William Faulkner -1962) Term Paper

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William Faulkner (1897-1962) is known in the world of literature as the "historian of the negative" and narrator of the dark. In other words, Faulkner was obsessed with the dark side of human mind and in his in-depth psychological exploration of such areas; he would produce stories that were often violent and negative. While his celebrated contemporary, Ernest Hemingway would also focus on psychoanalysis of characters; his stories were closer to reality unlike Faulkner's who believed in shocking his readers and taking them by complete surprise. Most of his works have a sinister air about them as if the author is foreshadowing a really dark and appalling ending. In this paper, we shall study three different pieces of writing by William Faulkner to comment on the writer's use of evil to generate horror.

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Faulkner has been associated with thrilling mysteries where he would bring out something evil in the characters. His fascination with the darker side of human mind is evident from his works including his most famous short story, a Rose for Emily. Here Emily stood for twisted human psyche, which leads to bizarre happenings. The author's style is mysterious as if he is trying to hide something all the time, only to take his readers by complete surprise in the end. Faulkner would often keep his work deceptively simple just to maximize the impact of the last twist in the plot. This is exactly what happens in a Rose for Emily where Emily is shown as a simple mysterious woman who didn't like intrusion or interference in her life. However her unusual existence is quite intriguing and give birth to various stories about her. The author in all his works tries to create an unreal world with the help of weird characters, whose actions cannot be justified by anyone but themselves and who are 'real enemies of natural order'.

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In Rose for Emily, it is Emily who suppresses her desires and tries to behave in a modest fashion thus acting against changing times and modernity. Her behavior leads to frustration and violence and makes her create an unreal world around her. Similarly in Barn Burning, we notice Snopes working against the natural order of things, which results in extreme violence and anger. WEST (1949) explains, "This unreal world results from the suspension of a natural time order. Normality consists in a decorous progression of the human being from birth, through youth, to age and finally death. Preciosity in children is as monstrous as idiocy in the adult, because both are unnatural. Monstrosity, however, is a sentimental subject for fiction unless it is the result of human action -- the result of a willful attempt to circumvent time. When such circumvention produces acts of violence, as in "A Rose for Emily," the atmosphere becomes one of horror." (240)

This brings us to the subject of horror, which is once again the most important part of Faulkner's writings. In Barn Burning for example, we notice how Abner Snopes would continuously engage in bizarre actions, which were not only unjust and unnatural but also based on nothing else but a feeling of complete helplessness. His actions however lead to horror and mystery. The author deliberately creates this atmosphere of horror to prepare readers for all kinds of possibilities. Foreshadowing is a literary device that Faulkner uses frequently in his stories to make his readers know that there is something highly evil taking place beneath the apparently simple and uneventful life of the characters. In Barn Burning, for example, no one could tell what Snopes was planning to do when he finally got a job at the big mansion of De Spain's. Sarty, the son of Snopes, though aware of his father's abnormal behavior, is still blissfully ignorant of the depths of Snopes' anger and thus convinces himself that, "People whose lives are a part of this peace and dignity are behind his touch, he no more to them than a buzzing wasp." This shows that even he wasn't prepared to encounter Snopes' evil intentions.

But all the while, Faulkner uses various symbols and internal monologues to convey the message that something more intense lies beneath. For example when Snopes enters the De Spain's mansion, he reminds himself that his future employer, "aims to begin owning me body and soul for the next eight months" which indicates that Snopes was extremely furious at the white rich plantation owners of the South and wasn't prepared to let them own him. By doing so, Faulkner manages to create an atmosphere where almost anything is possible. West (1949) further explains how atmosphere of horror is used for foreshadowing, "All that has gone before has prepared us by producing a general tone of mystery, foreboding, decay, etc., so that we may say the entire series of events that have gone before are "in key" -- that is, they are depicted in a mood in which the final violence does not appear too shocking or horrible. We are inclined to say, "In such an atmosphere, anything may happen." Foreshadowing is often accomplished through atmosphere..."

In Faulkner's works, it is always the traditional against the modern. The universal conflict between conservatism and change is highlighted in different ways and through different characters but the essential nature of the conflict remains static. It is always the traditional world, symbolized by some person, animal or place, against the forces of modernity. 'The Bear' is a perfect example of this kind of eternal conflict that makes its appearance in every single literary piece by Faulkner. In this story, like all other discussed above, Faulkner uses symbolism to accentuate the differences between tradition and modernity and highlight the universal conflict. In the Bear, Old Ben represents tradition while Ike McCaslin and others are anti-traditionalist forces that are out there to fight and destroy old customs and norms. "Man and animal were one in the past. They were both representatives of the old order in which humility could be sought by this entry into strife." (Malin, 71) the conflict between nature and civilization is evident from these lines in the Bear: "It was as if the boy had already divined what his senses and intellect had not encompassed yet: that doomed wilderness whose edges were being constantly and punily gnawed at by men with ploughs and axes who feared it because it was wilderness... where the old bear had earned a name... epitome and apotheosis of the old wild life... And absolved of mortality. (147)"

Similar conflicts can be noticed in a Rose for Emily and Barn Burning too, where tradition is pitted against the strength and might of change. Emily's death in a Rose for Emily shows that tradition is not powerful enough to stand firmly against the powerful blows of modernity, the same message is coveyed through the killing of Old Ben in the Bear.

GEORGE MARION O'DONNELL (1939) sheds light on this universal conflict in Faulkner's works and draws a highly interesting conclusion. This critic was of the view that despite different characters and their apparently different names, Faulkner's conflict is always between the Sartorises and the Snopeses. He writes, "In the spiritual geography of Mr. Faulkner's work there are two worlds: the Sartoris world and the Snopes world. In all of his successful books, he is exploring the two worlds in detail, dramatizing the inevitable conflict between them. It is a universal conflict. The Sartorises act traditionally; that is to say, they act always with an ethically responsible will. They represent vital morality, humanism. Being anti-traditional, the Snopeses are immoral from the Sartoris point-of-view. But the Snopeses do not recognize this point-of-view; acting only for self-interest, they acknowledge no ethical duty. Really, then, they are amoral; they represent naturalism or animalism. And the Sartoris-Snopes conflict is fundamentally a struggle… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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