Faulkner's Humor


It's out of context, and it may be hard to situate, but Ringo is Bayard Sartoris's best friend, brother, slave. Ringo has been sitting and drawing a picture of the Sartoris House before the Yankees burned it to the ground. Looked at in the present of the text, the house consists of four chimneys and a yardful of weeds growing out of the ruins. As this excerpt begins, a Yankee officer is speaking to Ringo; Granny has been using a variety of names to steal donkeys back from the Yankees, sell them and split the proceeds with the needy of the town.

from The Unvanquished
William Faulkner

"All right," he said. "Who lives up there now? What's her name today, hey?"

Ringo was watching him now, though I dont think he suspect yet who he was. "Dont nobody," he said. "The roof leaks." One of the men made a kind of sound; maybe it was laughing. The lieutenant started to whirl around the then he started not to; then he sat there glaring down at Ringo with his mouth beginning to open. "Oh," Ringo said. "You mean way back yonder in the quarters. I though you was still worrying about them chimneys."

This time the soldier did laugh, and this time the lieutenant did whirl around, cursing at the should; I would have known him now even if I hadn't before; he cursed at them all now, sitting there with his face swelling up.

It's played so straight that it is funny, and it is a detail that could easily have been left out of the narrative--but what a robust richness it lends to the tale--what a sense of versimilitude. I have always loved Faulkner, even while I struggle sometimes to understand where he's going. His wordplay and his ability to get into his characters and convey something real and yet something nearly surreal are astonishing.

Oh, and for those who have asked--no, I don't read these things because I'm supposed to, or trying to show off, or anything of the sort. At my age, to paraphrase the great Dr. Johnson, "No one but a blockhead reads for anything other than the desire to do so."

I've spent too much time reading things that simply don't have the substance to warrant having read them. And yet there is much joy in reading both the bad and the great. And the great is even greater when set beside the mediocre or poor. Some say that Faulkner can't write, and my usual reaction is polite silence as I think, "Some people can't read." Faulkner or Dan Brown, let me think a moment. . .

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 26, 2007 1:53 PM.

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