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The Influence and Subversion of the Southern Folk Tradition in the Novels of William Faulkner

Stannard, James (2015) The Influence and Subversion of the Southern Folk Tradition in the Novels of William Faulkner. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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I argue that the Southern folk tradition is William Faulkner’s strongest influence. Faulkner experienced both a black and white folk culture in childhood through his Aunt Alabama and his nurse, Caroline Barr. I cover many of Faulkner’s ‘Modernist’ novels but examine their folk and vernacular elements, such as Jason Compson’s vernacular consciousness, the storytelling in Absalom, Absalom! or the trickster figure in the Snopes novels. I will be using Ed Piacentino’s The Enduring Legacy of Old Southwest Humor for secondary research and Mikhail Bakhtin’s The Dialogic Imagination and Rabelais and his World to provide a theoretical framework regarding the text as an interaction of competing discourses, and the ‘grotesque.’ I examine several writers to provide a folk ‘context.’ Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s ‘The Horse-Swap’ uses vernacular traders, but a refined observer passes judgment on their actions. George Washington Harris brings vernacular culture to the forefront. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an entire novel written in folk speech which invests the folk narrator with a conscience. I argue Faulkner also bestows his writing with folk morality, such as V.K. Ratliff’s stand against the rapacity of Flem Snopes. I also examine the conjure tales of Charles Chesnutt. Uncle Julius exemplifies black folk wisdom being used to outsmart the white northerners, demonstrating how many use folk culture to further their own ends. The third chapter examines the grotesque, through an examination of Harris, Chesnutt and Erskine Caldwell, along with Faulkner, and Bakhtin and Rabelais’ discussion of the ‘physical’ and ‘psychological’ grotesque, the damage caused by mental illness or obsession with the past. I examine how the psychological state manifests in the physical in Faulkner’s writing, and how he humanises those society deems ‘grotesque’ through psychological insight, emphasising the cruelty in simply regarding such beings as ‘spectacle.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, Department of
Depositing User: James Stannard
Date Deposited: 30 Oct 2015 10:53
Last Modified: 30 Oct 2015 10:53

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