Writing and Literature Classes, tape 2

DATE: 2 May 1958

OCCASION: Frederick Gwynn's Undergraduate Class in Contemporary American Literature, John Coleman's Undergraduate Class in Writing, Gwynn's Graduate Class in American Fiction, 4 p.m., 202 Rouss Hall

TAPE: T-143b

LENGTH: 25:17

Play the full recording:

William Faulkner: [...] I live with. No, they were imaginary. He just said, "Suppose I say this to my father, would it help me? Would it clarify? Would I see clearer what it is that I anguish over?"

Frederick Gwynn: The feeling between him and his sister is pretty strong, though, [isn't it]?

William Faulkner: Yes, yes. But in Caddy's opinion he was—was such a—a weakling that even if they had been no kin, she would never had chosen him for her sweetheart. She would have chosen one like the—the ex-soldier she did, but never anybody like Quentin.

Frederick Gwynn: Is Candace a common name in Mississippi or—?

William Faulkner: No. No, Caddy seemed a nice name for her, and I had to think of something to justify it. [audience laughter]

Joseph Blotner: Mr. Faulkner—

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Joseph Blotner: You said that your vision of Caddy was one of the things that started you on the novel. What qualities other than bravery seem to you to make her such a person that you could feel that strongly about?

William Faulkner: She was independent herself. She was confident. She was compassionate enough to take care of the idiot child. That was no burden to her. If—her mother never had to say "Caddy, I want you to look after Benjamin this afternoon." Because she loved him. She would have done that anyway. And she was convinced that she could do the best for him. If what she couldn't do, Dilsey would tend to, [with that] Benjamin would be all right with her. She could look after him. And that she could take care of all of them. If there was something that would be pleasant for them to do, she would run the affair.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, I'm curious about Jason [...] that Negro boy tells him to keep his hands out of his pockets, because he's falling on his face all the time. He stumbles. Why, was he fat and clumsy when he was younger?

William Faulkner: Probably that was a mannerism, keeping his hands in his pocket. To me, that—that presaged his future, something of greediness and grasping, selfishness. That he may have kept his hands in his pocket to guard whatever colored rock that he had found that was for him—represented the million dollars he would like to have someday.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: In the thumbnail sketch you describe—describe Luster as being a man of fourteen capable of taking care of an idiot and entertaining him at the same time. Why—why do you consider Luster a man?

William Faulkner: Because he could do a man's job. At this time the idiot was twice his size, was actually dangerous. The idiot, by that time, was—was a man, and yet Luster at fourteen could cajole him when necessary, could trick him, could even apply enough physical force when necessary to keep him in hand. It's like the lion tamer is—is a man. It means simply that he's big enough for his job. That's what Luster—I meant by that. In Luster's terminology, a man is anyone who is big enough to do what he has to do.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in part two of The Sound and the Fury, the little Italian girl following Quentin, is this to represent [...]?

William Faulkner: I'm sorry. I don't remember her. I'll have to get that book and look at it. I—I can't remember her. Maybe Mr. Gwynn could prompt me a little there?

Frederick Gwynn: She was the sister of Julio. Quentin really [...] sees in her some innocence and calls her little sister quite a bit.

William Faulkner: Is that in Cambridge?

Unidentified participant: Yes, sir, or outside of Cambridge—

William Faulkner: Well, I mean when he is at Harvard. Well, that's probably what it was. No symbolism. It was—he had a—a—a—a tenderness, a—an admiration for—for women, for girls and also a—a sublimation of the concept of virginity after his tragic situation with his sister. It may be that's what it was.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Does Quentin commit suicide by jumping in the river or—?

William Faulkner: Yes, by drowning. Yes.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you say that the—some things you don't know exactly why you put them in. Would you say that the so-called psychological critics could now [tell] you why you put them into your books?

William Faulkner: A good psychologist certainly could or he would be a bad psychologist if he couldn't. [audience laughter] I think that—that one reads a book from the same jumping off place that one writes a book, that one reads a book from his own background of—of observation, imagination, and experience, too. That no one man can put into a book what a dozen men can—can read into it.

Unidentified participant: But don't you think artistic control keeps the psychologist from analyzing the writing [...]

William Faulkner: No'm, I don't think so. Maybe I don't understand what you mean by artistic control.

Unidentified participant: Well, don't you have to put the things in a certain order, objectify them, and make them just the opposite from what a psychologist [wants them] [...]?

William Faulkner: I wouldn't think so. The writer is—is writing from his own observation, imagination, experience, and out of the same background which the psychologist operates from. That is, from the—call it Christianity, the—the Caucasian race. The same background of education, of environment, which is the same time—period in time, and they would have some of the identical ideas which came from that near to identical backgrounds, which are identical in the period of time, in the—the culture of the country, of the speech, of the literature.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, in As I Lay Dying, what was the significance of Darl's lying in front of his mother's coffin after it was saved from the fire?

William Faulkner: Darl was mad. He did things which it seemed to me he—he had to do, or he insisted on doing. His reasons I could—could try to rationalize to—to suit myself, or even if I couldn't rationalize his reasons to please me, I had to accept the acts because Darl insisted on doing that. I mean that—that any character that you write takes charge of his own behavior. You can't make him do things once he comes alive and stands up and casts his own shadow. Darl did things which I'm—I'm sure were for his own mad reasons, quite logical. I couldn't always understand why he did things, but he did insist on doing things, and when we would—would quarrel about it, he always won, [audience laughter] because at that time he was alive. He was under his own power.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you mentioned that your characters are [struggling] to cope with the dilemma of life. Are any of them actually successful in reaching a point where life is not—does not present itself as a dilemma?

William Faulkner: Well, they reach a point where life is no longer a—a—an uncopeable dilemma. There is one, a sewing machine agent called Ratliff, that—that handled living pretty well. There are others that handled it pretty well. I think Dilsey did, though hers was tragic. But it never did—it might have dented her head a little, but it never beat her to her knees. Ratliff got along quite well with it, because he realized—recognized his own limitations and the fact that the dilemma, although it was insoluble, was not uncopeable with. I think Flem Snopes—he coped with it pretty well.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: Where did you find all your information on the Chickasaw Indians? Are there records [...]?

William Faulkner: Yes'm. There—there are records there, but I never did do much research. I would—I probably got my information about Indians as I've got it about most of the other things I know, from listening to people and adding a little imagination to it. I suspect that—that no Chickasaw would recognize my Chickasaws, [audience laughter] but people that do know more about Mississippi's history don't quarrel too much with my picture of Chickasaw Indians. And also, I have known some of their descendants. They have mixed with white people or with Negroes—are still in my country. And I don't think that—that people are all that different no matter what color they are. That people are different more because of the pressure of their environment than because of their blood.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [...] accept and endure throughout your work [...] meaning of that?

William Faulkner: That probably refers to man getting along within the human predicament. That you've got to accept it because the only other choice is to cut your throat. If you cope with it, within your capacity to give when it's stronger than you, then you endure. And the only alternative to enduring is also to—to cease. And man is—is here through no choice of his own. He has—as far as he knows he's not going anywhere else, and if he does anything with what time he knows who he is, it will have to be while he is here, and he had better, I think, teach himself to accept the predicament and to endure in it and still get as much pleasure as he can without doing harm to anyone. Or if he's bent on doing good to people, that's well enough. Let him uplift man. But in order to accomplish anything, to be a writer, to be a—a doctor, to do anything well, to—even to have fun, you've got to accept the predicament and endure in it.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: I wonder how did you happen to have come up with the title The Sound and the Fury from Macbeth, and I thought that perhaps it came from the speech—I mean the speech that it came from—"all our yesterdays"—of Macbeth himself, and I wondered if [there was any merit in] the analogy of the character Macbeth who having created his own chaos, inflicts it on life and the universe [with the same actions of Quentin Compson] [...]?

William Faulkner: No, it came simply from the—the words themselves, the—the ringing sound of the phrase—"A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury." It had nothing to do with—with Macbeth's character. It was simply from the phrase.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: [The part of] Benjy is the tale told by an idiot, I would assume.

William Faulkner: Yes. Yes, the book began as a short story. Benjamin, of course, was a deliberate choice from the biblical Benjamin.

William Faulkner: Sorry.

Unidentified participant: I was wondering in your Indian stories again, "Lo!" and "A Courtship" and in "A Justice," except for the framework, your stories—these stories are very humorous, but in "Red Leaves," while there is a good deal of wry humor, that story seems to be much more serious, and I wondered if you'd care to comment.

William Faulkner: Only, in primitive peoples—I mean by primitive peoples a—a small group which are obsolete inside another culture—the—the distance between what is humor and what is tragic is never very great, that it—it may be funny now but you better watch out. That was simply that—that the same conditions, the same ingredients, with just a little more or little less fire under it might make something completely different. That the—the implacable pursuit of that poor Negro was funny to anybody but him, and that not—and also it was not funny to the Indians that had to stop sitting down to get up and walk him down to catch him. But the picture of—of those lazy people that didn't want to do that having to—to catch that Negro, to me, was funny. But the result, the purpose of it, was anything but funny. The Indians that went to call on President Jackson was funny, but it wasn't funny to the Indians and certainly wasn't very funny to President Jackson.

William Faulkner: Yes, ma'am.

Unidentified participant: [I was wondering ] [...] [what you call inheritance but in the moment that you state] [...]?

William Faulkner: I think what I intend to say is man's immediate behavior is the result of the pressure of his environment. The—the method in which he behaves, of course, is—is heredity.

Unidentified participant: [You think it is more or less] [...]?

William Faulkner: I'm sorry.

Unidentified participant: [If it does not change very much] [...]?

William Faulkner: I think that heredity, if the word means anything, must be a constant factor. That would not change. It would alter. It would evolve. Man's behavior, which at one moment is this and in—under another situation is that, is because of the pressure of the immediate environment. But irregardless of his—his blood, his heritage, circumstance will compel him to—to make choices. He will make the choice according to the pressure of the environment.

Unidentified participant: [...] [The future is already known] — ?

William Faulkner: Ma'am.

Unidentified participant: [The future to you—you feel is done]. [...] [for that moment you can more or less predict] [...] [from that moment their behavior] [...]?

William Faulkner: Maybe we mean different things by—by environment. When I use that term I mean the immediate conditions of—of—of a moment. The environment that has—has shaped a child's character from the time it was born until it's ten years old has become a part of heritage, by that time. I use environment as the immediate moment. That is, environment, to me, now is—is us in this room.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Does this mean that young Bayard Sartoris, for example, inherited death by violence?

William Faulkner: Death by violence was—was a part of his past. It was a—a—a part of the creed of his family. He inherited that creed. He didn't have to—to function according to it. Which he didn't, he refused to do that. Because he was—was saying—trying to repudiate the past, not to cling to it. His tradition was that—that death by violence came sooner or later if you stuck to the creed of an eye-for-an-eye, blood-for-blood, and the—the emptiness of that sort of pride. That was his inheritance. But his behavior was because of his environment, which had—which was the result of a lost war in which people should have had enough of blood-for-blood and an eye-for-an-eye. That that solved nothing.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: Sir, do you recall a short story you wrote called "Delta Autumn"?

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

Unidentified participant: I wonder what would be the comment of Flem Snopes if such a story were told to him as being true?

William Faulkner: Why, I suppose he would—he wouldn't be too interested in it because there would be no percentage in going to the woods for two weeks just to shoot deer. He would be familiar with it. It would be a—a—a foolish way to spend two weeks. Was that what you meant?

Unidentified participant: [...] [different stories.] Is—this is the story where the [...] going off to Arizona [with this Negro woman]. Isn't that part of the story of "Delta Autumn"?

William Faulkner: "Delta Autumn" was a—a camp of deer hunters in which a—a young woman, a Negress, the discarded mistress of—of one of the white hunters, came to the camp to see him.

Unidentified participant: That was the part of the story that I was referring to, that what Flem Snopes' comment would be on that sort of thing happening within his environment.

William Faulkner: Well, that was his environment. He lived there, too. He just didn't go deer hunting. He probably had—had children by a Negro woman himself.

William Faulkner: Yes, sir.

John Church: Sir, you've mentioned that these people in The Sound and the Fury are doomed. Is it your theory also that people everywhere are doomed or is it just these people in Mississippi?

William Faulkner: No, no, [audience laughter] only the— [Faulkner laughing] no, only—only the Compson family—

John Church: Sir?

William Faulkner: Only that Compson family.

John Church: Oh, the Compsons.

William Faulkner: That they had refused to accept now and tomorrow. And there's no place for them in now because they wouldn't accept it. Or maybe that's backward, if there had been a place for them, they wouldn't have been Compsons. No, that's what Dilsey meant by the first and the last. It was the Compsons, that family. That was Quentin's thought. It's not Mississippians nor folks in Jefferson, but—but "us Compsons are doomed, that we have had it."

Frederick Gwynn: Mr. Faulkner, we're forced to accept now and tomorrow and thank you very much.

William Faulkner: Oh, thank you all. [applause]

[end of recording]