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The Common Thread in William Faulkner’s Four Short Stories

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William Faulkner’s stories usually contain similar element of a short story, which is genre, for the enhancement his short stories. William Faulkner is the most excellent figure in 20th Century American Literature and was also the pioneer of stream of consciousness, whereby the inner experience of a character in a scene is compared with the noticeable appearance of the scene, giving his books its characteristic monologues (Britannica online, 2007). He was born on the 25th of September 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi, attended the University of Mississippi, married to Lida Estelle Oldham Franklin, and died on sixth of July 1962, in Byhalia, Mississippi (Gray, life of Faulkner 1994). He has been awarded many times since 1939, including the Howells Medal for Fiction, American Academy of Arts and Letters, Nobel Prize in Literature, National Book Award for Collected Stories of William Faulkner, Pulitzer Prize in literature and National Book Award for A Fable, Silver medal of the Greek Academy and so much more (Thomas, Vol.6). He confirmed that the primary matter of his fiction is the “human heart in conflict with itself,” for many of his works is set in Yoknapatawpha (Yok’na pa TAW pha) County: a fictional area, located in Jefferson, reflecting the geographical and cultural background of his native town Mississippi (Brooks, The Yoknapatawpha County 1963).

Faulkner’s short story collections are as follows: New Orleans Sketches ( 1925,1928), These 13 (1931), Doctor Martino and Other Stories (1934), The Portable Faulkner (1946), Knight’s Gambit (1949), Collected Stories of William Faulkner (1950), Big Woods: The Haunting Stories (1955), Three Famous Short Novels (1958), Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner (1961), The Wishing Tree (1964), A Faulkner Miscellany (1974) and Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner (1979). From all these short story collections, we are going to distinguish four award winning short stories which are namely: Dry September (1931), That Evening Sun (1931), The Bear and The Wishing Tree (Ferguson, Faulkner’s Short Fiction 1991). In these four short stories, we are going to tackle the common threads that links these four, but first let us have a little run through on what is a short story and how would you know if a reading is a short story.

A short story is an illusory work that represents one character’s inner conflict or conflict with others and usually focusing on one subject (Carothers, Harrington, Abadie 1992) . It generally produces a single, focused emotional and intellectual response to the reader (Madden, 4). It is also shorter than a novel. Its elements include; setting which is time and place, conflict, character as protagonist and antagonist, and theme such as human isolation, alienation, and personal trauma. (Madden 4)

A theme is often mistaken as the subject (Encarta online, 2007). Common subjects include race, ethnic status, gender, class, and social issues. Genre, especially fictional genre, is also a part of a short story. Genre includes the categories of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and horror and it tends to be read primarily for entertainment, though it may definitely attain other goals (Britannica,2007).

Knowing the components of a short story, we may use it as a lead on knowing the common thread/s that links the four well known short stories of William Faulkner namely: Dry September (1931), That Evening Sun(1931), The Bear, and The Wishing Tree (Padgett, 2006).

Dry September is first published on 1931. The principal characters are Miss Minnie Cooper, Will Mayes, Hawkshaw, and John McLendon. Its plot is arranged around a single incident: the murder of an innocent black man, Will Mayes (McDermott, 31-34). The story is settled in a small southern town in the fictional place in Mississippi (Faulkner, 47-50). A group of men, led by a former war hero, murdered him before they substantiate his guilt because an

aging and sexually frustrated white spinster starts the rumor that the black man has attacked her (Moore, 47-48).

The story clearly shows the horrifying miscarriages of justice that prejudice can cause (Carey, 27-30). It addresses many aspects of Southern culture, but instead of highlighting the violence of Will Mayes’ death, the story focuses on the causes leading up to that violence and the mentality that rear such outrageous behavior (Dessner, 151-162). In relation with this brutality is a sense of insecurity. Faulkner, in this story, treats many of his characters as victims of various societal forces (Rogalus, 211).

Dry September is under the psychological fiction and/or short fiction genre (Faulkner,47-50) and its subject includes African Americans, racism, murder or homicide, South or Southerners, emotions, violence, honor, and celibacy (Volpe,63).

Next is the short story entitled, That Evening Sun published in 1931 on the collection These 13 (Roberts, 2007). That Evening Sun first appeared in the March 1931 issue of American Mercury and the title is taken out of a blue song by William Christopher Handy, though it is not mentioned in the story (Ellis,revised ed. Masterplot II). It is also one of the finest example of narrative point of view. It is under the psychological plot, located in Jefferson, a small town in

Mississippi with Yoknapatawpha County as the locale (Padgett, 2006). The principal characters are Nancy, Jesus, Jason Compson, sr., Quentin Compson, Candace Caddy Compson, and Jason Compson, Jr.

The story is a dark portrait of white Southerners’ indifference to the crippling fears of one of their African-American employees, Nancy and is narrated by Quentin Compson—one of

Faulkner’s memorable characters. Nancy, the African-American washerwoman, fears that Jesus, her common-law husband, is planning to murder her because she is pregnant with a white man’s child. The situation gets insurmountable as Nancy begins to be crippled by her fear. The story

ends as the father walks the children back – not the least bit affected by Nancy’s situation, the kids still teasing each other and the father scolding them.

This story is under the Psychological fiction and short fiction genres with subjects consisting of African Americans, racism, south or southerners, prejudices or antipathies, fear, cruelty, and isolation.

The third short story is entitled, The Bear. It is a masterpiece of story telling where Faulkner used stream-of-consciousness narration to put readers deep into the thoughts and feelings of the characters at moment of intense insight and used the basic techniques of breathless realistic adventure narrative to recount the scenes of hunting deer and bear.

The characters of the story are consisting of the following: Ash, an African-American servant to Major deSpain, Hubert Beauchamp who is Ike’s uncle, Isaac McCaslin aka Ike who is the young hero in the story, McCaslin Edmonds who is Isaac’s cousin, Sam

Fathers and Old Ben, the bear (Heller, Vol.1 2007). It is set in the fictional place in, perhaps the well known Yoknapatawpha County in Jefferson Mississippi (Aiken, 446-459).

It is a third person narrative told from Ike McCaslin’s point of view, however, not all that Ike knew was told. A good example is that neither Ike nor the narrator ever actually confirms that Boon killed Sam.

The Bear’s subject concerns African-Americans, racism, South or southerners and environmentalism and is under the psychology fiction and short fiction genres.

The Bear follows the story of a sixteen-year old Isaac McCaslin as he embarks upon his sixth year of an annual hunting trip and the experiences he undergoes during his two weeks of hunting trip. The narration is between Ike’s first hunting trips at the age of ten up to the current year. The story provides a matchless peek into the Mississippi region and the wilderness being destroyed by humans’ self-indulgence, and a man who refuses to promote this destructive movement.

            The fourth short story is under the title of The Wishing Tree. It is a southern gothic story that shows the softer side of the author, Faulkner (Folks, Vol.5). It is a gentle, moving account of a young girl’s awakening to the realities of adulthood.

It move towards the point of view of a growing up child and is infused throughout with optimism and devotion. Despite the catastrophic undercurrent, the story ends with the hope that next year’s birthday wishes will bring new and unexpected adventures.

            In this story, Faulkner declined to reduce to bare bones of adulthood and a discussion of how societies try to work out its heated discussions through warfare (Gidley, 91-102).

It is settled in the detailed description of the southern family and landscape in the 1920s, with the genres of psychological fiction, short fiction, fantasy and southern gothic. Its subjects are African-American, south or southerners, emotions and hopes. Dulcie is the main character and the story is narrative skilled as usual in any Faulkner works with

entertaining fantasy in which adult understandings are translated into the language of the child.

             Reflecting on the stories above we find some similarities which gives monotonous characteristic to Faulkner’s works. First is that all the stories were set on a fictional area

 reflecting the cultural background of Faulkner’s native Mississippi: the Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. He included a chronology and a map of the fictitious setting for the reader to understand the context of the novels’ events. The map includes captions

noting areas where certain events took place. His works regularly reflect the chaotic history of the South while developing perceptive explorations of the human character. Also, all his works were written in stream of consciousness narrative technique.

The stories are under the same Genre. As you can see, all the four works has genres like Short fiction, psychological fiction, fantasy and horror which is primarily written to entertain and help the writer as well as the readers attain their goals. It also includes southern gothic and Gothic fiction which are also genres of a short story.

“Southern Gothic is the subgenre of the Gothic writing style unique to American literature (qtd.Wikipedia 2007).” It relies on supernatural, ironic, or unusual events to guide the plot. Unlike its forerunner, it uses these tools not for the sake of suspense, but to explore social

issues and reveal the cultural characters of the South Americans (Madden, 5). The characters in this genre are deeply imperfect and often grotesque or monstrous for greater narrative range and more opportunities to highlight or draw attention to the special characteristics of Southern culture without being too factual or appearing to be exceedingly high-minded.

On the other hand, Gothic fiction combines horror and romance as found in the four works of Faulkner (Wikipedia 2007). The effect of gothic fiction depends on the pleasing sort of terror, an extension of essentially romantic literary pleasures. It includes features as terror in terms of psychologically and physically, mystery, supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses, and gothic architectures as castles, darkness, madness, surreptitious, decay, death, twofold and curses.

Gothic Fictions’ characters include tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs, Byronic heroes, madwomen, persecuted maidens, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, demons, monsters, perambulating skeletons, revenants and the Devil itself and much more.

Also, all the stories located above have the same subject. These subjects are; the African Americans wherein the issues always contain the black people and the white people with their corresponding conflicts, the racism or the practice of racial discrimination, segregation and domination of one race over the others, South or southerners or the inhabitants of the southern United States; Love and hatred; Male female relationships; family conflicts; and so much more.

This is the common thread found in William Faulkner’s works, short stories, giving it the award winning characteristics.

Works Cited & bibliography

“Gothic fiction.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 4 Nov 2007, 11:20 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 7 Nov 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gothic_fiction&oldid=169133705>.

Jeffrey J. Folks.  “The Wishing Tree: Literary Qualities.” Beacham’s Guide to Literature for Young Adults. Ed. Kirk H. Beetz. Vol. 5. Beacham-Gale, 1990. eNotes.com. January 2005. 7 November 2007 <http://www.enotes.com/wishing-tree-qn/literary-qualities>.

Padgett, John B. “‘Dry September’: Commentary & Resources.” William Faulkner on the Web. 17 August 2006. 07 November 2007 <http://www.mcsr.olemiss.edu/~egjbp/faulkner/r_ss_dryseptember.html>.

Padgett, John B. “William Faulkner’s Short Stories.” William Faulkner on the Web. 17 August 2006. 05 November 2007 <http://www.mcsr.olemiss.edu/~egjbp/faulkner/lib_stories.html>.

Robert P. Ellis. “That Evening Sun.” Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition. Salem Press, 2004. eNotes.com. 2006. 8 Nov, 2007 <http://www.enotes.com/salem-lit/

Roberts, James L. CliffsNotes on Faulkner’s Short Stories. 7 Nov 2007

“Southern Gothic.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 6 Nov 2007, 13:54 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 7 Nov 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Southern_Gothic&oldid=169596679>.

 Terry Heller.  “The Bear: Characters.” Beacham’s Encylopedia of Popular Fiction. Ed. Kirk H. Beetz. Vol. 1. Beacham-Gale, 1996. eNotes.com. January 2005. 8 November 2007 <http://www.enotes.com/bear-qn/characters>….

“The Bear: Bibliography and Further Reading.” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1998. eNotes.com. January 2006. 8 November 2007. <http://www.enotes.com/bear/bibliography-further-reading>.

“The Bear: Compare and Contrast.” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1998. eNotes.com. January 2006. 7 November 2007. <http://www.enotes.com/bear/compare-contrast>. r this destructive trend.

Aiken, Charles, “A Geographical Approach to William Faulkner’s ‘The Bear’,” in Geographical Review, Vol. 71, no. 4, October, 1981, pp. 446-459.

Aiken, Charles, “A Geographical Approach to William Faulkner’s ‘The Bear’,” in Geographical Review, Vol. 71, Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1974. The most complete biography of Faulkner, containing an account of the composition of The Wishing Tree.

Brooks, Cleanth, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, Louisiana State University Press, 1963.

Brooks, Cleanth, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, Yale University Press, 1963.

Brooks, Cleanth, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, Yale University Press, 1963.

Cantwell, Robert, Review in New Republic, October 21, 1931, p. 271.

Cantwell, Robert, Review in New Republic, October 21, 1931, p. 271.

Carothers, James B., ‘‘Faulkner’s Short Story Writing and the Oldest Profession,’’ in Faulkner and the Short Story, edited by Evans Harrington and Ann J. Abadie, University Press of Mississippi, 1992.

Carothers, James B., ‘‘Faulkner’s Short Story Writing and the Oldest Profession,’’ in Faulkner and the Short Story, edited by Evans Harrington and Ann J. Abadie, University Press of Mississippi, 1992.

Carey, Glenn O. “Social Criticism in Faulkner’s ‘Dry September.’” English Record 15 (1964): 27-30.

Dessner, Lawrence Jay. “William Faulkner’s ‘Dry September’: Decadence Domesticated.” College Literature 11.2 (Spring 1984): 151-62.

Ditsky, John. “William Faulkner’s The Wishing Tree: Maturity’s First Draft.” The Lion and The Unicorn (Spring 1978): 56-64. One of the fullest treatments of the subject, focusing on the work as children’s literature.

Ferguson, James, Faulkner’s Short Fiction, University of Tennessee Press, 1991.

  1. 4, October, 1981, pp. 446-459.

Faulkner, Howard J. “The Stricken World of ‘Dry September.’’ Studies in Short Fiction 10 (1973): 47-50.

Ferguson, James, Faulkner’s Short Fiction, University of Tennessee Press, 1991.

  • Gray, Richard J. The Life of William Faulkner: A Critical Biography. Oxford; Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1994.

Gidley, Mark. “Faulkner and Children.” Signal (September 1970): 91-102. A study focused on The Wishing Tree by a prominent Faulkner scholar.

Grimwood, Michael, “Faulkner and the Vocational Liabilities of Black Characterization,” in Faulkner and Race, edited by Doreen Fowler and Ann J Abadie, University Press of Mississippi, 1987, pp. 255-271.

Grimwood, Michael, “Faulkner and the Vocational Liabilities of Black Characterization,” in Faulkner and Race, edited by Doreen Fowler and Ann J Abadie, University Press of Mississippi, 1987, pp. 255-271.

McDermott, John V. “Faulkner’s Cry for a Healing Measure: ‘Dry September.’” Arizona Quarterly 32 (1976): 31-34.

Moore, Janice Townley. “Faulkner’s ‘Dry September.’” Explicator 41.3 (Spring 1983): 47-48.

Rogalus, Paul. “Faulkner’s ‘Dry September.’” Explicator 48.3 (Spring 1990): 211-12.

Stewart, Jack F. “The Infernal Climate of Faulkner’s ‘Dry September.’” Research Studies 47 (1979): 238-43.

Sutton, Brian. “Faulkner’s ‘Dry September.’” Explicator 49.3 (Spring 1991): 175-77.

Winslow, Joan D. “Language and Destruction in Faulkner’s ‘Dry September.’” College Language Association Journal 20 (1977): 380-86.

Volpe, Edmond L. “‘Dry September’: Metaphor for Despair.” College Literature 16.1 (Winter 1989): 60-65.

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