A Critical Study of William Faulkner by Irving Howe

Ivan R. Dee, Publisher

As one of the most important figures in 20th-century American literature, ​​William Faulkner's works include The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Absalom, Absalom (1936). Taking into consideration Faulkner's greatest works and thematic development, Irving Howe writes, "The scheme of my book is simple." He wanted to explore the "social and moral themes" in Faulkner's books, and then he provides an analysis of Faulkner's important works.

Search for Meaning: Moral and Social Themes

Faulkner's writings often deal with the search for meaning, racism, the connection between past and present, and with social and moral burdens. Much of his writing was drawn from the history of the South and of his family. He was born and raised in Mississippi, so the stories of the South were ingrained into him, and he used this material in his greatest novels.

Unlike earlier American writers, like ​Melville and ​​Whitman, Faulkner wasn't writing about an established American myth. He was writing about the "decayed fragments of myth," with the Civil War, the institution of slavery, and so many other events hanging in the background. Irving explains that this dramatically different backdrop "is one reason his language is so often tortured, forced and even incoherent." Faulkner was searching for a way to make sense of it all.

Failure: A Unique Contribution

Faulkner's first two books were failures, but then he created The Sound and the Fury, a work for which he would become famous. Howe writes, "the extraordinary growth of the books to come will arise from his discovery of his native insight: the Southern memory, the Southern myth, the Southern reality." Faulkner was, after all, unique. There has been no other quite like him. He seemed to see the world in a new way forever, as Howe points out. Never satisfied with "the familiar and well-worn," Howe writes that Faulkner did something that no other writer except James Joyce has been able to do when he "exploited the stream-of-consciousness technique." But, Faulkner's approach to literature was tragic, as he explored "the cost and heavy the weight of human existence." Sacrifice may be the key to salvation for those "who stand ready to bear the cost and suffer the weight." Perhaps, it was only that Faulkner was able to see true cost.

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Lombardi, Esther. "A Critical Study of William Faulkner by Irving Howe." ThoughtCo, Sep. 21, 2020, thoughtco.com/william-faulkner-a-critical-study-739714. Lombardi, Esther. (2020, September 21). A Critical Study of William Faulkner by Irving Howe. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/william-faulkner-a-critical-study-739714 Lombardi, Esther. "A Critical Study of William Faulkner by Irving Howe." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/william-faulkner-a-critical-study-739714 (accessed June 1, 2023).