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Faulkner's Narrative Styles

Author(s): J. E. Bunselmeyer
Source: American Literature, Vol. 53, No. 3 (Nov., 1981), pp. 424-442
Published by: Duke University Press
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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles
J. E. BUNSELMEYER
Universityof Massachusetts
HE VISION at theheartof Faulkner'sworksis of lifeas a process
I of accretion,of overwhelmingconnectedness.
This vision is
embodiedin thesyntactic
stylethatcharacterizes
Faulkner'snarration
and marksphraserhythms
as "Faulknerian."Worksas different
as
The Hamletand Lightin Augustsharea syntactic
stylethatequates
eventsand ideas,past and present,by piling up clauses; the style
transforms
an individualexperienceby linkingit to everything
around it. Stylisticanalysisidentifiesthe dominantfeaturesof
Faulkner'scharacteristic
styleas well as the variationsin stylethat
create differences
in tone, rangingfrom comedy to thoughtful
contemplation.
Specifically,
speechact theoryand transformational
analysisof grammaticalpatternsyield insightsinto the ways by
whichnarrative
syntaxcreatestoneand pointofview.
The communication
of pointof viewis,perhaps,thebasic"transaction" of literarylanguage.' In literaryand ordinarynarratives,
eventsare relatedfroman evaluativeviewpoint(forexample,in the
tellabletalesimposedupon dinnerguests).In Towarda SpeechAct
TheoryofLiteraryDiscourse,Prattconsidersthisevaluativeattitude
as inherentin "the literary
speechsituation"becausethe authoror
but also verballydisplayinga stateof
speakeris "notonlyreporting
affairs,
invitinghis addressee(s) to join him in contemplating
it,
evaluatingit, and respondingto it. His pointis to producein his
hearersnotonlybeliefbutalso an imaginative
and affective
involvementin thestateof affairs
he is presenting
and an evaluativestance
towardit."2In Faulkner'stales,the evaluativestancevariesfrom
comic detachmentto empathywith a character'scontemplation;
T

1 JohnSearle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophyof Language (Cambridge,


Eng.: CambridgeUniv. Press,I969), p. I7, discussesspeechas an active transaction.
2 MaryLouise Pratt,Toward a SpeechAct Theory
of LiteraryDiscourse(Bloomington:

Indiana Univ. Press, I977),

p.

I36.

American Literature, Volume 53, Number 3, NovemberI98I.

Duke University
Press.

Copyright?

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I98I

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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles

425

thesedifferences
in toneand pointofviewarecreated
bydifferent
syntactic
styles.
The stylistic
features
thatmarkthecontemplative
toneall inherentlyinvolveevaluation
becausetheypresent
syntactic
relationships.
Narration
differs
fromthemererecounting
ofevents-inintent
and
in style-asLabovhaspointed
out.He foundthatwhenevents
were
merely
reported,
theywerephrasedin thesimplepasttense;when
evaluation
was builtintothenarration,
it was through
"departures
frombasicnarrative
syntax,"
through
syntactic
transformations
that
"suspend
theaction,"
introduce
evaluation,
andtransform
experience
byframing
itin a pointofview.3
Thus,thesyntactic
stylein which
a taleis toldalterstheway eventsand characters
are evaluated.
Faulkner's
whichdrawsreaders
contemplative
style,
intotheprocess
of thought
and evaluation,
is markedby manyof the syntactic
features
notedbyLabovin theevaluative
sections
ofnaturalnarratives,
literature's
closestkin.The foregrounded
features
thatcluster
inFaulkner's
contemplative
passages
are:
negatives,
whichdefine
whatis bywhatis notandinvitejudgement
of
boththrough
comparison,
providing
in Labov'swords,
"a wayofevaluating eventsby placingthemagainstthe background
of otherevents
whichmight
havehappened,
butwhichdidnot"(pp.380-8I);
appositives,whichare so lengthy
and so numerous
thattheoriginal
nounis lostsightof as it is amplified
and absorbed
by all thethingsit
standsforandcanbeequatedwith;
doublemodifiers
which"bringin a widerrangeofsimultaneous
events"
(Labov, p. 388), invitingan evaluationof the relationship
between
attributes;
comparisonsthatexplicitly
evaluatewhatis bywhatit is like;
or-clausesthatembedtheconsideration
of alternative
formsof action
orperception
andinvite
evaluation
through
juxtaposition.

Thesesyntactic
havein commona "modeof ordering"
tendencies
an actis amplified,
experience;
oftendoubledor tripled,
through
comparisons,
negativecomparisons,
or-clauses,
doubledmodifiers,
and appositives.4
In Faulkner'snarration
of contemplation
these
stylistic
features
clustertogether,
forming
foregrounded
patterns
3 WilliamLabov, "The Transformation
of Experiencein NarrativeSyntax,"Language
and theInnerCity(Philadelphia:Univ. of Pennsylvania
Press,I972), pp. 37I-73
and 388.
4 RichardOhmannin Shaw: The Styleand the Man (Middletown,Conn.: Wesleyan
Univ. Press,I962) arguesthat "We orderexperienceas we orderlanguage...."

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426

AmericanLiterature

thatabsorbthereaderin theprocess
ofthought
andengagehimin
anevaluative
pointofview.
Faulkner's
comedyis freeof thesestylistic
features.
The comic
passages
aremarked
bya verydifferent
syntactic
stylethatdoesnot
suspendtheaction,
butrather
pushesit onwardbypilingup individualevents.Stackingseparateactionsintocoordinate
syntactic
structures
theevaluation
eliminates
in subordination.
In
inherent
Faulkner's
comicpassages,
actions
areaccumulated,
oneat a time,as
thesentence
growsto theright;theright-branching
kernelsmove
fromone actionto thenextso rapidlythatthereis no pausefor
evaluation
or contemplation.
This syntactic
stylecreatesa more
distanced
comicperspective
on thenarrated
events.
The viewpoints
of comedyand contemplation
differ;Freud even thoughtthat
contemplation
interfered
withthecomicaffect.5
In Faulkner's
prose,
thisinterference
is quiteliteralat thelevelof syntax,
forhis contemplative
stylebreaksup theflowofactionbyembedding
evaluation.His right-branching
comicstylespeedstheflowof action;by
heapingup deeds,the styleminimizes
each eventand createsa
distanced
attitude
towardtheaction.Thesecontrasting
of
patterns
syntactic
expansion
createthediffering
tonesof comedyand contemplation;
thequality
thetwostyles
shareisthe"Faulknerian"
sense
ofcrowded
accumulation.
in thetoneand styles
Differences
of comedyand contemplation
arenicelyillustrated
bytheopeningpassagesofthetwosections
of
"Was."6Thesepassagesalsoillustrate
thatcentral
tobothstyles
is a
kindofsyntactic
accretion
thatsuitsa thematic
viewoflifeas composedof interconnected
layersof relationships
betweentimesand
people.The first
section
presents
thecontemplative
introduction
to
Isaacand to thematic
on thepastand possession.
perspectives
appositive
doubling

appositives

IsaacMcCaslin,
'UncleIke,'pastseventy
and
nearer
eighty
thanheevercorroborated
anymore,

a widowernow and uncleto halfa countyand father

5 SigmundFreud,"Jokesand the Comic,"trans.JamesStrachey,


in Comedy:Meaning

and Form, ed. RobertW. Corrigan(San Francisco:Chandler,I965),


6

p. 26I.

WilliamFaulkner,"Was," in Go Down, Moses (New York: ModernLibrary,I940),

PP. 3-4-

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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles
to no one.
negative
in or
thiswas notsomething
participated
negative
butbyhiseldercousin,
or-clause/neg. evenseenbyhimself,
McCaslinEdmonds,grandsonof Isaac'sfather's
appositives
yetnotsisterand so descendedbythedistaff,
and in histimethe
withstanding
theinheritor,
negative
ofthatwhichsomehad thoughtthenand
bequestor,
appositive
somestillthoughtshouldhavebeenIsaac'ssince
tripleadj.
hiswas thenamein whichthetitleto theland
clauses
had first
beengrantedfromtheIndianpatent
ofhis father's
and whichsomeofthedescendants
slavesstillborein theland.But Isaac was not
negative
one ofthese:-a widowerthesetwentyyears,who
appositives
in all his lifehad ownedbutone objectmore
negative
thanhe couldwearand carryin hispocketsand
doubling
hishandsat one time,and thiswas thenarrow
whichhe
ironcotand thestainedleanmattress
usedcampingin thewoodsfordeerand bearor
forfishingorsimplybecausehe lovedthewoods;
or-clauses
and neverdesiredto since
whoownedno property
negatives
theearthwas no man'sbutall men's,as lightand
neg./comparison
doubleadj. cl. airand weatherwere;who livedstillin the
whichhiswife's
cheapframebungalowin Jefferson
tripleadj.
fathergavethemon theirmarriageand whichhis
clauses
wifehad willedto himat herdeathand which
he had pretendedto accept,acquiesceto,to humor
appositive
her,easehergoingbutwhichwas nothis,will or
negatives
possessionor
dyingwishesmortmain
not,chancery
or-phrases
himselfmerelyholdingit forhiswife's
whatever,
appositives
sisterand herchildrenwho had livedin itwith
himsincehiswife'sdeath,holdinghimself
doubling
welcometo livein one roomofitas he had during
comparison
hiswife'stimeorsheduringhertimeor the
or-clauses
sister-in-law
and herchildrenduringtherestof
hisand after.
in or even
he had participated
neg./or-phrase notsomething
thelistening
the
hearing,
remembered
except
from
appositive
cometo himthroughand fromhiscousinMcCaslin
bornin I850 and sixteenyearshisseniorand hence,
doubling
hisown father
beingnearseventywhenIsaac,an
than
onlychild,was born,ratherhisbrother
appositive

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427

428

AmericanLiterature

outof
thaneither,
andratherhisfather
comparisons cousin,
theolddays.
theoldtime,
appositive

one;
to thepreceding
is an appositive
The entirelastparagraph
qualify
continually
appositives
thenumerous
withineachparagraph
subjectand verbuntiloftentheconnection
and equate,separating
thesubject
andtheactionoftheverbis lostsightof.In the
between
actionfor
forthere
is nomeaningful
there
is noverb,
first
paragraph,

havethesyntactic
Isaac to make (excepttorefuseto act). Appositives
effectof deletingagentspresentin the deep structureand thus
diminishingactorsand eventsin the surfacestyle.In the deep
structure:(Isaac was) "past seventy";(Isaac was) "a widower";
(Isaac was) "uncle to half a county";(Isaac was) "fatherto no
sister";(McCaslin
one." (McCaslinwas) "grandsonofIsaac'sfather's
was) "descendedby the distaff";(McCaslin was) "the inheritor";
(McCaslin was) "the bequestor."In the surfacematrix,onlyeight
into
linesintothepassage,bothIsaac and McCaslinare transformed
all the othernouns theirnames can be equated with (widower,
to
uncle,grandson,descendant),whichall implytheirrelationship
and emphasizes
others.The actof appositiondecreasesindividuation
relationships;the appositivesmove the surfacestyleeven further
intotherealmof thepassiveand awayfromdirect,activestatements
such as "McCaslin bequeathed."In Faulkner's surfacesyntax,
into McCaslin's
McCaslin's action of bequeathingis transformed
appositionabsorbs
and bequestor;the syntactic
identity
as inheritor
McCaslin'spotentialforindividualactionintoa networkof equated
of the passage has the same
The over-allstructure
relationships.
foreach
effect:theindividualsectionshave no individualexistence,
to what comes before
dependsfor meaningupon its relationship
and after.The lastparagraphis an appositiveto theprecedingone,
and the secondparagraphbeginswitha pronounthathas no anteSuch pronounsusuallyreferback
cedent:"thiswas not something."
to something,but here the only referentis Isaac's appositional
paragraph
allow forinconclusive
Such syntactic
structures
identity.
which reinforcethe thematicpoint of
and punctuation,
structure
or endingstoevents.Thus,the
viewthatthereareno clearbeginnings
vast numberof appositivesestablishesthroughstyle,two themes:
thatthereare fewisolatedactionsor actorsin life'slegends,and that
legendsgrow,a bit at a time,untiltheyinundateconsciousness.

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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles

429

The overwhelming
maze of relationships
is reinforced
by other
andadjective
clausesand
elements
ofstyle-bynumerous
or-phrases
of thingsby theiropposites,
by theredefinition
through
negation.
Liketheappositives,
theadjective
clausesarea kindofdoubling,
for
aboutthepreceding
theykeepgivingfurther
information
clause:
"thatwhichsomehad thought
thenand somestillthought
should
havebeenIsaac'ssincehiswas thenamein whichthetitleto the
landhadfirst
beengranted
fromtheIndianpatentandwhichsome
ofthedescendants
ofhisfather's
slavesstillborein theland."Isaac
and hishomearequalified
bymanysuchclauses:"whoin all his
"wholivedstill,""whichhiswife's
life,""whoownedno property,"
father
hadgiven,"
"whichhiswifehadwilled,""andwhichhe had
Theclausescontinually
pretended
toaccept."
redefine
whathasgone
before
in lightofthepast.The or-constructions
alsoexpanddescriptioninanevaluative
"whichheusedcamping
direction:
in thewoods
fordeerand bearor forfishing
or simplybecausehe lovedthe
woods";"holdinghimself
welcometo livein oneroomofit as he
hadduring
hiswife'stimeorsheduringhertimeorthesister-in-law
andherchildren
duringtherestofhisand after."
Like theappositives,thissyntactic
construction
leadsfurther
awayfromtheinitial
starting
pointto all thethingsthatmightbe substituted
forit,and
thuspresents
thepointofviewthatactionsand peoplecan and do
eachother.
Theprocess
ofdefining
surroundreplace
things
byother,
ing thingsis extended
use of negatives
by Faulkner's
to identify.
Isaac"ownedno property
and neverdesiredto sincetheearthwas
no man's."Isaac's repeatedrelationship
to his house is thathe will

notownit; theimportant
thingabouthisrelationship
to thestory
he tellsis thathe doesnotowniteither
sincehe didnotparticipate
in it.Definition
ofreality
orrelationships
bywhattheyarenotpulls
intothereader'sconsciousness
twiceas manythingsat once: notjust
Isaac who ownsno land,but thosewho thinkhe should,and those

whodo not;notjustMcCaslinownedthelandand participated


in
theannualrace,but also Isaac who refuses
and who
ownership
a narrative
frame
provides
fora story
aboutmenwhowouldpossess
and owneachother.Thisredefinition
bynegation,
likethestrings
ofadjective
thereader's
stretches
clauses,
consciousness
bythesyntax,
whichembedsall theaddeddetailsintothemiddleofthesentence,
betweensubjectand verb-ifthe processof apposition
has not

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430

American Literature

eliminated
thesubjectand verbaltogether.
The heavyembedding
reachesthelimitsof whatthemindcan containand makesthe
readerfeel,through
thenumbing
syntax,
senseofa worldin which
numerous
connections
and interrelationships
are at leastas realas
action.

In contrast
tothecontemplative
tonethatopensthefirst
section
of
"Was,"thesecondsection
beginswiththecomiccreation
ofaction.
Thestyle
ofthenarration
shifts
dramatically:
2

When he andUncleBuckranbackto thehousefromdiscovering


that
Tommy'sTurl had run again,theyheardUncle Buddycursingand
bellowing
in thekitchen,
then thefoxand and dogscameout of the
kitchen
and crossedthehall intothedogs'roomand theyheardthem
runthrough
thedogs'roomintohisand UncleBuck'sroom,thenthey
saw themcrossthehallagainintoUncleBuddy'sroomand heardthem
runthrough
UncleBuddy'sroomintothekitchen
againand this time
it soundedlikethewholekitchen
had comedownand Uncle
chimney
Buddybellowing
likea steamboat
blowingand thistimethefoxand the
dogsand fiveorsixsticks
offirewood
all cameoutofthekitchen
together
withUncleBuddyin themiddleof themhitting
at everything
in sight
withanother
stick.It wasa goodrace.

The syntax
therhythms
creates
whichmovethereaderthrough
the
bizarreracearoundthehouse;it alsocreates
thepointofviewthat
theraceand thecharacters
involved
in it arebizarre.The lengthy
sentence
is clearbecausethekindof transformation
employed
to
join elements
is right-branching.
As thereadermovesthrough
the

sentenceeach clause follows,in timeand logic,whateverpreceded


it: "Whenhe and UncleBuckranback . . . theyheardUncleBuddy
cursing. . . then the fox and the dogs came out . . . and they
heard themrun . . . thentheysaw themcrossthe hall." The percep-

tionof thisseriesof separate,


fastactionsis due to thesyntax,
which
grows toward the right,ratherthan embeddingappositivesand
adjectiveclauses betweensubjectsand verbs.The few participial
phrasespass unnoticedin the generalforegrounding
of the rightbranchingsyntactic
style.The separateactionsare equated by the
separateindependentclauses of nearlyequal length.The rightachievesa rhythmic
branching
powersuitableto a raceand is appro-

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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles

43I

priately
broken
bytheironic,
"Itwasa good
staccato
generalization:
race."Such variation
in phraserhythm
on the
focusesattention
shortsentence,
whichis repeated
as a
at theveryendof thestory,
kindofrefrain,
applying
satirically
notonlyto thebumbling
hunt
of thefoxand dogsbutalso to theequallybumbling
semi-annual
huntsofBuckandBuddyforTurlandofSophonisba
fora husband.
The pilingup of separateactions,through
inderight-branching
pendentclauses,createsa gallopingrhythmthatreduceseach
individual
deedto blurred
insignificance.
The difference
in tonebetween
thefirstand secondsections
of
"Was"-betweenthe contemplative
introduction
and the comic
tale-is due to thedifference
between
theevaluative
embedding
of
appositives,
negatives,
and adjectiveclausesand the accretion
of
quick,right-branching
actions.Yet bothsyntaxpatterns
sharethe
"Faulknerian"
qualityof accumulating
thingsof equal weight:
neither
syntaxpattern
grantsgrammatical
priority
to certainindividualactions
overothers.
In actionorcontemplation
thecharacters'
and readers'
mindsmustsortthrough
an accumulation
of related,
rather
equatedevents
forsignificance.
The senseofconnectedness
ofall actions,
pastandpresent,
which
is conveyed
bythesyntactic
styles,
is alsoexpressed
bythecircular,
repetitive
structure
of"Was."The huntis a recurrent
ritualenacted
toconfirm
a socialcodethatis outdated;
thestory
is endedas itwas
begun.Justas thesyntax
parallelsand equatesevents,
so doesthe
patterning
of theparallelhunts:Buck'sforTurl and Sophonisba's
fora husband-both
BuckandTurlheadforthewoods.The hunter
and huntedare further
equatedby the similarity
of the animal
metaphors
thatexpressthe dehumanization
and entrapment
of
both-for
whenUncleBuck's"gnarled
example,
neckthrust
forward
likea cooter's"
as hebeganto"flush,"
and"bay"Turl(p. 8).
"circle,"
Theirentrapment
bycodesfromthepastis further
suggested
bythe
Buckand Buddyhavegivenovertheunfinished
settings:
bighouse
tothenumerous
slavestheypretend
topossessandhaveno realuse
to dignity
for;Sophonisba
pretends
thatothers
byinsisting
call the
ramshackle
Warwick:"whentheywouldn't
plantation
call it Warwick,shewouldn't
evenseemtoknowwhattheyweretalking
about
and it wouldsoundas if sheand Mr.Hubertownedtwoseparate
thesamearea of ground,one on top of the
plantations
covering

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432

AmericanLiterature

other"(p. 9). A similar


discrepancy
exists
between
thenamesofthe
and theirreality.
characters
Buckand Buddyeschewtheiranachbirthnames,Theophilusand Amodeus;Sophonisba
ronistic
tries
to liveup to hersand fails.Tommy'sTurl is named,likea race
horse,
as hismother's
issue;hisabsenceofa sir-name
is thesemantic
symbolof his enslavement.
He provestwicea yearthathis own
enslavement
alsoenslaves
thosewhopretend
toownandnamehim.
In theframestoryIsaac rejectspretensions
at ownership,
which
others
presume
hislastnameentitles
himto.Eventhearchaicstage
propstotheritualhunt(forexample,
Sophonisba's
sending
Buckthe
redribbon
fromaroundherthroat)underline
theabsurdity
ofliving
by socialcodesof thepast,whichsanction
possession
and which
categorize
"Tomey'sTurl'sarmsthatweresupposed
tobe blackbut
werenotquitewhite"(p. 29) differently
fromBuck'sand Buddy's.
Obviously,
"Was" examines
thesemantics
of racism,thewaysin
whichwordsfroma worldwhich"was" continueto determine
perceptions,
influence
actions,
and enslavepeople.The encoding
of
presentrealityby anachronistic
verbal"maps"7fromthe pastis
reflected
in thesetting,
thenames,thetitle,
and thestructure
ofthe
actionof "Was,"as well as in its syntactic
styles.Whetherthe
narrative
syntax
of"Was"is comicor contemplative,
it conveys
the
entrapment
ofmaninanaccretion
ofrelationships.
The comic and contemplative
stylesare presentthroughout
Faulkner's
as thefollowing
works,
ofpassages
from
analysis
Lightin
August,
"TheBear,"TheSoundandtheFury,As I LayDying,The
Hamlet,andTheReivers
illustrates.
As in "Was"thenarrative
styles
maybe mixedin a givenwork:therearecontemplative
passagesin
comicnovelssuchas TheReivers
andcomicpassages
innovelsabout
suchas dyingandburying
subjects
thatarenotordinarily
considered
comic.The difference
between
narrative
andtonesis duetoa
styles
in the degreeof concentration
difference
of stylistic
as
features;
Dolezelpointsoutin Statistics
and Style:"The overallcharacter
of
iscalledforth
style
ofpresence
bythedegree
(orabsence)ofa certain
modeof expression,
ratherthanby itsexclusive
use (or complete
7 S. I. Hayakawa coined the terms "maps" and "territories"in Language and Thought
in Action (New York: Harcourt, Brace, I939), esp. ch. 2 on "Symbols."

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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles

433

suppression)."8
The degreeof embedded
or thedegree
evaluation
of foregrounding
of right-branching
actionscreatesdifferences
in
narrative
tone.Of course,thereare mixedtonesbetweencomedy
andcontemplation.
Thissomewhat
binary
distinction
oftheendsof
Faulkner's
narrative
continuum
is intended
toclarify
howvariation
in syntactic
stylecontributes
to varieties
of toneand differences
in
pointofview.

In Lightin August,"TheBear,"andThe Soundand theFury,


theprocess
ofevaluation
is presented
in thesamesyntactic
stylethat
beginsthefirst
section
of"Was"andfromthesameempathetic
point
of view.The manyembeddings
notonlyreflect
thecontemplative
styleof mindor actas a "mirror
of themind,"to use Chomsky's
phrase;9theyalsoinvolve
thereaderin sorting
through
relationships
between
theelements
embedded
orthrough
apposition,
negation,
clauses,doubleadjectives,
and explicitcomparison.
The effect
of
thesetransformations
in thenarrative
syntax
is toengagethereader
inthethoughts
intheactofevaluation,
forexample,
ofJoeChristmas
asheweighs
thestrangeness
ofhisexperience:
Thatnighta strange
thingcameintohismind.

He layreadyforsleep,withoutsleeping,without
seemingto needthesleep,as he wouldplacehis
stomachacquiescentforfoodwhichit did not
seemto desireorneed.It was strangein the
sensethathe coulddiscoverneitherderivation
nor
motivation
norexplanationforit.He foundthat
he was trying
to calculatethedayoftheweek.
It was as thoughnow and at lasthe had an actual
comparison
doubleadj.
and urgentneedto strikeofftheaccomplished
appositive/neg.daystowardsomepurposeor act,withouteither
or-phrases
fallingshortor overshooting."
neg./doubling
comparison
negative
or-clause
negatives
doubling/neg.

The wordsdescribe
theprocessas wellas thecontent
of thought.
The syntactic
styledefinesstatesof thinking
and feelingby what
theylackthrough
theforegrounding
of negatives,
whichimplyan
8 LubomirDolezel, "A Frameworkfor the Statistical
Analysisof Style,"in Statistics
and Style,ed. LubomirDolezel and RichardBailey (New York: AmericanElsevier,I969),

pp. IO-II.

9 Noam Chomsky,Reflections on Language (New York: Pantheon,1975),


(New York:ModernLibrary,I932), p. 3I7.

10 Light in August

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p. 4.

434

AmericanLiterature

thebackground"
"byplacingthemagainst
ofthethoughts
evaluation
explanamotivation,
(Labov,p. 380) ofabsentqualities:derivation,
thepointofview
thepassagepresents
tion.Throughthenegatives,
of themotivaareabsent(regardless
connections
thatsuchexplicit
Bybringing
be givenafterward).
thatmight
tionsandexplanations
of
in theprocess
bothwhatis andis notpresent
intoconsciousness
a pointofviewtowardcontemthesyntactic
styleinvites
thought,
and
ofadjectives
anddoubling
The or-clauses,
comparisons,
plation.
events"(Labov,
nounsalso"bringin a widerrangeofsimultaneous
of sleepand hunger,
p. 388) and invitecomparative
evaluations
andits
desireandneed,daysandacts,andofthesenseoftimelessness
that
inherent
opposite-theneed to ordertime.The viewpoint
is builtintothe
is a processof relatingand connecting
thought
style.
syntactic
constylemarksotherpassagesthatpresent
The samenarrative
thereaderin an
ofengaging
andcreates
thesameeffect
templation
thecontemplation
a pointof view.For example,
evaluative
stance,
an attitude
andofthebearinvolves
ofthewilderness
ofthemeaning
and theobjectofcontemplation.
towardboththeprocess
everhaving
without
He hadalready
then,
inherited,
foot
seenit,thebigoldbearwithonetrap-ruined
milessquarehad
thatinan areaalmosta hundred
designation
a name,a definite
earnedforhimself
appositive
comparison likea livingman:-thelonglegendofcorn-cribs
ofshoatsandgrownpigs
downandrifled
appositives broken
bodilyintothewoodsand
andevencalvescarried
doubling
negative
doubleadj.

appositive

doubling

ofwreckageand destrucdevoured. . .-a corridor

he wasborn...
tionbeginning
backbefore

apposiintoa legendthrough
thebearis transformed
Syntactically,
thelegendofhisactionsis transformed
apposition,
tion;byfurther
The bearis continually
anddestruction.
ofwreckage
intoa corridor
forandcanbeequatedwith:heis
hestands
defined
byall thethings
and invincible
out of an old dead
indomitable
"an anachronism,
of theold wildlife.
epitomeand apotheosis
time,a phantom,
childless
and alone;widowered
indomitable,
theold bear,solitary,
Priamreftofhisold wifeand outand absolvedof mortality-old
11 "The Bear,"in Go Down, Moses, pp.

I92-93.

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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles

435

livedall hissons."The appositives


extendtherelationship
between
thebearandthepastbacktoPriam.Thebearanditslegendarealso
expandedas theyaredefined
bynegation:
it has notbeenseen;it
withtheruthless
speeds"notfastbutrather
andirresistible
deliberationofa locomotive";
it is "notmalevolent
butjusttoobig,toobig
forthedogswhichtriedto bayit . . . toobigfortheverycountry
whichwas itsconstricting
scope";it is "notevena mortalbeast."
The negation
extends
theawareness
of whatthebearmighthave
been,butis not (not fast,not malevolent,
not mortal)and thus
implies
an evaluation
ofwhatitis.Liketheappositives,
thenegatives
bringadditional
layersof meaning
intoconsciousness;
bothsyntax
patterns
separate
subjects
and verbs,
and obscure
directconnections
between
agentsand events.Oftentheorderof subjectand verbis
reversed,
further
obscuring
conventional
syntactic
connections
and
involving
thereaderin theprocessof sortingthrough
the parts
ofthesentence
forsignificance:
"a corridor
ofwreckage
anddestrucbackbefore
tionbeginning
theboywasborn,through
whichsped,
notfastbutrather
withtheruthless
andirresistible
deliberation
ofa
the shaggytremendous
locomotive,
shape."The bear'sactionis
introduced
as a clausedescribing
further
theappositive
(corridor);
theactorcomeslast.Othersentences
are patterned
withthesame
inverted
syntax:"thedoomedwilderness
. . . through
whichran
. . . theoldbear."Likethecharacters,
thereadersensesbutdoesnot
knowthecauseforevents(thesubject
ofthesentence)
untillast.A
syntactic
stylewhichminimizes
or absorbs
thembyapposisubjects
tionis theperfect
styleforestablishing
thenarrative
that
perspective
theprocess
of lifeis lessa process
of individual
actionthanof the
contemplation
and interconnections.
ofintricate
relationships
Quentin'scontemplation
of timeand its relationship
to action
withan explicit
concludes
statement
of a pointofviewthatis also
inthesyntax
latent
thattransform
intoevaluation.
patterns
experience
onthecurtains
Whentheshadowofthesashappeared
sevenandeighto'clockandthenI was
itwasbetween
thewatch.ItwasGrandintimeagain,hearing
father's
andwhenFathergaveittomehesaid,
I giveyouthemausoleum
ofallhopeand
comparison Quentin,
it's
rather
doubling
desire;
excruciating-ly
aptthatyou
willuseittogainthereducto
ofall
absurdum
humanexperience
fit
whichcan yourindividual

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436

AmericanLiterature

neg.comparison
needsno better
thanitfitted
hisorhisfather's.
or-phrase/neg.
I giveittoyounotthatyoumayremember
time,
negative
butthatyoumight
forget
itnowandthenfora
negative
moment
andnotspendallyourbreath
to
trying
negative
conquer
it.Becauseno battle
iseverwonhesaid.
negative
Theyarenotevenfought.
Thefieldonlyreveals
to
manhisownfolly
doubling
anddespair,
andvictory
isan
doubling
ofphilosophers
illusion
andfools.12
The explicitcomparisons,negatives,or-phrase,and doubling of
nounsand modifiers
all have the same effect:of transforming
the
event,the giftof the watch,intoan evaluationof life.The syntax
emphasizeswhat cannotbe won, conquered,fought,remembered,
possessed,and establishes
the pointof view thatis statedexplicitly
in theconcludingcoda: life'sactionsreveal"to man" only"his own
follyand despair."The closenessof thisvisionof lifeto thepassage
in Macbeththatcontainsthenovel'stitleis reinforced
bythecloseness
of Faulkner'ssyntactic
styleand the styleof Macbeth'sspeechin
despair:
negative/appositive
Life'sbuta walking
shadow,
a poorplayer
doubling
Thatstruts
andfrets
hishouruponthestage
appositive
Andthenisheardnomore.Itis a tale
doubling
Toldbyanidiot,fullofsoundandfury,
negative
Signifying
nothing.
(V, v,24-8)

This is notto saythatFaulknerfoundhis styleas well as his titlein


Macbeth,butmerelythatthecontemplative
tonein bothis established
througha nearlyidenticalsyntactic
stylethatsuitsthevisionof life
as a succession
ofshadowssignifying
nothing.
This visionis reinforced
not only by the syntacticstructures
of
Faulkner'snarrativestyle,but also by the over-all,architectural
structure
of theseworks.The four-part
structure
of The Sound and
the Fury is an extendedappositionthat equates each character's
evaluationofthesignificance
ofevents.The relationship
betweenthe
fourpointsofviewis parallel;theypileon topofeachother,creating
layersof consciousness.
The recurrent
huntsin "The Bear" and
"Was" are also parallel; the actionprogresses
in a cyclicalfashion.
12

The Sound and the Ftury(I929;

rpt. New York: Random,Vintage,I946), p. 93.

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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles

437

Justas theover-allstructure
of "Was" movesin a circle,so does the
structure
of Light in August,whichends as it beginswithLena's
meandering.
areofa piecewith
Faulkner'slargernarrative
structures
thesyntactic
ofhisnarrative
structures
style.Bothstructures
embody
a repetitive
visionof life'seventswhichis consistent
withQuentin's
contemplative
evaluation,inheritedfromhis fatherand his father's
father-"thatno battleis everwon" and that"victoryis an illusion
ofphilosophers
and fools."
This vision is shared by Faulkner'scomic novels,which also
presentlifeas movement
in a circle.The difference
is in thefocus:
the comicpassagesfocuson the foolishness
of the momentswhen
men believetheiractionscan resultin victory.In thesemoments,
characters
directtheiractionsin a linearfashiontowarda goal that
is neverreached;thelinear,right-branching
syntactic
stylecaptures
both the directionof the actionsand the insignificance
of each
individualmotion.The pilingup ofparallelactionsequatesthedeeds
and createsa senseof accretionand speed. In short,the narrative
syntaxcreatesa comicperspective.
The horseauctionin The Hamlet containstheancientcomiccontestbetweengreedand gullibility.
Fromthepointof viewofvictims
and losers,such eventsare not funny;fromthe more distanced
of the spectator,
perspective
theyare. As in the second sectionof
"Was," Faulknerengageshis audiencein thedistancedcomicstance
throughthe syntacticstyleof the narration.In The Hamlet the
cavortingof the uncaught,but bought-and-paid-for,
horsesis presentedin a right-branching
stylethat contrastswith the highly
embedded,evaluativestyleof contemplation.
Because the comic
stylehas littleembedding,
ofclausesand phrases
theright-branching
ofequal weightallowsone actionto supplantanotherrapidly.
"Get to hellout of here,Wall!" Eck roared.He droppedto thefloor,
his head withhis arms.The boydid not move,and forthe
covering
thirdtimethehorsesoaredabovetheunwinking
eyesand theunbowed
and untouched
headand ontothefront
verandaagainjustas Ratliff,
still
the
ran
carrying sock, aroundthecornerof thehouseand up thesteps.
The horsewhirled
without
breaking
or pausing.It gallopedto theendof
theverandaand tookthe railingand soaredoutward,
and
hobgoblin
floating,
in themoon.It landedin thelotstillrunning
and crossed
thelot
and galloped
through
thewrecked
gateand amongtheoverturned
wagons

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438

AmericanLiterature

and thestillintactone in whichHenry'swifestillsat,and on downthe


laneandintotheroad.13

is therepetition
of"and,"an equating
feature
Thedominant
stylistic
in thesamewayas subconjunction
thatdoesnotinviteevaluation
or
in causality
ordinating
whichexpress
relationships
conjunctions,
time."And . . . and . . . and . . ."-the horserunson as themen
ranon in "Was."The foregrounding
of theright-branching
is so
heavythatthefewembedded
elements
do notdetertheflowofthe

action:the two participialphrasesare placed towardtheright;the


one adjectiveclauseis insignificant.
The styleis distinguished
by the
a statistical
countis notnecessary
high"degree"of right-branching;
thatthe comictoneis conveyedby a cohesionof
to understanding
of a distinctly
kind thanthoseassociated
syntactic
features
different
with contemplation.The same comic tone and styledominate
Ratliff's
re-telling
of theepisodeat thegeneralstore:"It was in my
roomand it was on thefrontporchand I couldhearMrs.Littlejohn
hittingit overthehead withthatwashboardin thebackyardall at
thesametime.4nd itwas stillmissingeverybody
everytime.
I reckon
that'swhatthatTexas man meantby callingthembargains:thata
man would need to be powerfulunluckyto everget close enough
to one of them to get hurt" (p. 314). Ratliff'sconcludingcoda
providesthepointof view he wisheshis auditorsto adopt,but the
comic stanceis implicitin the precedingsentencesdescribingthe
repetitive
movements
of thehorse.The principleof repetition
is the
comic principleunderlyingslapstickhumor such as the Marx
brothers';in Bergson'sterms,such repetitionis comic becauseits
mechanicalnatureremindsman of the limitations
placed on his
vitality
by mechanicaland bodilyforces.The repetitive
stylemaybe
overdoneor not going anywhere
funnymerelybecause"repetition
belongsto comedy,for laughteris partlya reflexand like other
as Frye
it can be conditioned
reflexes
by a simplerepeatedpattern,"
of thissyntactic
pointsout.'4The repeatedpatterns
styleparallelthe
of the action; the rapid,mechanicalrepetition
patterning
reminds
Ratliff
and thereaderoftheabsenceof thoughtthatgetsmengulled.
The comicoccasionin Faulkner'snovelsis oftenan occasionwhen
13
14

(I957;

The Hamlet(193I; rpt.New York:Random,Vintage,1958), p. 308.


NorthropFrye, "The Mythosof Spring: Comedy" from Anatomyof Criticism
rpt.New York:Atheneum,
I970),
p. i68.

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Faulkner'sNarrativeStyles

439

In thecontemplative
actionis takenwithout
contemplation.
passages,
characters
in thecomicpassages
realizethatnogoalis everachieved;
In TheReivers
characters
actwithout
ofultimate
futilities.
thinking
theillusive
a race;thecomicperspective
goalis winning
towardthis
hopeis present
themoment
thehorseis-whenMillieannounces:
"Man standingin the back yardholleringMr. Boon Hogganbeckat the
backwall ofthehouse.He gotsomething
big withhim."
We ran,followingBoon, throughthe kitchenand out into the back
gallery.It was quite dark now; themoon was nothighenoughyetto do
anygood. Two dim things,a littleone and a big one,werestandingin the
middle of the back yard,the littleone bawling "Boon Hogganbeck!
MisterBoon Hogganbeck!Hellaw. Hellaw" towardtheupstairswindows
untilBoonoverrodehimbysimplevolume:
"Shutup! Shutup! Shutup!"
It was Ned. Whathe had withhimwas a horse.15

The amusingpointof viewis due to someextentto theverbal


excess:therepetition
of"BoonHogganbeck!
MisterBoonHogganbeck!Hellaw.Hellaw"and "Shutup! Shutup! Shutup!" conveys
theexcitement
ofthecharacters,
theemotional
excessthatoverrides
contemplation.
The repetition
of similarphrasing
at thebeginning
andendingofthepassagereinforces
thisperspective:
"He gotsomethingbigwithhim"-"Whathe had withhimwas a horse."This
syntactic
styleis theperfect
styleforraces-ofmenand horsesbecausethesyntax
captures
thesenseofmotion;forexample,
in the
tworacesinTheReivers:
I cuthim as hardas I could. He broke,faltered,
sprangagain; we had
alreadymade McWillie a presentof two lengthsso I cut him again; we
went into the second lap two lengthsback and travelingnow on the
peeled switchuntilthe gap betweenhim and AcheronreplacedNed in
what Lightningcalled his mind,and he closed it again until his head
was oncemoreat McWillie'sknee . . . (p. 272-73).
. . . McWillie whippingfuriously
now and Lightningrespondinglike a
charm,exactlyone neck back; if Acheronhad known any way to run
sixtymilesan hour,we wouldtoo-one neckback; ifAcheronhad decided
to stoptenfeetbeforethewire,so would we-one neckback (p. 297).

The right-branching
syntactic
stylecaptures
theactualmovement

of the action as in "Was" and The Hamlet; the repetitivenessof the


15

The Reivers(New York:Random,Vintage,I962), p.

II5.

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American Literature

440

and doomedto
passagessuggests
thatnearlyall racesarerepetitive
fromthose
areno different
be lostbya head.The comiclimitations
recognized
in contemplation,
butsuchracesarecomicbecausethe
a mereillusion
toward
ofvictory.
actors
keepmoving
This illusionis also at theheartof theabsurdist
comedyof the
inAsI LayDying.Deathandburying
can
bizarre
funeral
procession
theoccasion
for
forcomedy
whentheyprovide
onlybecomesubjects
human
thelivingtoassert
whatLangercalls"thevitalfeeling"-the
tendency
to "seizeon opportunities,"
to graba littlemoreof life.16
the"opportunism"
absurdwhenitsgoalsbecome
becomes
However,
togo totownor to
oftheexpenditure
ofenergy-merely
unworthy
ofFaulkner's
absurdist
getnewteeth.The opportunism
comedyis
underlies
comic
less"brainy"
thanthe"opportunism"
Langerthinks
greed.In fact,thelackof thought
is whatmakestheopportunism
absurdas thecharacters,
themules,andthemother's
coffin
all swirl
offintheflood:
CashtriedbutshefelloffandDarl jumpedgoingunderhe wentunder
andCashhollering
tocatchherandI hollering
andDeweyDell hollering
at me VardamanyouVardamanyouvardaman
and Vernonpassedme
becausehe was seeinghercomeup and shejumpedintothewateragain
andDarlhadn'tcaught
heryet....
theirstiff
The mulesdivedup againdivingtheirlegsstiff
legsrolling
catchherdarlcatchherhead
slowand thenDarl againand I hollering
herintothebankdarland Vernonwouldn't
helpand thenDarl dodged
pastthemules. ...

"Whereis ma,Darl?" I said."You nevergother.You knewsheis a

fishbutyoulethergetaway.""17

The syntactic
stylemakesthe actionsswirlaroundeach other,
inundating
opportunity
forthought.
The pilingup oftherepetitive
actionsis highlighted
by therepetition
of "and" and of specific
ofcrossing
whonarrates
thisbizarre
tothe
words.Vardaman,
parody
abilities
otherworld,is, of course,limitedin contemplative
by his
age. His perception
of thisaccretion
of separate
actionsis not so
different
fromBenjy'sin The SoundandtheFury:"Theytookthe
flagout,andtheywerehitting.
Thentheyputtheflagbackandthey
16 Suzanne Langer, "The Great Dramatic Forms: Comic Rhythm," from Feeling and
Form (1953),
as reprinted in Comedy, ed. Marvin Felheim (New York: Harcourt, Brace,
Jovanovich,I962), pp. 248 and 243.
rpt. New York: Random, Vintage, 1957),
pp. 143-44.
I Lay Dying (1930;
17,AS

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Faulkner's Narrative Styles

44I

wenttothetable,andhe hitand theotherhit.Thentheywenton,


oftheactions
andI wentalongthefence"(p. 23). Therepetitiveness
by thestylein whichtheyare described.
is emphasized
described
in lackofcontemtheepitome
represents
Benjy'ssyntax
Of course,
and
andevaluateevents,
cannotconnect,
relate,
plation;he literally
idiot,it is in menwho
whilethisis notcomicin an acknowledged
pretend
toreasonbutshareBenjy'sstyleofmind.BenjyandVardain
becausetheyarecaughtbyage andinheritance
manarepathetic
ofactionstheydid notcauseand cannotunderstand.
theaccretion
to theirlack
connected
qualityaboutthemis directly
The pathetic
laughsat the
us,humannature
ofability
As Freudreminds
tothink.
because
children
andidiotsand"humpbacks"-perhaps
pathetic-at
whichwe should
of movement
expenditure
"we seean unncessary
and "our
outthesameactivity"
ifwe werecarrying
spareourselves
whichwefeel
senseofthesuperiority
a pleasurable
laughter
expresses
in relation"
to another(pp. 254-55). In thissense,Vardamanand
of the comicqualityof otherFaulknerian
Benjyare expansions
in activities
theydo notfullycomprewhoareinvolved
characters
contemplated.
havenot
ofwhichthey
hend,thefutility
Manyof theactionsthatoccupythecomicscenesin Faulkner's
involvedengagedin
novelsmightbecometragicif thecharacters
the
style
in whichtheywere
if
oftheirinsignificance,
contemplation
As RichardSewallpointsout,one
involvedevaluation.
presented
"fromthe
graduation
is contemplation,
criticalaspectof tragedy
is the
ofsuffering-which
condition
ofpainandfeartothecondition
comicstyle
Faulkner's
ofpainand fearcontemplated."18
condition
in its rapid,right-branching
embodiesthelack of contemplation
passagesare
of actions.The morecontemplative
accumulation
of
evaluation
stylethatimposescontinual
markedby a syntactic
it,standsin
whatis byall thatis relatedto it-by all thatprecedes
or
to it,or can be equatedwithit. The contemplative
opposition
regardless
comicpointofviewgrowsfromthestyleofthenarration,
This
is doingthenarrating.
of whether
theauthoror a character
betweenstyleand toneaccountsfor the consistency
consistency
and
formalnarrative
structures
betweenpassageswithdifferent
voiceinthevoicesofdifferent
forthepersistence
ofthe"Faulknerian"
18RichardB. Sewall, The Vision of Tragedy (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press,
I959),

p. 6.

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442

AmericanLiterature

in Faulkner'snarrative
A furthersense of consistency
characters.
and comi'c
stylederivesfromqualitiessharedby the contemplative
styles,which both presentan inundationof consciousness-by
accretionthatmarksFaulkner's
thoughtor by action.The syntactic
throughsyntactic
individualexperiences
narrativestylestransforms
is related.Both
thatcreatea worldin whicheverything
connections
between
and comic stylesconveyrelationships
the contemplative
Faulkthroughstylethepersistent
reinforcing
layersof experience,
of all times,peoples,and
nerianthemesof the interconnectedness
actions.

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