Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The disjunction between the oral and the literate in the works of William Faulkner reveals the different ways these distinct modes of organization combine to structure a text. The oral in Faulkner's fiction makes its presence known not only as offset speech but also as a mode of action and narrative whose logic is conjunctive rather than disjunctive. According to the literate mode, a form organizes novelistic matter. According to the oral mode, forces that function as signs rather than organizers of their form rule the action and narrative. When the disjunction between the oral and the literate is so complete that oral experience may be displayed and contained but not spoken, the result is the disorienting structures of The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!. Yet examination of each of these novels in terms of the relationship between the oral and the literate reveals their apparently unstable structures as ordered nonetheless. Go Down, Moses presents the problem of story and its transmission at a meta-narrative level, according to which each chapter is the part of a whole whose interrelations remain unmediated either by the oral or the literate. As a result, the message transmitted from the past to the present remains embedded within a collage that cannot itself speak it. At the same time, Go Down, Moses contemplates the matter of the oral and the literate at the level of story more explicitly than in the earlier novels, revealing Faulkner's growing respect for an orality that obtains in a literate world. Finally, in The Reivers, Faulkner presents a text in which the literate and the oral are triply enfolded within a narrative technique that allows for the articulation both. And while this technique preserves the fundamental ordering principle of each, it ironically comments upon the limitations of either revealing, in the end, that for Faulkner the literate text is always already oral.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Bainard Cowan