Essay about William Faulkner and History

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William Faulkner and History


In order to fully understand importance of history and the past in Faulkner’s writing, it is first necessary to examine the life he lived and the place that shaped it. William Cuthbert Falkner (the “u” was later added via his own accord) was born September 25, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi (Padgett). Named for his great-grandfather Colonel Falkner, young William was told countless stories as a boy of the old Colonel and other great heroes of the South. Faulkner himself described the process of embellishment subjected to one story told by his Aunt over time:

…as [Aunt Jenny] grew older the tale itself grew richer and richer, taking on a mellow splendor like wine; until what had been a hare-brained prank
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While it is possible to regard Faulkner’s writing without the knowledge of his Southern heritage, Faulkner enthusiast and literary Critic Cleanth Brooks argues that in order to understand him, one must realize the importance of his being born in a particular time and place. Faulkner himself has made this connection and simply admitted to writing about what he knew best: his “own little postage stamp of native soil” (Brooks, Time 251). Brooks further develops the notion that Faulkner uses his personal knowledge and experience in his essay “Faulkner and the Muse of History.” He describes Faulkner’s surrounding acquaintances stating that, “…the people that he knew had clinging to their lives a great deal of the stuff of history—the history that had produced them and had helped them mold the culture out of which them came” (266). The South of Faulkner’s youth was still very much alive with pre-war memories being passed down through generations and weaving a culture all of its own. This Southern culture, also the culture Faulkner wrote about, held family very central to it. Society placed an emphasis on manners and honour, and was characterized by close personal relationships (Brooks, Muse). Even despite the region’s “quite rigid black-white caste system” there was…