William Faulker’s “Nympholepsy” is, like much of his work, an insightful comment on the human spirit. Principally, it is a narrative of loneliness on numerous levels-loneliness of the mind, spirit, and of the body. Faulkner flawlessly inhabits the body of a man and uses a beautiful stream-of-consciousness style to explore the intricacies of a mind knowing not what it wants. At the core of the story is an anonymous farmer who is returning home after a day in the field.
As the sun sets, he spots a figure in the distance and intuition allows him to know this is a woman. Not knowing whether it [is] copulation or companionship that he [wants],” he pursues. Through the woods he follows and begins to run until, while crossing a log transversing a stream, he slips and plunges into the “dark and sinister” water. Convinced he will drown in the brook, he sees “death like a woman shining. ” He follows her as she jumps out of the water and runs up a hill and into the wheat field. It is here that she vanishes and he feels “a recurrent surge of despair. ” Faulkner does a brilliant job of subtly inferring the setting.
As the narrative opens, dust clings to the anonymous farmer: “his heavy shapeless shoes were gray in the dusty road, his overalls were gray with dust. ” Dust is also noticeable at he passage’s conclusion: “with dust clinging to his yet damp feet, he slowly descended the hill. The dust is a fairly obvious symbolism of the Dustbowl during the era of the Great Depression. A specific place within the Dustbowl is not concrete, nor is it important. A much more intriguing aspect of the narrative’s setting is the time of day, which Faulkner masterfully manipulates to show the duration of the passage. Nympholepsy” begins at sunset, and from there the farmer becomes a sundial, with “his sinister shadow . . . [circling] him. ” Faulkner uses shadows to show the passing of time and they become a poignant symbol. After the sun sets, the moon takes over.
One must always pay attention to the symbols of time because they give clues as to the length of certain events. After the sun sets, there is a period in which the sky is moonless. In the next paragraph, the farmer is still chasing the woman, but now he is “beneath the impervious moon. This evidently shows that from start to finish, the farmer’s story lasts from sunset to the middle of the night. Being that “Nympholepsy” is essentially a single-character tale and is written in the stream-of-consciousness style, naturally the character is a well-developed one. From the first sentences of the narrative, the farmer is noticeably afflicted by a depression of some sort. It soon becomes apparent that this man is markedly lonely-his life is but a circular endeavor; “behind him labor, before him labor. It is also quite clear that he is confused as to what he is seeking. Is it a woman? Is it “copulation or companionship? ” As the farmer relentlessly pursues this idyllic female, his ever-present fears become evident.
For example, the farmer appears to be a God-fearing man. Constantly he feels the unseen presence of a “higher Being whom he had offended. ” He also seems to have an imminent fear of nature; Faulkner uses trees and their branches to make it feel as though nature and God are ‘on the same side’: “the branches like an invocation to a dark and unseen god. These deep-seeded fears unknowingly drive him to run, and this causes him to fall into the stream where he begins to imagine that he is meeting Death in female form. His desperate solitude drives him to chase her further, into the wheat field, where she disappears. Though the farmer doesn’t realize it, he has answered his question: his initial desire is copulation. This man has an absolutely profound case of nympholepsy; so deep-seeded is it that it causes him to imagine a literally radiant woman (suggestive of the moon, perhaps? ) to chase like a faun pursuing a sprite.
The nympholepsy manifests itself further when her image has vanished: he begins to writhe (suggestive of the meaning of the suffix -lepsy, which means “seizure”) while “thinking of her body beneath his. ” Faulkner finally reveals that the farmer is really after sex. Following her disappearance, the farmer is forced to return to solitude. The theme of “Nympholepsy” is traditional Faulkner: a matter of the human spirit. It is a story of loneliness, or, more appropriately, loneliness of loins. Drive for reproduction is just as much a part of the human spirit as love, hate, and happiness, and Faulkner plays on that magnificently.