Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion

1997

Thesis Director

Michael Leddy

Abstract

In my thesis I examine works of William Faulkner which show the influence of the legends of King Arthur. In the introduction to the thesis, I discuss evidence that Faulkner was not only familiar with the characters of the Arthurian legends but was also aware of many of the different versions of these stories.

The main sections of my thesis consist of character studies of various characters from Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha works in light of their similarities to their Arthurian counterparts. The King Arthur section includes the characters of John Sartoris of The Unvanquished and Thomas Sutpen of Absalom, Absalom!, both of whom resemble the legendary Arthur in terms of their character and the situations that make up their stories. These Arthur-like characters are set in the Civil War era to emphasize the similarity between the South of that time and the mythical Camelot.

The Knights-Errant section focuses on Faulkner characters who parallel some of Arthur's most prominent knights, such as Lancelot, Gawain, Gareth and Galahad. Bayard Sartoris of The Unvanquished and Isaac McCaslin of Go Down, Moses are two of the best representatives of these knights in Faulkner's works. The portrayals of these knights allow Faulkner to illustrate a modification of the code under which their predecessors lived, which parallels the code of chivalry followed by Arthur and his knights.

The Courtly Lovers section identifies romantic pairs from Faulkner's works that reflect the romantic pairs of the Arthurian legends--Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristram and Isolde, and Gareth and Lynette. Faulkner's pairs are Gavin Stevens and Eula Snopes of The Town, Quentin Compson and his sister Caddy of The Sound and the Fury and Byron Bunch and Lena Grove of Light in August. These romantic pairs illustrate the theme of idealism versus realism in Yoknapatawpha County. Gavin and Quentin are unable to reconcile their reliance on the ideals of the past with the reality of their lives. Byron alone is able to adapt his ideals to reality.

The Merlin section discusses the characters of Sam Fathers of Go Down, Moses and Granny Millard of The Unvanquished, who closely resemble the sorcerer Merlin, adviser to King Arthur. The stories of these characters tie Faulkner's theme of destiny to his present-day characters' fatal reliance on the code of chivalry by illustrating the consequences of this reliance.

The result of Faulkner's creation of characters that parallel the characters of the Arthurian legends is an elucidation of Faulkner's theme of the clash between the idealism of the past and the reality of the present as well as an explanation of the influence that the broken dreams of the idealized American South has on the lives of present-day Southerners.

Graduate Program

English

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