Analysis Of Narrative Techniques In William Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury
The struggle to escape the pervasiveness of a higher power, be it emotional, physical or even metaphysical, is perhaps best captured in The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. In his novel, chronicling the fall of the once proud southern Compson family, the reader is constantly reminded through different points of view and the complicated character interactions that the books characters are constantly being haunted by forces they believe they can’t control. Almost all of them, however, are most cursed by their inability to free themselves from the past and the values they believe must be held. The “power” holding these characters back from inner peace is not in actuality a physical one, but instead the moral and emotional judgement of others. In the novel, Faulkner uses these character relationships and the recurring motif of time in order to demonstrate how the men of the Compson family struggle and ultimately fail to free themselves from the power of judgement from a society that has left them behind.
Since the book is organized in an unorthodox manner, largely through constant shifts through time and inherent bias due to the mental and emotional limitations of the numerous narrators, the reader is more likely to judge an event for its relationship with the narrator’s priorities over their actual effects within the real world. One of the most profound examples of this narrative technique and bias is in the second narrator of the book, Quentin. The second chapter of the book details the thoughts and events that occured for Quentin on the day of his suicide. Making his chapter unique is how Quentin’s narrative experiences shifts in time as a result of emotional triggers, rather than physical ones characteristic of Benjy or the directness of later chapters. This narrative device by Faulkner, to write in stream of consciousness-style, compounded with Quentin’s emotional vulnerability give us insight into Quentin’s outdated values and beliefs. We see through Quentin’s perceptions of people such as Deacon, a black man who Quentin struggles to reconcile as more than an icon of the south, and his relationship with his father, who he tries and fails to find reassurance of his beliefs, that Quentin feels trapped by his belief in traditional Southern values. His impotence to actually uphold these values, physically shown through is failure to fight Caddy’s lover Dalton Ames and his attempt at helping a lost girl ending poorly, are the result of modern society and the more dominant Northern values being indifferent if not hostile of these beliefs. Repeated failures by Quentin to find substance in these outdated morals in his friends, enemies, society, and most crushingly his father, who dismisses morals entirely, are reflective of the family as a whole struggling to free themselves from this shift in social power. For Quentin, this creates his feelings of helplessness and ultimately fuels his desire to go to hell. We are further able to understand the feelings of lost power and an inability to escape through every character’s relationship with time.
Time and timekeeping are motifs that are repeated consistently throughout the book. Whether it is Benjy’s inability to move with time or Jason’s inability to get with the times, few characters and none of the Compsons can actually escape the effects of time. Nearly all of them seek comfort in the past, such as in Benjy’s strong emotional response when remembering the only family member who loved him, Caddy. Every male Compson, however, is unable to find these past comforts in the present. An example of time as a motif serving a narrative function is in the character of Jason. The sole earner of the family, and narrating in at this point an unusually straightforward manner, Jason’s chapter is indicative of his desire for wealth. This is not only a character trait that we gain from this technique by Faulkner, but also insight into how the shift in values from status through family to status through wealth has affected the Compsons. Now forced to accept more modern priorities given the change in social currency, the Compsons are left furious, unable to find comfort in their former glory in the past or justify their feelings of superiority though race alone as seen by Jason’s constant racism and misanthropy. Jason’s single-mindedness is seen blatantly through how he constantly steals funds from Caddy’s child Miss Quentin. An exchange between the two, where Jason complains about supporting Quentin is humorously countered with Quentin retorting, “Mother buys my books.” she says. “There’s not a cent of your money on me. I’d starve first”. Besides the clear selfishness in Jason’s character, Faulkner highlighting the contrast in level of usage between Jason and Quentin give the reader even more insight into the males of the Compson family. Jason’s extremely simple vernacular is contrasted with Quentin’s wittiness. We see a member of the younger generation, now growing up educated with modernized values, leaving behind the intellectually and emotionally inferior Jason and his generation. Rather than making the blanket statement that the past is dying, however, it can instead be inferred that this is commentary on how Jason cannot accept the change in power from the old to the new. His interactions with Quentin highlight how Jason has only accepted the pursuit of wealth as a lifestyle change in the present, if only for the power. Otherwise, Jason is left wallowing in his own self pity and anger, as the present moves on without him. This struggle for power between generations and time reflects the theme of the novel as a whole, the fall of the american south.
Overall, Faulkner uses a variety of narrative techniques such as the access to character biases through their perceptions of others and the prevalence of time as a central theme to show the rise of the north and modern times forcing the Compsons to failure and endless struggle, trapped by the constraints of their pride.
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