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Writer William Cuthbert Faulkner’s Biography

William Cuthbert Faulker was an American writer born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897, and died on July 6, 1962. His parents were Maud Butler Faulkner and Murry Falkner, who lived in a small Mississippian village (Khelifa 2). Faulker or Falker as his original name was named after the paternal grandfather, William Clark Falkner. William Clark Falkner was an intelligent and adventurous man who had seven years before Faulker’s birth had been shot dead in the Mississippi town square. In his years, he was many things, including politician, farmer, soldier, lawyer, and the author of The White Rose of Memphis in his best years. Faulkner took after his grandfather and began writing poetry and later became a famous novel writer.

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Faulkner developed an interest in literature at a young age, so he began reading and writing poetry. At 12, he began to mimic English and Scottish romantics, especially those for A.E Housman and Robert Burns (Khelifa 4). Faulkner never traveled much except for Asia, Europe, and a few in Hollywood during scriptwriting. The rest of his life was spent on his Oxford farm as he wrote short stories and novels. The writer invented a host of characters of the subsequent decadence and historical growth of the South to develop his saga. The human drama in the books is composed of historical connection and actual drama, pushing to more than a century. Half of each story contributes to building a whole, the imaginary Yoknapatawpha county, and its environments.

Faulkner’s general theme of his writing is the decay of the South as shown by the Compson and Sartoris families, the snopeses, and the emergence of bold and ruthless newcomers in the county. Faulkner is termed as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century ((Khelifa 5). The world remembers him using a flow of consciousness techniques and the depth and range of his characterization. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949, among other awards in his course of writing (Millgate, 182). His style of writing is south gothic and modernist literary movements. The competitive writer once admitted to respect and appreciate the work of Ernest Hemingway as a fellow writer.

Faulkner’s professional early writing began as early as 1919 when he enrolled in Mississippi University (Millgate, 182). He wrote for Mississippian, the student newspaper, by submitting his first short works and poems (Millgate, 182). Faulkner, however, did not stay for long as he dropped out after three semesters due to his inattentiveness as a student. The author works shortly in New York City as an assistant to a bookseller and later as a postmaster for a university.

Phil Stone, in 1924 took Faulkner’s poetry collection, The Marble Faun, to a publisher. The novel was published to at least 1000 copies when Faulkner shifted to New Orleans. Faulkner saw Soldier’s pay to his first novel published in 1926 (Millgate, 181). Upon acceptance for publishing in 1925, Faulkner moved again from New Orleans to Le Grand Hotel in Paris, Europe, where he stayed for a few months. While there, Faulkner would write his works from Luxembourg Gardens, which was just a short walk from his apartment.

Faulkner was advised by Sherwood Anderson, an American writer who had become his friend in Louisiana, to write about Mississippi’s native region (Millgate, 184). A place Faulkner knew better than the North of France, Faulkner took this advice and began to write about his childhood people and places. He formed several colorful characters from the people he grew up with and those he had heard about, including his paternal grandfather. Exercising the advice offered by his friend, Faulkner wrote his famous novel, The Sound and the Fury. He created Yoknapatawpha, the fictional County, a place identical to Lafayette County in Oxford, Mississippi. In 1930, the Nobel Prize winner published As I Lay Dying as one of his early works.

Faulkner came to the lame light for his accurate and faithful Sothern speech diction. He boldly illuminated the American social issues which many authors left untouched, including Southern aristocracy, the good old boys club, and slavery (Millgate, 183). After much deliberation, Faulkner decided to release Sanctuary, a narrative about the kidnapping and rape of a young woman in Ole Miss. The story appalled some while shocked other readers; however, it was a thriving commercial and significant breakthrough in Faulkner’s career.

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In the 1950s, Faulkner published a continuation of a mix of conventional play and prose forms, Requiem for a Nun. He would also write short stories based on his personal life; for example, the stories, These 13, was a collection dedicated to his wife Estelle and Alabama (Urgo 176). Faulkner also wrote several popular books and did screenwriting for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where Faulkner contributed to Today We Live, starring Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford. Notably, some of Faulkner’s works turned to films like Sanctuary, whose copyrights he sold later after his father’s death. The writer also wrote many pieces, and some of them were awarded.

Faulkner felt that he had the duty to inform his audience about his past life through novels. He expressed honor, courage, pity, sacrifice, glory, and compassion as a way of uplifting the heart of a man (Millgate 189). In his speech during the winning of the Nobel Prize, Faulkner mentioned that he wrote about fear because many writers were afraid of covering such a topic. Before his death, Faulkner taught literature at Virginia University and wrote his last book, The Reivers in 1962. The book talks about the transformation of a boy into adulthood and many people related the story to that of Faulkner. The writer in 1962 suffered from a heart attack and died in Byhalia, Mississippi.

A Rose for Emily is a short story about a woman who died at 74. Emily lived an isolated life after her father prevented her from socializing at a young age (Urgo 176). Her father, Grierson was a strict man and thought highly of his family that he would chase away many suitors seeking Emily’s hand in marriage. Upon her father’s death, Emily is reluctant to admit his death and stays indoors with the stinking body. Emily later gives away the body to the authority for burial (Urgo 176). The town’s former mayor, Colonel Sartoris relieves Emily’s tax responsibilities stating that Grierson had once loaned the town some huge amount. Emily is still asked by the new town mayors to pay her taxes but never commits.

Emily gains freedom after her father’s death to date whoever she wants but chooses a man below her standards. Her relationship with Homer Boron seems to end in marriage based on the town’s gossip (Urgo 176). Emily even orders a silver toilet with her lover’s initials on it thus confirming that her relationship is long-lasting. Boron however goes away for some time while Emily’s cousins visit her. Boron return later after her cousin leaves but is never seen again by the townspeople. Emily closes her house and roof, stays indoors all her life except for her servants who are seen entering and leaving.

When Emily dies, her funeral is attended by everyone in town and rumors tell that Emily was engaged to Barron. The homestead, which has not been open to the neighbors for the last decade is open for the funeral. After the funeral, a human skeleton is found on Emily’s bed and is believed to be Barron, who went missing 30 years ago (Urgo 177). The townspeople open a room that had been closed for 40 years in which were wedding dressings. Her wedding gown and the bride groom’s suit are well laid on the bed and aside is the skeleton of Barron.

The Sound of the Fury is a novel about the downfall of an aristocratic Compson family. The wealthy and corrupt family begins its decline after the end of slavery amongst the whites (Urgo 180). The Compson family members develop health problems which together with immoral behaviors bring them to an end. In the narrative, the author speaks the thought of the three brothers’ obsession for their sister, Caddy. The first brother, Benjy is 33years old and intellectually disabled. Quentin is the other brother, a Harvard University student and Jason is a bitter farm-supply worker. In Jefferson Mississippi, the Compsons are the most prominent family in town.

The Compson’s ancestors fought for the family home during the Civil War. However, the family has recently seen their land, wealth, and status fade away. The Compson has been deteriorating where Mr. Compson has grown to be alcoholic while his wife indulges in hypochondria thus lacking the ability to properly raise her children (Urgo 180). Quentin is sensitive and has neuroses while Caddy is stubborn but compassionate and loving. Jason is mean-spirited, difficult, and highly rejected by other siblings. Benjy, with several mental breakdowns, is a clueless “idiot” with no regard for molarity and time.

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Caddy stands as the mother figure of the family but with time, she starts to have multiple sexual partners, and Benjy and Quentin cannot stand it. In no time, Caddy gets pregnant but would not reveal who the father of her baby is, making Quentin so frustrated (Urgo 181). Quentin even tries to cover up for his sister by stating that they committed incest. Caddy however marries a banker to cover up her mess but is later divorced after the banker learned about her pregnancy.

Quentin still in disbelieve about her sister’s actions drowns himself on the river. Mr. Compsons disowns Caddy but takes his grandchild, named Miss Quentin. Miss Quentin is raised by Disley but later grows to be promiscuous, unhappy, and rebellious, just like her mother (Urgo 180). Jason tries to steal the child support fund sent by Caddy to raise Miss Quentin. Mr. Compsons dies of alcohol while Miss Quentin runs away with a traveler after stealing many thousands of money from vicious Jason.

As I Lay Dying is another novel by Faulkner that tells the story of a bereaved family. Addie Bundren, mother to Cash, Darl, and Jewel, sons who have different characters is on a dying bed (Urgo 182). Cash is a carpenter and makes a coffin for his dying mother, a day before she passes away. On the same day, Dal and Jewel embark on a delivery journey as sent by their neighbor. Addie dies and women come to the house singing while men make conversations on the porch. Darl and Jewel come back to find out that their mother is dead so they start preparing for her burial. Their sister, Dell is pregnant and attempts to abort twice but never succeeds.

Vardaman, Addie’s youngest son is blown by his mother’s death so he drills two holes on her coffin to see her. The lengthy journey to bury Addie in Jefferson is tiresome and troublesome. Darl and Jewel are unstable after the death of their mother and unlike Cash, their lives are never the same again (Urgo 182). In an uncertain time, Addie recalls her experience in an unloving marriage with Anse and remembers her relationship with a local minister, Whitfield from which she gave birth to all her children. After the burial, Anse comes to introduce the stepmother to Addie’s children.

Sanctuary is a novel about a girl, abducted and raped in Mississippi. Popeye and Benbow meet at the Frenchman plantation where they converse and later meet the plantation owner. Benbow also meets Ruby Lamar, a cook, and later leaves the stream. Drake and Stevens arrive at the stream but Stevens is very drunk. Ruby informs Temple that she should the plantation before night falls for safety reasons. Temple however cannot make Stevens leave as he is overly drunk and unable to move.

Temple is a college girl whose nightmare starts the night she spends on the plantation. The girl is attacked severally and although Ruby tries to help her, she cannot save her skin. Stevens leaves the Frenchman plantation in the morning but without Temple (Urgo 183). The girl leaves later with Popeye but instead of taking her to town takes him with her. Temple’s family thinks she is in school but instead is left with a woman, Miss Reba who looks after her in Memphis. Temple stays in Reba’s house for weeks under Popeye’s order until the whole village knows.

Village women still find Popeye attractive despite knowing the ordeal about the college girl. Benbow raises interest in Temple’s case and after several paid inquiries, he finds out that Popeye has her (Urgo 184). Benbow is entangled in the plantation story and feels that he cannot be further involved in the case. Benbow is also involved in another murder case where he represents Goodwin. His sister Narcissa is self-absorbed and vain images to help Benbow to stay free from Temple attack charges. Finally, Popeye and Goodwin are charged with murder, go to jail and later die. Temple is returned to her home while Benbow leaves for Kinston to be with Belle. Faulkner develops the story by tying many happenings to rescue Temple from the wrong hands (Urgo 184). The character used explores culture in rural Tennessee and Mississippi during the prohibition period.

Major Works and Themes

Faulkner wrote and published many novels and short stories where some of which made it become a film. In these narratives, the writer covered various themes depicting his beliefs, values, societal issues, and, important of all, what most novelists left untouched (Urgo 174). His most significant works include As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, and Absalom. The following is the analysis of Faulkner’s major works alongside their central themes. The Sound and the Fury (1929) is a book whose theme is decline and corruption. The novel narrated the aristocratic Compson family who was once wealthy but later declined, making the family members have mental health problems. Faulkner shows how the corrupt Compson family declined after the Civil War when the superior whites’ slave-based wealth was destroyed.

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Faulkner, using decline and corruption theme indicates the moral decay of the society, especially during the slave trade period. The whole family’s decline is shown in the members’ physical, moral, and mental aspects. “Bad health is the primary reason for all life. Created by disease, within putrefaction, into decay” (The Sound and the Fury 132). Faulkner used terrible health as a symbol for how corruption creates moral decay in society. He shows that the Compson began by being corrupt to be rich, deteriorating their health, and later declined from power. Slavery wealth is a topic many authors ignored, and by regarding it, Faulkner made this work outstanding.

In 1930, Faulkner released As I Lay Dying novel whose primary theme is mortality. Faulkner attempt to make sense of the nature of existence by not only covering mortality as a theme but analyze the death of Addie Bundren (The Sound and the Fury 136). The in-depth analysis explores the theme by showing Addie’s family members, friends, and loved ones as they offer unique responses to her demise. The author used the coffin to symbolize the sense of lack of balance and weight that the Bundren took as they cart Addie to the graveyard (The Sound and the Fury 136). Cash’s carpentry tools are a metaphor for a need to fix what is broken for people around him. In the novel, Cash’s inner life is not touched, but his actions that show the virtues of mindfulness and charity to others say a lot about him. As Faulkner tries to make sense of existence, he uses Cash to deliver how people need to care about others without getting anything in return.

Light in August, published in 1932, was another novel whose themes are discipline, violence, and freedom. Discipline is symbolized by Miss Burden, who stays chaste to honor her family’s staunch commitment to black equality and abolition (Stein).

She is an indicator of the strict norms installed in society, and she is happily embracing them. “She was the captain of her soul” (Light in August 12). Miss Burden did not require supervision to follow the strict values and norms of the community because she voluntarily wanted to make the sacrifice for the sake of her family. Violence is shown through Joe Christmas, who brutally murders Miss Burden despite her sacrifice. When she was patronizing him, Joe felt threatened by Burden as she tried to get control to improve him. Joe felt trapped in the strict societal values forcefully instilled in him and wanted to escape for freedom.

Freedom is a significant theme in this novel as many characters show the desire to be free while others make it hard for society to be accessible by instilling strict norms. Freedom also symbolizes the post-slavery period when blacks sought equality with whites (Millgate, 183). The blacks might have been free from slavery but wanted more freedom to achieve parity with white men. Reverend Hightower was another symbol of people seeking freedom in the strict community. He was trapped in the past evil deeds despite being in a church, so he felt the need to run for freedom.

Absalom, Absalom is another major novel by Faulkner and the most challenging work of all. The story also evaluates the most significant themes of the South’s pride and horror in history, the interrelationship of miscegenation and incest, family drama, and the tragic legacy of slavery (Stein). Faulkner mentioned that the novel told a story of a proud man who wanted a son but instead got too many of whom destroyed him. Thomas Sutpen, driven by the desire to become wealthy and have as many sons as possible, leads him to death. After marrying at least two wives and attempting to marry the third, he impregnates a teenager who later kills him (Stein).

Ironic to his expectation of a dynastic legacy, Charles Bon’s grandson is the only son who survives. “They are there, yet something is missing; …the paper old and faded and falling to pieces, the writing faded, almost indecipherable” (Absalom, Absalom 234). Sutpen felt that he had many children, yet he felt empty, symbolizing insatiable desires. The desire later destroys him by tearing him to pieces with a tragic end.

Critical Reception and Reputation

The critical reception of the writings of Faulkner has been long and complex. Faulkner is one of the most written about authors in America amongst English speakers. The receptions are in different forms, including biographies, book reviews, and commentary critics (Khelifa 3). Several books and articles are published in response to Faulkner’s works, where some writers analyze his work while others criticize it. Faulkner’s work has been evaluated for six decades of his writing and eight decades of responses.

Many biographies have been written in appreciation, recognition, and analysis of Faulkner’s works. Some of the websites publishing his biographies include, Britannica, Wikipedia, and Nobel Prize. Biographies were the earliest forms of response to Faulkner’s works and mostly featured comments from Faulkner’s family, friends, and associates. For example, Old Times in the Faulkner’s Country (1961) by John Cullen covered such biographies (Urgo 178). Today, most biographies copy the earlier comments by his family and friends and analyze most of his works. Nobel Prize organization wrote about Faulkner as an extemporary award winner who deserves recognition.

Book reviews are another form of critical reception in which Faulkner’s work has attained responses. Book reviews necessarily entail authors who read and write their comments in article journals or the original online published books. Times Literary Supplement and The New York Review are examples of such review journals (Khelifa 2). By reading these reviews, one can get the authors’ admiration for Faulkner’s works. The New York Review of Books wrote an issue named ‘The Making of William Faulkner’ in 2005 (Coetzee). The article praises him for recognizing emerging from a simple Mississippi boy to a famous and celebrated abroad, and home kind of writer Faulkner became. In praise, Coetzee wrote, “the most radical innovator in the annals of American fiction.” The review recognized Faulkner as the inventor of American fiction during the historical periods.

Washington Independent Review of Books also published a review about Faulkner, termed ‘The Life of William Faulkner: The Past is Dead, 1897-1934.’ The article narrated all of Faulkner’s life since he was born, his works and achievements, and death. The review covered all his significant works, just like a biography. In his praise, Asher states that Faulkner was a hard worker and had a passion and love for his work. The article also mentions that although, in reality, Faulkner was a school dropout, condescending liar, vanity-press, drunk, and wastrel poet, Faulkner was a great American writer (Asher). Most reviews, especially those of professional blogging journalists, barely criticize the work of Faulkner but rather applaud for making fearless changes in the history of literature.

The Paris Review journal wrote about an interview with Faulkner in 1956. In the interview, Faulker is asked questions about his reputation, and his answers are very frank (Stein). Faulkner mentions that he hates interviews because he is likely to be violent toward personal questions. As the discussion continued, the interviewer let the audience know that even though Faulkner was a tough guy who would never stand personal attacks, he was a great writer. Furthermore, his works compete with those of great writers as Hemingway. The interview reveals Faulkner as an imperfect human but an excellent poet who has made America proud.

Blog commentaries are the significant sources of criticism where article visitors leave comments in various blogs discussing Faulkner. The comments are from Faulkner’s work readers who find his work appraisable or not appealing (Urgo 178). The comments are mainly responses to article reviews posted by significant reviewers. In the comment section of such open blogs, readers positively or negatively criticize the works of Faulkner in their opinions. Furthermore, in the development of social media, internet users also charge the work of Faulkner. For example, in his career, readers tweet most attention-capturing quotes to pass a message.

The last in discussion critical reception form is the writing of essays. Experts write essays intended to analyze and criticize the works of Faulkner. Faulkner received an essay response from Malcolm Cowley in his early works, The Portable Faulkner (1946) (Khelifa 3). Cowley saw the combination of Faulkner’s works as a unit that brought mythology to the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County. Cowley’s essay might have been expansive and not so unified but raised compelling arguments, listed volumes of Faulkner’s works, and presented it at a chronological order in a story of Yoknapatawpha history.

MPR News also published a contemporary essay about Faulkner titled, ‘As I Lay Trying: How to read William Faulkner.’ Ward, in the report, guides readers of Faulkner’s works on how to understand and find Faulkner’s work interesting easily. In one of the pieces of advice on the easy, Asher says, “Do not be afraid to re-read.” The essay does contain not only the author’s ideas of reading but also those of Christopher Rieger. The essay mention that readers are likely to find Faulkner challenging to understand but are encouraged to keep reading until they do (Ward). The readers are also advised to be patient and focus on the characters for easy understanding. The well-sectioned essay is both in praise and condemning Faulkner’s way of arranging ideas during his writings. Historical content is mainly given insight, and the readers are encouraged to identify historical context as it is critical to these stories.


Works by William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury. United States: Nonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1929.

As I Lay Dying. Josh Green, 1930.

A Rose for Emily. Mississippi: Forum, 1930

Sanctuary. United States: Nonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1931.

Light in August. Mississippi: Smith and Haas, 1932.

Absalom, Absalom. United States: Random House, 1936.

The Bear. Mississippi: Applewood Books, 1942.

Go Down, Moses. United States: Random House, 1942

The Portable. Mississippi: Penguin, 1946

The Reivers. United States: Vintage, 1962.

Studies of William Faulkner

Asher, Collin. “The Life of William Faulkner: The Past Is Never Dead, 1897-1934.” Washington Independent Review of Books, 2020,

Beebe, Maurice. “Criticism of William Faulkner: A Selected Checklist.” JSTOR, vol. 13, no. 1, 1967, pp. 1-16.

Coetzee, J.M. “The Making of William Faulkner.” The New York Review of Books, 2020.

Cullen, John. Old Times in the Faulkner’s Country. University of North Carolina Press, 1961.

Khelifa, Arezki. “The Tragic in Selected Works by Eugene O’Neill and William Faulkner: Its Major Forms and Meanings’. Diss. Université Mouloud Mammeri, 2017, pp. 1-5. Web.

Millgate, Michael. “William Faulkner: The Problem of Point of View.” Patterns of Commitment in American Literature. University of Toronto Press, 2019, pp. 181-192. Web.

Urgo, Joseph. “Writing Again the Life of William Faulkner.” The Faulkner Journal vol. 32, no.2, 2021, pp. 173-186. Web.

Stein, Jean. “The Art of Fiction No. 12.” The Paris Review, 1956.

The Nobel Prize. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949.”, 1950.

Ward, Jesmyn. “As I Lay Trying: How to Read William Faulkner.” MPR News, 2016.

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