Spring 2022 Undergraduate English Courses

358:452 Seminar: Topics in American Literature: William Faulkner

01   MW5     3:50-4:10 PM   CAC   08270     MILLER, R.    MU-115

In this senior seminar, we will read three novels and a collection of interconnected short stories by William Faulkner. The focus of the seminar will be on Faulkner’s language, how he structures his stories, and how we are to read him productively in the 21st century. The challenge Faulkner poses for us is reckoning with the legacy of the Southern States’ embrace of the narrative of The Lost Cause to explain their defeat in the Civil War.

Some of Faulkner’s characters are slave owners; some are the descendants of enslaved people; many are poor, uneducated, and racist. In a seminar I taught last spring that focused on Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, (a novel that was published the same year as Gone with the Wind), we were all struck by how the ways of thinking represented in the novel were echoed and amplified in the words of the January 6th Insurrectionists. As Faulkner says elsewhere, “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.”

Can we separate the beliefs of Faulkner’s characters from the authors? Should we try? Can we focus on Faulkner’s language and the structure of his stories and bracket the parts that are offensive or disturbing? What are we to make of the fact that both Toni Morrison and Jesmyn Ward cite Faulkner as a formative influence?

The novels:

As I Lay Dying

The Sound and the Fury

Light in August

The collection of stories:

Go Down, Moses

We’ll start every class writing. You’ll write multiple interpretive footnotes. And you’ll compose a final multimedia question-drive project.

Please note: Faulkner’s novels include the n-word. We’ll discuss how to contend with this in the class. But if this fact causes you psychic distress, this isn’t the seminar for you.