A Fable

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A Fable
First edition cover
Author William Faulkner
Cover artist Riki Levinson[1]
Country United States
Language English
Published 1954 (Random House)
Media type Print (hardcover & paperback)
Preceded by Requiem for a Nun
Followed by The Town

A Fable is a 1954 novel written by the American author William Faulkner. He spent more than a decade and tremendous effort on it, and aspired it to be "the best work of my life and maybe of my time".[2] It won the Pulitzer Prize[3] and the National Book Award,[4] but critical reviews were mixed and it is considered one of Faulkner's lesser works.[5] Historically, it can be seen as a precursor to Joseph Heller's Catch-22.


The book takes place in France during World War I and stretches through the course of one week in 1918. Corporal Stefan, who represents the reincarnation of Jesus, orders 3,000 troops to disobey orders to attack in the brutally repetitive trench warfare. In return, the Germans do not attack, and the war stops when soldiers realize that it takes two sides to fight a war. The Generalissimo, who represents leaders who use war to gain power, invites his German counterpart to discuss how to restart the war. He then arrests and executes Stephan. Before Stephan's execution, the Generalissimo tries to convince the corporal that war can never be stopped because it is the essence of human nature.

Critical analysis[edit]

In his contemporary review of A Fable, Philip Blair Rice noted that the novel returned Faulkner in subject matter to the one general subject that engaged him besides Mississippi, the First World War.[6] Ernest Sandeen has elaborated in detail on the parallels between the corporal and Jesus Christ.[7] Julian Smith has noted similarities between A Fable and Humphrey Cobb's novel Paths of Glory.[8] Frank Turaj has examined opposing images and themes in terms of the dialectic in the novel.[9] Thomas E Connolly has discussed the relationship of the three main plots of the novel to each other.[10]

Richard H. King has interpreted A Fable as the one major attempt by Faulkner to depict political action in his novels, and has characterised the novel as "Faulkner's failed political novel".[11] Robert W Hutten noted Faulkner's reworking of material originally from the story 'Notes on a Horse Thief' into A Fable.[12] William J Sowder has analysed in detail the character of the Generalissimo.[13]



  1. ^ Modern first editions - a set on Flickr
  2. ^ Blotner, Joseph, Faulkner: A Biography (one volume edition). University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, Mississippi, USA), ISBN 1-57806-732-4, p 576 (2005).
  3. ^ a b "Fiction". Past winners & finalists by category. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
  4. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1955". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-31. (With acceptance speech by Faulkner and essays by Neil Baldwin and Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 50- and 60-year anniversary publications.)
  5. ^ "William Faulkner". The Mississippi Writers Page. Department of English. University of Mississippi. Retrieved 2012-03-31.
  6. ^ Rice, Philip Blair (Autumn 1954). "Review: Faulkner's Crucifixion". The Kenyon Review. 16 (4): 661–664, 666–670. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  7. ^ Sandeen, Ernest (January 1956). "William Faulkner: His Legend and His Fable". The Review of Politics. 18 (1): 47–68. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  8. ^ Smith, Julian (November 1968). "A Source for Faulkner's A Fable". American Literature. 40 (3): 394–397. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  9. ^ Turaj, Frank (Spring 1966). "The Dialectic in Faulkner's A Fable". Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 8 (1): 93–102. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  10. ^ Turaj, Frank (July 1960). "The Three Plots of A Fable". Twentieth Century Literature. 6 (2): 70–75. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  11. ^ King, Richard H (Spring 1985). "A Fable: Faulkner's Political Novel?". The Southern Literary Journal. 17 (2): 3–17. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  12. ^ Hutten, Robert W (May 1973). "A Major Revision in Faulkner's A Fable". American Literature. 45 (2): 297–299. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  13. ^ Sowder, William J (Spring–Summer 1963). "Faulkner and Existentialism: A Note on the Generalissimo". Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature. 4 (2): 163–171. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
Preceded by
The Adventures of Augie March
Saul Bellow
National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by
Ten North Frederick
John O'Hara