s last name 2 Southern family named Falkner from New Albany, Mississippi where the novelist was born on September 25, 1897, as the eldest of four sons.
But Faulkner spent most of his life at the nearby town of Oxford, Mississippi where his family moved when he was barely five years old. Much of his inspirations for his work were drawn from his personal experiences. And his views were tangible in many of his writings especially those that probe the prejudices of his own region, the deep South. Faulkner started writing novels on 7th Grade at about the same time he lost interest in school after he found the classes boring.
His first themes were romance inspired by her childhood sweetheart and later wife, Estelle Oldham. Faulkner remained married to her until his death in July 6, 1962 but his family seems to come only second to his writing, which he puts at the center of his life. In an interview for Writer’s at Work: The Paris Review Interview in 1959, Faulkner described how important his writings to him. He remarked: The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream.
It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies. (Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, 1959) Faulkner’s statement in that interview glared what was already apparent and clear all along to his family, friends, and the people who work closely with the reclusive writer.
When Faulkner released his third novel, Sartoris (Flags in the Dust), in 1929, he used his great-grandfather William Clark Falkner, himself a colonel in the American Civil War, as the Customer’s last name 3 model for Colonel John Sartoris. The novel deals with the decay of an aristocratic Southern family following the social upheaval of the American Civil War. This novel is a good example of how the novelist’s life is reflected on his writings. It shows that Faulkner was influenced by the history of his family and the region in which they lived.
A critical examination of Faulkner’s masterpieces such as The Sound and the Fury, As I lay Dying, Absalom, Absalom! and A Rose for Emily will reveal that his main focus, as a writer, is to explore and expose the deterioration of values in his own region. Faulkner wrote with such sensitivity of the moral degradation he has witnessed. In the sense, Faulkner is a historian who provided an overcast view of a segment of America during a tumultuous period that demanded radical social change.
And albeit his works were fictions, it mirrored the horrendous realities of a society diminishing in its traditional values and unable to embrace the dawn of modern realities. Most of Faulkner’s stories were set in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional place after his own Lafayete County. The town of Jefferson is within Yoknapatawpha County and is the equivalent of Oxford, the novelist’s hometown. While the setting may not be original, it was easy for Faulkner to provide a vivid description of his settings and characters he based from non-fictions or from something he has intimate knowledge on.
Aside from Faulkner’s hometown being modeled for the fictional setting in his writings, it was suggested that some characters from his works were inspired by real people and biblical characters like the 19th century politician Jacob Thomson for the character of Jason Compson III from his The Sound and the Fury novel and the character of Benjamin Compson from the same novel which is said to symbolize a Christ-figure while in his Pulitzer winner novel, A Fable, his main character Corporal Zsettslani Customer’s last name 4 is representative of Jesus.
This method made it easy for Faulkner to personalize the characters in his stories. Faulkner’s strong sense of moral and social responsibility is also very much visible in his works. He often deals with the transgression of the Southern whites against the Black with tragic bluntness to denigrate a blatant social aberrant. In a way, Faulkner was the greatest admirer and critic of the Southern life and history. He absorbed the sordid and brilliant, blithe and painful history of the South and transposed it into soul poetry.
Moreover, Faulkner also tried to advocate, albeit tacitly, for the preservation of culture and the environment in his writings. In his 1942 novel, The Bear, Faulkner lamented the encroachment of civilization into the natural world. The novel is a tale of initiation into the adult world set against a backdrop of a yearly hunting expedition of Old Ben, a bear believed to be last of its kind in Mississippi woods. The narrative is also about the young Ike McCaslin coming to know both the woods and himself through the help of an old Chickasaw who is symbolically named Sam Fathers (Castor 37).
In Faulkner’s narrative, the death of Sam Fathers is symbolically linked to the death of the bear and the wilderness (Castor 38). To Faulkner, the economic conquest of the southern landscape was inextricably linked, not only to the conquest of blacks and women through the legacy of slavery, but also to the conquest of Indian cultures as represented by Sam Fathers. (Castor 39) The Bear was written by Faulkner at the time when there is a tremendous environmental upheaval in Mississippi and the South.
There was massive deforestation activity and thousands of acres of land are being cleared for timber. The setting, the plot, and the character in The Bear Customer’s last name 5 reflect an historical development and Faulkner was able to relate his sentiments with what is happening in his writings. Faulkner was a brilliant writer who examines his environment and reflects on his life experiences for inspirations in his writings. Much of the plot and the theme of his novels were based on his hindsight on the degeneration of the values of the Sought.
Through his tragic stories, Faulkner was able to depict “the effect of the dissolution of the traditional values and authority on all levels of Southern society”. His novels were rich of his views, sentiments, experiences and personal convictions. He was never very famous as a writer for most part of his life but he has dedicated his life to this profession. He was a reclusive and a taciturn writer who found comfort in his solitude. But in his writings, he spoke volumes and his voice holds a resonating sound for many more generations to hear.
He was a legend in the world of literature and his stories are immortalize by its unforgettable characters, unbelievable and challenging stories and the unique manner these stories were told that continues to captivate millions of followers. Faulkner told many great stories but along with it, he told the story of his life too. The challenge is to continue to unravel the mystery and discover how of much his own story was told in his many great masterpieces. Customer’s last name 6 Works cited Nobelprize. org. William Faulkner Biography.
Retrieved December 21, 2007 frm http://nobelprize. org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1949/faulkner-bio. html Reference. com. William Faulkner. Retrieved December 21, 2007 from http://www. reference. com/search? q=william%20faulkner Castor, L. Hunting History and Myth in Linda Hogan’s Power and William Faulkner’s The Bear. Retrieved December 21, 2007 from http://www. hum. uit. no/nordlit/12/03_Castor. pdf William Faulkner on the Web. Retrieved December 21, 2007 from http://www. mcsr. olemiss. edu/~egjbp/faulkner/faulkner. html