Gwynn's Literature Class
DATE: 15 February 1957
OCCASION: Frederick Gwynn's American Fiction Class
Play the full recording:
Frederick Gwynn: I'd like for us to introduce this group to Mr. Faulkner. People generally in the back, as I see it, are dedicated souls who've given up a great deal, maybe even breakfast, [audience laughter] to come in here and who are official auditors of this class today, and scattered toward the front are the real card-carrying, dues-paying members of a class in American fiction, who have a few questions and a few comments, possibly, on work we've been doing in the course, which has taken us from the—when was it—the first day that Ikkemotubbe came back from New Orleans, right up through the McCaslin and Compson sagas, to the Easter when Dilsey said she'd seed the first and the last. And as for introducing Mr. Faulkner to this group, it is something that needs not to be done, but I think it might make this moment even more historical in our minds if I remind you that there is no writer in the world today whose prestige is higher than this gentleman from Mississippi. Mr. Faulkner, we will be at ease, and questions may or may not come in the next few minutes. [audience laughter]
Frederick Gwynn: I know I've got one somewhere, so if I may, I'd like to ask what you felt was the relationship between The Sound and the Fury and the short story, "That Evening Sun." Did one come before the other in some significant way?
William Faulkner: The—"That Evening Sun" must have come after The Sound and the Fury. The first time I thought of—of those children, Caddy and Jason and Quentin, was when I did The Sound and the Fury, so the other story must've come after it, though it's hard to—for me to unravel these people, to say when one came to life. It's very difficult. I myself can't distinguish one book from another sometimes. I think not of books but of characters, and I can't remember which book has which characters in it.
Frederick Gwynn: Do you remember any kind of feeling of satisfaction when you finally finished The Sound and the Fury? I think most readers feel a—a great equilibrium at the end there. Do you recall any such feeling yourself?
William Faulkner: No, I don't. That's the—the one that I love the best for the reason that it was the most splendid failure. I think that—that they all failed. Probably the reason the man writes another book is that he tried to—to tell some very important and very moving truth and failed. He's not satisfied, so he tries again. He writes another book, trying to tell some—the same moving truth, since there's only one truth, and they fail. And this one I worked hardest at. It's—it's like the—the idiot child that the parents love the best. This one was the—the most splendid failure, but I—I wish I hadn't done it because if I could do it now, I think I could do it better. Of course, I couldn't, [audience laughter] but I would like to try it again if I had never written it.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—
William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.
Unidentified participant: This is a question about writing in general. I think maybe you just answered it, but they say until Hawthorne came along that there were two ways to construct a story: either start with the characters and then a plot, or start with a plot and make up your characters, and they say that Hawthorne started with the idea and invented both. And I wonder, I know there's no one formula to producing a story, but I just wonder where you start most often and what you feel is most important, what pattern you [have worked out] to use?
William Faulkner: Three methods you just stated, all will work but—but none—neither or none are more important than the others, and no one can say just what method the story demands. Apparently there's something inside the man or the woman that must be—be told, must be written. It could be an anecdote. It could be a character. It could be an idea, but I don't think you could say which system to—or which pattern to assume in order to—to create a story or a book.
Unidentified participant: You have no favorite pattern? It just depends on the individual—?
William Faulkner: That's right, that's right. It could be an anecdote. The Sound and the Fury came out of an anecdote, a picture of a—a little girl, the muddy seat of her drawers when she climbed the tree to look in a parlor window, and that's—the book came from that.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner
William Faulkner: Sir.
Unidentified participant: In The Sound and the Fury, the first three sections of that book are narrated by one of the—of the four Compson children, and in view of the fact that Caddy figures so prominently, is there any particular reason why you didn't have a section with—giving her views or impressions of what went on?
William Faulkner: That's a good question. That—the explanation of that whole book is in that. It began with the—the picture of the—the little girl's muddy drawers, climbing that tree to look in the parlor window with her brothers that didn't have the courage to climb the tree waiting to see what she saw. and I tried first to tell it with one brother, and that wasn't enough. That was Section One. I tried with another brother, and that wasn't enough. That was Section Two. I tried the third brother, because Caddy was still to me too beautiful and too moving to—to reduce her to telling what was going on, that it would be more—more passionate to see her through somebody else's eyes, I thought. And that failed, and I tried myself, the fourth section, to tell what happened, and I still failed. [audience laughter] So—
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, when you wrote this, did you have it thought out beforehand, the whole sequences, or did they sort of evolve as you wrote it?
William Faulkner: It evolved as I wrote it. It began with the picture, as I said, of—of the little girl climbing the tree to tell her brothers what was going on in the room where the grandmother's funeral was taking place, and the rest grew from that.
Frederick Gwynn: Speaking of Caddy, is there any way of getting her back from the clutches of the Nazis, [audience laughter] where she ends up in—in the appendix?
William Faulkner: I think that that would be a betrayal of Caddy, that it's best to leave her where she is. If she were resurrected, there'd be something a little shabby, a little anti-climatic about it, about this. Her tragedy, to me, is—is the best I could do with it. Unless, as I said, I could start over and write the book again, which I can't do.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, since we still seem to be discussing The Sound and the Fury, I have a question. In Parts Three and Four of The Sound and the Fury, the presentation of character is usually clear and convincing. The reader can never forget the viciousness of Jason or the amiable simplicity of Luster or the selfishness of Caroline. The reader comes to know these people through watching them act. At the same time, I shall say for the sake of discussion that the action in these two parts occasionally seems contrived. For example, why does not Candice solve the problem of getting money to her daughter by depositing it in Quentin's name or by sending gifts to Quentin, gifts that Jason could not use. Yet the vivid character development and ideas in this novel depends upon the action as we have it. Does not this show one of the dilemmas of art? That is, the difficulty of showing, at the same time, realistic character and action, and since the one must be somewhat sacrificed to the other, is not the expression of an idea or the presentation of the character more important artistically than the writing of realistic actions?
William Faulkner: I would say that the—the creation of a character is the most important of all. Is—that is what the—the writer's trying to do, that he—he would use style when—when he thinks style is the tool best. He will use misrepresentation when that's what he thinks will serve best. He will use some—some outrageous—what—what am I trying to think now? He—he will have—he's writing, talking about one primary truth which has nothing to do with fact, so he will outrage fact. He will outrage simplicity. If he can find no better way to—to tell, to show some passionate and moving facet of the human heart, which moved him so much that he couldn't let be what he had to write. Does that answer your question?
Unidentified participant: Yes, sir.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—
William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.
Unidentified participant: I am interested in the—in the symbolism in The Sound and the Fury, and I wasn't able to figure out exactly the significance of the shadow symbol with Quentin. It's referred to over and over again. He steps into the shadow, his shadow is before him, his shadow is over him, after him, [behind]. More importantly, what is the significance of this shadow?
William Faulkner: That wasn't a deliberate symbolism. I would say that that—that shadow that stayed on his mind so much was a—a foreknowledge of his own death, that he was—death is here, shall I step into it, or—or shall I step away from it a little longer? I won't escape it, but shall I accept it now, or shall I put it off until next Friday or—I think that was—if it had any reason that must have been it.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, on the subject of symbolism, two or three years ago Carl Sandburg was asked to interpret one of his works [...]. He [...] that he didn't read the stuff, he just wrote it, all of which in view of the fact that too many people, particularly professors, go to this extreme on symbolism. Do you think most authors are conscious at the time they're doing symbols or using symbols, that—are they conscious of everything they [bring] into it, or is this just something a good artist automatically does without realizing it?
William Faulkner: I don't think that he's conscious of it, unless as we said a moment ago, symbolism is some tool that he is using for lack of a better one. But, no, he's—he's not conscious of it. The symbolism lots of times is read into it. Of course, he put it there, but he didn't know it was there until somebody told him about it.
Frederick Gwynn: Certainly something like "The Bear," you must've felt that the bear himself was—stood for something more than just a big bear, as—
William Faulkner: Well, but he was such an obvious symbol. He represented the vanishing wilderness. He was an obvious symbol.
Unidentified participant: Sir, what sort of symbol was the snake? We discussed that in both "The Bear" and in "Red Leaves."
William Faulkner: Oh, the snake is—is—is the old grandfather, the old fallen angel, the unregenerate immortal. The—the—the good and shining angel ain't very interesting, you know. [audience laughter] It's the [dark] proud one that's interesting.
Unidentified participant: Sir, what would you advise a person to read first of yours?
William Faulkner: Well, that's not a fair question to ask me because I would—I would like anyone to try the one that I love the best, which is a poor one to start on. If you are asking me to give an objective answer, I would say maybe—maybe The Unvanquished.
Unidentified participant: Why would you select that one?
William Faulkner: Because it's easy to read. [audience laughter] Compared to the others, I mean.
Unidentified participant: Would it be fair to ask you what is your favorite of your books?
William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury, yes.
Unidentified participant: Thank you.
Joseph Blotner: Mr. Faulkner, I'd like to ask you about Quentin [and] his father. I think many readers get the impression that Quentin is the way he is to a large extent because of his father's lack of values or the fact that he doesn't seem to pass down to his son many values that will sustain him. Do you think that Quentin winds up the way he does primarily because of that, or are we meant to see, would you say, that the action comes primarily from what he is, just abetted by what he gets from his father?
William Faulkner: The action as portrayed by Quentin was transmitted to him through his father. There was a—a basic failure before that. The grandfather had been a failed brigadier twice in the Civil War. It was the—the basic failure Quentin inherited through his father, or beyond his father. It was a—it's—something had happened somewhere between the first Compson and—and Quentin. The first Compson was a—a bold ruthless man who came into Mississippi as a free forester to—to grasp where and when he could and wanted to, and established what should have been a princely line, and that princely line decayed.
Unidentified participant: Sir, how do you feel about your books after they've gone to press? Do you reread them or do you feel that they're cast—cast in stone?
William Faulkner: I didn't hear you.
Unidentified participant: I said, how do you feel about your books after they've gone to press? Do you reread them and puzzle over them or do you [...]?
William Faulkner: No, I don't because by that time I know the book was not as good as it should've been, and so I'm usually busy at another one. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: As a general rule, you never re-read?
William Faulkner: No, that's—that one book the writer don't have to read any more. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: Sir, what are some of the problems that a person who is trying to publish his first novel would run into? In other words, how may he to his—to his best advantage to get his first work in publication?
William Faulkner: It's difficult to say. I think that if the writer is too interested in getting that book printed to where that takes up that much of his time, that he's not really a first-rate writer. Probably the first-rate writer is angry and mad, but—but only when he brings himself to think about that first book. He's—he's working on the second one by that time. He's still trying to tell that truth, which by—by then he knows he failed in the first one, so he's—he's not interested in—in that book anymore. He wants it printed, of course. The mechanics of it is simply to send it to a publisher and then forget about it and work on the next one, and when it comes back, send it to another publisher. [audience laughter] Forget about it until you know that there's something basically wrong in that book, something unprintable about it, and then put it away and write another one, and maybe after you have written another one, you will have learned more about the trade. You can see what might've been mechanically wrong in the first one. You can go back to that. I've done that once, but I don't think that you should worry too much about getting the stuff printed. The main thing is to write it.
Unidentified participant: Sir, you are reported as having said that you rate writers according to what they have attempted rather than what they have achieved. It seems that Wolfe and Hemingway and yourself are primarily concerned with the conflicts that plague and disturb a man's soul. In—in what particular way would you say that Wolfe's attempt was greater than that of you or Hemingway?
William Faulkner: In that—that he—he ventured more and tried harder to—to inscribe the whole history of man's heart on the head of a pin, say. That's—that's not clear. That's not exactly it. What I'm trying to say is that—that what any writer wants to be is not better than—than the—his—his friend Hemingway or his friend Dos Passos. He wants to be better than Cervantes or Dostoevsky, and so I rate my coevals as to how near they were to Cervantes or Dostoevsky in—only in relation to one another. That none of them, none of us, were quite as good as Cervantes or Dostoevsky, that we all fail, that there's no—there're no degrees of failure in—in art. It either is or it ain't. And Wolfe, in my opinion, risked more. He tried harder to—to use the short span of—of one life to inscribe the history of the human heart on the head of the pin. That Hemingway found a method that he could do marvelously well and stayed in it. Wolfe didn't.
Unidentified participant: By that method, do you mean his—his style of writing short works in a very pure, limited language?
William Faulkner: Yes, that's right. That was—was perfect but minor. But there're no degrees of—of failure. No, the best is—is the best, and the best is—is to—to put inside the covers of a book the—the complete turmoil and experience and insight of the human heart, which is what Cervantes did, what Dostoevsky did, but—but Hemingway and us, the five that I mentioned, we—we attempted that but none of us did it. None of us failed worse—more than another, but the best failure was the one that tried the hardest, that was the bravest, that used the most courage, and that, in my opinion, was Wolfe.
Unidentified participant: Sir, do you rate Hemingway any higher since the publication of his last book, The Old Man and the Sea?
William Faulkner: Not in—by the—the formula I use. I think that the last book was—was his best, and now if we're talking of—of Hemingway, yes, that was his best, that—that he has steadily improved, and the last, in my opinion, was the best, and the next one should be still better, but it doesn't [look] [...], but what he has done is enough for a man to—to die in peace with, but it's not enough for a man to say, "I have done what I wanted to do," because nobody can do quite that. Probably Dostoevsky and Cervantes felt that way. Marlowe felt that way, probably. That if you ever do write that perfect one, then you—you break the pencil and throw it away, and there's nothing else to do except cut your throat. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: Sir, when you are reading for your own pleasure, which authors do you consistently return to?
William Faulkner: The ones I came to love when I was eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old. Moby-Dick, the Old Testament, Shakespeare, a lot of Conrad, Dickens. I read Don Quixote every year.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you speak of writing the—the one great book, but in your own works, you—you keep returning to this fictitious county you've made. You don't consider that a pageant, the—the whole work. [It was] from the Indians through the early settlers—?
William Faulkner: No, it was not my intention to—to write a—a—a pageant of a—of a county. I simply was using the quickest tool to hand. I was using what I knew best, which was the locale where I was born and had lived most of my life. That was just like the carpenter building the fence, he uses the—the—the nearest hammer. It—only I didn't realize myself that I was creating a—a—a pageantry of a particular part of the earth. That just simplified things to me.
Unidentified participant: Well, of course [...] could be more than just the [development] of a particular part of the earth—[...]
William Faulkner: Yes, it could be, sure. That's right.
Joseph Blotner: Mr. Faulkner, when for a time you left that area to go to France in A Fable, it must've appeared perhaps that it was a different aspect to this fundamental truth.
William Faulkner: Yes.
Joseph Blotner: That you were—
William Faulkner: But—but the same truth. It was still an attempt to tell that fundamental, single, moving truth that was—was so moving and so disturbing to me that I had to do something about it, and the only thing I knew to do about it was to try to put it down on paper, and I was just using the nearest and most available and simplest tool by leaving my apocryphal county for another milieu. I wasn't trying to write a war story nor trying to write another War and Peace nor to—to write A Fable even. I was simply using the quickest, the simplest tool to try to tell the same fundamental truth, which had worried me for fifty years.
Frederick Gwynn: In "The Bear," Mr. Faulkner, many readers come across Part Four and—and find it written in quite a different style than the other parts and the conclusion—well, it gets far ahead in years beyond Part Five. Was there any conscious plan in that?
William Faulkner: Only this. "The Bear" was a part of a novel. That novel was—happened to be composed of—of more or less complete stories, but—but it was held together by—by one family, the—the Negro and—and the white phase of the same family, the same people. "The Bear"—
Frederick Gwynn: [I mean] Go Down, Moses.
William Faulkner: Yeah, "The Bear" was just a—just a part of that—of a novel.
Frederick Gwynn: So that it was all right for Ike to think ahead or [...] to run up to his thirty-fifth year—
William Faulkner: Yes, that's right, because the rest of the book was a part of his past, too. To have taken that story out, to print it alone, I have always removed that part, which I have done in one anthology.
Frederick Gwynn: Yes, some of the textbooks do that.
William Faulkner: As a—as a short story, a long short story, it has no part in it, but to me "The Bear" is part of the novel, just a chapter in the novel.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner—
William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.
Unidentified participant: There's a world of difference between wanting to express yourself and actually applying the elbow grease [to] a first painful attempt, and I wonder what made you bridge this gulf, or what—do your remember what—when you first discovered your own compulsion to write?
William Faulkner: I think when I was about twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two.
Unidentified participant: I was wondering if there was an incident or—or if you always wanted to write?
William Faulkner: I don't think so. I think that—that all the time this quality I speak of as—as the truth had been worrying me, trying to get out, and—and nobody likes to work, at least I don't like to work, and I—I reckon I put it off as long as I could, but it wouldn't be quiet and let me alone. I had to try to do something about it, which was to put it down.
Unidentified participant: In what period of development did you write that book of poems, A Green Bough?
William Faulkner: That was written at the time when—when you write poetry, which is seventeen, eighteen, nineteen [audience laughter] When you—you write poetry just for the pleasure of—of writing poetry, and you don't think of printing it until later. It may be— I've often thought that—that I wrote the novels because I found I couldn't write the poetry, that maybe I wanted to be a poet. Maybe I think of myself as a poet, and I failed at that. I couldn't write poetry, so I did the next best thing.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, in your speech at Stockholm you expressed great faith in mankind, that you thought man not only was here to prevail because he had the capacity for compassion and sacrifice and endurance. Do you think that's the impression the average reader would get after reading The Sound and the Fury?
William Faulkner: I can't answer that because I don't know what the—what the average reader gets from—from reading the book. I—I agree that what I tried to say, I failed to say, and I never have had time to read reviews, so I don't know what impression people might get from the book. But—but, in my opinion, yes, that's what I was talking about in all of the books, but I failed to say it. I agree with you, I did fail. But that's what I was trying to say, that man will prevail, will endure because he is capable of compassion and honor and pride and endurance.
Unidentified participant: Sir, why do you use violence so often in trying to arrive at this truth?
William Faulkner: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear.
Unidentified participant: Why do you use violence so often in your novels in trying to depict this truth?
William Faulkner: Well, that's the—the carpenter that—that thinks that the ax is a better tool to use than a hammer. He could be wrong, but he's using what seemed to him the best tool to [properly] build what he wants to build.
Unidentified participant: Sir, Hawthorne seemed to have found trouble in creating good characters, whereas his more or less bad characters stand out as—as works of art. Do you think that is a problem with all writers, that it's harder to create a—a good character than a—than an evil one?
William Faulkner: It's possible that that's inherent in human nature, not so much in the—in the character of writers but in—in human nature itself. That it's easier to conceive of—of evil than of good, or to make—that evil is easier to make believable, credible than good.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, when you say man will prevail, do you mean individual man has prevailed or group man [has prevailed]?
William Faulkner: Man as a—a part of—of life.
Unidentified participant: Well, but in Quentin, for instance, [he] seems to have the cards stacked against him and his [prevailing]—it seems to be inherently impossible, and I wondered—
William Faulkner: True, and his mother wasn't much good and he had an idiot brother, and yet in that whole family, there was Dilsey that held the whole thing together and would continue to hold the whole thing together for no reward, that the—the will of man to prevail will even take the—the—the nether channel of—of the black man, black race, before it will relinquish, succumb, or be defeated.
Frederick Gwynn: As she says, "I've known God to use curioser tools than that."
William Faulkner: Yes.
Unidentified participant: Well, sir, if you—if you seem to have [this belief in] in that [...] you say the ultimate goodness of man, that he will come through in spite of all. How—how do you explain sort of the mass brutality, the things we practice on each other, the horrible things that take place in the [lines] of religion or our politics?
William Faulkner: I didn't say in the ultimate goodness of man, I said only that man will prevail and will—and—and in order to prevail he has got to improve. As to whether he will stay on the earth long enough to attain ultimate goodness, nobody knows. But he—he does improve, since the only alternative to progress is death. And we can see that little children don't have to work. A—a merchant can't sell you poisoned food. They are minor improvements, but they are improvements. Nobody is hanged for stealing bread any more. People are not put in jail for debt. It's some improvement. It's not a great deal, I grant you, as matched against atomic bombs and things like that. But it's some improvement. Man improves.
Unidentified participant: You don't feel that mass manipulation by fanatics along ideological or political lines will negate all this?
William Faulkner: No, I don't. That, to me, is part of the ferment of—of—man's immortality, that these people, the—the nuts, are necessary too.
Unidentified participant: Do you think that man will prevail against destroying himself or [...] [force of nature]?
William Faulkner: I think he will—he will prevail against his own self-destruction, yes.
Unidentified participant: What about the forces of nature too—as part of your scheme too—?
William Faulkner: Well, unless the earth gets sick and tired of him like an old dog, and just scratches him off like the old dog does fleas, which—[is not likely to happen]. [audience laughter]
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, what do you think is man's most important tool? Is it the mind or the heart as far as [the human] goes? Do we feel this or do we think [think our way through it]?
William Faulkner: I don't have much confidence in the mind. I think that here is where it should be, that the mind lets you down sooner or later, but this doesn't.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, I've been very much interested in what it seems to me you did—maybe you didn't—in The Sound and the Fury, in the character of Caddy. To me she is a very sympathetic character and perhaps the most sympathetic white woman in the book, and yet we get pictures of her only through someone else's comments, and most of these comments are quite hostile and—and wouldn't lead you to admire her on the surface, and yet—and yet I do. Did you mean for us to have this feeling about Caddy, and if so, how did you go about reducing it by these negative pictures that we get of her?
William Faulkner: To me she was the—the beautiful one. She was—she was my heart's darling. That's what I wrote the book about—
Unidentified participant: Well that's what I —
William Faulkner: And I used the—the tools which seemed to me the—the proper tools to try to tell—try to draw the picture of Caddy.
Frederick Gwynn: Mr. Faulkner, we've got a poker player over here, Mr. Jordan, who's holding back on a question that I'm dying to hear the answer to.
William Faulkner: Let's have it.
Unidentified participant: Well, I was wondering in the short story "Was," why Mr. Hubert does not call Uncle Buddy. It seems to me that must be the point of the story, and yet no one can—could understand why he did not call him.
William Faulkner: I'll have to look at that—that page again. I don't remember exactly the—
Frederick Gwynn: He looks up and see that Tomey's Turl is dealing the cards.
William Faulkner: Oh, Tomey's Turl wants to be free, and so Tomey's Turl has dealt the right card to the right one, and Mr. Hubert knows that. As soon as he sees that Tomey's Turl was the one that dealt the cards, he knows that he's beat.
Unidentified participant: But Tomey's Turl—Tomey's Turl stood to win either way, didn't he? I mean, he was the—
William Faulkner: No, he was—I don't remember the story too well, but I don't think so. That—that Tomey's Turl had a stake in that game, too. As I—I remember it, Hubert Beauchamp would have taken his brother—no, what are the names? I can't even remember the names.
Frederick Gwynn: [The names were] Buck and Buddy.
William Faulkner: Yes, Buck would have taken Buddy out of the clutches of Miss—what's her name?
Frederick Gwynn: Sophonsiba.
William Faulkner: Sophonsiba, if he had won. And if that had happened then he would have taken Tomey's Turl back with him away from Tomey's Turl's girl. So if—if—if Buck lost, then Miss Sophonsiba would take Tomey's Turl's girl home with—with—with her. So Tomey's Turl was playing for his sweetheart. Yes, that's what the story was, I think.
Frederick Gwynn: Well, since Mr. Jordan knows that no self-respecting southern poker play is gonna miss a chance to call—[audience laughter]
William Faulkner: [Well, I'm glad that came up.] I remember that—yes, I'm sure that's it, that Tomey's Turl had a stake, too, and when Buck saw that Tomey's Turl had dealt that last card, he knew that he was finished.
Unidentified participant: I have another question about "The Bear." In the final scene of "The Bear," Boon is sitting under the tree with the squirrels, doing something with his shotgun, and it's not clear to me whether he is taking his shot—destroying his shotgun or trying to put it back together.
William Faulkner: It had jammed. He was trying to get a jammed shell out to make it fire, and he didn't want anybody else to shoot the squirrels. He was under the tree where the squirrels couldn't get out of it, and he didn't want anybody else to shoot the squirrels until he could get his gun fixed.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, did you conceive of "The Wild Palms" and "The Old Man" as a single story. I had—had an enormous amount of trouble trying to link the two stories together.
William Faulkner: That was tour de force. I wrote the—the book just as you read it, chapter by chapter. The story I was telling was of the—of Charlotte and—and Harry Wilbur. I simply used the other story as a—as counterpoint, just as the musician would, to emphasize what I was telling about Harry and Charlotte.
Unidentified participant: Well, "The Wild Palms" is so very interesting. I think the other is a bit of a struggle. I just [wondered]—
William Faulkner: Well, you—you may be right. [audience laughter] They—as I say, they all failed, and maybe it was a mistake to—to dovetail two of them together that way, but to me it seemed that—that it was necessary to—to counterpoint the story of Harry and Charlotte, which I did with—with the complete antithesis—the man that had a woman he didn't want and was going to infinite trouble, even as far as going to jail, to get rid of her.
Frederick Gwynn: May I ask a couple of questions about the early Indian stories, about "Red Leaves"? Did Doom, in your mind, did he wreck the steamboat and maybe kill this man David Callicoat, whose name he took? Did he have some notion of getting that steamboat eventually, which he finally had transported twelve miles inland?
William Faulkner: No, the steamboat simply got too far up the river and stayed too long, and when the water fell in the late summer, it couldn't get out again, and so the owners of it just took the valuable machinery out and left the hull there, and Doom decided that would make a nice addition to his house, and so he had his people drag it out of the river across to the plantation.
Frederick Gwynn: Did you ever hear of anyone's really ever doing that [...] ?
William Faulkner: [No].
Frederick Gwynn: Were these Chickasaws ever known to be cannibals? There's some mention of how human flesh may have tasted between two of them once.
William Faulkner: No, there's—there's no record, but then it's—who's to say whether at some time one of them might not have tried what it tasted like? Quite often young boys will try things that they are—are horrified to remember later just to see what it was like, what the sensation was like. Maybe as children they may have found a dead man and cooked some of him to see what he tasted like. But they were not cannibals as far as I know.
Joseph Blotner: [Do they exist just in memory now—]?
William Faulkner: There are a few. There's a reservation, a remnant of—of Choctaws. The others, the Indians in my part of Mississippi have vanished into the two races, either the white race or the Negro race. You see traces of the features in the Negroes and a few of the old names in—in among white families, old white families.
Unidentified participant: Is it [a question, Mr. Faulkner, of if] there were Indians at one time in this area?
William Faulkner: Oh, yes. Yes, all the—the land records go back to—to the Indian patents, and our country's not very old. Our land records are only a hundred and fifty years old. That was frontier then.
Unidentified participant: Sir, I'm curious about the occasional changes in personality that some of your characters undergo between novels. For instance, Narcissa Benbow is fairly sympathetic in Sartoris, but by [the time you write] Sanctuary she's vicious. How do you account for this?
William Faulkner: There again I am using the—the most available tool to tell what I'm trying to tell, and my idea is that—that no person is wholly good or wholly bad, that all people, in my belief, try to be better than they are and probably will be. And that if—when I need for a tool, a particular quality in an individual, I think that quality is there. It can be taken out, and—and for the moment it leaves the individual in an—an unhappy light. But in my opinion it hasn't destroyed nor really harmed that individual.
Unidentified participant: In other words, sir, she hadn't developed between novels. You're merely taking a different look at her [as] the same person.
William Faulkner: That's right. That's right.
Unidentified participant: Sir, to what extent are you—were you trying to picture the South or southern civilization as a whole, rather than just Mississippi, or were you?
William Faulkner: Not at all. I was trying to talk about people, using the only tool I knew, which was the country that I knew. No, I wasn't trying to—to—wasn't writing sociology at all. [audience laughter] I was just trying to write about people, which to me are the important [...]. Just the human heart. It's not—not ideas. I don't know anything about ideas, don't have much confidence in them.
Frederick Gwynn: In "The Bear," Mr. Faulkner, once again, the—the end of Part Three, Sam Fathers has died. Does he die in his own little cabin or does he ask Boon Hogganbeck and Ike to take him out and expose him on the four-cornered platform?
William Faulkner: He knew that he was finished. He was tired of—of his life, and he—if he had been strong, he could have done the deed himself. He couldn't. He asked Boon to, and I think Book murdered him, because Sam told him to. It was the Greek gesture, which Sam himself was too weak to do. He was done, finished. He told Boon to do it.
Frederick Gwynn: And Ike knows this, and he tells the others to let Boon alone?
William Faulkner: Ike knows this. Yes, that's right. That's right. That's right.
Frederick Gwynn: Is there another pressing question to bring forth at this time? Well, thank you very much, Mr. Faulkner on this occasion. We know it's the first of a number, and we look forward to the repetition.
William Faulkner: Good. Well, thank you all for being kind enough to listen and to come here hungry. [audience laughter]
[end of recording]