Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Christopher Knight

Commitee Members

David Moore, Michael Mayer


Absalom, Absalom!, As I Lay Dying, Go Down, Moses, William Faulkner


University of Montana


In this study I examine three of Faulkner’s novels that concern his fictional Yoknapatawpha County: As I Lay Dying (1930), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and Go Down, Moses (1942). These novels, I argue, indicate a development in Faulkner’s relationship to the formalist hierarchy of art over real life. To show this development I will investigate the topic of language as an inadequate medium in characters’ relationships to nature and the past. In As I Lay Dying Faulkner presents words as something unable to achieve the transcendence his characters desire. In Absalom, Absalom! and Go Down, Moses the author extends this suspicion of language to the value system of plantation society. Structured like a language, based on arbitrary differences, Yoknapatawpha’s social framework lacks transcendent authority. The South crumbles, Faulkner suggests, because language ultimately does. In my intro I briefly outline the formalist framework as it appears in French Symbolism and later, New Criticism. In my chapter on As I Lay Dying I focus on Addie Bundren’s identification with the silent presence of the natural world. She despises words because they indicate a lack: her experiences with her children and with nature transcend representation. In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner takes this same critique of signification and applies it to the social structure of the Southern plantation system. He depicts the South’s caste system as upheld by an edifice of symbols that attempts to mask class, race, and gender oppression. Eventually, Faulkner suggests, his region will have to recognize those horrors upon which it constructed its society. Finally, in my chapter on Go Down, Moses, I argue that Faulkner places the problems of signification squarely at the heart of human interaction with the natural world. Direct experience with transcendent nature is impossible because it is forever lost in the South’s history. Over the course of these three novels, we see Faulkner complicating the Symbolist hierarchy that heralds a work’s timeless insights over its cultural context.



© Copyright 2008 Michael Joseph St. Thomas