The Rational and the Intuitive : a Thematic Juxtaposition in the fiction of William Faulkner
Custer, Harriet Howell
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SubjectFaulkner, William,1897-1962--Fiction--Criticism and interpretation; Faulkner, William,1897-1962--Fiction--Themes, motives
Throughout the broad scope of William Faulkner's fiction a thematic pattern emerges which has hitherto been little dealt with by his critics. This pattern presents, initially, an exploration of the principles of rationality and intuition as opposing faculties of the human mind. For Faulkner, however, rationality and intuition could not be divorced from man's mental and sensual awareness. Through an examination of the manners in which various characters shape and react to experience, I hope to demonstrate the force and magnitude with which the rational/intuitive theme permeates Faulkner's fiction. Faulkner's characters range from those who are almost purely intuitive to those who reject intuition and attempt to construct elaborate systems of thought without it. This is a metaphysical pattern which is evident throughout Faulkner's work; it becomes, however, far more prominent in his later novels. In the Snopes trilogy he sets up the rational/intuitive juxtaposition in terms of a conflict, between certain characters and within others, which must be resolved if modern man is to survive his propensity for self-destruction. It is with these three novels--The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion--that this study is primarily concerned. In The Hamlet Faulkner sets up this conflict through two main characters: Flem Snopes is an incarnation of cold logic and acquisitiveness, whereas Eula Varner is an embodiment of hot subterranean urges. As Flem rapaciously takes over Frenchman's Bend, he is countered by V. K. Ratliff, who initiates and ultimately sustains the fight against Snopesism. Ratliff is the last and the most fully drawn of a small number of Faulkner characters who truly succeed as human beings. This results from their ability to employ both intuition and reason not only in their reactions to experience, but in their shaping of experience as well. In The Town Faulkner introduces Gavin Stevens, who functions as the chief protagonist in the last two novels of the trilogy. Gavin is a romantic idealist who contains within himself the conflict represented externally by Flem and Eula Snopes. He is constantly juxtaposed to Ratliff, whose shrewd intelligence and realistic perceptions eventually help Gavin to resolve his internal conflict and become a man capable of coping with the modern world. In The Mansion Gavin finally learns, through the activities of Mink and Linda Snopes, to approach experience realistically. Mink, the man of fierce faith in natural justice, joins with Linda, who ultimately combines Eula's intuitive nature with a strong dedication to a practical ideology. These two remaining Snopeses move together toward their mutual destruction of Flem, who represents the very antithesis of human obligation and natural responsibility. Through recognizing his own moral complicity in the murder of Flem, Gavin finally rejects his reliance upon illusion and acknowledges his membership in the ranks of humanity. At the conclusion of the trilogy he and Ratliff stand alone--two old men who, through their ability to reinforce reason with intuition, prevail in the face of modern man's spiritual dilemma.