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Rules and cricumstances : the young protagonist and the social codes in Faulkner's fiction Meltabarger, Beverly Ann

Abstract

It is an interesting and seldom noted fact that the young protagonist—the boy or girl between the ages of ten and twenty-one—appears again and again in the novels and short stories of William Faulkner. Since Faulkner wrote for an adult audience which might well lose interest in a non-adult hero, and since his themes involve violent and even sensational aspects such as suicide, rape, lynching and castration, which are part of an adult world, he must have had some definite purpose in using a young protagonist. A closer look at the works in which young people play major roles will reveal that, with few exceptions, the young protagonist is involved in a conflict with one of society's many unwritten codes of behavior, which is exerting pressure on him to conform to its dictates. Furthermore, it becomes apparent that Faulkner is using the young protagonist for two main purposes: to show, in microcosm, the various relationships between individuals of any age and the social codes, and to remind the reader of the constant opportunity to use free will, to free oneself from destructive or immoral situations and demands, which all individuals possess but which the child particularly utilizes. In showing how the young protagonist resolves his conflict, then, Faulkner seems to be making a very significant statement on both individualism and conformity, man and the social codes. In this thesis I have discussed several of Faulkner's young people in terms of the particular codes which they encounter. These I have called The Familial Code, The Religious Code, The Racial Code and The Chivalric Code. The order in which these codes are presented is determined firstly by the order in which they might be encountered by a child as he grows up. They represent, in other words, a constant movement outward from almost instinctive emotional responses to highly sophisticated and idealistic concepts. At the same time, I move towards codes of major importance in Faulkner's writing—The Racial and Chivalric Codes—placing the most emphasis on them by examining in greater depth those works in which they occur.

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