William Faulkner (1897-1962) is well known for his distinctive prose style -- his word choice, his long sentences, and his chains of imagery. In this paper, three novels, Sartoris (1929), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and The Mansion (1955) are studied to see what can be learned about Faulkner's use of the simile.
Many of Faulkner's characters are tortured by a disparity between their peaceful past and their chaotic present. It was found that Faulkner uses the greatest number of similes in the passages of the novels where the characters are searching most intensely to reconcile their past and their present. This finding unites Faulkner's theories of life and language. To him, life is not a series of moments of unique reality, but rather a continuum -- the present always flows from the past and is shaped by it. If the characters cannot see this relationship, they become upset and begin to search for a way to understand the disparity.
According to several critics and to Faulkner himself, he viewed language as secondary to experience. It is the experiential reality which language conveys that is of the prime importance. Words are merely a substitute for experience, and to transcend the literal use of words and progress to the reality which lies beyond them, one must use metaphor or simile: the interaction of the tenor and the vehicle in these figures has the power to create a new perception of reality. Thus it is appropriate for an abundance of similes to be present- when the characters are endeavoring to analyze their lives.
The simile is also discussed in less general terms. It has the power to provide unity to the novel by utilizing the chains of similes. These chains, besides simply providing a framework, often delineate personalities and illustrate the reasons that the frustrated characters are forced to search. They also emphasize the plot and themes of novels, forcefully bringing the search to the reader's attention.
Thus, it can be seen that, to Faulkner, the idea of search is linked to the simile in the areas of life, language, and art -- three areas which, to Faulkner, were probably one.
Robert Paul Dunn
Delmer I. Davis
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Faulkner; William; 1897-1962 -- Criticism and interpretation
Subject - Local
Loma Linda University. English Program -- Dissertations.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Dick, Denise R., "William Faulkner: The Search and the Simile" (1977). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 1053.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives