"Words Are No Good": The Curse of Signification and the Curse of Faulkner's South

by St. Thomas, Michael Joseph

Abstract (Summary)
In this study I examine three of Faulkners novels that concern his fictional Yoknapatawpha County: As I Lay Dying (1930), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and Go Down, Moses (1942). These novels, I argue, indicate a development in Faulkners relationship to the formalist hierarchy of art over real life. To show this development I will investigate the topic of language as an inadequate medium in characters relationships to nature and the past. In As I Lay Dying Faulkner presents words as something unable to achieve the transcendence his characters desire. In Absalom, Absalom! and Go Down, Moses the author extends this suspicion of language to the value system of plantation society. Structured like a language, based on arbitrary differences, Yoknapatawphas social framework lacks transcendent authority. The South crumbles, Faulkner suggests, because language ultimately does. In my intro I briefly outline the formalist framework as it appears in French Symbolism and later, New Criticism. In my chapter on As I Lay Dying I focus on Addie Bundrens identification with the silent presence of the natural world. She despises words because they indicate a lack: her experiences with her children and with nature transcend representation. In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner takes this same critique of signification and applies it to the social structure of the Southern plantation system. He depicts the Souths caste system as upheld by an edifice of symbols that attempts to mask class, race, and gender oppression. Eventually, Faulkner suggests, his region will have to recognize those horrors upon which it constructed its society. Finally, in my chapter on Go Down, Moses, I argue that Faulkner places the problems of signification squarely at the heart of human interaction with the natural world. Direct experience with transcendent nature is impossible because it is forever lost in the Souths history. Over the course of these three novels, we see Faulkner complicating the Symbolist hierarchy that heralds a works timeless insights over its cultural context.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Dr. Michael Mayer; Dr. Christopher Knight; Dr. David Moore

School:The University of Montana

School Location:USA - Montana

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:08/06/2008

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