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William Faulkner
William Faulkner (1897-1962) reclines in a chair in front of typewriter in Hollywood, California, December 1942.

Alfred Eriss/Pix Inc./Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

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William Faulkner, (1897-1962), ranks among the leading authors in American literature. He gained fame for his novels about the fictional "Yoknapatawpha County" and its county seat of Jefferson. Faulkner patterned the county after the area around his hometown, Oxford, Miss. He explored the county's geography, history, economy, and social and moral life. Faulkner received the 1949 Nobel Prize for literature. He won Pulitzer Prizes in 1955 for A FABLE and in 1963 for THE REIVERS.

Faulkner's work is characterized by a remarkable range of technique, theme, and tone. In THE SOUND AND THE FURY (1929) and AS I LAY DYING (1930), he used stream-of-consciousness, in which the story is told through the seemingly chaotic thoughts of a character. In REQUIEM FOR A NUN (1951), Faulkner alternated sections of prose fiction with sections of a play. In A FABLE (1954), he created a World War I soldier whose experiences parallel the Passion of Jesus Christ. Faulkner was skillful in creating complicated situations that involve a variety of characters, each with a different reaction to the situation. He used this technique to dramatize the complexity of life and the difficulty of arriving at truth.

The traditions and history of the South were a favorite Faulkner theme. SARTORIS (1929) and THE UNVANQUISHED (1938) tell the story of several generations of the Sartoris family. THE REIVERS (1962) is a humorous story of a young boy's adventures during a trip from Mississippi to Memphis. Faulkner examined the relationship between blacks and whites in several works, including LIGHT IN AUGUST (1932); ABSALOM, ABSALOM! (1936); and GO DOWN, MOSES (1942). Here, he was especially concerned with people of mixed racial background and their problems in establishing an identity.

Most of Faulkner's novels have a serious, even tragic, tone. But in nearly all of them, tragedy is profoundly mixed with comedy. Faulkner's comic sense was the legacy of Mark Twain and other earlier writers. Twain was a direct influence on him. THE HAMLET (1940), THE TOWN (1957), and THE MANSION (1959) make up the Snopes Trilogy. These novels form a tragicomic chronicle of the Snopes family and their impact on Yoknapatawpha County. Faulkner's short stories have the same range of technique, theme, and tone as his novels. His stories appear in THE COLLECTED STORIES OF WILLIAM FAULKNER (1950) and THE UNCOLLECTED STORIES OF WILLIAM FAULKNER (published in 1979, after his death).

Faulkner was born on Sept. 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. He spent most of his life in Oxford. Faulkner worked occasionally in Hollywood as a motion-picture scriptwriter from 1932 to 1954. He died on July 6, 1962.

Many early critics of Faulkner denounced his books for their emphasis on violence and abnormality. SANCTUARY (1931), a story involving rape and murder, was most severely criticized. Later, many critics recognized that Faulkner had been criticizing the faults in society by showing them in contrast to what he called the "eternal verities." These verities are universal values such as love, honor, pity, pride, compassion, and sacrifice. Faulkner said it is the writer's duty to remind readers of these values.

Contributor:
Noel Polk, Ph.D., Professor of English, University of Southern Mississippi.

From THE WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA © 2007 World Book, Inc. By permission of the publisher. Visit World Book Encyclopedia for more information on William Faulkner and related subjects.


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