Soldiers' Pay

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Novel by Faulkner, published in 1926.

Lieutenant Donald Mahon, an American in the British air force during World War I, is discharged from the hospital where he has been treated for a critical head wound, and makes his way home to Georgia. The wound leaves a horrible scar, and causes loss of memory and later blindness. On the train from New York he is aided by Joe Gilligan, an awkward, friendly, footloose ex-soldier, and Margaret Powers, an attractive young widow whose husband was killed in the war. Margaret, strangely attracted to the dying, subhuman Donald, decides to go home with him, as does Gilligan, who is in love with her. Their reception in the Georgia town reveals the character of the fickle people: Donald's father, an Episcopal minister whose optimism and idealism prevent his recognition of his son's tragedy, until the accumulation of ugly facts destroys his faith; Donald's pathetic, homely cousin, Emmy, whom he had loved; his fiancee, Cecily Saunders, a selfish girl now in love with another man but afraid of her conventional parents and public opinion; and George Farr, Cecily's lover, who considers nothing but his own desire. Sentiment in town soon turns against Donald because of his fearful appearance and his suspected liaison with Margaret, who remains to nurse him. As months pass, Cecily elopes with George, and Gilligan good-naturedly stays on, despite Margaret's rejection of his proposals and her eventual marriage to Donald. The suffering aviator finally dies, and Margaret leaves, once more refusing Gilligan, who remains for a time with the elder Mahon. The latter is a changed man as the result of his ordeal: “Who knows; perhaps when we die we may not be required to go anywhere nor do anything at all. That would be heaven.”

Subjects: Literature.

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