Author (Your Name)

Lauren Woodward, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)


Colby College. English Dept.


Cedric Bryant


One of the most salient components of William Faulkner's opus of literary achievement is the complex dialectic between modernist, postmodernist, and humanist worldiews. The collection of novels beginning with Soldiers' Pay (1926) and including his most celebrated works: The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936), concluding with his final work, The Reivers (1962) displays an initial intermingling of modernist and postmodernist philosophies, with an astonishing turn towards humanist idealism following his Stockholm Address in 1950. The constant repetition and revision of the theme of family's influence on the formation of individual identity reveals an uncertainty or indecisiveness in Faulkner's efforts to present the truest assessment of the meaning and purpose of human life in the modern era. His use of modern, postmodern, and humanist philosophies, sometimes within a single text, suggests that the complexities of human existence cannot be limited to the beliefs of one school of thought, since conflict is the ultimate result of the interaction between such philosophies. Chronicling the disintegration of various constructions of family and traditional Southern values is Faulkner's prevailing approach to presenting the malaise of modernity. In Southern life, the family is the most influential institution in an individual's life, and Faulkner's identification of it as "a center that could no longer hold" emphasizes the social disruption that occurred as the South came in contact with the modern age. If the sacred bond of blood, a central force in the formation of individual identity, is empty and easily discarded, then individuals are ultimately left with a precarious sense of identity. A study of his novels suggests that Faulkner used various constructions of family to support and critique modern, postmodern, and idealistic Victorian appraisals of human life, creating a very intricate assessment of human existence. Faulkner wasn't simply a modernist, postmodernist, or humanist writer, he was an amalgamation of the three, which ultimately accounts for the complexity of his work. Even in his most postmodem texts there's an underlying current of modernist aestheticism and humanism; and postmodernism momentarily emerges in his principally humanist text. This interplay of philosophies makes any thoughtful analysis of his works potentially inconclusive, yet, of the utmost importance to understanding American literature of the Twentieth Century.


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modernist, postmodernist, humanist, social disruption