Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Sentence from William Faulkner

Man knows how to sport a pipe.
I love William Faulkner!

I really wish we could do more with him in AP Literature and Composition, but some of his books are very difficult and harder to access when reading. As I Lay Dying is one of my all time faves. But we do get to read A Rose for Emily, which I guess will just have to do.

I wanted to highlight just one sentence from this story, because I doubt we will find the time to actually discuss this sentence in class. Faulkner (as well as Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy) loves complex, compound sentences, and this one is a great example.

"The held the funeral on the second day, with the town coming to look at Miss Emily beneath a mass of bought flowers, with the crayon face of her father musing profoundly above the bier and the ladies sibilant and macabre; and the very old men--some in their brushed Confederate uniforms--on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years."

Woah! What a sentence! There is so much going on, let's break it down a little:

  • sibilant = hissing
  • macabre = disturbing or horrifying
  • Tons of appositive phrases
    • "with the crayon face of her father musing[...]"
    • "some in their brushed Confederate uniforms"
    • "believing that they had danced with her[...]"
  • All of these appositive phrases could be taken out, but think of what you would lose if you did. This sentence wouldn't nearly be as rich.
  • Faulkner uses commas, a semicolon, and dashes to punctuate this monster.
  • We start out with very concrete images: the funeral, Miss Emily in her coffin, the ladies hissing to each other. But then the sentence shifts into very imaginal territory. At the end of the sentence we are discussing the progression of time, how it is not a diminishing road, but a huge meadow, no winter can touch it, narrow bottle-necks. All of these ending images are very symbolic. 
  • This sentence is a masterpiece in its own right. Faulkner was a genius.

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