When American novelist William Faulkner passed away on July 6, 1962, racial unrest was rife in his home state of Mississippi—and in many other southern US states as well.
In fact, Faulkner, who was born on September 25, 1897, lived through many turbulent times when segregation, along with social and political unrest, was an all-too-common occurrence.
It is no wonder that the world and characters Faulkner created in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, mirror the social and psychological impact of racism that he no doubt witnessed in real life.
But even though these matters should have been resolved and put to rest a long time ago, they are still here today, making Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County characters and events relevant even in the 21st century America.
According to the September 2020 issue of The Atlantic magazine, matters “of race and history so central to Faulkner’s work have grown only more urgent.”
His seminal novels, As I Lay Dying, Absalom, Absalom!, The Sound and the Fury, and Light in August, bring Faulkner “back into popular consciousness.”
“In our current moment of racial reckoning, Faulkner is certainly ripe for rigorous scrutiny,” the magazine noted.
It is, of course, difficult to know what the Nobel Prize-winning author would make of the present situation. His perspectives were no doubt shaped by the experience of being a white man born into a segregated southern society only three decades after the end of the Civil War.
But at least one scholar believes that Faulkner’s context can’t be extrapolated.
“Faulkner is not a good guide to the present moment. His public statements are contradictory and sometimes retrograde,” Carl Rollyson, Professor Emeritus at Baruch College of The City University of New York, told Simply Charly in an interview.
He added, however, that the author “did understand the future in this sense: America would have to reckon with a world of color if it was to fulfill the promises of democracy.”
And he was right about that.