"Remarkably," writes Ted Atkinson, "during a period roughly
corresponding to the Great Depression, Faulkner wrote the novels
and stories most often read, taught, and examined by scholars."
This is the first comprehensive study to consider his most
acclaimed works in the context of those hard times.
Atkinson sees Faulkner's Depression-era novels and
stories as an ideological battleground--in much the same way that
1930s America was. With their contrapuntal narratives that present
alternative accounts of the same events, these works order multiple
perspectives under the design of narrative unity. Thus,
Faulkner's ongoing engagement with cultural politics gives
aesthetic expression to a fundamental ideological challenge of
Depression-era America: how to shape what FDR called a "new order
of things" out of such conflicting voices as the radical left, the
Popular Front, and the Southern Agrarians.
Focusing on aesthetic decadence in Mosquitoes and
dispossession in The Sound and the Fury, Atkinson shows
how Faulkner anticipated and mediated emergent sociocultural forces
of the late 1920s and early 1930s. In Sanctuary; Light
in August; Absalom, Absalom!; and "Dry September,"
Faulkner explores social upheaval (in the form of lynching and mob
violence), fascism, and the appeal of strong leadership during
troubled times. As I Lay Dying, The Hamlet, "Barn
Burning," and "The Tall Men" reveal his "ambivalent
agrarianism"--his sympathy for, yet anxiety about, the legions of
poor and landless farmers and sharecroppers. In The
Unvanquished, Faulkner views Depression concerns through the
historical lens of the Civil War, highlighting the forces of
destruction and reconstruction common to both events.
Faulkner is no proletarian writer, says Atkinson. However, the
dearth of overt references to the Depression in his work is not a
sign that Faulkner was out of touch with the times or consumed with
aesthetics to the point of ignoring social reality. Through his
comprehensive social vision and his connections to the rural South,
Hollywood, and New York, Faulkner offers readers remarkable new
insight into Depression concerns.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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