Check out what Ernest Hemingway had to say about Faulkner in our "Brain Snacks" section. Actually, wait – it’s so good, we’ll just give you a quick summary: "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" Looks like someone didn’t get invited to Faulkner’s next Christmas party.
Seriously, though: with all the time shifting and sentence fragments and long, archaic words, Faulkner’s prose can be a handful sometimes. (And if you think this is complicated, just wait ‘til you read Absalom, Absalom!.) If you’re getting frustrated, then, don’t despair. You’re in good company. Generations of readers have found Faulkner’s style difficult, fascinating, and even aggravating.
Why create so many readerly headaches? Well, one theory could be that Faulkner’s just a mean spirited guy. He’s out to make all you poor English students suffer. Then again, maybe he’s trying to convey just how fuddled Quentin’s mind actually is – or how terse and sarcastic Jason can be. Faulkner’s something like a literary maestro – he manages to orchestrate several completely unique, completely different styles into one novel. Just to remind you, below are a couple examples.
"Well, Jason likes work. I says no I never had university advantages because at Harvard they teach you how to go for a swim at night without knowing how to swim and at Sewanee they dont even teach you what water is." (3.147)
His sentences are short and terse. We’re guessing that this is one of the ways that Faulkner’s actually thumbing his nose at Jason. After all, the man can write absolutely beautiful, haunting sentences. Jason’s, however, sort of suck. They don’t really have many thoughts or adjectives in them, just actions and conversations. His style is completely different from Quentin’s:
"If it could just be a hell beyond that: the clean flame the two of us more than dead. Then you will have only me then only me then the two of us amid the pointing and the horror beyond the clean flame." (2.252)
OK, this is towards the end of Quentin’s section. As he edges closer and closer to suicide, his mind becomes more and more chaotic. Check out the difference in the sentence structures of the beginning of his section, for example, and those at the end. In the beginning, he recounts events in a precise, orderly fashion. By the end of his life, however, he’s all over the place. His sentences sprawl across pages (and pages and pages and pages).
And we’ve got one more example of Faulkner’s style for you. This is the narrator of the fourth and final section:
"The earth immediately about the door was bare. It had a patina, as though from the soles of bare feet in generations, like old silver or the walls of Mexican houses which have been plastered by hand. Beside the house, shading it in summer, stood three mulberry trees, the fledged leaves that would later be broad and placid as the palms of hands streaming flatly undulant upon the driving air." (4.3)
It’s clean, elegant, and delicately-wrought. It’s also got a complicated simile ("like old silver or the walls of a Mexican house"). We’ve got to wonder: did Faulkner insert this fourth section just to show us that he could write "normal" prose?
But back to our original point: when it comes to master-minding different styles, Faulkner’s got game. What’s the point of all this stylistic innovation? Well, Faulkner’s a bit of a literary show-off. But he’s also working to make real the very different experiences and world-views of different characters. And, well, perhaps that just takes some very different tools.