William Faulkner and Mortality is the first full-length study of mortality in William Faulkner’s fiction. The book challenges earlier, influential scholarly considerations of death in Faulkner’s work that claimed that writing was his authorial method of ‘saying No to death’. Through close-readings of six key works—The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, "A Rose for Emily", Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, and Go Down, Moses—this book examines how Faulkner’s characters confront various experiences of human mortality, including grief, bereavement, mourning, and violence. The trauma and ambivalence caused by these experiences ultimately compels these characters to ‘say Yes to death’. The book makes a clear distinction between Faulkner’s quest for literary immortality through writing and the desire for death exhibited by the principal characters in the works analysed. William Faulkner and Mortality: A Fine Dead Sound offers a new paradigm for reading Faulkner’s oeuvre, and adds an alternative voice to a debate within Faulkner scholarship long thought to have ended.
Keywords: William Faulkner; mortality; literary voice; narration; grief; bereavement; mourning; suicide; murder; violence; Southern studies
Table of Contents
Introduction: Saying No to Death? William Faulkner’s aesthetic of mortality
Saying Yes to death in Faulkner’s fiction
The literary tradition of immortality and the modern denial of death
I listen to the voices
Chapter 1: A fine dead sound: Quentin Compson’s suicide in The Sound and the Fury
June Second, 1910: Morning – An affectless voice
The word that Quentin cannot say
Little Sister death
June Second, 1910: Night – A fine dead sound
Coda: Three reactions to Quentin’s suicide
Chapter 2: Living was terrible: Confrontations with mortality in As I Lay Dying
Getting ready to stay dead
A shoddy job
A wet seed in the hot blind earth
My mother is a fish
That goddamn box
I have no mother
Now I can get them teeth
Chapter 3: Burying the fallen monument: The death of the Old South in "A Rose for Emily"
A fallen monument to the Old South
A body submerged in water
I want some poison
A strand of iron-gray hair
Emily’s rose for the narrator
Chapter 4: A bloody mischancing of human affairs: Murder and violence in Light in August and Absalom, Absalom!
The rootless stranger: Alienation and racial exclusion in Light in August
Something is going to happen to me: The murder of Joe Christmas
An act of passion and violence: The legend of Thomas Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom!
I’m going to tech you, Kernel: Wash Jones’s tragic design
Chapter 5: Ah’m goan home: Narration, homegoing, and whiteness in Go Down, Moses
Faulkner’s narrational distance
Homegoing and the subversion of African American funerary culture
Come home, whar we can help you
Ah’m snakebit and bound to die
Black bereavement through the lens of whiteness
She just wanted him home
Conclusion: Breaking the pencil: Death and voice in Faulkner’s fiction
Ahmed Honeini teaches in the Department of English at Royal Holloway, University of London. He earned his PhD from Royal Holloway on the work of William Faulkner in 2018, and he was previously educated at King’s College London and University College London. He has published with the Mississippi Quarterly and United States Studies Online. He has also been awarded various research grants, including from the British Association for American Studies (BAAS), the Hemingway Society, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society. Finally, he is the founding director of the Faulkner Studies in the UK Research Network (@Faulkner_UK on Twitter). His main research interests are Faulkner, literary modernism, and American fiction, theatre, and film.