Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Bonnie D. Irwin


Gloria Naylor and William Faulkner turn to the history and tradition of oral storytelling in their novels. Mama Day and Absalom, Absalom! especially present the concepts and techniques of the storytelling act. The complexities of the audience-performer dynamic and non-linear time in an oral storytelling event create obstacles for the teller (the writer) and confuse the role of the audience (the readers). Writers create the role of listening audience for the readers, changing the accepted rules of the readers by asking them to become participants. In Mama Day and Absalom, Absalom!, Naylor and Faulkner create connections between audience and performer by anticipating and acting on the needs of the audience, both the readers of the novels and the audiences who are portrayed within the novels. Through their novels, both authors question and probe the world of orality and storytelling. How does it work and what is a literate world's reaction to it?

Naylor's and Faulkner's use and interpretations of oral traditions in their novels evolve from their own interpretations of the world and from which perspective they choose to look at the oral storytelling event. By choosing oral traditions as the basis of Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner conveys the complexity of transferring the outside world on to paper. The jumps in time, stream-of-consciousness thinking, and the multiple perspectives create an almost indecipherable story when one tries to put them into words. Faulkner reveals the intricacies in an apparently simple world where people tell stories, and yet the complexity can be contained. Time in Absalom, Absalom! can be followed. If the readers can follow the changing perspectives, they can better comprehend the overall story. Faulkner gets so close to the storytelling event, that the readers must remove themselves from the individual words to realize that, despite the density of the flow of narrators' words, there is order and explanation to the world he has created.

Naylor, on the other hand, presents a novel that apparently has great order. We follow Cocoa and George's relationship from the first time they see ach other up through George's death (and beyond). But readers upon their first readings do not know the time frame of the story, if it is ever known. As the readers get farther into the story, they must separate themselves from the order of the "real" world and accept the sometimes allegorical world of Willow Springs. The events of the novel do not become less complicated as one reads the novel again, rather they become more so.

Looking at the two novels together we can see how storytelling is at once simple and complex. Both authors use the juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity in the creation of their novels. In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner creates stories of seeming confusion, which in fact, can be solved; while in Mama Day, Naylor presents an apparently simple novel, which asks the reader to see more complexity in the stories than is readily apparent.