Reading Trauma in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: Beyond Mimesis and Anti-Mimesis



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When faced with incomprehensible suffering, even the most loquacious falls silent amidst the weight of tragedy. While 20th-century paradigms in trauma studies have oscillated between the psychoanalytic models of mimesis and anti-mimesis, it is clear that trauma is a universally shared experience; it is a human experience. Trauma studies has routinely sought—in one way or another— to address this profoundly existential question regarding human suffering. Seeing as literature is itself a story of humanity, it is no surprise that trauma studies has a place within literary studies, but particularly, the literature of the American South.

 In my thesis, I focus on William Faulkner and his seminal novel The Sound and the Fury. From the death of Damuddy to Benjy’s howl at the end, the novel depicts traumatic event after traumatic event in a chaotic maelstrom of loss, sorrow, suffering, and death. I will prove that relying solely on the mimetic or anti-mimetic theory is not sufficient for a complete treatment of the novel’s traumatic paradigm, as I believe the dialectical relationship between both models have a place in understanding the novel. Therefore, rather than reading The Sound and the Fury through a single lens of trauma theory, I propose that by analyzing the text through both the mimetic and anti-mimetic models of trauma theory, based on applying both models to each of the four sections of the novel, more clearly defines the traumatic experiences of the novel’s characters situated in the South, and ultimately the resolution, or irresolution of their own traumatic experiences. 

 Overall, I believe that this novel is a tour de force because of its positive, even redemptive depiction of trauma which is oftentimes overlooked by many Faulkner scholars. Through this thesis, I hope to encourage further scholarly work exploring the interplay of both models of trauma within the many psychoanalytic schools of trauma studies, the literature of the South, and Faulkner’s oeuvre. By continuing to study Faulkner’s work through the lens of trauma studies that is not relegated to one model of trauma over the other, scholars might also be able to carry out Faulkner’s message of stoic determination despite the inevitable and omnipresent presence of suffering and trauma that is universally shared by all of humanity.



William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, Trauma studies, Mimetic, Anti-mimetic, Jacques Lacan, Sigmund Freud, Victor Frankl, Cathy Caruth, Symbolism, Temporality, Villainy, Trauma theology.