Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Pearl McHaney

Second Advisor

Dr. Nancy Chase

Third Advisor

Dr. Mary Hocks



Although the title of William Faulkner’s famous novel The Sound and the Fury overtly references the senses, most critics have focused on the fury rather than on the sound. However, Faulkner’s stories, vividly and descriptively set in the U.S. South, contain not only characters and plot, but also depict a rich sensory world. To neglect the way Faulkner’s characters employ their senses is to miss subtle but important clues regarding societal codes that structure hierarchies of class, gender, queerness, and race in his novels. Thus, a more complete examination of the sensory world in Faulkner’s fiction across multiple texts seems necessary to explore how Faulkner’s characters interpret the sensory stimuli in their fictional landscape and how their actions in this regard reveal the larger social constructs functioning in the novels. In particular, this dissertation seeks to borrow the theoretical approach known in fields such as history, anthropology, and sociology as sensory studies to examine nine Faulkner novels: Absalom, Absalom!, As I Lay Dying, Go Down, Moses, The Hamlet, If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (The Wild Palms), Light in August, The Sound and the Fury, The Town, and The Unvanquished.

Such an approach requires moving away from examining sensory stimuli as symbols that are read the same way by everyone; instead, the way Faulkner’s characters use the senses is examined as a biased act, an act that is committed and interpreted differently depending on who is doing the sensing. Using this type of sensory studies framework can transform close readings of Faulkner’s texts, particularly since such an approach helps us understand the way the senses are constantly interwoven with characters’ attempts to define (and sometimes confine) the other characters. In fact, exploring the way characters actively use their senses to categorize others can reveal a hidden discourse, one where the language of the senses illuminates belief-systems in ways that are not otherwise obvious.