The Fragile Thread: The Meaning of Form in Faulkner's Novels

The Fragile Thread: The Meaning of Form in Faulkner's Novels

The Fragile Thread: The Meaning of Form in Faulkner's Novels

The Fragile Thread: The Meaning of Form in Faulkner's Novels

Synopsis

A critical study of form in Faulkner's novels views the author as an example of the modernist school, notes the fragmentary structure of the works, and illuminates the impact of Faulkner's rejection of traditional narrative conventions.

Excerpt

My purpose in this book is to explore the meaning of form in William Faulkner's major novels. By "form" I do not mean such technical matters as imagery, symbolism, narrative point of view, or specific devices such as stream-of-consciousness. I refer rather to the significant structure of a literary work, the way in which the different units relate to each other, the way in which they become part--or fail to--of a coherent whole. Structure is the strategy of these relations, and in Faulkner, whose novels are so highly fragmented, the establishment of relations becomes a crucial issue.

The fragmentariness of Faulkner's novels is perhaps the most obvious thing about them. From the beginning of his career to the end, Faulkner arranged his novels as collections of blocks of material whose relevance to each other is, to say the least, not always clear. Sometimes there is a sequence of voices, each one the source of a unique language and perspective, as in The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! Sometimes there is a juxtaposition of apparently independent stories, such as the separate lives of Lena Grove and Joe Christmas-- who never meet--in Light in August. And once, in The Wild Palms, there are actually two novels set down side by side as alternating chapters, unrelated but for the fact that Wilbourne and the tall convict inhabit the same prison. This fragmentary structure is the core of Faulkner's novelistic vision, describing a world of broken orders, a world in which the meetings of men and words need to be imagined again.

The general critical response to this fragmentation has been to see it as a flaw, and either to dismiss the work accordingly or to discover in it some principle of unity. The assumption has been that if Faulkner is to have major status, his structural idiosyncracies must be clarified: that is . . .

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