"I have committed incest"
Oedipus et Sphinx
Public DomainOedipus et Sphinx - Credit: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Incest is one of Faulkner’s great fascinations. He explores it in so many of his works that, when he was nominated for the Nobel Prize, the New York Times felt it necessary to assure its overseas readers that “Incest and rape may be common pastimes in Faulkner's ‘Jefferson, Miss.’ but they are not elsewhere in the United States”.


Endless derogatory jokes circulate about the supposed popularity of incest in Mississippi but Faulkner’s interest in the subject is psychological rather than anthropological. Taking his cue from Freud, whose theory of the Oedipal complex posits that personal and moral development hinges on a reaction to an immature sexual desire for the opposite sex parent, he constructs incest as an alternative original sin embedded as a primal scar in the human psyche. The urge for endogamous union also serves as a symbol for the dead end which the traditional culture of the Old South has reached.