A Fable

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Novel by Faulkner, published in 1954 and awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Under the pacifist influence of a corporal and his 12 followers in 1918, a French regiment refuses to attack the Germans, who for the same reason do not counterattack. The commander, concerned with his military record, requests that the entire regiment be executed, but the supreme French general, who knows the corporal to be his natural son and who heads the tribunal considering the case, sees war as “so long ingrained in man as to have become an honorable tenet of his behavior and the national altar for his love of bloodshed and glorious sacrifice.” Having been warned of the pacifist plan by a betrayer among the corporal's 12 men, he collaborates with the German command to resume the war. Among the idealists killed in an ensuing barrage is a black lay preacher, whose remarkable adventure in America with a superb, stolen racehorse is a long interpolated tale. As the local populace turns against the corporal, fearing that the whole regiment will be shot because of him, a reenactment of the Passion of Christ develops and becomes ramified. Wed to a woman named Magda, and already betrayed, the corporal is denied by the betrayer as he conducts a “last supper” in prison, and then is taken by the old general to a hilltop fortress to be tempted with life at the expense of his exalted hope for man's repudiation of war and urged to abandon “that aberrant and futile dream” that “man … will prevail.” Unrelenting, the corporal is shot along with two criminals and given surreptitious but decent burial. But the resumption of war, in the form of an explosion near the grave, “resurrects” him, and through a combination of chance and the greed of men assigned to get the body of an unknown soldier, he is entombed beneath the everlasting flame in Paris.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

William Faulkner (1897—1962) American novelist

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