I’ve mentioned before that my Jan Term class is “A Month in Yoknapatawpha County,” which is a course entirely dedicated to a world created by William Faulkner. This County is located in the heart of Mississippi, and the novels that take place here focus on major issues involving race and gender. I wanted to share two of the novels we recently completed reading in my class. The two novels are Light in August and Absalom, Absalom! Let me just say, now that I’ve completed Absalom, Absalom! I feel like I can read anything and understand it perfectly (War and Peace, anyone?) The first novel we read was Light in August, which is the novel I will be writing my final 8-10 page term paper on.
I really enjoyed this novel, especially as my introduction to Faulkner. The novel centers of Lena Grove, a pregnant, unmarried woman who treks across the South in an attempt to locate her baby’s father, as well as simultaneously chronicling the path of outsider Joe Christmas, a mysterious man who suffers from racial ambiguity in a time when race weighed most. The two characters never meet or interact, and yet their two stories intersect in fascinating ways. I really enjoyed the style of the novel, even though there were moments when I was unsure of how the information I was being provided was relevant (but it was, it always is as I’m beginning to learn with Faulkner). This is definitely a great novel that gets you thinking, and I think it was helpful that I read it through a social categorization/ system of powers lens because it made it easier to really tease out the major struggles behind each character. A lot going on in this book, but all great things!
Some quotes I liked:
“A fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he’s already got. He’ll cling to trouble he’s used to before he’ll risk a change. Yes. A man will talk about how he’d like to escape from living folks. But it’s the dead folks that do him the damage. It’s the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and dont try to hold him, that he cant escape from.”
“And even a liar can be scared into telling the truth, same as honest man can be tortured into telling a lie.”
“She was the captain of her soul”
“Just when do men that have different blood in them stop hating one another?” I could list several others, but these were some of the quotes that stood out to me most!
The second novel we read was Absalom, Absalom!, which is an incredible novel that I will need to read three to four more times before I can fully understand every detail and storyline and event in this novel. Someone once told William Faulkner that they had read this two or three times and still didn’t quite understand. They asked for his advice about how to get a better grasp of the novel. His response? “Read it four times.” Hah, oh Willy, he sure likes to challenge his readers. Anyway, this novel is interesting because within the first five pages you know everything that will take place in the novel. It’s a family member telling the new generation of Thomas Supten, a man who came to Jefferson, Mississippi ad attempted to build the ideal Southern empire, yet failed miserably. So much going on, seriously, most of my class was stunned into silence 90% of the time. I actually bought the audiobook of this novel, and listened to it as I read, which helped immensely because prior to this method of reading my mind would wander, and then suddenly I would be completely lost and have no idea of what I just read. This book is great for understanding fate, familial expectation, race relations, and bloodlines in the South during the Civil War and after!
“…women will show pride and honor about almost anything except love …”
“…the blood, the immortal blood brief recent intransient blood which could hold honor above slothy unregret and love above fat and easy shame.”
“Maybe you have to know anybody awful well to love them but when you have hated somebody for forty-three years you will know them awful well so maybe it’s better then maybe it’s fine then because after forty-three years they cant any longer surprise you or make you either very contented or very mad.”
Something about Faulkner is that he is a huge fan of run-on sentences. He doesn’t really like periods, preferring commas, semicolons, etc. If you’re not a fan of the long-winded writer, he probably isn’t your cup of sweet tea. But he is a thought-provoking, beautiful writer, and I know understand why he is such a monument within the literary world. It’s funny because we hear all the “great” names such as Faulkner, Hemingway, Austen, or Dickens, and we are supposed to assume that they are great, and we are expected to love them, but we never really now why they’re great until we read them. But it is okay to not like them, it’s okay to recognize their talent, and yet still dislike them. So, try Faulkner, and if you hate him, know you tried.