How To Read Faulkner
Easily deduced answers and closure are clearly not what Faulkner's novels are all about. Indeed, like other literary modernists of the early 20th century, Faulkner launched a frontal attack upon the traditional notion of a "well-made novel," characterized as it was by its straightforward chronology (beginning-middle-end), its neatly plotted and unified action, its simple and often shallow characterizations, all presented by an omniscient author who not only narrated the story but interpreted it for the passive, submissive reader who had little need, or even desire, to engage the story in an active manner.
This last point provides a major key to understanding Faulkner's narrative technique and purpose. He wants (and therefore requires) the reader to become a partner with the author in the creative endeavor, not only interpreting the story for herself but also ordering the story by arranging and piecing together the separate strands and fragments. The technique, Faulkner said, may be compared to 13 different ways of looking at a blackbird—referring to a poem by Wallace Stevens, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"—and Faulkner added that he expected the reader to come up with his own "14th view."
While on the surface these Faulknerian uncertainties and ambiguities might seem just another aspect of his difficulty, in actuality they represent one of the strongest and most positive features of his work. It was noted previously that Faulkner prizes active, not passive, readers. And what a compliment Faulkner's novels pay to energetic, intelligent, enthusiastic readers! "Join me as a partner in creativity," he says. "Help me discover and order and understand the story. Think of these characters and actions what you will. Interpret the story for yourself. Write your own ending." Readers are artists, too, you know.
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