Critical Essays William Faulkner's Writing Style


Many readers find that Faulkner's style is the most difficult aspect of this particular novel to overcome. In fact, Faulkner's style throughout many of his novels has been a restraining hindrance for many readers.

What Faulkner attempts to do is to adjust his style to his subject matter. Therefore, to see how his style functions in this particular novel, we must review briefly his approach to his subject.

We have already seen that Faulkner does not begin his story at the beginning. Likewise, he does not use a straightforward method of relating the story. In other words, he will tell the reader a little about a certain event, and then he will drop it and later return to the event and tell the reader more and then drop it and then later return once more and tell more. During this technique of circumlocution (that is, a technique whereby the author approaches his material in circular movements rather than heading directly to the heart of the story), the reader gradually becomes aware of events, facts, motivations, and emotions.

This type of technique would fall very flat if Faulkner used a simple expository prose. Part of the thrill and excitement of the novel is that the style is therefore adapted to the subject matter and the emotions. As the subject matter is told in circular movements, so is the style involved and circular. Every sentence is almost as involved as is the entire novel; every sentence reflects the complexity of the subject matter. And every sentence reminds the reader that this story is not one that can be told with simplicity.

The complexity of the narration is another way Faulkner uses to indicate and to suggest the complexity that man (particularly Quentin) must face in arriving at the truth. Truth is not easy to discover. The Sutpen story conceals many important revelations and truths which need to be revealed. The style, then, emphasizes the difficulty which man must encounter when he seeks after the real truth.

Possibly the story is too great or too violent to be told in a straight, simple narration. If we were suddenly confronted in simple factual prose with the facts of incest, possible homosexuality, fratricide, lust, etc., we would think the story too incredible and too fantastic to believe. But with the difficulty of untangling Faulkner's complex style, suddenly the very complexity of his style makes the bizarre plot more believable.

And finally, the style reflects the way which the story actually occurred. That is to say, Sutpen appeared in Jefferson for one day; nothing was known about him for a long time. Then gradually a little information was discovered by General Compson. Then later, years later, more information was uncovered. Then the death of Bon was announced to the town, but again it was years before anyone knew all of the facts surrounding this death. Faulkner's style suggests also the way that story actually occurred, that is, from fragment to fragment.

If, then, the difficult sentences retard the reader at first, they are supposed to. It would be dangerous to go too rapidly into the story. If the sentences surround you and envelop you and entangle you in the story, this is Faulkner's method of making you become a part of the story. And before long, the reader becomes accustomed to the style and becomes, as does Shreve, one of the narrators or one of the participants. We become or we identify with the strong, pulsating rhythms of his style until we become totally emerged in Faulkner's strange but vivid world so that when we follow Henry and Bon onto the battlefield, it is not just Shreve and Quentin following them, but it is also we the readers who are also following them. Faulkner's style has served its purpose: First, it held the reader back and confused him, and then gradually it brought the reader into the story so personally that he became one of the actors or participants.