The Untraditional Life of William Faulkner
The South is tradition, in every aspect of the word: family, profession, and lifestyle. The staple to each tradition in the south, and ultimately masculinity, is to be a southern gentleman. William Faulkner, a man with the most southern of blood running through his veins, was everything but a southern gentleman.
A southern gentleman is to support his family, to be the sole provider. To support something such as a family is a great responsibility, and it is expected of a southern gentleman to be able to handle that responsibility. Faulkner did not have a secure job or income. He wrote poetry and attempted novels, but had not found success as a writer. He did not aspire to find a different occupation that could bring stability to his financial situation.
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A southern gentleman is to be the father figure in his family, to teach his children right from wrong, but William seemed to be concerned with only himself. When he drank, he was not there for his family. When his daughter asked him not to start drinking because her birthday was coming up, Faulkner said to her “no one remembers Shakespeare’s daughter.” Tradition in the southern family did encompass “tough love”, but a southern gentleman is to be an example to his children, with characteristics embodying responsibility and honor. William Faulkner was neither responsible nor honorable.
As WWI began, William, who had always been interested in flying, was eager to volunteer in the Royal Canadian Air Force. To protect and defend one’s country is a duty of a southern gentleman, one of the most masculine aspects of the south. Though he did not see any battle first hand, he came back to Mississippi, walking with a limp caused by a supposed metal plate in his head, and elaborate stories of plane crashes and battle. The stories were false and eventually the town caught on. Though embellishment and stretching the truth is acceptable for authors, which William saw himself as, it is not acceptable for a southern gentleman. A southern man’s character is defined by his morals, and if he chooses to lie, it is not, nor has ever been, looked upon highly. The people in the town of Oxford were not sure whether William was telling the truth or a lie. The town did not believe William to have a future as a writer, and therefore resented him.
Why are people untraditional? Is it attention they seek, or perhaps a personal reason to not fit into the “norm”? Why did William live his life as the complete contradiction of a southern gentleman? Faulkner lived directly in the center of southern tradition, yet he chose not to conform. A southern gentle is his own man but he always fits the mold.