Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

John Guzlowski


Although many critics have compared William Faulkner and Charles Dickens, no one has fully developed the resemblance between their uses of black humor. Using several critics' definitions of black humor, I examine several aspects of black humor in Faulkner's Sanctuary and Dickens' Oliver Twist: the presence of the wasteland in society, the irreverent treatment of death and religion, the presence of grotesques and perverse sexuality.

Like the humour noir of the French surrealist movement, black humor in both of these books is very much involved in these authors' indictment of society. Both Faulkner and Dickens use black humor to mock the actions of the upper classes as the lower-class characters parody the upper-class characters' actions or mannerisms; because there is so much black humor bounding through the depiction of the lower-class underworld, eventually energy is focused in the underworld. In other words, all of the black humor in Sanctuary and Oliver Twist occurs in the setting of the underworld--the place in need of change. Thus, the setting is often quite tragic, like that of a wasteland, and needs black humor to offer some tragic optimism. However, the attitudes of these authors is far from simple since the lower class characters are not at all heroic; they, too, are a part of society which is condemned by Faulkner and Dickens.

Although both Dickens and Faulkner attack society, only Dickens presents religion--if used properly--as offering redemption. Unlike Dickens, Faulkner offers no answers to society's ills. Finally, for both of these authors, any hope for humankind is mixed with tragedy which leads to the pervasive black humor in Sanctuary and Oliver Twist.