William Faulkner is considered to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, through his implementation of the Southern gothic in his novels and short stories, through exploring the great Southern heritage, especially in his works whose action takes place in his imaginary Yoknapatawpha county, which was based on a place where he spent most of his childhood, called the Lafayette county. Faulkner was influenced greatly by his family origin and it shows in his imaginary setting in a most prolific manner, despite his drinking problems and extramarital affairs.
The birth of William Cuthbert Falkner, it was only later that his surname changed due to either a typing error, which he chose not to correct or through his own insistence, took place on August 17th 1870, in New Albany, state of Mississippi. As it was previously mentioned, the American South played a great role in his life and works. His female guardians, mother, grandmother and an African American nanny, kindled his inspiration and imagination through their own tendency towards reading, painting and photography. During his youth, Faulkner first tried applying his imagination in the field of poetry, not writing his first novel until 1925. He attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, but dropped out after only three semesters. Afterwards, he was not able to enroll for the United States Army due to his height and instead became part of the British Royal Flying Corps, and had contact with WWI. Afterwards, he was employed as the writer in residence at the University of Virginia, and died of a heart attack on July 6th 1962, in Byhalia, Mississippi.
In creating Yoknapatawpha County, Faulkner endeavored to create a family saga that would span throughout the ages and generations and show characters typical of the old South and their unique emotions, actions and subsequent descent. He even drew up a map of this imaginary county of his, to be included in The Portable Faulkner, where he fervently refused the idea of the editor to add further biographical data to his work, for fear that his editor will “bugger up a fine dignified distinguished book” with his life and war time experiences (qtd. in Blotner 472). It includes all the social elements he was interested in: from the dispossessed Indians and enslaved blacks, to the ruling class whites (Minter 152). The most poignant theme pervading Faulkner’s works is the crumbling down of old Southern values, the old Southern noblesse and the rise of the new, modernized age of technology and innovation. Some of his most famous works include The Sound and the Fury, published in 1929, As I Lay Dying, published in 1930, Light in August, published in 1931, and Absalom, Absalom!, published in 1936. All of these works take place in Yoknapatawpha, the microcosm of Southern values Faulkner himself was trying to uphold, but was simultaneously, very much aware of their faults. He uses it as a scrutinized lens through which he presents the practices and attitudes of the Southern people.
Being a part of the Southern gothic movement, along with other prominent writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and Tennessee Williams, Faulkner was interested in portraying not only the outer landscapes of Gothicism, but actually the inward, dark states of the human psyche. He endeavored to reveal the emotions and antisocial behaviors of individuals such as the heroine of his most famous short story “A Rose for Emily,” where Emily’s disturbing outward image and utterly suspicious, unsociable behavior hide horrifying depths. She turns out to be a necrophiliac due to her mental instability, but despite this fact, Faulkner offers the story as an homage to Emily’s existence, a rose for a lost life, disregarding the dark and sinister actions this life concealed. Faulkner was trying to portray the idea that people hide so much of their personality that it is almost impossible to be certain who someone really is, because someone’s daily habits speak little of his wishes and intentions.
In addition, in his Southern gothic, Faulkner also portrayed the crumbling of old Southern values, frequently capturing his characters in one of the two extremist positions, where the old and the new world order were always colliding. His world is one which offers little help. He does not see religion or politics of benefit to his characters and to people in general. It is believed that the purpose of religion and politics is to unite and (re)establish order under the guiding hand of justice. Faulkner was of a different belief. He saw these two notions frequently failing to provide these things, and instead only made things more complicated, simultaneously creating a division among the people. Even the world of his literary works is the one sheltering a society which gossips and is all too ready to judge, resembling old spinsters who have nothing better to do all day long but lead everyone else’s life but their own. This is exactly the kind of bigotry he was trying to portray in his works.
The works of William Faulkner continue to fascinate even today’s readers, despite the fact that the old Southern values he speaks so much about are long gone. This Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner deserves to bear the honorable title of being one of the most prominent writers of the twentieth century, because he was not afraid to delve deeply into the human psyche and return to show the psychological cracks of the mind. He was also not afraid to present the social order as it was, truthfully and painfully. This is why his works stubbornly remain intensely modern, intensely American, and intensely Southern (Minter 153).
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. New York: Random House Inc, 2005. Print.
Minter, David L. William Faulkner, His Life and Work. Maryland: the John Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print.