Critical Essays Story as Myth in Faulkner's Work


Faulkner wished the reader to view this story as an old established legend. But this is almost impossible because the story is unknown. So how can he convey the idea of myth and legend? Faulkner wanted to show man interpreting and reinterpreting his past. But first, he must establish the history which is to be examined. In the first chapter of the novel, Faulkner creates his story of the past, and then, as the novel progresses, presents his interpretations of the story. By the end of the first chapter, he has already given all the basic facts of the story, and by constant repetitions of the basic elements has endowed the story with a mythic quality. It was Faulkner's purpose to force the reader to accept the Sutpen story as an old established myth so that through the remainder of the story the reader would become involved in the reinterpretation of this ancient and familiar myth.

Besides the use of constant repetition, Faulkner used other devices to establish a mythic quality: elements from the ancient myths, names of some characters from the Greeks, the title from the Hebrew, and the use of three interpreters — Miss Rosa, Mr. Compson, and Quentin each narrate part of the story and attempt to interpret it — all contribute toward establishing a mythic tone. Thus by the end of the first chapter, Faulkner has already started treating his tale as an established myth, in that lesser parts of the history are now revealed for further interpretation. And also, by now, the reader has all the information that a member of a Greek audience would possess when attending the theater to see the dramatist's reinterpretation of the House of Atreus or Oedipus myths. And in the fashion of the Greek dramatist, each of the interpreters (who also serve as narrators) gives his own particular interpretation of the myth. Therefore, using Quentin as the final interpreter and having Quentin reiterate his relation to the story (it was a part of his heritage) again forces us — the readers — to accept the myth as a part of our heritage. The novel diverges most significantly from the Greek method of presenting the myth in the most prominent inconsistency — the motivation each narrator attributes to Sutpen as the reason that Sutpen refused to allow the marriage of Judith and Bon. But this variance in each narrator's interpretation is due mainly to the different amount of information available to each. But on the basic level, the novel is still analogous to the manner in which the Greek dramatist approached his material.