Telling the Story of the Past in Terms of the Present

“Faulkner’s greatest novel suggests how social reality is always a matter of telling the story that will best serve you and yours, that history is always a matter of relating the past according to present interests, that life itself is a Sisyphean struggle to impose your own design on reality…” (Matthews, 175)

John T. Matthews’ “William Faulkner: Seeing Through the South” explores the way Faulkner’s novels are a reflection of some of the larger themes, elements, and issues facing the post-war South. In this particular passage, Matthews reflects on how Faulkner explores the theme of storytelling in the South. The article as a whole looks at how many of the characters are simply trying to process and understand the toxic socioeconomic system that had developed in the South and the consequences of it being broken (to a certain extent) by the Civil War. Out of this comes the issue of trying to understand and process these experiences. This idea of considering the stories that are told is interesting in reference to what we know about Rosa. Although she has yet to confess her deep and true motivation for talking to Quentin, Mr. Compson believes that she “will need someone to go with her…do what she wants, do it in the way she wants it done” (8). So Mr. Compson believes that Rosa is telling the story to get Quentin to do something for her. Considering this combined with Matthews’ argument, it appears that by processing it through the retelling, she can use the story to her benefit. This would suggest that she can shape the story to help her meet whatever current use she has for it, whether consciously or not. However, this action would also create a risk of leaving out details or shaping the story to fit her use, rather than tell a completely factually accurate tale. In this way, the novel connects to some of the larger issues facing the South as many people were going through the struggle of trying to understand the stories of their past in terms of the fall of antebellum Southern culture.