Critics and Time Regarding William Faulkner Thesis

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¶ … William Faulkner's treatment of time in his novels. As to William T. Going suggests, "At the core of any fruitful discussion of meaning and narrative method must lie some understanding of Faulkner's treatment of time" (53).

Much of the discussion regarding Faulkner's affinity for playing with the constructs of time revolves around Faulkner's influence by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Bergson's view of time is rooted in the manner in which it relates to reality. In the Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics (1946) Bergson divides the concept of time into two distinguishable forms. The first is pure time, which occurs during the legitimate duration of reality. The second is mathematical time, which cannot be used to analyze real time, but can be divided into intervals to reflect pieces of reality in a non-chronological order. Thus Pure time, or real time, is continuous while mathematical time is fragmented.

Faulkner chose to focus on mathematical time in the majority of his novels, preferring the disjointed, fragmented strategy of storytelling as opposed to the continuous, linear method. Richard Adams asserts that Faulkner manipulates the reader through his "startling sense of temporal dislocation" which prevents the reader from "feeling time as a thin, straight string with events marked off at measured intervals; instead, we feel it as a heavy knot, cluster or tangle, with all ends lost in the middle. Motion is lost, or stopped; and time is held still for aesthetic contemplation" (Douglass 125).

Some critics have argued that the association between Faulkner and Bergson is exaggerated, while others contend that the two were essentially of one mind. Regardless of what one believes about the connection between these two great minds, the only way to truly analyze Faulkner's treatment of time is to apply critical supposition to his narratives. Some of the most critically acclaimed of Faulkner's narratives include Go Down Moses, the Sound and the Fury, a Rose for Emily and as I Lay Dying; each of which treats time as a central but elusive character. Critical reflections on each of these novels, and the manner in which they relate to Bergson's conceptions of time, are discussed in the following section.

Go Down Moses

Go Down Moses, as most of Faulkner's novels, relies greatly on disjointed chronology that tends to mirror the chaos and lack of order that the characters are experiencing. Thus for some critics, Faulkner's unconventional treatment of time is a representation of disruption and anarchy. Hisao Tanaka for example, suggests that Faulkner's chaotic treatment of time in Go Down Moses is representative of the racial tensions that permeated the South and the sense of disconnection between whites and blacks.

The majority of critics, however, view Faulkner's use of time from a contrary viewpoint, suggesting that as opposed to fragmentation, Faulkner ignores chronology because for him (and his characters) past, present and future cannot be separated in the sense that they all work congruently to construct an existence. In his analysis of Go Down Moses, David Cowart observes that "The past mirrors the present darkly indeed. This congruence, this specular dimension to history (at least negative history), in part dictates Faulkner's treatment of time in this book" (183).

This observation is clearly in line with Bergsen's understanding of time as neither a collection of moments nor as a conceptual eternity. Both Faulkner and Bergsen appear to forgo the notion of time as a specified moment of length in favor of the idea that time is about movement and inconsistency and unpredictability. Critics have recognized this connection in this novel, as they have in numerous other Faulkner works. For example, David Cowart, in discussing Go Down Moses asserts that "Past and present alternate in the minds of the characters (chiefly McCaslin's: again, as the opening of the book makes clear, his is the novel's ground-consciousness) and in that of their creator, who is aware that time-and-consciousness, at least in the persuasive analysis of the philosopher Henri Bergson, is ultimate reality, the Urstoff itself" (183).

Similarly, Dara Llewellyn makes note of the "changing relationships and shifting boundaries" that illustrate the essence of reality in Go Down Moses. For Llewellyn, throughout the narrative, Faulkner uses rhythmic language to map out the continuum of events and the cycle of time, even when they are not laid out in any logical order or cadence. She explains that his language is punctuated in such a way that it can capture the essence of time moving quickly or slowly simply through tone. She provides the following example as evidence "while the constellations wheeled and the whippoorwills choired faster and ceased and the first cocks crowed and the false dawn came and faded and the birds began and the night was over" (Faulkner 52).

Llewellyn also makes an interesting point about the connection between time and space in Go Down Moses, and how Faulkner uses both to raise questions about how much of life is divinely mapped out and how much is based on per happenstance: "In the reality Faulkner constructs, man is given an allotted time to live and lives out his circumscribed days in a circumscribed space" (3). This observation gives rise to questions about Bergsen's contemplations about an ever-changing reality's contradiction with causal determination.

According to Douglass, "Faulkner once said he agreed with Bergson on the nature of God and time" (118). Yet many critics believe that the connections made between Faulkner and Bergson and their conceptions of time are far overestimated. The primary connection is the two men's interest in time as a fluid entity, a connection that has been analyzed as much in the Sound and the Fury as it has in Go Down Moses.

The Sound and the Fury

According to William T. Going critics tend to confuse Faulkner's treatment of time "with a 'mathematical progression,' seeing it not as a 'diminishing road,' but as a 'huge meadow' divided from us now 'by the narrow bottleneck of the most recent decade of years.' Or as Faulkner puts the matter in the Sound and the Fury, 'One day you'd think misfortune would get tired, but time is your misfortune'." (53)

Thus Bergsen's conception of mathematical time as a set of intervals rather than a continuous flow is reinforced in this novel on a variety of levels. Most notably, Faulkner uses the gift of language to make illustrative constructs of time. For example, according to Kaluza (1979), one of the most explicit expressions of the mentally challenged Benjy's utter disconnection with time as a linear concept is that he rarely uses the word "then" in his dialogue. He does not say one event happened before another event, but instead connects two events with time-neutral conjunction "and." For example, in the following passage, most speakers would use the word "then" where Benjy uses "and": "So I hushed and Caddy got up and we went into the kitchen and turned the light on and Caddy took the kitchen soap and washed her mouth at the sink, hard." (Faulkner 31). It is as if Benjy has no awareness that things happen in a certain order because they effect one another. To him, they simply just happen.

In contrast, Quentin clearly understands the chronology of time, as he longs for the past and the stability it provides. He is not happy with the present and he fears the unfamiliarity of the future. Therefore focusing on the past is his portal through time; a concept of which he is astutely aware. Thus it would be difficult not to agree with Hornback's observation that the contrast between Benjy's lack of conception of time and Quentin's unrelenting awareness of it represents Faulkner's motivation to define his characters in temporal terms.

Quentin's role in Absalom! Absalom! is similarly focused on the past. As Leigh Ann Duck points out "It is true that Faulkner's interior monologues often represent subjectivities that seem detached from linear time. In Abalsom! Absalom! For example, Quentin Compson describes his fictional world as 'the deep south since 1865 and peopled with garrulous outraged baffled ghosts' These apparent ghosts are not utterly removed from the nation's history, as attested by their relationship to its cultural forms" (149).

A Rose for Emily

In their analysis of a Rose for Emily, Marvin Magalaner and Edmond L. Volpe suggest that "Faulkner destroys chronological time in his story; his narrator, extending over several generations, knows the significance of all the events that he relates" (63). The significance is primarily incumbent to the social commentary the permeates this haunting narrative. Magalaner and Volpe for example, point out that the socially relevant message of the story, which culminates in makeshift tomb which doubles as Emily's bedroom, equates Emily's necrophilia with her (and society's) inability to bury the past, accept the present and move onto the future. Emily's love of the dead signifies her love the past and thus her ability to emerge from one period of time to another.

Magalaner and Volpe also note the symbolism of Emily's decaying house which implies that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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