Faulkner and War: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 2001

Faulkner and War: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 2001

Faulkner and War: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 2001

Faulkner and War: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 2001


A critical exploration of the effects and influence of America's wars upon the works of William Faulkner


Fighting is more important than truth…. So we must restrict the prestiges and privileges of it to the few so that it will not lose popularity with the many who have to die.

—Ad Astra 409

Defeat will be good for us. Defeat iss good for art; victory, it iss not good.


Along with race and gender, war is one of the touchstones triumvirate, lodestones even, central to William Faulkner's works and to the combustible age which he chronicled so intensely. His life was framed by war—by the cultural memory and the still-regnant physical scars of the Civil War on the one end and by the gathering storms of the civil wars Vietnam and the civil rights movement would cause on the other—and punctuated throughout by military irruptions and their bitter residues. The twentieth was a century studded with those residues: sunbleached skeletons and dank memorial ossuaries, corpses stacked like bricks, their blood the mortar holding the twentieth century together, if indeed one may say that it did hold together; it was a century suffocated by the sanctimony of high idealism and of naked aggression, often identical; by language refracted to meaninglessness by the screaming of howitzers and the weeping of children; by human displacement and turmoil, by ceaseless fragmentation and despair.

And yet, having acknowledged that, it is worth noting how little of battle actually appears in his fiction, narrated directly by the author or by one of the characters, although to be sure few are the characters who have not been affected by war in one way or another. In fact, Faulkner seems more concerned with the gaps between the battles, the interims between wars, when warriors military and civil must figure out how to deal with peace: with the repercussions in home life rather than with corpse-strewn battlegrounds and the fury of combat. Even in A Fable, his novel most directly engaged with conditions of the battle, he is more concerned with war not . . .

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