Home » USA » William Faulkner » The Wild Palms (later title: If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem)

William Faulkner: The Wild Palms (later title: If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem)

This was originally published as The Wild Palms though Faulkner preferred If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, a quote from Psalms 137. The later title has now been restored. By the way, it has nothing to do with the TV show, The Wild Palms. It mixes two stories – The Wild Palms and The Old Man – switching from one to the other. Faulkner intended the two stories to complement one another, with The Old Man intended to act as a counterpoint to The Wild Palms.

The two stories can both be seen as a man struggling with a woman who ultimately causes his downfall. In The Wild Palms, Harry Wilbourne gives up medical school in New Orleans to elope with Charlotte, who is married (though obviously not happily) to Francis (known as Rat). But Wilbourne has trained to be a doctor all his life. His father was one and his father before him, so when he is free from his life of duty, he becomes more and more irresponsible. When Charlotte becomes pregnant, he makes a mess of the abortion and she dies. Rat offers him the choice between cyanide and prison. He chooses prison. The closing lines of his story are Between grief and nothing I will take grief.

Meanwhile, we have been following the story of The Old Man, an unnamed convict. He had robbed a gas station with another man and a woman. The other man had killed the attendant but escaped. Our convict got 199 years for manslaughter and escaped seeing the woman again. He is on work duty in Mississippi when there is a flood and he is sent to rescue a pregnant woman. He does but the boat drifts away and they are stranded for seven weeks, while the woman gives birth. When they are rescued he is given ten years more for attempted escape but he feels it is worth it to get away from the woman. His closing line is Women, shit. The two, of course, end up in the same prison. The counterpoint is interesting but does not fully work though, of course, Faulkner, as always, tells us a couple of good tales.

Publishing history

First published 1939 by Random House