Date of Award
Master of Arts
Martha E. Cook, Ph.D.
Michael Lund, Ph.D.
Massie C. Stinson, Jr., Ph.D.
In his address upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature on December 10, 1950, William Faulkner stated that the only topic "worth writing about" is "the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself ."1 Throughout his career, Faulkner attempted to convey this idea; regardless of the actual subject or the characters, this theme weaves itself through the author's works. Even Faulkner's works of the 1920s and early 1930s demonstrate this concern with the psychological and emotional problems of his characters. Among the characters most troubled are the veterans returning home after fighting in Europe during World War I and the people who are, in turn, affected by the veterans' troubles.
World War I devastated more than just the scarred countries of Europe; among its victims were the millions of men who participated in the conflict, their families, and others with whom they came in contact upon returning home . Literature of the 1920s records the frequently tragic effects of the war upon these survivors, depicting with great sadness the disintegration of their lives and their relationships with their families and acquaintances. Using Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and its characters as exemplars of what Gertrude Stein names the Lost Generation, one can examine Faulkner's works to compare his characters with Hemingway 's for those traits associated with World War I veterans. Despite whatever similarities may exist, however, Faulkner's characters must deal also with their Southern heritage as it influences their actions in and reactions to the war as well as their relationships with friends and family afterwards.
Seven characters - returning veterans Bayard Sartoris, Horace Benbow, Montgomery Ward Snopes, Caspey Strothers, Buddy Maccallum, Gavin Stevens, and Tug Nightingale--comprise Faulkner's Lost Generation which must embrace some viable means of survival in the twentieth century which exists following World War I. Compounding their problem is the presence of a distinct Southern heritage based on memories of the Civil War and the Lost Cause, a devotion to the land; an aristocratic hierarchy based on feudalism and slavery, and a concept of personal and family honor. Not until the characters are able to balance these two lifestyles are they able to function adequately in modern society.
Of Faulkner's veterans, only Caspey Strothers and Buddy MacCallum are able to achieve a successful balance soon after the war; the "abiding earth" to which they find themselves drawn enables these two to accomplish this task. Horace Benbow and Gavin Stevens must wait more than a decade before they can achieve a compromise of lifestyles; until that time they both are romantics who find themselves incapable of any meaningful action. Montgomery Ward Snopes becomes thoroughly modern and mercantile, rejecting traditional values. Tug Nightingale updates these same values and believes his part in World War I to be essential to some noble cause. Young Bayard Sartoris is unable to reach such an understanding, and he experiences a "doomed fatality" which results in his eventual death.
Buchanan, Ron, "Fallen Angels: William Faulkner's Lost Generation" (1983). Theses, Dissertations & Honors Papers. 414.