How To Read Faulkner
Some contemporary readers find Faulkner's texts objectionable because they include expressions and characterizations that today are considered racially or gender-biased. There can be no denying that, by today's standards, Faulkner's views on race and gender (as well as government and economics and several other topics) are quite conservative; but there is equally no denying that, in his time and place as a white Southerner, he was considerably ahead of most of his contemporaries, even "liberal"—indeed, far too liberal for many of his family and close friends. It would be a shame if we declined to read Shakespeare because we find him to be antidemocratic, and it would be equally our great loss if we reject Faulkner because his books contain language and opinions that today are, rightfully, considered inappropriate.
Faulkner is among the most historical of novelists. He held true to the notion (as expressed by Gavin Stevens in Requiem for a Nun) that "the past is never dead; it's not even past." Faulkner was keenly aware of this fact because he was born and raised in the American South—a section of our nation terribly haunted by its past, particularly the tragic events and aftereffects of slavery and the Civil War and more generally the broader issues of race, class, gender and ecology. Some of Faulkner's characters (like some Southerners) manage to break out of the tragic patterns of their region, others do not. And his books may be taken as a dialogue, frequently a debate, between the two types—as well as those caught in the middle.
While Faulkner is in many respects a quintessential Southern writer, he is not merely a Southern writer. He's much bigger, and better, than that. As he once wrote to his publisher Malcolm Cowley, "I'm inclined to think that my material, the South, is not very important to me." Faulkner went on to explain that his ultimate interest was in universals, in the "familiar old, old story of the human heart in conflict with itself," in "the ageless, eternal struggles, which we inherit and we go through as though they'd never happened before." Of course, in Faulkner's view, they had happened before, and would happen again.