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Ordered by Words: Language and Narration in the Novels of William Faulkner.

The subtitle of Judith Lockyear's book holds out a broader, more philosophic treatment than can be expected in so brief a book (153 pages of text plus 35 more for notes, works cited, and an excellent index). "Ordered by words" is Horace Benbow's description of himself and his life (Flags in the Dust). Lockyear traces Faulkner's own obsession with and domination by words through several of his fictional narrators, most importantly Horace Benbow, Quentin Compson, Darl Bundren, Isaac McCaslin, and Gavin Stevens - the reality of each revealed in his own (really Faulkner's, of course) words.

The inclusion of Darl Bundren and the omission of Faulkner's favorite narrator, V. K. Ratliff/Suratt, from this critical core of Faulkner's surrogate tellers of tales is noteworthy. I should have liked to find Ratliff there. That sociable, humane, pragmatic, morally and psychologically sound, talkative, nosey yarn-spinner would, to a very helpful extent, balance the sober-sided introspection and inactivity of the others, and thereby would soften - or crisp up - lockyear's representation of Faulkner himself and the whole sorry Yoknapatawpha mess.

Ordered by Words is limited to - and by - analysis of the language of Faulkner's characters as demonstrated in dialogue and internal monologue. That words order the lives of writers and most other people, that indeed they shape reality itself, and that writers in turn order words directly to order and reveal the characters and events they invent is not a fresh concept. However, Lockyear's approach to Faulkner's narrative technique, its (and his) empowerment and limitation through words, is clearly argued and convincing. She also astutely observes that by transmitting information to readers through the dialogue and unspoken (thought or written) words of fictional characters, the novelist lifts the burden of proof from his own shoulders, at the same time rendering impossible the resolution of cruxes in his plot. Missing links are not to be found, and the writer insures the afterlife of his story in the unsatisfied minds of his readers.

Lockyear's study is academically thorough and about as up-to-date as a hard-cover book can be. The most recent work cited was published in 1987. The work's greatest weaknesses are the sharpness of its focus and the narrowness of its imagined audience. Lockyear's bee-line drive toward the final chapter will weary all but the most dedicated Faulkner scholars.

This is too bad, for the last chapter is a great deal more than a summary. It is a fine essay on Faulkner's narrative technique and a cogent explanation of his own ordering and being ordered by words. Also in this last chapter, Lockyear judiciously and satisfactorily addresses troublesome aspects of early twentieth-century Southern literature as exemplified in Faulkner's novels, touchy subjects and questionable attitudes, embarrassments to Faulkner's latter-day admirers. These are miscegenation and misogyny, not to mention misogamy. Lockyear addresses these issues with honesty and tact, although without sufficient acknowledgement of changing contexts, historical, fictional, and, for Faulkner, personal. Anyway, Faulkner never hated Negroes. Or women. Or being married. He got along fine with most of them and it. He didn't even hate the South. He didn't hate it. He didnt. He didnt. He didnt hate it. He didnt hate it.
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Author:Schoenberg, Estella
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1992
Words:525
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