Short Story Cycles

Unresolved Tensions: William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished as a Short-Story Cycle

The case for Faulkner's The Unvanquished as a short story cycle, and how the incoherence of the form rejects the nostalgic view of the South.

This essay argues for a wider recognition of The Unvanquished as a short-story cycle and for a new appreciation of its generic features of simultaneous fragmentation and unity. For much of its critical history The Unvanquished was misinterpreted as a short story miscellany or as a bildungsroman. Reading it as a short-story cycle allows an acknowledgment of its inherent tensions and discontinuities without urging a resolution that would elide or eclipse them, as has frequently been critical practice. Presenting first an overview of the conflicted critical history of The Unvanquished, and demonstrating Faulkner’s deliberate use of hybrid forms, the essay then focuses on the distinguishing features of three stories to explore the tensions between their disparate plot movements and the volume’s underlying unity. The essay’s central argument is that it is due to its hybrid formality that The Unvanquished presents a unique contribution to Faulkner’s oeuvre of the 1930s.

Key points

  • Faulkner deliberately introduced lack of harmony and coherence in the stories to reject a nostalgic view of the South’s past. Faulkner also chose this format to present the complexity of relationships.
  • The unresolved tensions between story closures and the open-endedness of the cycle contribute to the overall complexity without imposing a sense of coherence.
  • The lack of finality in a short-story cycle suggests that restoration may be an impossibility or illusion.


Irene Visser (2018): “Unresolved Tensions: William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished as a Short-Story Cycle”, English Studies, 99:8, 972-986, DOI: 10.1080/0013838X.2018.1519168

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The Unvanquished – entry at


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