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William Faulkner's "Uncle Willy" Essay

1157 words - 5 pages

William Faulkner's "Uncle Willy"

"I know what they said. They said I didn't run away from home but that I was tolled away by a crazy man, who, if I hadn't killed him first, would have killed me inside another week. But if they had said that the women, the good women in Jefferson had driven Uncle Willy out of town and I followed him and did what I did because I knew that Uncle Willy was on his last go-round and this time when they got him again it would be for good and forever, they would have been right. Because I wasn't tolled away and Uncle Willy wasn't crazy, not even afterall they had done to him. I didn't have to go; I didn't have to go anymore than Uncle Willy had to invite me instead of just taking it for granted that I wanted to come. I went because Uncle Willy was the finest man I ever knew, because even women couldn't beat him, because in spite of them he wound up his life getting fun out of being alive and he died doing the thing that was most fun of all because I was there to help him. And that's something that most men and even most women don't get to do, not even the women that call meddling with other folks' lives fun."

These lines vividly open William Faulkner's "Uncle Willy," a short story which is an ironic take on the well-known phrase "Carpe Diem." This paragraph opens the story by telling its conclusion and glossing over a number of facts, which will later become integral parts of the story's theme. The story, narrated by a fourteen-year-old boy, tells of a clever man named Uncle Willy who outsmarts the people in the small town of Jefferson. Although Faulkner's story is at times dramatic, its ironic theme and jabs at Southern life serve to make it incredibly humorous.

As in many Southern towns, gossip plays an integral part in Jefferson and in Faulkner's story. Gossip is immediately hinted at when the boy states that he "knows what they said." He knows his town so well that without even asking, he realizes that the town thinks Uncle Willy is crazy and is sure that he was lured into helping him with his plan. Gossip is again hinted at in the last line of the opening paragraph, insinuating that many women find meddling in other people's lives fun. These mentions of gossip are an easy way of characterizing the town. By relying on gossip, the town is portrayed in a way which reality doesn't matter; gossip molds people and events and serves as the viewpoint from which people base their opinions of everything.

Adding to the characterization of the town is the mention of "good women." These women are the Christian women who live and are active in Jefferson; they are meant to reform, cure, and save people. Uncle Willy attends Sunday school every week, yet because he uses dope and leads a strange lifestyle, the women see it as their duty to change or "save" him. The role of religion in the story is an important one; all those trying to reform Uncle Willy are religious. Uncle Willy is overtaken in a...

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