Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi on September 25, 1897 and died on July 6, 1962. He was the author of many novels and short stories. He most famous and critically acclaimed works are Absolom, Absolom, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August. Faulkner spent most of his writing life in Mississippi and set all of his fiction there. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950.
Faulkner is one of America’s great Modernist writers. As a Modernist, Faulkner was interested in new ways of telling stories. He was also interested in portraying the decline of civilization and the dependence on the individual. Faulkner may be best known for his inventiveness: Absolom, Absolom is one story told from five perspectives; The Sound and the Fury is told from four perspectives, one of whom is retarded; and As I Lay Dying is narrated by fifteen different people, one of whom is dead when her section is presented, and does not always adhere to a chronological structure. These novels force the reader to become more aware of the process of telling and seeing a story; the point Faulkner wants to make is that if he provides four, five, or fifteen versions of an event, he knows that the reader will provide the fifth, sixth, or sixteenth. Stories evolve and grow. A static story is a dead story.
Furthermore, all of Faulkner’s fiction interlocks, creating a larger story; if we put his novels and stories together, we will get an historical and sociological study of one fictitious county in Mississippi, Yoknapatawpha. Some of the novels and stories focus on the aristocratic and upper classes, others on the military families, a few on the middle class, some on the poor, and a few more on the rural "white trash." The settings in time also span from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.
Another Modernist characteristic of Faulkner’s is his location of an almost existential conflict within an individual who is surrounded my non-thinkers. Darl Bundren, in As I Lay Dying, and Quentin Compson, in Absolom, Absolom and The Sound and the Fury, are both caught in personal, psychological conflicts which lead to their self-destruction: Darl is imprisoned and Quentin kills himself. Both novels are written after World War I, and seem haunted its destructiveness, and are set in the South, and are haunted by the Civil War and the atrocities of slavery. Faulkner’s thinking characters are overwhelmed with the problems and magnitude of themselves, the region, and the world. Although Faulkner is not suggesting that a thinking person cannot survive, he does show how difficult it is to honestly face those problems.