William Faulkner: Absalom, Absalom!

Instructor: Jude Webre
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

For the historian C. Vann Woodward, growing up in the South at the height of Jim Crow, it was literature that awoke him to the myths and dissimulation of official white supremacy. The works of William Faulkner—his 1936 classic AbsalomAbsalomin particular—were especially crucial in challenging the tendency of Southern historians and intellectuals to justify and validate the racist hierarchy of the South. In its excavation of the secrets and abuses of the Sutpen family, AbsalomAbsalom! offered Woodward and his generation of white Southern liberals a “disquisition on how, thinking back, we come to know the past”—that is, the repressed history of slavery and its violent aftermath in Reconstruction. African American writers, such as James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, received Faulkner’s work more critically: they found his literary excavations fruitful, but his treatments of race at times limited and fatalistic. How can we understand the role of Faulkner’s literary intervention in shaping the way in which “the South” narrated itself? What legacy did Faulkner leave in how American literature recounts its history?

In this course, we will read AbsalomAbsalom! alongside fiction and essays by the writers Faulkner influenced. Considering his use of Gothic fiction and historical inquiry, students will examine how Faulkner probed the official evasions and fetid silences of Southern society in order to acknowledge racism’s inextricable hold on the present. We will also examine the limits of his approach as described by postwar critics like Baldwin, who argued that Faulkner accepted racism as a tragic inevitability rather than confronting Jim Crow segregation head on. Besides Absalom, readings for the course will include selections from Woodward, W.E.B. Du Bois, Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O’Connor, Baldwin, Morrison, and others.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 04 — June 25, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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