Faulkner's polyphonic narrative.

Katarzyna Nowak

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Katarzyna Nowak

Royal Holloway University of London, Department of English, 2018


This thesis is a narratological reading of selected novels of William Faulkner. The body of primary texts relies, first and foremost, on Faulkner's canonical novels, Absalom, Absalom!, As I Lay Dying, and the three novels included in The Snopes Trilogy. The theoretical approaches used to underpin the analysis of this selection of Faulkner’s novels include: Bakhtinian texts on the theory of the novel, texts in structural narratology, and selected texts in cognitive narratology. This research project relies on the presupposition that only a synthesis of the approaches in question will facilitate the illustration of the complexity, sophistication and technical mastery of Faulknerian narrative, with its complex set of developments on several narrative levels. The main secondary sources in classical narratology - written by Genette, Stanzel, Chatman, Bal, Barthes, Greimas, Todorov, Lanser and Prince - provide a theoretical foundation for this research project in the domain of narrative theory and narratology, which aims to clarify Faulkner’s narratives’ structure, narrating, narration, focalizing, focalization, focalizers and narrators. The above-mentioned foundational narratological theorists and their concepts, together with the texts in rhetorical narratology by Phelan and Rabinowitz and cognitive narratology by Fludernik, make up the main body of secondary sources, while Bakhtinian ideas of novelistic heteroglossia and dialogism are responsible for the main line of argument in this thesis.
The introductory chapter (Chapter One) of the thesis provides a brief explanation of the key concepts and theories by Bakhtin that have been employed in the analyses of the Faulknerian texts. Chapter Two of the thesis compares the monologic model of the novel to the polyphonic one in As I Lay Dying, attending particularly to the consequences of heteroglossia and the dialogic principle. This chapter refers to the Aristotelian concept of plot and Ricoeur’s concept of time in narrative. Chapter Three is devoted to the examination of the Bakhtinian concept of the ‘hero’ (character) in the polyphonic novel and in particular ‘unfinalizability.’ The chapter addresses the narrative qualities of the dead narrator, Addie Bundren, the serial narrator as a collective or group narrator in As I Lay Dying, and the polyphonic novel as a verbal discourse and a social phenomenon. In Chapter Four, I propose two readings of the narrative in Absalom, Absalom!, employing the Bakhtinian concept of heteroglossia and cognitive narratology. I argue that Absalom, Absalom! represents a conversational narrative that functions through heteroglossia, and has very complex embedding and frame patterns on its intradiegetic level. I develop my argument by pointing out the similarities in Bakhtinian dialogism and Fludernik’s cognitivist model of an experiencing mind. Chapter Five is concerned with the Bakhtinian notion of the speaking person in the polyphonic novel, with an emphasis on the complex processes involved in active understanding during contact between the speaker (utterer) and the listener (receiver). Chapter Five sheds light on the mixed-type type of narration in Absalom, Absalom! It explores the difference between multivocality and polyphony of voices and considers the consequences of both narrative phenomena in relation to the emphasis on the agon of the contrasting voices of the homodiegetic narrators and heteroglossia in Absalom, Absalom! This chapter connects the novels included in The Snopes Trilogy to Absalom, Absalom and As I Lay Dying, based on similarities in their narrative techniques. Chapter Six presents The Snopes Trilogy as a continuous and sequential narrative – Flem Snopes’s story of coming to riches. In this chapter, I will examine more closely the plot dynamics and the correlations between the main characters in the trilogy. Following this line of argument, Chapter Seven focuses on the high degree of ideological solidarity, revealed when the entire town of Jefferson speaks with one voice in Faulkner’s narratives. Chapter Seven concentrates on the way hearsay and rumours function in Faulkner’s narratives, with an emphasis on the social dimension of the Bakhtinian concept of polyphony. This chapter draws on the Bakhtinian concepts of carnival and heteroglossia as synonyms for diversity and plurality, and examines the idea of catechism that stands for the group-thinking and collective-thinking so typical of the Jefferson townsfolk in Faulkner. The thesis builds on Bakhtin’s line of argument as postulated in Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics and The Dialogic Imagination, Bakhtin’s concepts of heteroglossia as explained in Discourse in the Novel, and the concept of a polyphonic narrative as defined in The Dialogic Imagination. The thesis aims to use Bakhtin’s ideas in order to further appreciation of Faulkner’s art and his complex narrative structures.
Original languageEnglish
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
  • Gibson, Andrew, Advisor
Award date1 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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