William Faulkner's Treatment of Time Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

Moreover, according to William T. Going "The treatment of the surface chronology of a Rose for Emily is not mere perversity or purposeful blurring; it points up the elusive, illusive quality of time that lies at the heart of the story; it is at once the simplest and subtlest of Faulkner's achievements in one of his best stories" (53).

Other critics have observed that several times in the narrative, time appears to be flowing in a linear fashion, only to have Faulkner later reveal that the reader was actually experiencing a flashback or a dream that in actuality, is entirely non-linear. For example, FDAS reflects, "Even though the last three parts assume a more or less forward chronological movement, they are presented in the stream of consciousness. They record the random flow of memories through the narrator's mind. Since there is no objective chronometry, it is the subjectively experienced mind time of the narrating inhabitant that determines the story and that scatters the chronological data the reader has to analyze."

This treatment of time by Faulkner once again mirrors Bergsen's philosophies regarding truth and reality. For Bergsen, truth and reality have a tenuous relationship that is both separated and unified by time; or at the very least, our perceptions of time. As can be seen in Emily's plight, truth can be as incongruous to reality as life can be to death. Ultimately, it all culminates in what one perceives to be real or unreal; what one perceives to be alive or dead; what one perceives to be the past, the present or the future.

As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying, like a Rose for Emily, intermingles concepts of death and time in a potion of paradox that strongly emulates Bergsen's suppositions. However, according to Jolene Hubbs "As I Lay Dying differs from the other major works in representing characters not in flux but frozen, thus representing neither ascent nor decline, neither progress nor regress, but rather a confluence of forms of stasis -- spatial, temporal, and social" (1).

The primary indicator of time in this story is the decay of human flesh. In other words, the deterioration of Addie's corpse shows the passage of time more than any type of traditional temporal reference. Yet at the same time, in typical Faulkner fashion, multiple narratives from varying stances contribute to the disjointed essence of time which, in Hubbs' words "creates a paradoxical sense of cyclically arrested development. This formal and thematic impression of suspension and repetition establishes a symbiotic relationship between the novel's form and content: the funeral journey's many time-consuming obstacles and the novel's presentation of single scenes from multiple narrative perspectives give textual form to the social stasis of the Bundrens" (1).

The mere conception of the reader being privy to the stream of consciousness of a woman lying dead in her coffin distorts the construction of both time and reality. However, Faulkner pushes beyond even those boundaries to create a medley of social commentary, philosophical debate and creative literature that defies all convention. Christina Stanciu marvels at how "Vardaman is unable to distinguish between the two separate deaths, concluding, 'My mother is a fish' (84). Moreover, his description of the disintegration of the fish's body further anticipates the disintegration of his mother's body, a literal representation of a concept he is (still) unable to grapple with -- death, which causes the decay of the body: "I see him [the fish] dissolve -- legs, a rolling eye, a gaudy splotching like cold flames" (56). Later on, after the fish is cooked, Dewey Dell feeds the family the pieces of the dismembered fish" (Stanciu 1).

How could anyone reading this sequence of events not marvel at the bizarreness of it all? And yet amidst all of this symbolic imagery, Faulkner still manages to use time as a vehicle to drive the story in different and unique directions. This skill is, after all, his forte, and is at the heart of the plethora of literary criticisms and analyses regarding his revolutionary treatment of time.

Works Cited

Bergson, Henri. The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp, 1946. Print.

Coward, David. History and the Contemporary Novel, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. Print.

Douglass, Paul. Bergson, Eliot, and American Literature. University Press of Kentucky, 1986. Print.

Duck, Leigh Anne. The Nation's Region. Southern Modernism, Segregation, and U.S. Nationalism. University of Georgia Press, 2009. Print.

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage International, 1990. Print.

Faulkner, William. Go Down, Moses. New York: Vintage International, 1973

Hubbs, Jolene. "William Faulkner's rural modernism." The Mississippi Quarterly. Summer 2008. Web.

Kaluza, Irena. The Functioning of Sentence Structure in the Stream-of-Consciousness Technique of William Faulkner's the Sound and the Fury: A Study in Linguistics Stylistics. Norwood, PA: Norwood Eds., 1979. Print.

Llewellyn, Dara, Waves of Time in Faulkner's Go Down, Moses, Studies in Short Fiction, Fall, 1996. Web.

Going, William T. "Chronology in Teaching 'A Rose for Emily.'" a Rose for Emily. Ed. Thomas M. Inge. Columbus, OH. Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1970. 50-53. Print.

Hornback, Vernon T., Jr. "The Uses of Time in Faulkner's the Sound and the Fury." Papers on English Language and Literature 1 (1965): 50-58. Print.

Magalaner, Marvin and Edmond L. Volpe "Society in 'A Rose for Emily'" a Rose for Emily. Ed. Thomas M. Inge. Columbus, OH. Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1970. 63-65. Print.

Ruthmann, Davina. The Chronology of William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily." University of Wuppertal. 2005. Web.

Stanciu, Christina. The Mother's Burial; the Daughter's Burden. Disintegrated and Dismembered Bodies…

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