Faulkner is one of the most important writers in U.S. Southern literature, along with Mark Twain and Flannery O’Connor. His novels deal often with Southern culture and what he perceived to be its fall from grace in the transition into a new era, while his writing style is cerebral and experimental with meticulous attention to diction and cadence in “stream of consciousness.” This is in contrast to the minimalist understatement of his contemporary Ernest Hemingway.
From the early 1920s to the outbreak of World War II, Faulkner left for California where he began to publish thirteen novels and numerous short stories. This body of work was driven mainly by an obscure writer’s need for money, but it formed the basis of his reputation and led to him being awarded the Nobel Prize at age 52 for “his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel” (“The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949”). These stories are sometimes Gothic or grotesque and include characters such as former slaves, poor white, agrarian, or working-class Southerners, and Southern aristocrats. Light in August is one of Faulkner’s grand modernist works. In a style reminiscent of Christian allegory, it narrates its initial focus on Lena Grove, a young pregnant white woman from Alabama searching for her unborn child’s father, and then it shifts to Joe Christmas, a man others regard as white, but who secretly believes to have black ancestry. Light in August therefore portrays the clash of alienated people against a puritanical rural society. It has been ranked 54th on Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the 20th Century.
Ten years later, Faulkner published his Snopes Trilogy, entailing The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion. Each novel is fictionally situated in Faulkner’s ‘postage stamp,’ Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. He described it as “my apocryphal county,” for it was inspired by his experience in Lafayette County. The Snopes Trilogy deals with the South after the Civil War, its displaced economy, rural populism, and racial and social tensions. Specifically, it documents the town of Jefferson and how the extended family headed by Flem Snopes manifests in the lives and psyches of the populace. The Hamlet, for example, follows the Snopes’ transition from poor outcasts to controversial, if not dangerous, town figures.