William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” is one of American literature’s most influential and essential works. But what inspired this classic novel? Faulkner’s prose is impressive, but he’s a challenging author to understand. I read this novel recently, considered one of his best, and it left me with more questions than answers. So, I decided to do some research.
William Faulkner was an American novelist and short-story writer, most known for his modernist works set in the Southern United States. In total, Faulkner wrote over twenty novels and more than one hundred short stories. Faulkner was influential in redefining literary technique and style by using stream-of-consciousness, symbolism, and fictionalized histories. He also popularized Southern literature as a genre through his works that focused on the South’s culture and history.
Faulkner’s work is often noted for its poetic language, dense syntax, and intricate wordplay, which combine to convey a sense of darkness and tragedy. Through his work, Faulkner explored many topics, including race relations and identity in the South during the early twentieth century. His themes often included religion, family feuds and honor, morality, death, survival, change, and decay.
The Novel ‘Absalom, Absalom!’
‘Absalom, Absalom!’ follows the story of Thomas Sutpen, a white man who moves to Mississippi and starts a plantation with the help of slaves during the 19th century. Told from the point of view of multiple narrators, this novel reflects Faulkner’s deep understanding of the racial inequalities that existed in the South during that time. The novel also examines themes of privilege and power as Sutpen uses his money to influence the people and events around him. Through his writing, William Faulkner can probe complex questions about race and societal structures, painting a vivid picture of life in the South during that era.
The novel is widely considered one of Faulkner’s greatest works, as it explores themes such as racism, ambition, and the legacy of the past. This epic story follows Thomas Sutpen’s quest for power and legacy as he seeks to build a dynasty with his newly acquired plantation in the Deep South. Using various narrators, Faulkner’s narrative structure presents multiple perspectives on Sutpen’s journey as it unfolds. Absalom, Absalom! is an important novel that highlights the strong racial tensions of the pre-Civil War south and the complexities of human ambition that can lead to tragedy.
Faulkner’s storytelling techniques, such as shifting perspectives and unreliable narrators, create a complex and engaging narrative, establishing Absalom, Absalom! as one of Faulkner’s best-known and most studied works. In this novel, Faulkner’s use of stream-of-consciousness allows readers to better understand the characters’ internal conflicts and emotional states, making it a powerful piece of literature praised for its complexity and emotional depth.
Development of the Plot in ‘Absalom, Absalom!’
In ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ William Faulkner employs a unique and intricate style of plot development, using multiple narrators and non-linear storytelling to explore the complicated history of the Sutpen family. Faulkner’s use of multiple narrators in this novel is an innovative technique, as it allows the reader to gain deeper insight into the past of the Sutpen family. The complex plot of this novel is due to Faulkner’s use of non-linear storytelling which follows the characters, Thomas Sutpen and his children Henry and Judith, as they go through a series of events leading up to their destruction at the hands of a single fatal mistake. The novel also contains elements of mystery and suspense, allowing the reader to become invested in this dark, Southern Gothic story.
Through this plot device, Faulkner can create a complex yet profoundly human narrative that explores family dynamics, race relations, and identity. This is further emphasized by how Faulkner establishes an atmosphere of suspense and ambiguity by gradually revealing pieces of the story throughout the novel. This is part of Faulkner’s unique writing style, allowing readers to engage with characters, places, and events in a more meaningful way. Faulkner’s ability to create intricate relationships between different story events is also notable. Using this method, he creates a complex web of information that allows his readers to explore multiple interpretations and understand the deeper meanings behind his writings.
Additionally, Faulkner’s use of symbolism is crucial to the success of his works, as it helps him deepen the narrative and make powerful statements that are more than just surface observations. Ultimately, Faulkner’s carefully designed plot highlights how even the most seemingly insignificant details can shape one’s understanding of history and identity. The novel forces readers to look deeper into the past by examining the less obvious details that are so often overlooked. Therefore, Absalom Absalom serves as an insightful statement on how one’s heritage and identity can be constructed through seemingly small elements.
Influences of the South on Faulkner’s Writings
William Faulkner was a major twentieth-century author whose works reflected and celebrated the distinctive culture of the American South. His writing profoundly influenced the development of Southern literature and was known for its experimental use of language and fragmented narratives. Faulkner wrote uniquely, combining modernist experimentation with traditional Southern Gothic themes. His work was often focused on exploring the psychological effects of the legacy of racism, wealth, and conventional social hierarchies present in the American South.
Faulkner’s writing was deeply influenced by his upbringing and experiences in Mississippi, where he was born and raised. He was exposed to life in the South and the changing times brought on by industrialization and World War I, which he experienced firsthand. His vivid and multifaceted characters allow readers to sympathize with their struggles and appreciate their resilience despite their often-horrifying circumstances.
In particular, he drew on the unique dialects and storytelling traditions of the American South to create vivid, lasting images of life in small-town Mississippi. William Faulkner is widely recognized as one of the greatest American writers. His vernacular writing style was revolutionary for its time, allowing him to effectively depict the culture and people of rural Mississippi.
Intertextuality in ‘Absalom, Absalom!’
In ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ William Faulkner demonstrates his mastery of intertextuality or referencing one work within another. This technique is seen throughout the novel, most notably in the narrative style. Faulkner uses the shifting perspectives of various characters to tell his story, a style reminiscent of classical Greek plays and Shakespearean works. He also references other writers in his works, such as Herman Melville and James Joyce, providing a subtle nod to works that have come before him.
He creates a complex network of allusions that enrich the novel and add depth to its characters and themes; for example, he references the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey, and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. The novel contains allusions to numerous big and small Biblical stories, such as the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or Absalom’s revolt against David. In addition to these Biblical references, Faulkner also draws on Homer’s Odyssey in his tale of Thomas Sutpen and his search for stability for his family. Moreover, the themes and storylines in Absalom Absalom also reflect those in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, with its themes of fate, inheritance, and family secrets.
All these allusions create a complex network that adds depth to characters within the novel and gives rise to its powerful themes. He also uses intertextuality to create a unique narrative structure – by weaving multiple stories together, Faulkner can explore ideas about race and history innovatively.
Symbolism in ‘Absalom, Absalom!’
Faulkner’s use of symbols in ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ emphasizes the themes of tragedy, identity, and legacy. For example, the title, which references a Biblical story of a son opposed by his father, reflects these themes in its very name. Absalom Absalom also features several other symbols, such as the image of the mansion and its destruction, which can be seen to symbolize the destruction of Southern aristocracy due to the Civil War. Additionally, characters such as the Compson family represent a fading aristocratic past, while those such as Sutpen represent a new era of social mobility and change. All these symbols work together to create an atmosphere emphasizing the themes of tragedy, identity, and legacy throughout Absalom Absalom.
In the novel, Faulkner heavily employs natural imagery such as lightning, rain, and fires to symbolize conflicts between characters and the inevitability of fate. The novel’s main character Thomas Sutpen is even described as a ‘furious force of nature’ – a testament to Faulkner’s ability to use natural elements to indicate the presence of forces beyond human control. His writing often examines how characters interact with and struggle against these uncontrollable forces, creating a tension between determinism and free will that audiences find thought-provoking.
Along with nature, Faulkner also uses family connections and relationships to further emphasize themes of identity and legacy throughout ‘Absalom, Absalom!’. The intertwined relationships between Sutpen’s children demonstrate how family can shape one’s destiny even long after death.
Character Development in ‘Absalom, Absalom!’
Each character reflects a different element of the South’s history, with characters such as Thomas Sutpen offering insight into the struggles of Americans who were formerly enslaved and those who were impacted by generations of oppression. Faulkner was born and raised in Mississippi, making him a perfect candidate to write about the region’s complexities.
In ‘Absalom, Absalom!’, William Faulkner explores the power of legacy and the cyclical nature of history. He reinforces these ideas by using recurring motifs such as darkness, ghosts, and time. Absalom Absalom! is a story of the Sutpen family and their experiences with generations of intergenerational trauma. Using a complex narrative structure, Faulkner effectively portrays how the Sutpens’ past continues to haunt them in the present. While Faulkner reveals secrets and mysteries that have been hidden for centuries, he also uses symbolism to express how powerful past events can still influence individuals’ lives.
The story’s central theme is a seemingly unstoppable cycle of violence, hatred, and tragedy perpetuated by a family’s legacy. This is mirrored in the characters’ refusal to accept responsibility for their actions and the interweaving stories they tell. This is a recurring theme in the works of Faulkner.
Faulkner’s ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ is seen by many as a cornerstone of American literature, and its legacy is likely to continue to shape the way we think about race, family, and nationhood for years to come. Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! is a complex and multifaceted work of literature. The novel draws on a variety of influences, from Faulkner’s own life experiences to the history and culture of the American South. By understanding these influences and inspirations, readers can better appreciate the depth and complexity of this classic work of American fiction.