Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

William McMahon, George McCelvey, Hoyt Bowen

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


To William Faulkner, art must bolster man; it must somehow remind man of those truths toward which his race has struggled and must continue to struggle if life is to have meaning and significance. Faulkner's works meet this aim by dramatizing the conflict individuals face if they seek to wrench from life a morality that allows them placement within the larder human community.

Both The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! require a re-examination in light of Faulkner's artistic aim. For at the center of both novels are children inescapably threatened by a corrupted moral tradition--a decayed antebellum southern morality. Such is the legacy Jason and Caroline Compson and Thomas and Ellen Sutpen bequeath their children; that is, the Tompson children and the Sutpen children receive as part of their inheritance a moral tradition stripped of its base -- a concern for the well being of others. The dilemma, then, that confronts these children is whether they choose to adhere to the moral tradition bequeathed them, to deny it, or to endeavor to transcend it. For different reasons, Jason and Caddy succumb to the moral code they inherited. Quentin, Henry, and Judith attempt to transcend but finally embrace the very code they waged war on.

What is important, though, in Faulkner's handling of the abusing legacy that each child in The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! inherits is not the degree to which each seems irrevocably doomed; rather, what is crucial is the degree to which each struggles to achieve a moral identity that affords placement within the family of man. Courage, strength, honor, pity are truths toward which the individual must aspire: they are the goal of a life-long struggle that cannot be wholly successful because it aims for ideals. But for Faulkner, the struggle itself - not its outcome - is all.


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America