Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sanctuary - William Faulkner

Sanctuary is probably one of the most underestimated novels by William Faulkner. This is partly explained by the fact that Faulkner himself considered it a potboiler. Sanctuary also contains one of the first explicit rape descriptions in American literature, which was widely criticized at the time. Having said that, the rape is nothing compared with what you can see in hardcore porn movies in the web. Technology has pushed our tolerance for violence and sadism in ways that were unthinkable less than a century ago.

The book also has a very depressing end, which does not bode well with American optimism -although, to be fair, America was a very depressing place in 1931, when Sanctuary was written. The Great Depression produced a tremendous amount of sad and depressing literature, of which The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck is probably the ultimate example. Considering that the comparisons between the current economic situation and the Great Depression are rampant, there is reason to expect a revival in depressing art, or even a revival of the American writers of the 1930s. Google's n-gram indicates that the Faulkner's days of glory are behind and are far from coming back:

I really liked Sanctuary, and I would recommend it for the following reasons:

You can see that the attitude towards women is starting to change. The women of the novel start questioning (only among themselves) the scale of values and the way relations with men are carried. This obsession with the new role of women and their sexuality would be a recurrent them after World War II. I'm thinking about Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's

This is one of the last books where you can see the term nigger. There is also an anti-Jewish rant by a Senator. Both things are unthinkable today. *

From a technical perspective, it is interesting to see that the main character (Temple) is more of an object than a person. Temple's dialogues are innocuous and superficial, and she doesn't appear in more than half of the book, but the entire plot spins around her.

I don't wanna close this post without recommending this blog, which also has a pretty decent commentary on Sanctuary from a literary and psychological perspective.

*Now that I think about it, Sanctuary shows how society has become more open to explicit sexual violence but more politically correct in terms of ethnic references.

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