The Wild Palms

  • Gary Harrington


The Wild Palms is generally considered to be as puzzling as it is disturbing. The typical critical reaction when the novel first appeared in 1939 expressed consternation and confusion: not surprisingly, perhaps, many reviewers castigated Faulkner for yoking together two such seemingly disparate narratives; others, although more sympathetic to his resolute experimentalism, remained oblivious to the links between the two sections.1 This misunderstanding of the structure of the book is reflected in its publishing history: the New American Library published the work as two separate novels in 1948; then in 1954 they placed both ‘Wild Palms’ and ‘Old Man’ in one volume but separated the sections into discrete units rather than alternating chapters, attempting perhaps to appeal to bargain-hunters by stating on the paper cover that the contents comprised ‘Two complete novels originally published in one volume, entitled The Wild Palms’. In 1946, The Portable Faulkner contained ‘Old Man’ without ‘Wild Palms’; and in 1950, the Modern Library first published that literary land-mine still available in the Vintage edition: Three Famous Short Novels: Spotted Horses, Old Man, The Bear.


Modern Library Meaningless Gesture Artistic Integrity Creative Impulse Wild Palm 
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  1. 7.
    See Faulkner in the University, pp. 243–4; and Millgate, ‘Faulkner’s Masters’, Tulane Studies in English, 23 (1978) 143–55. Pamela Rhodes and Richard Godden have located possible influences on ‘Wild Palms’ in two works roughly contemporaneous with it: James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1935). See Rhodes and Godden, ‘The Wild Palms: Degraded Culture, Devalued Texts’ in Intertextuality in Faulkner, eds Michel Gresset and Noel Polk (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985) pp. 87–92.Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    Samuel Beckett, Proust (New York: Grove, 1957) p. 10.Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    Anderson, The Triumph of the Egg (New York: Huebsch, 1921) p. 170.Google Scholar
  4. 29.
    McHaney, ‘William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms’, Diss. University of South Carolina 1979, p. 293. Had the punctuation in the typescript been followed, the lack of closure in this final sentence of the novel would produce much the same effect as that achieved by the similar strategy in the conclusion of Pylon, Faulkner once again emphasising the necessity of the reader’s completing the work after having read the last page.Google Scholar
  5. 32.
    Soren Kierkegaard, ‘The Ancient Tragical Motif as Reflected in the Modern’ in Tragedy: Vision and Form, ed. Robert W. Corrigan (San Francisco: Chandler, 1965) pp. 455–6.Google Scholar
  6. 41.
    The Portable Faulkner, ed. Malcolm Cowley (New York: Viking, 1946) p. 743.Google Scholar
  7. 42.
    The Sound and the Fury: The Corrected Text (New York: Random, 1984) p. 199.Google Scholar
  8. 44.
    For less positive formulations of Harry’s refusal to commit suicide and of his experience as a whole after being incarcerated, see Rhodes and Godden, pp. 99–100, and Francois Pitavy ‘Forgetting Jerusalem: An Ironical Chart for The Wild Palms’ in Intertextuality in Faulkner, eds Michel Gresset and Noel Polk (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985) pp. 114–27.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gary Harrington 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary Harrington
    • 1
  1. 1.Salisbury State UniversityUSA

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