The Sound and the Fury
Faulkner’s Tragic Focal Point in The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner presents the story of Caddy in The Sound and the Fury in a unique and precise way by showing how her family views her. Caddy’s life becomes the central conflict in the lives of the Compsons, and her story, paralleled with the ultimate demise of the family and its members, is portrayed in the four separate narratives of the novel. While Caddy remains voiceless throughout the entirety of Faulkner’s book, it is her absence that singularizes her importance in the novel and her brothers’ obsession with her purity that reveal her character and her influence upon the decline of the Compson family.Benjy’s section, consisting mainly of childhood flashbacks, reveals Caddy’s initial innocence. Benjy sees his sister as a living mother figure, and he always turns to her for comfort. He associates her with all the love and goodness that he has ever known. Benjy can “smell” Caddy’s purity, which he associates with the clean, pure smell of trees. He becomes very upset when she seems unclean to him. For example, when Benjy catches Caddy and a boy kissing in the swing, he cries and pulls her away. He remembers, “Caddy took the kitchen soap and washed her mouth at the sink, hard. Caddy smelled like trees”(48). Benjy is comforted when he can again smell her purity. In the same way that Benjy depends on Caddy’s purity for comfort, Caddy also finds comfort from her shameful life in the innocence and faithfulness of Benjy. Benjy remembers Caddy once saying, “‘It’s still raining. I hate rain. I hate everything.’ And then her head came into my lap, and she was crying, holding me, and I began to cry”(57).When Caddy leaves, Benjy has lost his only real source of love and comfort. T.P. tells Benjy, “You can’t do no good looking through the gate. Miss Caddy done gone long ways away . . . You can’t do no good crying . . . She can’t hear you”(51). Benjy’s life becomes sadder after her departure, and he is often upset, thus increasing the burden he is on the family. Benjy’s section is the only section where Caddy is shown in any kind of innocent light, due to the ironic fact that mentally retarded Benjy is the only one who is able to see her goodness.Faulkner uses Quentin’s obsession with Caddy’s purity, which ultimately leads to his suicide, to further illustrate her central importance. Quentin, like Benjy, needs his sister’s purity for comfort. He becomes very upset when she begins her promiscuous behavior. In his anger he often asks his college roommates, “Did you ever have a sister? Did you? Did you?”(78) Quentin cannot understand why he is losing his sister. He develops a hatred for all of the men that “take” Caddy away from the family and away from himself. Partially out of wanting to protect the “purity” of the ironically shameful Compson name, Quentin develops the notion that he should have Caddy all to himself. He tells his father, “Father, I have committed incest”(79). When looking off the bridge he thinks of Caddy and wishes, “If it could just be a hell beyond that, then you will have only me, then only me”(116)2E Quentin’s need to save Caddy’s purity evolves into an anxious sate of depression that is only intensified by his father’s philosophical advice. Mr. Compson tells Quentin that life is meaningless and that “time is dead, as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels”(85). Mr. Compson, a doomed alcoholic, repeatedly tells Quentin that nothing is important, that virginity (Caddy’s) is “just a word”(116). Quentin, who refuses to accept the fact that his sister’s purity is unimportant, kills himself in a desperate attempt to prove his father’s theory wrong, and to escape the progression of time that is forcing Caddy, and in turn the entire Compson family, into a meaningless end.Jason blames Caddy and her promiscuousness for the problems of the Compson household and, more importantly to him, his own troubles. Jason’s contempt for Caddy and the shamefulness of the rest of the family cause him to be a very bitter, self-pitying man. He is embarrassed to even be a part of the Compson household. While walking around town he thinks, “there I was, without any hat, looking like I was crazy too”(233). Furthermore, Jason feels Caddy’s promiscuous behavior directly cost him a job. When his mother reminds him that Caddy’s former husband Herbert was going to give Jason a job before he discovered her pregnancy, he coldly replies, “Well he was probably lying too”(221). Jason, a very greedy man, never forgives Caddy for his financial burden and even resorts to stealing the money she sends her daughter, Quentin. When Quentin asks to see the money, he retorts, “Not after the way you’ve acted. You’ve got to learn . . . when I tell you to do something, you’ve got to do it”(215). Jason vengefully tries to control his niece because of his inability to control his sister. Quentin’s Caddy-like behavior only drives him further along an angry downward spiral, coupled with a gambling problem and a prostitute girlfriend, that leads him to reject all goodness he encounters.In conclusion, Faulkner reveals different parts of Caddy’s story though each of her brother’s own stories and the way her actions affect each member of the declining Compson family. Though each of the narratives, it is apparent that each brother fails to find happiness because he is unable to hold on to his sister, Caddy. This is how Faulkner reveals her importance: through the tragic demise of the family without Caddy. What proves most interesting, however, is that the focal point of the tragedy is the most tragic character of all.Caddy, despite her efforts, ends up like Shakespeare’s Macbeth’s sad view of man, utterly alone on center stage, viewed by a critical audience, and part of a story with no happy ending.
The Roles of Southern Women in a Changing Society
In the postwar South, the relationships between men and women were beginning to shift. Gwendolyn Chabrier writes, “While the prewar South was traditionally a patriarchy, at the time of the war and particularly afterwards, that paternal system was undermined” (Chabrier, 66). But although ideas of gender were changing, the transition from traditional ways of thinking to altogether different viewpoints is not an easy one. In the Compson family, we are presented with two greatly contrasting images of women. Caroline is the traditional southern womansubmissive, domestic, dependant on men. Caddy, however, has transcended boundaries set for women in the past, by disregarding the importance of maintaining the innocent virgin image that a woman must uphold until marriage. However, neither woman is able to reconcile their way of life with a changing society. Caroline’s attempts to recreate the past fail, and Caddy is banished from her family because of her refusal to conform to the family’s image of a woman. In a time where traditional Southern thought is losing its importance, yet before a set of ideas emerge to serve as a replacement, women are torn between the traditional mores of the past, and the emerging, still uncertain ideas of modern times. Faulkner portrays a time where women are faced with the dilemma of defining their places in the midst of changing times, while still encountering lingering traditional ideas and standards of how a woman should live.Chabrier writes, “The Old South is dead, or at least dying, but the New South has barely begun to breathe, and Faulkner’s families are caught between those two worlds just as Faulkner himself was caught” (Chabrier, 2). Caroline represents one extremea woman who is obsessed with her image as a proper Southern “lady” and upholding the ways of the past. Several times Caroline refers to the importance of being a lady. “I was taught that there is no halfway ground that a woman is either a lady or not,” she notes (Faulkner, 103). But exactly what is a “lady?” One’s family background is certainly a factor. Caroline is both proud of being a Bascomb, yet resentful that she was of a lower social class than her husband. “I was unfortunate I was only a Bascomb,” she remarks (Faulkner, 103). However, despite her ambivalent feelings, Caroline sees her heritage as an important part of her identity. It is because of this mindset that Caroline does not want Caddy’s daughter, Quentin, to know about her mother. It is as if by cutting off Caddy, whom Caroline sees as the source of trouble, Quentin has a better chance of becoming a proper Southern lady. “It’ll be hard enough as it is, with the heritage she already has,” Caroline comments (Faulkner, 198). Though her plan ultimately fails, Caroline’s actions reveal the importance she places in family heritage.Caroline’s characteristics fit the image of the pre-Civil War Southern lady, as she is submissive to male authority, fragile, and virtually helpless. Chabrier writes, “[Faulkner’s] fictional families, like his own and other Southern families, were the offspring of a patriarchal society in which the woman was relegated to a ceremonial pedestal” (Chabrier, x). Caroline demonstrates her lack of authority by failing to provide any sort of motherly role to her children, and later loses control of Quentin, not even having the power to make her attend school. Caroline is like an ornament without an actual, practical use. Always sick, she needs Dilsey to assist her with even the simplest tasks, such as refilling her hot water bottle, or picking up the Bible where it had fallen on the floor. Caroline orders Dilsey to put the Bible within reach, complaining, “That’s where you put it before. Do you want me to have to get out of bed to pick it up?” (Faulkner, 300). She is completely submissive to her husband, and later to Jason, never contradicting them or able to make any decisions of her own. The sickly Caroline displays her weakness by crying whenever Jason disagrees with her, always yielding to his final decision in a wave of tears and self-pity. She urges Dilsey to adopt the same attitude with Jason, rebuking her for not immediately following Jason’s commands. She says,He’s head of the house now. It’s his right to require us to respect his wishes…It’s neither your place nor mine to tell Jason what to do. Sometimes I think he is wrong, but I try to obey his wishes for you all’s sake (Faulkner, 278). Caroline’s insistence on clinging to old values such as an extreme submission to male authority contributes to her weakness as a mother and as a grandmother. Chabrier comments, “Women, beginning in pre-Civil War South, while trained to be the ideals of perfection and submission, were unmistakably given a social position inferior to that of men” (Chabrier, 58). Unfortunately, Caroline fits the role of “Southern Lady” in a time when this image is losing its importance. The Compson family is deteriorating, their land assets are decreasing, yet Caroline refuses to see what is happening, and change with the present. She believes that because she is a “lady,” she will always have special privilege in society and even in the eyes of God.Self absorbed in her illusions, Caroline tells Dilsey that her son, Quentin, could not have had intentions to hurt her by committing suicide. “Under God’s heaven what reason did he have? It can’t be simply to flout and hurt me. Whoever God is, He would not permit that. I’m a lady” (Faulkner 299-300). Caroline clings to her naïve delusions of privilege while her family falls apart around her. Chabrier comments, “[The Southerner] must function in a universe in which both he and his accompanying value system are outmoded” (Chabrier, xi). Caroline banishes her daughter from the family, loses Quentin to suicide, her husband to a natural death, and is left with only the controlling and bitter Jason, and the “idiot,” Benjy, whom she knows Jason will commit to the state hospital after she dies. Despite her emphasis on the importance of family heritage and her great efforts to maintain her image as a lady, Caroline is left lonely, unloved, and helpless. Chabrier remarks on the Southerner’s reluctance to cease living in the past. Faulkner’s work is a mirror of Southern society, which is a traditional, homogeneous world unwilling and unable to adapt to change. It is a society whose inhabitants try to continue their uniform perception of the world from a commonly held view of life and morality (Chabrier, 2).Because of Caroline’s efforts to maintain an outdated image, rather than become involved in affairs of the present, she is left completely powerless in the hands of Jason, uninvolved with decision making, helpless, and without hope. In contrast to her mother, Caddy has no concern for customs of the past. She displays this attitude through her lack of respect for authority, and her absence of concern in maintaining her image as an innocent virgin, as an unmarried woman should. From the time she is a child, she displays her tendencies to oppose her father’s wishes by climbing the tree in the middle of the night to watch the funeral. Despite Versh’s warning, “Your paw told you to stay out that tree,” Caddy climbs it nonetheless. She counters, “That was a long time ago…I expect he’s forgotten about it. Besides, he said to mind me tonight” (Faulkner, 39). Aside from this “unladylike” behavior of tree climbing, Caddy differs from her mother in her ease in undermining male authority. John Earl Bassett notes, “While the rest of the family remain frozen in time like Quentin, or ensnared in a self-centered past like her parents, or outside time like Benjy, Caddy is an attractively rebellious individual, the one Compson to assert her own independence from the stultifying environment of her youth” (Bassett, 411). As Caddy grows older, she takes her rebelliousness a step further by beginning to “experiment” with boys, despite the societal stigma against premarital sex.To Caddy’s mother, Caroline’s, generation, there are only two labels for unmarried women: virginity, connected to purity and innocence, and the opposite, promiscuity. Caddy, part of the new generation, does not see the importance in making such a distinction, and thus continues to have sexual relations, completely discounting society’s view that the value of a young woman is based upon her sexuality. Michael Gresset comments, It does not take [Caddy] long to solve the only problem with which she is confronted: that of environment.’ Within the social unit of the family, integration soon proves impossible: therefore…she will exclude herself from it, like a foreign body expelled (Gresset, 174).Whether Caddy is “promiscuous” or merely “progressive,” her lack of concern for being the image of a proper Southern lady, and resulting pregnancy, leads to her banishment from the family, and eventually separation from her daughter.Though Caddy, in some ways, acts as a foil to her mother, Caroline, their fates are similar. Like Caroline, Caddy ends up lonely, without any possibility of raising her daughter. Caddy pleads with Jason, first offering him money to retunite her with her daughter, then merely begging him to treat Quentin well.Listen, Jason…Don’t lie to me now. About her. I won’t ask to see anything. If that isn’t enough, I’ll send more each month. Just promise that she’llthat sheYou can do that. Things for her. Be kind to her. Little things that I cant, they wont let… (Faulkner, 209).Like her mother, Caddy is without power to influence Jason’s behavior. Carolinesickly, old, and living in past illusionsis completely dependent on her son. Caddy, who chooses not to pay attention to past traditions and perceptions of being a lady, is also dependent on Jason, forced to rely on him to raise her daughter. Chabrier writes, “Faulkner’s women are not themselves at the source of feminine evil but are instead the victims of codes and standards of behavior which are deleterious to them” (Chabrier, 78). Though Caroline and Caddy have opposing values, each is a victim of their environment. In a time of great social change, Caroline’s old views on family structure and social hierarchy are losing the importance they had in the past. On the contrary, Caddy’s disregard of tradition and image is frowned upon by a society that cannot easily dispose of old ways of thinking, leading to the separation of her daughter. Each women finds it impossible to define their place in a time of social flux, resulting in tragedy for both.Works CitedBassett, John Earl. “Family Conflict in The Sound and the Fury.” Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Compson Family. Ed. Arthur F. Kinney. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1982. pp. 408-424.Chabrier, Gwendolyn. Faulkner’s Families, A Southern Saga. New York: The Gordian Press, 1993.Chabrier analyzes the conflicts that arise within families in Faulkner’s writing, exploring the relationships between married women and their husbands, parents and children, white people and black people, and incestual relationships that arise in several of Faulkner’s novels and short stories. Chabrier points out that Faulkner “is, first, a Southerner, and his conception of family can be understood only within this very specific framework.” The problems portrayed in Faulkner’s families are largely a reaction to a changing Southern society. Chabrier calls Falknerian families “doomed to incomprehension, isolation, rejection, ambivalence, domination, rebellion, and guilt.” The author argues that the post-Civil War period brought great change to Southern family structure, but these changes were not easily adapted, as the South remained haunted by its past, refusing to move on, causing tension in all aspects of family life. Recommended.Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage International, 1984.Gresset, Michael. “The Ordeal of Consciousness: Psychological Aspects of Evil in The Sound and the Fury.” Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Compson Family. Ed. Arthur F. Kinney. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1982. pp. 173-181.
History’s Fury: Henri Bergson and Friedrich Nietzsche Shed Some Critical Light on The Sound and the Fury’s Jason Compson
I remember the first time I really heard classical music. As long as I can remember I have loved music, but growing up, no matter how many times my parents dragged me, kicking and screaming, to the symphony, or my piano teacher tried to teach me a Mozart piano sonata, I was overcome with boredom. Nothing about this collection of instruments, or notes, no matter how intricate, how subtle, how stirring a piece was, meant anything to me. I remember that my only joy at the symphony was to wait until a movement was over, praying that some fool would clap when everyone else knew full well that we had to wait until the entire (seemingly unending) piece was done. Even as I got older and began to realize that there must be something to these musicians who those I respected deemed geniuses, I never could get a hold of the music, something eluded me. Last year I took Music theory, I began to love the notes and the cadences when on the page, but still when put together my only appreciation was in my ability to distinguish a Plagal cadence from a half cadence or a major scale from a minor one. Then one day my roommate played for me her favorite piece of music, Beethoven’s La Pathetique. All of a sudden, it made sense, those years of struggling to understand what it was all about disappeared, and I understood in an instant the genius of a man who could produce a sound that made the world, with all its shortcomings seem alright, that took the futility out of existence. All of a sudden I was desperate to hear as much classical music as I could, to make up for lost time.Henri Bergson, in his essay, An Introduction to Metaphysics, explains as best one can, the meaning of that instant where, for me, classical music made sense. In Bergson’s terms, I was experiencing a moment of “intuition,” a moment in which I had an “absolute knowledge” of La Pathetique. I was experiencing a moment, which I could never have gleaned from all the symphonies or music classes in the world. In this instant of intuition I experienced as Bergson says: “the kind of intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpressible” (Metaphysics, 24). Without this moment of intellectual sympathy, classical music would never have made sense, no matter how many times I learned that it was the purest form of music, no matter how many times I distinguished the plagal cadence from the half cadence. All of these lessons were what Bergson terms “analysis” or, “the operation which reduces the object to elements already known” (24). No matter how many times one analyzes an object they cannot truly comprehend it until they have done so intuitively.For all his talk of intuition being the only pure knowledge, Bergson’s article is extremely analytical. Because he is trying to place absolute knowledge in the debate between rational and empiricist philosophy, his essay is very complex. The intuition of which he speaks seems out of grasp for an every day person. However, it is just the opposite, intuition is the simplest feeling in the world. The simplicity of intuition becomes much clearer through reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s essay titled, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life. Nietzsche clarifies Bergson’s notion of intuition by putting it in the context of history. His point is that history, be it individual or communal, is useful up to a certain point, but that all truly great deeds are done when the agent, if only for a moment, forgets all that he has known and becomes “unhistorical.” Therefore no matter how much import we place on a knowledge of history, “we must…consider the capacity to perceive unhistorically to a certain degree as the more important and fundamental so far as it provides the foundation upon which alone something right, healthy and great, something truly human may grow” (History, 11).The startling similarity between Bergson’s moment of intuition and Nietzsche’s unhistorical moment can be clearly seen when we compare the two philosophers notions of the fleeting duration of these moments. Consider Bergson: “while we can…by…imagination, solidify duration once it has elapsed…this operation is accomplished on the frozen memory of the duration” (Metaphysics, 30). Nietzsche is essentially positing the same thing about an unhistorical moment when he writes, “[t]he unhistorical resembles an enveloping atmosphere in which alone life is generated only to disappear again with the destruction of this atmosphere”(History, 11). An unhistorical moment is, like a moment of intuition, expressible only in terms of the past, and yet it is in these moments of our lives that we discover the greatness of things or do the greatest actions. From a historical, perspective they are moments of greatness which are remembered by the ages, but from a personal perspective they are the moments in our everyday lives which push us on, remind us that there are great things to be done and be seen. Without these moments of intuition we never truly know anything but reduce everything to symbols. Further, without these moments in which we forget everything but what is right before us, as Nietzsche tells us, we can “like the true pupil of Heraclitus, hardly dare in the end to lift a finger”(11-12). Or, put more simply, we cannot achieve any satisfaction in our lives.William Faulkner knows a thing or two about intuition himself, or else he would not ever have been able to write a character who entirely lacks any knowledge of it. Jason Compson is the literary equivalent to a man who has never had a moment of intuition, has never experienced a moment in which he is able to forget the rest of his life. Faulkner makes this clear through Jason’s inability to perceive any emotion, or existential moment in life, and therefore, his need to reduce all of these moments to their crudest symbols. What makes Jason such an ingenious character is further illuminated through Nietzsche, who posits that the only way to live without needing moments of unhistoricity, is to be superhistorical. The superhistorical man is one who realizes the “unhistorical atmosphere in which every great historical event came to be”(12). He has no unhistorical moments, neither does he have need for history whatsoever: “the past and the present is one and the same that is, typically alike in all manifold variety…and [has] eternally the same meaning” (13). Further, he has no need for the future; as Nietzsche tells us, no one would if asked, want to repeat the previous ten years of their lives, but most would give the reason for their answer as a hope that the next ten years will be better. The superhistorian, on the other hand, “does not see salvation in the process, for [him], rather, the world is complete and achieves its end at every single moment” (13). He would not relive the last ten years because they will be the exact same as the next ten. Faulkner’s Jason Compson, attempts to make up for his lack of intuition by being a superhistorian, and yet is constantly burdened by the past. Without having experienced an unhistorical moment, yet still unable to relinquish the past, Jason is doomed to be miserable and make others equally so.The very structure of the Jason section in The Sound and the Fury, is emblematic of his inability to experience intuition. The chapter, like those which surround his brothers Benjy and Quentin, follows Jason through a day. Unlike Benjy for whom time has no meaning, or for Quentin whose notion of time is so intuitive he must kill himself to escape it, time for Jason is only its most obvious symbol, the clock. In class we termed Jason’s problem with time manic linearality. An unhistorical moment is one in which we lose time entirely; time, at least the conscious time of the clock, is of no import and has no meaning, for it is only a symbol. Since Jason is a man who has never experienced a moment out of clock time, he is entirely reliant on this symbol. He does not understand why anyone would mistrust the clock, as is clear when his boss looks at his watch and then at a clock on the town courthouse. Jason says “[you] ought to have a dollar watch….It wont cost you so much to believe it’s lying” (Sound, 306). He is constantly reminding the reader what time of day it is: “[a]long towards ten oclock I went up front. There was a drummer there. It was a couple of minutes to ten” (237). Every hour has some scheduled significance for Jason and we soon learn that ten is when the reports from the stock market comes into the town’s telegraph office.As is clear from both aforementioned examples Jason is as manically obsessed with money as he is with clock time. Still, Jason does not take risks with money; he does not take risks with anything. Nietzsche posits that any great action requires unhistorical moments in which to conceive them: “no artist will paint his picture…nor any people [achieve] its freedom without first having desired and striven for it in…an unhistorical condition” (History, 11). Since Jason never strives for an unhistorical condition he never risks, nor achieves anything great. The stock market consumes Jason’s thoughts and yet he says: “I never risk much at a time” (Sound, 238). Jason has never experienced a moment of trust, therefore he does not even trust the symbol upon which he relies. Money, to Jason, is the symbol of everything he has lost, while at the same time the only thing he lives for. Money is only the approximate symbol of an object’s worth, and yet to Jason who is completely reliant on symbols, it is the trustworthiest judge. This is clear when a man comes in to his store to buy a hame string. Jason is annoyed that the man is spending so much time “deciding whether he wanted a twenty cent hame string or a thirty-five cent one”(242). He counsels the man to take the more expensive piece of machinery, but when the man inquires how he, who is not a farmer, knows which is better, Jason replies, “[b]ecause they don’t ask thirty-five cents for it….That’s how I know its not as good”(242). Without any inner notion of worth, Jason must rely entirely on monetary symbols to determine which machine is better.More disturbingly Jason uses this monetary symbol of worth to qualify his relationships and emotions. Love is about the easiest way to relate an unhistorical moment, for it is probably the most widely experienced form of intuition. Nietzsche, in fact uses love in his essay to “illustrate with an example” the unhistorical: “think of a man tossed and torn by a powerful passion for a woman…how his world is changed!”(History, 11) Jason has never experienced this passion, and therefore can only relate to love with symbols. His only lover is a whore from Memphis named Lorraine. He exchanges money for sex in place of a real relationship, which, as anyone who has experienced any kind of love knows, he could not quantify. When Lorraine, who clearly has an affinity for him, sends him a letter complaining that Memphis is no fun without him and that she misses him. Jason, unable to imagine the emotion of longing, muses: “I reckon she [misses me]. Last time I gave her forty dollars” (Sound, 240). Love to Jason is only as worthy as the dollars and cents he puts into it.Jason does not have any more intuition of familial love than he does the passionate love of a woman. Caddy, who knows her brother well, offers him fifty dollars for a chance to see her baby daughter. After getting her to give him a hundred dollars, Jason holds the baby up to the window of a moving car, as Caddy waits outside. When she goes to beg him for another chance to see the baby, and asks him how much it will cost this time he says, “[w]ell if one look through a hack window was worth a hundred…”(259). Jason, having no ideal of love himself quantifies even the love between mother and child. This inability to intuit love is no clearer than when he remembers a scene from his father’s funeral. In the memory, he is watching the gravediggers fill the grave, “like they were slapping mortar on it or building a fence, and I began to feel sort of funny” (251). There are two aspects to this quote which show Jason’s profound lack of conscious emotion: the images of mortar and fence building, two mundane scenes, are not those one would usually use to describe the profound grief at watching one’s father’s grave get filled. Even after a falling out with one’s parent the sight of their grave would evince more emotive similes. Secondly, Jason comments that watching this scene makes him feel “funny”; a page later, after seeing Caddy for the first time since she has left their home, standing over their dead father’s grave, Jason starts to feel “funny again”(252). Jason could be experiencing any number of emotions, and yet in both instances his inability to intuit them, let alone express them, is clear with the abstract use of the word “funny.”It is clear that Jason is affected by his father’s death. Mr. Compson was an alcoholic, and died from a disease related to drinking. Jason makes very clear the fact that he never drinks: “I’d just as soon swallow gasoline as a glass of whiskey” (291). Yet he does not acknowledge his father’s memory, and in fact diminishes, every time he can, any connection to his father. This trend of diminishing the import of his personal past is Jason’s attempt to be superhistorical. This aforementioned Nietzschian term might be dubbed a super-intuition of history. A superhistorian is so aware that history is only a collection of unhistorical moments, that he sees no need to use it to help his present, nor any need to change it for the future: “one who has adopted [this standpoint] could no longer be tempted at all to continue to live and cooperate in making history” (History, 12). After all, if the past and the present are one “static structure…of unchanged meaning,” then what is the point of working towards a future that will soon be the present and will be the same as the present which has passed.Throughout the Jason section of The Sound and the Fury, he makes comments that seem to be those of an unambiguous superhistorian. In fact, the chapter starts and ends with the line “once a bitch, always a bitch” (Sound, 223, 329). To whom he is referring is not clear; regardless, Jason’s lack of belief in the ability of people to change is apparent. Jason is his most superhistorical when talking to others or making general comments about race and gender. He condemns the entire Jewish population by saying: “its just the race. You’ll admit that they produce nothing. They follow the pioneers into a new country and sell them clothes” (238). The man to whom he is talking suggests that it is not even the Jews to whom Jason is referring, for even stereotypically the statement does not make sense. However, that is just the point of the superhistorian, all cultures are essentially the same: “[a]s hundreds of different languages correspond to the typically fixed requirements of men, so that one who understood these requirements could learn nothing new from all those languages” (History, 13). Thus the Jews might as well be the Armenians as Jason’s companion suggests, or the Buddhists, for to the superhistorian they are one and the same.Jason uses this superhistorian logic to convince his mother she should burn a check that Caddy has sent for her daughter Quentin. What his mother does not know is that the check she is burning is a fake, that Jason is actually stealing the money for himself. Although she has repeated the same ritual for years, this time she questions her actions, and tells Jason that she will swallow her pride and leave this check in tact. To this he replies: “[w]hat would be the good in beginning now, when you’ve been destroying them for fifteen years….If you keep on doing it you have lost nothing” (Sound, 273). If no moment in history really ever changes its course, then why bother varying from routine or attempting to better one’s circumstances.Further, Jason seems to say, if no one person ever betters history then what they have to say or do is really of no consequence. When his boss tells him that he knows Jason has been doing shady things with his mother’s money, Jason reasons that there is no point in trying to stop his boss from chastising him: “when a man gets into a rut, the best thing you can do is let him stay there” (284). Further, when his boss expresses concern over Jason’s recurring headaches and suggests that he go see a dentist, Jason thinks to himself, “[i]t’s a curious thing how no matter what’s wrong with you a man’ll tell you to get your teeth examined and a woman’ll tell you to get married”(311). This statement is ridiculous except from a superhistorical point of view, for if all advice leads to the same future and does not inform the present whatsoever, then every man may as well be telling him to get his teeth fixed and every woman telling him to get married.Jason might convince us that he is a superhistorian, if Faulkner had not burdened him with so much history. The reader might believe that he is a superhistorian if he did not constantly contradict himself by letting slip his bitterness over his personal past and the past of his race, the white southern farmer. Jason remarks to himself as he watches some pigeons fly around the town courthouse: “It’s a good thing I don’t have anymore ties than a pigeon”(309). This is his inherent contradiction, and the key to understanding his inability to truly be a superhistorian. In explaining the superhistorian Nietzsche quotes a poem by Giacomo Leopardi. The poem has a few lines lamenting the world but resigning to its futility. The last stanza of the quote is, “Calm, calm” (History, 13). If Jason were a true superhistorian, if he truly had less ties than a pigeon, then he too would be calm. However, as is made clear from his eternal headaches, his griping and his downright rage, Jason is anything but calm.Although he tries to rationalize the misery of his life by being above life itself, history is always there to tie Jason down. It reminds him constantly of what has been taken from his people. Throughout the chapter the reader learns how much Jason’s vision of his past informs his present. He is constantly lamenting the state of the south post-slavery. A number of times he makes derogatory comments about the laziness of the black servants who work for him and live in the town: “the only place for them is in the field where they’d have to work from sunup to sundown” (Sound, 313). Embarrassed by the reputation his family has in the town Jason, in an imaginary conversation with his mother says, “you don’t hear the talk that I hear…I shut them up too. I says my people owned slaves here when you all were running little shirt tail country stores and farming land no nigger would look at” (298). Jason reconciles the present state of his family by harkening back to what he sees as their proud past even though it is not a past in which he has any part.The past in which Jason does take part also informs his present. The chapter is full of his lamentations about the treatment he is given by his family. He refers a number of times to the family’s sacrifice of a plot of land to send his brother Quentin to Harvard. When his mother tells him that he is the only child who has not gone against her, Jason replies that he has never had time to: “I never had time to go to Harvard…I had to work”(224). He laments Quentin’s ability to go to Harvard and yet is obviously burdened by his brother’s suicide. He says “at Harvard they teach you how to go for a swim at night without knowing how to swim”(243), and later lets on that he is barely able to look at water (291). If Jason were a true superhistorian, these moments of the past would not harm him, yet it is these moments which he blames for his present state of unhappiness, for his stagnant and miserable existence. Jason is not a superhistorian and yet has never had an unhistorical moment. He cannot forget his personal past nor let go of his communal one. This, says Nietzsche, is the worst kind of way to live life: “[a]ll acting requires forgetting…without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all….[T]here is a degree of…historical sense which injures every living thing and finally destroys it, be it a man, a people or a culture”(History, 10). Jason is, in many ways, a representative of the bitter and lost generations born during the Jim Crow era in the changing and fragmented south. However, Jason’s personal past is far more destructive, as we know, the ever-present knowledge of it drove his brother to suicide. I might aver that Jason is essentially the living symbol of Quentin’s death. He is breathing yes, but devoid of any joy, any kindness, any faith in the future. The reader often wonders right along with him, when he muses: “[s]ometimes I think what’s the use of anything. With the precedent I’ve been set I must be crazy to keep on”(Sound, 294). To many Jason is pure evil, he does not even have the passion it takes to be a real villain, he is just bad at the core. But I would argue for nurture over nature defense in his case. For a man never to experience a moment of intuition, watching a baseball game, seeing a painting, sitting on the porch, doing anything, this man has not had an enviable life. In rereading this novel for the umpteenth time, it is Jason that invokes my sympathy the most, for I wonder what would my life be, had I never experienced La Pathetique or a myriad other moments of intuition which, through fleeting instants of absolute presentness, make me want to participate in the future.
Dilsey As Support For the Family
In The Sound and the Fury, the fated Compson family is a portrayal of both the declining old South and the new South that rose demonically out of its ruins. Through the Compsons, Faulkner personifies at once the mournful self-pity of a fallen gentry, and in Jason, the embittered rage and resentment of those who come after the fall. Throughout the novel, Dilsey is the one quiet fortitude in this irredeemably tragic and fallen family.One of the first indications of Dilsey’s strength in the Compson house is attested to by the fact that she can tell time from the warped clock that hangs in the kitchen. This clock and its skewed rendering corresponds with the Compsons’ own inability to reconcile themselves to any rational concept of time. Quentin is long tortured and eventually driven to suicide by his morbid nostalgia; “… time is [Quentin’s] misfortune…”(97). Jason’s resentment of the past has driven him to his maniacal obsession with hoarding money, in preparation for an abstract future that will never, can never become a reality. Dilsey’s ability to make sense of the broken clock reveals that she has made a sense of time eternal, a sense that allows her to live free from the grip of the past and the anticipation of the future. Through her responsibility for the Compson family, and the fact that she is the sole person with whom this responsibility lies, she is inextricably bound to the present– to project onto Dilsey a past or future seems inappropriate and irrelevant. Dilsey’s present however is not Benjy’s present, comprised simply of one moment to the next; through living the present, Dilsey transcends it.That Dilsey is steadfastly engaged in a timeless present makes her the “sworn enemy”(297) of Jason; she is the one human being he fears and respects. In the constant war between Jason and the girl Quentin, Dilsey pits herself tirelessly and thanklessly against Jason and his demonic cruelty. Quentin is for Jason an unbearable symbol of the past that he tries so forcefully to negate, and for the reader the consummate symbol of the decadence of the fallen South. She is therefore equally as resentful and fearful of the present, and violently pushes the protective Dilsey away, calling her “damn old nigger”(168). In pitting herself against Jason however, Dilsey protects more than Quentin; she protects the fragile vestige of the Compson family to which she remains eternally loyal. The opening of the final chapter is a portrait of Dilsey, a woman weakened and eroded by long hardship and burden, and yet ultimately “indomitable”(236). As Easter Sunday wears on, the reader is allowed a perception of Dilsey that is straight from Faulkner, unmuddied by the parsimonious judgments of the other characters. The source of her strength is revealed in the simplicity and totality of her uncontrived faith. When Dilsey takes Luster, Frony, and Benjy to the “darkies’… special Easter service”(248), she is completely un-self-conscious in her worship. She cries openly on the way home, despite her daughter’s worries about “passin white folks soon”(264). Her revealed tenderness toward Benjy in this chapter is moving. Understanding his helpless suffering, she tries to hush his bellowing that is described as “just sound”(255). In reference to the title of the novel, the silence that Dilsey tenderly urges is profound; if “… life… is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury…” then Dilsey beckons Benjy to a peace — ultimate and eternal. Faulkner gives the reader a final testimony to the eternal quality of Dilsey’s strength in her section of the appendix, that comes after the sections devoted to the other blacks of the novel. Simply writing “they endured”(302), Faulkner affirms that Dilsey has led her family to salvation, to stand long after the fall of the Compsons. At the end of the novel, Dilsey returns home: “… the fire had died down. There was no sound in the house… there was no sound anywhere.”(265). Dilsey outlasts “the sound and the fury” of the fatally self-centered Compsons, to remain long after them, indomitable and knowing. In bitter irony it is Dilsey who, in Faulknerian terms, not only endures, but prevails.
The Religious Motif and Its Status in The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury deals with man’s relationship with time and sequence. The complexities of the book, from its variety of narrators to the order of its chapters, support Faulkner’s primary experimentation with time. But The Sound and the Fury interweaves the time motif with other recurring ideas or elements, with a particularly strong one being Christianity. This motif is less fully developed and less impressively executed. In fact, Faulkner’s novel as an exploration of man’s relationship with time is weakened by the inclusion of the lesser motif of religion.The sheer volume of religious symbols and parallels is at first not clear (or simply not apparent), but it then becomes more and more obvious, and even reaches the point where it is so obvious that it borders upon the silly, if it is interpreted unironically. Of course, there is a baseline level of religiousness that is to be expected in any novel whose characters are Americans from the South in the early twentieth century. Indeed, Scriptural verses are often quoted or referred to, and a substantial portion of the fourth chapter takes place in a church. But on top of this foundation of Southern spirituality, Faulkner piles on additional nuggets of religious significance to the point where he is being blatant.The dates of the sections might require some close attention before it is realized that the novel occurs between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Even Quentin’s section, eighteen years earlier, takes place on Good Friday. The strong associations attached to these most important days in the Christian calendar create an undeniable sense of allegory or parallel.Not only is the dating of the chapters suggestive of some deeper meaning, but the characters in The Sound and The Fury lend themselves to a good deal of speculation about religious parallels. Benjy Compson is thirty-three during the Good Friday-Easter Sunday 1928 chapters of the book. Thirty-three is the age of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion. On the other hand, the transparent strategy of giving a character the initials J.C. is also at use in the novel, with Jason Compson. There are some inherent problems with both of these characters being suggested as Christ figures. Jason Compson is, of course, the closest character to an Anti-Christ in the novel. His antipathy, bitterness, and lack of meditation and memory (as exhibited, for example, by Quentin in his chapter) paint Jason as the most one-dimensional Compson child – he is in no way a convincing Christ figure.Benjy Compson is another flawed nominee, clearly because of the fact that he is an idiot. Claims can be made for Benjy being designated the Christ figure by Faulkner as some statement about modern times and the sheer difference between the world in which Christ lived and the world of The Sound and The Fury. Such arguments would claim that Benjy exists in a reality which is starkly foreign to the other characters much like Christ, were he existing in modern times, would have been similarly misunderstood, his mind similarly inaccessible. But this does not explain the fact that Benjy is, simply, the most passive Compson. He exists for much of the novel in the background, reliant on visceral stimulations and with no moral conscience whatsoever. His wailings certainly comparable to Christ’s suffering but only in the most superficial way – both cause discomfort. Easter Sunday also comes in the final chapter, but with no semblance of a “rebirth” for Benjy. He is just as much a peripheral annoyance as ever, and though the novel ends with a scene about him, the scene is appropriate in light of the simplicity of Benjy’s mind:”Ben’s…eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.”This final sentence illuminates how Benjy is not an anomalous mind through which meaning is found – he is an anomalous mind which is important to the novel because of its absolute lack of self-reflection and its absence of orientation. While an easy statement to make would be that everybody in the story is an idiot, each with his or her own struggling relationship with life, this does not elevate Benjy to any type of super-meaningful status. He is still an idiot, although his particular struggle is unique.Also complicating to the issue of the Christ figure is the conjunction of that concept with the dates of the novel. The obviousness of Faulkner’s toyings with the Christ figure concept tease the reader into associating it with the themes of resurrection and redemption that are suggested with the events taking place on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Neither Benjy nor Jason has any type of resurrection (or symbolic crucifixion, for that matter) during the real-time of the novel. Benjy’s castration can be tenuously linked to crucifixion, but there is no resurrection in accompaniment to it.By elimination, then, the other main characters up for contention are Quentin, Caddy, Dilsey and the female Quentin. These certainly conjure interesting permutations and explanations. Quentin’s suicide and subsequent “rebirth” (in name) with the female Quentin might seem convincing. But every Compson has a nominal counterpart who has died, so this rebirth significance has been applied to each person and is more a general theme of the novel than anything which can lend Quentin any special symbolic significance.Dilsey is the most Christ-like in terms of demeanor – she is compassionate, non-judgmental, and supremely forgiving. But she is also a static character, resisting change during what to Christians (and Christ) are the tumultuous days leading to and including Easter Sunday. Caddy’s symbolic crucifixion in being cast out of the house, and her redemption in Quentin’s ultimate escape on Easter Sunday, is structurally attractive to a reader who is attempting to decode the obvious religious meaning in The Sound and The Fury. Indeed, this is the most complete argument for any Christ character. This reading gains credence from the idea of Jason as an anti-Christ or perhaps Satan-like character with no good qualities but also no internal qualms or questioning of his behavior. It is also flawed, of course, in that the “redemption” is on such a small scale. Although Jason receives his comeuppance and Quentin receives her just freedom and money, there is little consequence to anybody else. For a Christ figure, Quentin would appear to be peculiarly self-interested. Furthermore, her redemption consisting of an escape with the man in the red tie is troubling in that Quentin is possibly living a sexually permissive lifestyle, re-treading the ground that Caddy treaded which drove her brother the male Quentin to suicide. Nevertheless, this seems the most complete argument about any existence of a Christ figure. The attractiveness of this reading is itself a problem, however, when reconsidering the presence of other conflicting signs such as Benjy’s age and Jason’s initials. All of these simultaneously taken into consideration create a hodgepodge of religious symbols and parallels, all at conflict with one another and none strong enough to stand alone.It is striking, then, that a novel with so many overt Christian elements and even more which are subtle and below the surface would fail to bring those elements together in some complete, ultimate connection. And while the failure to create a religious fabric with consistency throughout the book might be seen as a Modernist statement, perhaps about the inadequacy of religion to satisfy modern problems, such a reading would not account for the sheer distraction that the religious motif instills in the reader. The religious elements of the book are clearly so blatant that they are not meant to be glossed over – Faulkner intends the reader to devote real thought to them – and the lack of any message that is greater than the sum of its individual parts is, in the end, disappointing.The most impressive feature of The Sound and The Fury is the complexity of its time experiment – the ordering of the chapters, the stream-of-consciousness writing, and the unique choices of narrator reward the reader with multiple close readings. The religious motif is seemingly more accessible, but the payoff is far inferior, in that there may actually be no payoff. Where the time motif is paced and structured in such a way as to propel the reader through each chapter, hungry for more, and then start over and re-read the book, the religious references and symbols in the novel exist with teases and, at times, heavy-handed half-messages, but none of them lead anywhere nearly as fulfilling. The religious motif of The Sound and The Fury is, then, a distraction. In a book so demanding of its reader, designed to disorient him or her at the very onset, the lack of complexity with which Faulkner constructs the religious aspect is in contrast with the prominence that he gives it. What this amounts to is a series of red herrings that culminate in a whimper, or not at all, in this book that is otherwise so affecting.
Quentin’s Erotic Consciousness
As Quentin Compson travels through the countryside with his college friends, the reality of the situation becomes terribly confused by memories and past feelings. After a little girl follows him for miles around town, his own sexuality reaches the forefront of his consciousness and transforms itself into disjointed memories of his sister Caddy. Quentin’s constant obsession in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, surrounds a defining sexual act with his sister. Though the physical act never appears in plain language, Quentin’s apparent lapse into an inner monologue demonstrates his overwhelming fixation with Caddy as well as a textured representation of their relationship. Sexual language pervades his inner consciousness – scents, sounds and colors represent his passion and desire. Elements of nature, when associated with his sister, become erotic; the tiers of description, no matter how seemingly mundane, tend to be steeped in sexuality.Quentin’s lapse into past events with Caddy begins in the midst of typical conversation with his friends as they drive through town. His attention to reality is shattered by an unconscious slip into thoughts of his sister. As the eyes of the little girl snap Quentin into a reverie of sexual exploration, his words wander haphazardly, even before the image of his sister, prone on the banks of the river, comes to mind. “If I tried to hard to stop it I’d be crying and I thought about how I’d thought about I could not be a virgin, with so many of them walking along in the shadows and whispering with their soft girlvoices lingering in the shadowy places and the words coming out and perfume and eyes you could feel but not see” (93). Although this roaming sentence refers to “girlvoices” – the womanly wiles that haunt Quentin – his words move into a new realm of conscience that solely focus on his sister. Faulkner uses a system of italics to show Quentin’s innermost revelations; as he shifts from thoughts of virginity to more personal memories, the language changes from an encompassing statement about women to a singular elucidation of his sister. The first piece of italic language punctuates a piece of dialogue and immediately implies a question of virginity. “ever do that Have you ever done that In the gray darkness a little light her hands locked about” (93) is the repetition of Caddy’s question to Quentin on whether or not he had ever had sex. Faulkner continuously inserts the image of Caddy sitting on the ground next to her brother with her hands locked around her knees. Strangely, the image brings a sense of chastity to a sexually charged situation, as if she is locking her knees together to insist against any improper movements towards the contrary. The next piece of language, again interrupting a friendly dialogue between friends, has “her face looking at the sky the smell of honeysuckle upon her face and throat.” Faulkner sets the reader up for the continuation of a few themes be these beginning interceptions into normal conversation. Her face looking up at the sky, the smell of honeysuckle, the gray darkness or light – all these descriptions continue to be executed in the remaining consciousness language. Moreover, honeysuckle and gray light continue to be used as markers for sexual language. Though these natural elements seem innocuous, they elicit a visceral response from Quentin; he immediately turns the natural into the erotic through his association of nature with passion for his sister.The image of “running” recurs many times in Quentin’s memories of his sister. Running with her, running after her – both descriptions follow each other over and over, whereas the most indicative eroticization of this theme is Faulkner’s Shakesperean allusion to lovemaking, “running the beast with two backs.” After the sexual moment with Quentin is over, Caddy finds her lover, Dalton Ames, and blends into his tall shadow. Quentin insinuates their connection at the very beginning of his stream of consciousness, “and they two blurred within the other forever.” He is smitten with pain and jealousy, observing his beloved sister with another, stronger man. However, the overwhelming sense of guilt about his own actions most likely fuels the jealousy. Although his words are constantly stained by inklings of sexuality, he maintains an almost overt religious confession immediately after his Shakespearean metaphor. “There was something terrible in me terrible in me Father I have committed Have you ever done that” implies an act of contrition, a supposed repentance for his incestual act, to his own father and to a higher power. His focus on virginity remains, as he repeats the phrase “Have you ever done that” as Caddy’s constant question. “There was something terrible in me” has the figurative sense of a mental incapacity to follow a moral path as well as a more grotesque literal interpretation of a physical loss of virginity or release of burning desire. Caddy’s words combine with Quentin’s thoughts in many tiers of understanding. The constant reference to his virginity, “Poor Quentin you’ve never doe that have you” continues to solidify the sexual act in his mind. Repetition of certain concepts and phrases cement the moment for Quentin and haunts him dramatically. The ramifications of the event, the feelings and passions involved, repeat themselves endlessly in a cluttered internal monologue. He understands disgust and veritable evil surrounding his deeds and again refers to the punishment of his father. Sexual language, at its most transparent point, erupts in Quentin’s self-revelatory statements. “Ill tell Father then itll have to be because you love Father then well have to go away amid the pointing and the horror the clean flameI fooled you all the time it was me you thought I was in the house where that damn honeysuckle trying not to think the swing the cedars the secret surges the breathing locked drinking the wild breath the yes Yes Yes yes.” The honeysuckle terrorizes Quentin to such a point that it is irredeemably connected to his own sexuality and his attraction to his sister. His inclination to confess confuses itself with the lie and the punishment; he does not know whether to admit to incest or let the family believe that Caddy was impregnated by another man. The overt sexual language at the end of the passage takes over rationality as metaphor to orgasm. The acts are thoroughly secret, but become more frenzied and physical as the words continue to the culmination of “yes Yes Yes yes.” Just as Caddy’s throat and face so affected him, the wild breath, the locked breath drives him to utter distraction. The italic inner monologue shifts to a flow of disjointed, unpunctuated prose at a point where Quentin asks Caddy if she loved any of the men she was involved with. Quentin comes upon her “lying in the water her head on the sand spit the water flowing about her hips there was a little more light in the water her skirt half saturated flopped along her flanks to the waters motion in heavy ripples going nowhere renewed themselves of their own movement I stood on the bank I could smell the honeysuckle on the water gap the air seemed to drizzle with honeysuckle and with the rasping of crickets a substance you could feel on the flesh.” This interminable sentence, so rife with sexual innuendo and erotic signals, demonstrates Quentin’s unnatural and undying obsession with his sister. Her body, lying prone in the water while it washes over her hips, gives the reader an odd sensation of a birth metaphor as well as a complete concept of freedom. The sounds of water, constantly gurgling and bubbling in the background of Quentin’s thoughts indicates his connection of water and sexuality. The scene of Caddy in the stream is so erotically inviting, so full of the undeniable scent of honeysuckle, that Quentin can barely suppress his desire.The wetness, the gray light, the water and honeysuckle permeates the atmosphere to such an extent that Quentin must act. The phallic scene with his pocket knife is the moment where life and death meet in a climax of the senses. Caddy’s face reaching up to the sky, his knife upon her neck, his body braced over her – taught and ready to combust – combine in such a way to make Faulkner’s metaphorical usage of the knife as a sexual act to overwhelm the scene entirely. “don’t cry Im not crying Caddy push it are you going to do you want me to yes push it touch your hand to it dont cry Quentin but I couldn’t stop she held my head against her damp hard breast.” The knife against her neck is a deadly substitution for his sexual act. To Quentin, passion shared with his sister is essentially a death sentence. He dies by committing suicide as if sex was an allegorical act. As Caddy holds his head against her breast, she becomes a protecting mother figure to a boy who has overcome his boundaries. Her heart doesn’t beat in the same way as it does with Dalton Ames; her blood pumps surely and calmly rather than pounding through her arteries when she asks Quentin to touch his hand to her neck and speak the name of her lover. The eroticism that pervades the movement of his pocket knife to her neck in a double metaphor of death and sex that combines with the environment to evoke such passion. Although Faulkner rarely refers to sexual acts directly, the use of language through Quentin’s consciousness and internal monologue is so rampant with erotic metaphor and passionate depth, that a simple object, such as a pocket knife, transforms into the most vital of symbols.
In Defense of Jason Compson IV
Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say. I says you’re lucky if her playing out of school is all that worries you. I says she ought to be down there in that kitchen right now, instead of up there in her room, gobbing paint on her face and waiting for six niggers that cant even stand up out of a chair unless they’ve got a pan full of bread and meat to balance them, to fix breakfast for her. And Mother says, (113)In a harsh, sarcastic voice of insolence, Jason’s section roars off to a start that immediately distances itself from the first two. No longer in the incoherent worlds of an idiot and suicidal youngster, the ensuing monologue seemingly marks a return to some form of sanity. But the fluent discourse does little to help the reader decipher the troubling mind of this relentless villain. His discrepancies between thought and action portray a man helplessly lost in a world he foolishly believes to comprehend. His reiteration of “Like I say once a bitch always a bitch” at the end of his speech shows a man out of touch with a tangible world, consumed by a past he has no control over. He thus emerges as a tortured torturer; a sarcastic man who himself is the object of satire. For he is as much a part of the familial madness as Benjy and Quentinforever a Compson, doomed from the beginning. Jason’s character is completely abominable. The gross lack of respect he displays towards anything and anybody doesn’t leave a singular opportunity to view him in positive light. Most overtly seen in his reduction of people into bigoted orders, his thoughts repulse the reader from an attempted bounding with him. No group is safe from his blind rancor; not even small-towners, old maids, and preachers are spared from his verbal lashings (154-155). Even the swallows are prey (155). As a proud Southerner he has a place in his black heart against Yankees, Jews (120,121,147), college professors (156), and foreigners:But I’ll be damned if it hasn’t come to a pretty pass when any damn foreigner that cant make a living in the country where God put him, can come to this one and take money right out of an American’s pockets (121).Not surprisingly the two groups he deals with the most, women and blacks, are especially prone to his indifferent scrutiny (his entire section is sample enough). In similar fashion, he typecasts every member of his family, dehumanizing each so that they become nothing more than repugnant objects to him: his father is an alcoholic; mother a fussy neurotic; brother a drooling idiot; sister and niece harlots. With each cutting remark Jason reaffirms his superior notion of himself, leaving the reader in a state of aversion.If Jason’s inner thoughts disgust, his conspicuous actions only serve to enrage. Bitterness and irony envelop each of his social encounters; he doesn’t offer one kind word or gesture to anybody, not even to those who presumably deserve it (i.e. the sheriff, his boss, or mother). So too he foolishly induces conflict in perfectly harmless situations. Over and over he tries to get fired by kindhearted Earl and knocks his fellow investors despite their attempts to befriend him. In his most blatant exhibition of provocation, Jason’s senselessly assaults the old man (while in pursuit of Quentin), all but convincing the reader of his inherent evil (192-93). And the maniacal manner in which his life is dictated by money only furthers the reader’s disgust. Attempting to procure social rank, he seeks financial gain by any possible means. But not surprisingly, his honest endeavors at doing so are complete failures. Compulsively bad at the stock market (“I just want an even chance to get my money back”) and stuck with meager pay as a menial salesclerk, Jason stoops to a unforeseen low by robbing young Quentin of $40,000not once questioning its integrity. He executes this elaborate scheme with criminal pleasure, enjoying every step of the process, from his forgery to his mother’s burning of the fake check and ultimately to his obsessive counting of the plunder. It becomes quite obvious that people have no place in his heart, but money most certainly does. Yet all of these shocking traits are drastically overshadowed by the perverse pleasure Jason derives from his own depravity. An evident change in voice and demeanor is clearly seen when he merely suggests inflicting pain. His tone escalates to a new level of haughtiness when he nobly states that the only way to manage women is to “keep them guessing. If you cant think of any other way to surprise them, give them a bust in the jaw” (122). But seeing others writhe in anguish (specifically anguish he creates) seems to most arouse this state of childlike glee. He recounts his imposed castration of Benjy without reservation, proudly asserting that it was the right thing to do even if the idiot didn’t have a clue what he was doing (164-65). His unyielding treatment of Quentin displays this sadistic quality as well. Whether it be through verbal degradation, display of physical strength, meticulous torture of her mind and spirit (161-62), or all-out pursuit, Jason takes pleasure in making her life a living hell. The scene with the concert tickets appropriately demonstrates his shocking mind (158-59). Sensing a window of opportunity when Luster utters, “Wish I could goI could ef I jes had a quarter”, Jason seizes the chance to wreak agony. Knowing full well that the “nigger boy” will not be able to furnish a single penny (and with no real need for such a small amount of money), he ruthlessly leads the servant into believing he will give away the ticket. But instead of giving the free ticket to Luster, whose family he drastically underpays, he gleefully taunts the boy, demanding a nickel for compensation. When nothing is produced, he smoothly drops the passes into the stove and exits the room; not even giving thought to what he just did. This scene, coupled with his unbelievable disregard for Caddy and her desire to see her babe (127-29), solidifies the reader’s opinion of Jason as an outright asshole.One could too easily end their assessment of character at this juncture. But simply discarding Jason as a reckless misanthrope is as foolish as his own reducing of peoples into narrow categories. For while the reader deciphers a great deal from his overt thoughts and actions, just as much is to be learned from what he chooses not to recognizenamely the trauma of his past and futility of his present. By examining these problems, new perspective is shed on his identity. Serving not as justifications for his actions, but rather as means to understanding them, they dramatically shift our response to this “villain”.Jason’s inability to connect with his past should be easily recognizable in light of the first two sections. Whereas Benjy and Quentin are totally captivated by “yesterday”, Jason does not significantly delve into old times, save the memory of his father’s funeral. Despite this absence, his reiteration of Mrs. Compson’s “Because you are a Bascomb, except in name” (in one form or another) and obsession with money sound suspiciously familiar to themes revealed in the first chapter. Indeed, a closer examination of Benjy’s tale discloses the import of Jason’s past on his present. An intense identity complex mars Jason’s childhood. Benjy’s recollections of Jason overwhelmingly endorse thishe is not an exuberantly innocent youth, but rather a detached soul who finds no comfort in the familial realm. Much of his isolation stems from Mrs. Compson’s dedication to an extinct philosophy and her conceited efforts to mold him. Believing that she failed as a mother to the first three children (which she did), she inflects all her maternal “disknowledge” upon Jason. This “disknowledge” roots itself in the notion that a family’s ultimate duty is to possess a prestigious position in the social hierarchy. The irony here is, of course, that her own heritage ranks below the that of her spouse, Mr. Compson, who could care less about the issue. And since her first two competent children disdain her and her beliefs, Jason becomes the last possible outlet for her delusion to become reality. She prescribes him to denounce his namesake (even though he bears the legacy of his father) and accept an idealized version of what family should be. To ensure this she removes him from the family circle; he sleeps in the same bed as Damuddy and is constantly told that he is the only good Compson. He naivete occasion blind adherence.Yet Mrs. Compson is not the sole reason for Jason’s separation; the other members of the family treat him as an outsider from the beginning, typecasting him a counterpart for their his mother. In a chapter filled with the persistent wailing of a mental incompetent (who is more often then not comforted by his family in his youth), there is a surprising repetition of “Jason cried”. Only Jason’s cries are greeted with a “hush up” or “shut up” from Dilsey, “do you want to whip you again” (44) from Mr. Compson, ridicule from Caddy, and total silence from his mother. Reaching out for some kind of attention, he receives none and further alienates himself from the clan. Caddy displays the most audacious behavior towards her youngest brother. She completely severs bonds with him by disparaging any statement he makes (24), provoking him to tattle (when he has no intentions to) (13), and cruelly mocking the loss of his one protector:”Do you think buzzards are going to undress Damuddy.” Caddy said. “You’re crazy.””You’re a skizzard.” Jason said. He began to cry.”You’re a knobnot.” Caddy said. Jason cried. His hands were in his pockets. (23)The reader now sees the dire consequences of these actions; Jason seeks refuge from this hate by entering his mother’s world, returning his hands to his pockets.The combination of these situations has a damning effect on Jason’s life. Since he never obtains love from Mrs. Compson (she loves the ideal over him) or the rest, he seeks comfort through the physical procurement of money. By doing so he places himself in complete control of his own destiny and still maintains the ideals he accepted as a child. The only time he exits this solitary mode is to accept a job Caddy’s marriage produces. But the ensuing fallout destroys what little faith he had in allegiance and instigates his vengeful torment of the world, in particular Quentin. He completely abandons empathy in the process, constructing walls that permanently block off human attachment. It is this image of a man, dominated by money yet void of feeling, which emerges as the reader’s Jason. He approaches life with a chip on his shoulder, loudly proclaiming, “I’m Jason Compson. See if you can stop me” (190).The reader cannot help but sympathize with the confused character. Utter futility becomes the cornerstone of Jason’s existence, as prophetically mentioned by Job: “You fools a man whut so smart he cant even keep up wid hisself” (156). His life is a farcical disaster. The fortune he fought for is mockingly modest, his name carries a miserly connotation, and he is head of the household he tried so hard to abandon”caring” for the bastard daughter of a sister who screwed him. Worst of all, he is entirely alone and unaware of his own emotion; he can only feel “funny” at his father’s funeral (127). The rigid barriers of degradation have become permanently etched on his persona, never again able to perceive life in positive light. He is a crazy hypocrite, unaware of who he is or how he got there. Jason is a part of each reader. All of us exhibit his tendencies at some point, yet we recoil from his character to prevent the shock of recognition. While Benjy’s incompetent outlook easily grasps our sympathy and Quentin earns our love in his hopeless confusion, Jason’s baseness is harder to see through. Only after investigation do we reluctantly accept Jason in correlation with his brothers. This lengthy process of familiarization heightens the reader’s affinity towards him–a victim of Circumstance and tragic survivor.
Who Howls Hardest?
The suicidal eldest, the special needs middle child, and the youngest, incapable of love: these are the three Compson brothers, each haunted by their own demons and howling for everything they have lost. In his novel The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner tells his tale from the perspective of these three brothers, all of whom cannot escape the demons of their past. These brothers all cry for something, but are they all justified in doing so? In some instances they are, but most of the time they are simply trapped in their own small worlds, unable to see the bigger picture where what they howl for means nothing. Quentin mourns the loss of his sister’s innocence and agonizes over being the cause of losing half of Benjy’s pasture to pay for his schooling. Benjy cries for Caddy, the only one who truly ever showed him compassion, and for the lack of order in the Compson’s deteriorating lives. Jason condemns Caddy for the loss of a bank job he never received, and holds a bitter grudge that leaves no room for love. Although the three brothers all howl, mostly about the sister they are obsessed with, the only ones truly justified in doing so are Benjy, because Caddy truly cared about him and was the only one who showed him love and compassion, and sometimes Quentin because of the financial trouble he put his family in.
Out of all three Compson brothers, Benjy leads the hardest life. He is trapped inside his body, unable to speak and unable to judge. Because of his inability to judge, he is unique in that he is completely and purely innocent throughout the novel. Nobody really pays Benjy much attention, except Caddy. Most of Benjy’s section is memories from the past because Caddy is in his past. Caddy is always with him when no one else wants to be, saying, “I like to take care of him. Don’t I. Benjy,” (Faulkner 63). She even acts as his protector, like when Jason cuts up Benjy’s dolls and Caddy tries to fight him, crying “I’ll slit his gizzle,” (65). Caddy is so important to him because to his family, he seems more of an afterthought than a legitimate member of the clan. He is usually pawned off on the hired help because the perpetually sick Caroline Compson cannot be bothered to raise her own children. Roskus, Dilsey’s husband, even criticizes, “raising a child not to know its own mammy’s name,” (Faulkner 31). Jason also does not care for Benjy, detachedly referring to him as “Ben” and viewing him more as a burden than a brother, threatening that when Mrs. Compson dies, “I’ll sure have him on number seventeen that night,” (222). Without Caddy to protect him and care for him, Benjy is all alone on the Compson estate, forever following golfers on the other side of the fence who scream “caddy”, hoping for his disowned sister who will never return.
Benjy clearly has the most reason to howl, but Quentin has moments where his fervid howls are also justified. Throughout his section he is haunted by shadows which represent “all I had felt suffered taking visible form,” (170). He continuously remembers scenes from the past that make him feel guilty, like his parents apprising him, “we have sold Benjy’s pasture so that Quentin may go to Harvard,” which haunts Quentin as he repeats, “a brother to you. Your little brother,” (94). In addition to the guilt he feels for the financial burden he is to his family, he is also obsessed with Caddy and her lost virginity. He is maudlin and feels responsible, as if he could have somehow stopped it, which he never could have. He repeats, “I have committed incest,” throughout his entire section, trying to somehow justify her pregnancy in his own twisted way (77). He tries to intimidate her baby’s father to protect her, but even fails at that, causing him even more pain. Quentin is fixated on his sister, and all of his memories circulate around her and her marriage and pregnancy. This haunts him, but the bottom line is he is not responsible for Caddy’s actions and could not have stopped her no matter what he did. Although his rambling about incest and the guilt he feels about Caddy getting pregnant is ridiculous, the guilt he feels for the loss of Benjy’s beloved pasture is legitimate. He feels like a failure, a burden on his family just so that he could attend a prestigious school and this fact prompts him to incessantly repeat “Harvard my Harvard boy Harvard Harvard” (92). In the end, his demons prove to be too much for him to handle, even though not all of them are warranted, and he commits suicide.
Although Benjy and Quentin are mostly justified in their howling, Jason elicits no sympathy from the reader with his cries. The opening line of his section is “once a bitch always a bitch,” and this hateful tone continues for the rest of his narrative (180). He is stuck in the past, unable to move on from the bank job he never received Caddy’s husband because she had an illegitimate child. Because of this, Jason feels that he deserves compensation for the job he never had, and therefore feels justified to be cruel to everyone around him, especially his niece Miss Quentin and Caddy herself. He treats them cruelly, stealing their money for his own gain because “neither of them had had entity or individuality for him for ten years; together they merely symbolized the job in the bank of which he had been deprived before he ever got it,” (306). Jason often makes himself out to be a martyr, sacrificing his freedom to support his family, when in reality he is actually stealing their money and adding to the deterioration of the Compson estate. He is a huge contributor to the Compson family’s downfall, and yet he pities himself, uttering phrases like, “Well I can stand a lot,” and “I don’t expect much,” (232, 220). He seemingly tries to get the readers to side with his tendentious narrative and agree that his life is terrible, but he is actually the reason his life is bad. He never tries to get a better job like the bank job and he steals money from the women in his family whom he despises: since he chooses to live with a grudge that consumes his every thought, Jason Compson has no justification for howling.
Each of the three Compson brothers lives a life where their past controls their present, and each cries for these events that haunt them, but only Benjy and sometimes Quentin are truly justified in doing so. For Benjy, he has every reason in the world to cry: he is trapped in a family of self-centered egotists, unable to speak for himself and forever waiting for the sister who showed him compassion who will never come. Benjy is truly the only innocent Compson, guilty of nothing but being born with a disability. Although not completely defensible, Quentin’s caterwauls also hold some merit. The cost of him going to Harvard was what initially put the Compson family in financial trouble and was the reason they sold Benjy’s pasture, causing him to lose a lot of freedom. The guilt he holds for this is warranted because of the detriment it caused his family, even if he is not completely responsible for it. His guilt over Caddy’s pregnancy, however, is unnecessary. He believes he could have prevented it, yet there was absolutely nothing he could have done. In the end, the inescapable shadow of his past was too much for him to handle, and he committed suicide. The only brother without reason to howl is Jason, who harbors a bitter grudge against his sister for the bank job he never received. All he does is steal from his sister, mother, and niece in his section and does nothing to better the family. His howls are in no way justified. The Compson family has more than their fair share of demons, but they mostly cause these demons themselves. The only two people who have the right to cry for their situations is Benjy and Quentin who are more victim than sinner in the novel.
Works CitedFaulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.
“Obverse Reflections” in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury
Born in 1897 in Mississippi, William Faulkner knew black people as servants and laborers, not as equals. Yet, sharing the same space with blacks led him to a deeper understanding of their plight and circumstances. Despite his negative view of black society, in The Sound and the Fury Faulkner reverses the classic allegory of “black = bad” and “white = good.” The blacks represented in the novel are generally more concerned with self-respect and morality where the whites are preoccupied with self-absorption and overwhelming pride. As a result, the representation of the black community in the novel serves as a contrast to the representation of the deteriorating Compson family. As described by Quentin, the black characters are simply “obverse reflections” of white society (86). Likewise, Dilsey, Roskus, and the Deacon are used by Faulkner to accentuate the corrupt and nefarious values of their white counterparts.
Of these characters, Dilsey is especially important. Throughout the novel, Dilsey upholds a moral standard that sharply contrasts the prideful and self-absorbed nature of Caroline Compson. Similarly, she proves to be more of a mother to the Compson children than their own mother. Although she does significantly more work than any other character and remains dedicated to the Compsons despite their lack of appreciation, she is reduced to an “old half-dead nigger,” according to Jason (185).
If Quentin claims blacks are simply “obverse reflections” of their white counterparts, then it can certainly be said the parallels between Mrs. Compson and Dilsey are undeniable (86). While Mrs. Compson is a self-pitying hypochondriac, consumed with pride for her Bascomb family name, Dilsey is a genuinely noble woman who seeks neither the title of a lady or of a servant. Interestingly, although Mrs. Compson strives to preserve her family name and their traditional southern values, it is in fact Dilsey who comes the closest to representing a southern lady despite her skin color. Where Mrs. Compson fails as a matriarch, Dilsey steps in to care for the Compson children as well as her own. For example, moments before Quentin’s suicide, Quentin wails, “if I had just had a mother so I could say Mother Mother” (172). Yet, instead of reflecting on his own mother’s reaction to his death, he instead anticipates “what a sinful waste Dilsey would say.” Even in a moment of severe distress, Quentin returns back to the comfort of Dilsey. Conclusively, it is particularly interesting how Faulkner reverses the traditional expectations of white and black women. Where white southern women were historically expected to care for their families unconditionally and uphold a standard of womanhood, Caroline Compson fails miserably. It is instead the female black servant who chooses to take the Compson children into her loving care. In short, Faulkner uses Dilsey to highlight the corrupt and deteriorating Compson family values. Despite her skin color, by the end of the novel she becomes a symbol for the renewal of traditional southern values and the Compsons’ only hope for familial preservation.
Although the novel only briefly involves Dilsey’s husband, Roskus, the few instances in which we encounter him are sufficient to provide an indication of his entirely different character from Mr. Compson’s. While Mr. Compson lavishes himself with “a decanter of whiskey and a litter of dog-eared Horaces and Livys and Catalluses,” Roskus remains humble, hopeful, and genuine (330). Despite having “the rheumatism too bad to do more than he have to,” Roskus perseveres and, like Dilsey, does the majority of the work for the Compson family (9). But unlike Dilsey, Roskus acknowledges the inevitable disintegration of the once aristocratic Compsons. Repeatedly mentioning “there ain’t no luck in this place,” Roskus is consistently disgusted by the Compson family’s behavior towards the Compson children. Prompted by the birth of their mentally handicapped son, the Compsons become increasingly worried about the preservation of their family name. For instance, the decision to change their son’s name from Maury to Benjy only further proves to Roskus that the family is doomed; once again he repeats that “there ain’t no luck in this place… I seen it at first but when they changed his name I knowed” (29). In Roskus’s mind, God will soon repay the Compsons for their sins. Although Roskus’s preoccupation with bad luck and superstition plague his mind, he ultimately ends up predicting the Compson family decline long before any other character. A loving and god-fearing father, Roskus resents the way both Compson parents are “raising [children] not to know [their] own mammy’s name” (31). Where Mr. Compson is an unsuccessful parent, Roskus is caring and forgiving towards his children. Unfortunately, Mr. Compson is no more fit for the head of a household than his deplorable wife. He is a weak man, entirely oblivious to the needs of his family as a result of his constant drunken stupor, too preoccupied with day-dreaming of the life he did not achieve. Much like his wife, Mr. Compson wallows in self-pity, regarding himself as a victim of his circumstances that he feels he has no control over. Yet, Roskus, a black male servant crippled by genuine physical ailments, continuously works toward and hopes to improve his life. Where Mr. Compson is passive in his suffering, Roskus rises above his situation and works to better himself. Once again, stereotypical male roles of the period have been reversed by Faulkner. Although the white male is traditionally anticipated to live up to patriarchal expectations, in this case it is Roskus who exceeds the capabilities of Mr. Compson.
While the previously mentioned parallels highlight the differences between two characters, the relationship between Quentin and the Deacon accentuates their similarities. Despite the Deacon attempting to project a pseudo self-image, Quentin works to see beyond his projections. Both outsiders within their society, Quentin and the Deacon are attracted to the “otherness” in one another, eventually leading Quentin to come to the conclusion that “a nigger is not a person so much as a form of behavior; a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among” (86). Forced to re-evaluate his traditional southern values while away at Harvard, Quentin gains a new perspective on the Compson family’s deterioration. Beginning with Gerald Bland’s “nigger” stories, Quentin slowly starts to discern the unfavorable similarities between his own family and the Blands, as well as the harsh treatment of their “niggers.” On page 99, Quentin confesses he sees glimpses of Roskus in the Deacon and begins to feel a tinge of guilt for the South’s injustices towards the black community. Despite the Deacon’s obvious lies about attending divinity school, during the conversation Quentin notes the “worn, gentle quality of his nigger hands” and dismisses his lie because “he had been a guide, mentor, and friend to unnumbered crops of innocent and lonely freshmen… he stank no higher in heaven’s nostrils than any other” (98). This is one of the most important moments in The Sound and the Fury because Quentin is able to create a genuine bond with the Deacon despite his skin color. Quentin is finally able to rise above his family’s hateful and racist world views and, in the words of the Deacon, “you and me’s the same folks, come long and short… I draw no petty social lines. A man to me is a man, wherever I find him” (100). In short, Quentin’s relationship with the Deacon summarizes what he has learned (or previously failed to learn): what it means to be “other.” By referring to the Deacon as a “natural psychologist,” Quentin realizes the inherent interdependence between the white and black communities (97). Coming to the conclusion that both he and the Deacon are part of a socially constructed hierarchy, he sympathizes with the Deacon for having to assume various roles based on white people’s desires. All in all, Quentin learns identity is defined by the social expectations of others. His interactions with the Deacon lead to his chief realization that a “nigger” is an abstract, mental construct created and perpetuated by white people. On that note, it is this realization that leads him to conclude his southern heritage, and family traditions, are based on corrupt and despicable values. In this way, the Deacon helps to reveal to the audience (and Quentin) one of the most prominent reasons for the Compson family deterioration.
The Sound and the Fury thus reverses the traditional Southern allegory of “black = bad” and “white = good.” By drawing parallels between the novel’s black and white characters, Faulkner uses Dilsey, Roskus, the Deacon, and other members of the black community to highlight the Compson family’s deep-rooted corruption and inevitable deterioration. In a broader sense, the “obverse reflections” of the Compson and Gibson families shed light on the downfall of the entire Antebellum South, a society that relied on the exploitation of slaves and, more generally, the entire African American population.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. Toronto: Random House, 1984. Print
The Importance of Time in The Sound and the Fury.
In Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury, time and the past appear as crucial but complex themes. As a novel constructed around past events which have taken place before the time of narration, the past seems to be very much alive within the narration of the three Compson brothers. However, beneath the surface there is a contrasting sense of the futility of this connection with the past, along with the notion that time waits for no man, leaving those caught up in the past behind. Faulkner’s use of a stream of consciousness narrative style allows the passing of time to be expressed differently across the four sections of the novel, suggesting that, although physical time may wait for no man, there is perhaps another sort of time which is experienced differently for each individual.
On the surface, The Sound and the Fury appears to revolve around the very notion that the past is neither dead nor past, as the plot is driven entirely by events which took place years prior. For the most part, the present exists solely as a product of a past which the characters either cannot, or will not, leave behind. John-Paul Sartre outlines this notion in his essay “On The Sound and The Fury. Time in Work of Faulkner”. In it, he suggests that within Faulkner’s novel, “The present, nameless and fleeting, is helpless before [the past]. It is full of gaps, and, through these gaps, things of the past, fixed, motionless and silent as judges or glances, comes to invade it”. Certainly, the helplessness of which Sartre speaks appears to define the narratives of all three of the Compson boys, as each is obsessed by the past in different ways. One brother is obsessed with denying it, one obsessed with holding onto it, and the third seems entirely incapable of even understanding the notion of time divisions. With regards to the “gaps” in the present being “invade[d]” by the past, the entire novel is set across three days, yet through the constant use of flashbacks the entire history of the Compson family is recalled. The reader spends far more time viewing the past than the present, supporting Sartre’s suggestion that the present is “full of gaps”, as the present time narration is interjected with the constant re-emergence of the past. Surely, one could argue that if the past was truly dead, it could not appear so apparently and repeatedly throughout the present of the narrative. At the centre of this sense that the past is not past lies the character of Caddy Compson. Even though she runs away long before the time of narration, her presence saturates the entire novel. She is one of the “things of the past” of which Sartre speaks, and she most certainly appears to “invade” the present. She exists to us only through the memories of her three brothers, but these memories of her are so prevalent that Catherine Morley sees fit to refer to Caddy as “the absent heart at the centre of The Sound and the Fury”. Indeed, Faulkner himself actually named Caddy Compson his “heart’s darling”, and the original image and inspiration for The Sound and the Fury. The very fact that Faulkner constructs an entire novel around a girl whose image exists only in the past epitomizes the overflow of the past into the present, as the entire text seems dedicated to keeping the past alive. Caddy stands as an embodiment of the past and represents the influence it continues to hold over the present. Each of the Compson brothers obsess over Caddy, and her perceived fall from grace, to the extent that their own present appears to be structured around things which have already come to pass. Morley argues that “Caddy Compson’s imprint upon each of the Compson brothers is indelible”, reflecting the way in which the past can be seen to irrevocably stain the present, bleeding through the barriers between different points in time to blur together the constructs of a chronological timeline.
The section of narrative which most clearly lays focus on the past over the present is that of Benjy Compson. Certainly, the things Benjy sees and hears in the present lead his stream of consciousness to switch seamlessly between events from the past and events from the present. This is evident as Benjy hears present day golfers calling for their golf caddie, which instantly draws Benjy back into memories of his sister as the word is reminiscent of the name ‘Caddy’. Furthermore, he stands at his gate in the present day, waiting for Caddy to return home as she used to before disappearing eighteen years earlier, delineating his lack of understanding that she has become a part of his past. Peter Conn emphasizes Benjy’s apparent inability to put his memories behind him as he suggests that “the present is reduced to the vanishing point, serving as little more than a transparent theatre scrim through which the past can always be perceived”. Benjy’s castration is symbolic of his inability to separate his future from his past, as he is rendered physically incapable of reproduction. He is trapped in a state of timelessness, incapable of moving forward, and the creation of new life presents the possibility of change and the transition from a child-like figure into a father. The fact that his disability stunts this possibility can be seen to be a part of what prevents him from breaking free from this psychological timelessness. According to James L. Roberts “For Benjy, all time blends into one sensuous experience. He makes no distinction between an event that happened only hours ago and one that occurred years ago”. Indeed, Roberts’s view draws on the way in which Benjy’s stream of consciousness transitions between different time periods without implicitly informing the reader of these time jumps. Thomas L. McHaney supports and expands on this notion as he suggests that “The person reading The Sound and the Fury for the first time is thus initially hard pressed to tell past from present”. Indeed, Benjy’s mental condition renders him incapable of understanding the passing of time, and through his utilisation as a narrator he allows Faulkner to draw the reader into the same timeless perspective as Benjy.
On the surface, it may appear as though the past is every bit as alive in Quentin’s narration as it seems to be in Benjy’s. Like Benjy, Quentin’s experiences in the present often trigger memories of the past, sending his mind backwards in time. For example, the little Italian girl he meets reminds him so much of his sister Caddy that he comes to refer to her also as ‘sister’. In actual fact, Quentin seems to view all women as ‘sister’ figures, emphasizing his preoccupation with Caddy and his desperation to right her wrongs through imprinting on a surrogate sister. Quentin is obsessed with his sister’s past actions, as he unable to accept her sexual ‘sin’ or lost virginity, and carries this burden along with him even in the present. Throughout his narration, he constantly reminisces on the words of his father, who philosophised that time cures all ills, including the painful memories of Caddy. He becomes desperate to cease the progression of time so that he never has to forget his past with Caddy and the emotions it evoked in him. The idea of the past not necessarily being past is furthered in Quentin’s narration as he recalls more of his father’s words. He laments how “Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life” (71). To Quentin, this opens up the possibility of reclaiming his past by destroying the divisions of a chronological timeline.
In contrast to Quentin and his battle to hold onto the past, the character of Jason Compson at first appears to be intent on denying its very existence. He seems to live solely in the present, with his motivation and attention to detail being rooted in his ploys to cheat others for his own short term gain. However, contrary to his desire to disregard his history, it actually manages to color the person he is in the present. He is, much like his two brothers, obsessed with Caddy, only the obsession is of a different kind. Unlike Benjy, who yearns for his sister to return to him, and Quentin, who desperately wishes to save Caddy from her moral and sexual downfall, Jason blames Caddy for all of his and his family’s misfortunes, carrying his bitterness over the past around with him in the present. In his eyes, Caddy’s sexual and moral discrepancies in the past lost him a position at Herbert Head’s bank, leaving him without ambition for the future, and without anything but resentment for his past and those who were a part of it. More than this, Quentin seems unable to stop himself from seeing incarnations of the past in the present. This is particularly evident as Caddy’s daughter, Miss Quentin, becomes a target for Jason’s cruelty as she appears to embody the same sexuality as her mother, leading Jason to associate her with his past. Gene D. Phillips highlights the redirection of his wrath from Caddy to her daughter as he states that “In the intervening years Jason has cruelly transferred his contempt and hostility for his sister to the motherless and fatherless girl Caddy abandoned”. Even as he tries to leave the past behind, he attempts to control his sister’s sexuality by controlling the product of Caddy’s illegitimate affair.
Given the importance of the past to the central characters, it is certainly tempting to argue that the past in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is anything but dead. However, it could alternatively be deemed that the past is dead, and what lives on is the family’s psychological inability to accept this fact. Michael Cotsell supports this notion as he argues that “In Faulkner’s contemporary novels, there is the repeated sense of the persistence of the past and yet it’s actual irrelevance”. Indeed, this is particularly evident in Quentin’s narrative. As previously suggested, Quentin certainly appears to be trapped by his past, allowing it to consume his present. However, it could be also be argued that he is in actuality a character who actively fights to keep the past alive, only to ultimately suffer an inevitable defeat. This defeat is symbolized by his attempt at destroying his watch. He tears the hands from the clock face in an ultimately futile bid to enter a state of timelessness, only to find himself constantly haunted by the phantom sound of time ticking away. This signifies the unhindered forward flow of time, as it moves on to leave the past in the past, and epitomizes the helplessness of any man attempting to keep the past alive. This supports Cotsell’s idea of the past being ultimately irrelevant, as no matter how far Quentin sinks into the memories of his past, he will never be able to go back. His attempts at stopping time are perhaps as futile as he and Benjy’s insistence on desperately clinging to the past, as the past is reduced simply to a shadow cast over the present. His suicide is his final attempt to quell the passage of time, as only by removing himself from reality can he stifle the ticking of the clock, both literally and figuratively. His declaration that he cannot live in both “Massachusetts and Mississippi” (147) signifies the realisation that, if he wishes to keep himself from losing his hold on the past, his only option is to die. His decision to take his own life is an action which, ironically, solidifies his position as a part of the past as he removes himself from both the present and the future.
Caddy may be the heart of the story, but it is important to note that she is the only main character who is not given a chance to narrate. If Caddy stands as an embodiment of the past, then the implication of this is that the past actually is dead in any physical or self-sustaining way. Her memory is kept alive through the memories and narratives of her three brothers. The view of Caddy varies greatly between the narrative sections, as we see her through the different lenses of each of her brother’s streams of consciousness. The Caddy as portrayed by Benjy is an idealized image and the subject of his longing, which stands in stark contrast to the antagonistic Caddy described by Jason. Indeed, we never see an entirely unbiased view of Caddy, or of the Compson family past in general. This appears to contradict Sartre’s notion of the present being “helpless” before the past as the past is manipulated and reworked based on the attitude of the present narrator. In this sense, Caddy represents the death of the past as her memory is kept alive only in the minds of her brothers. In addition to existing as a symbol of the Compson family’s past, the character of Caddy holds a wider significance as she can also be seen to represent the decline of the American South. Her non-marital loss of virginity is symbolic of the corruption of Southern values, and her failure to reconcile with her family suggests that these outdated Southern values have no place in a modern world. Perhaps for Faulkner, the past of the American South is as dead as the glorious past of the Compson family.
Faulkner’s use of an omniscient and impartial narrator in the final section effectively removes the reader from the Compson boys’ streams of consciousness and reinstates the existence of chronological time. This is emphasized through the character of Dilsey, who acts as a sort of anchor with regards to time, and on whom the final section is largely centered. Terrell L. Tebbetts argues that “Dilsey knows what time it is. How different she is from Quentin and his lamented conviction that, since no clocks can tell time correctly, there is no time”. Indeed, the action of telling time and the appearance of clocks and watches appears as a common motif in the narrations of Quentin and Dilsey, but it appears in two very different ways. As mentioned previously, Quentin appears to battle against the time shown by the clock, constantly trying to intervene or escape from its relentless passing. In contrast, Dilsey is the only character who measures time using its physical, chronological timeline. The omniscient narrator draws attention to the clock in the kitchen, and notes the fact that when the clock strikes, Dilsey is unquestioningly aware that it is 8 o’clock. She readily accepts this to be true, without attempting to fight against time itself. It is not only the passing of time which Dilsey can see clearly, but also the passing of the Compson family’s own history. She is not blinded by her longing to course correct, her insistence to deny their history or an inability to recognize the division between past and present, and this allows her to function as a mediator between external time and the internal time of the family she has been with since long before the novels point of narration begins. She recognizes chronology, and understands that the Compson family name is fading further into a time gone by. This is evident as she is seen to remark “I’ve seed de first en de last…I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin” (253). Her distinction between the beginning and the ending of these events delineates her ability to separate the past, the present and the future, and to accept the temporality of all things. Just like Caddy, and then Quentin, the remaining family members will inevitably fade into the past also.
Perhaps then, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury portrays the past as being both dead and alive simultaneously by splitting the passing of time into two different types. Firstly, there is the external passing of time, encompassing the physical reality around us and its chronological order. In this timeline, the past is the past. Time flows forward constantly, never stopping to allow the past to catch up regardless of attempts at human intervention. On the other hand, there is the internal passing of time, which exists within the minds and thoughts of individual characters. This timeline is entirely different to the former, with the past and the present becoming less clearly defined. Stephanie K. Evers underlines the distinction between the internal and external passing of time within Benjy’s narrative as she argues that “Certainly, natural time passes; that is, Benjy ages and the world around him changes. However, Benjy does not recognize the divisions of this time”. Benjy, in many ways, achieves that inner timelessness sought so desperately by Quentin. Quentin is unable to forget the passing of time while Benjy is unable to recognize it to begin with as a consequence of his mental disability. Therefore, it is through his state of mind that Benjy appears to ‘defeat’ time in a way that Quentin, who is of a sounder mental state, could not. This emphasizes the importance of internal time, and the way in which it flows differently for each individual person without any reliance on external time. The natural time to which Evers refers passes the same for all of the narrators, it is the way they experience this time psychologically which varies. Indeed, Evers underpins a separation between physical time and psychological time as notes that, in the final section of the novel, “the narrative moves forwards chronologically. The chief reason it can do this is because, unlike Benjy, Quentin and Jason, the final narrative includes no one’s memories or feelings”. In other words, without the interplay of internal time in the novel’s final section, Faulkner manages to juxtapose a panoramic and impartial view of time passing and the Compson family history against the intricate pattern of past and present put forward in the first three sections. Mr Compson emphasizes the importance of internal time over external time as he tells Quentin “you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s” (63). In other words, time can be measured in more ways than via the clock, as internal time is tailored to the individual, passing differently from person to person.
In conclusion, the past in The Sound and the Fury appears to be both dead and alive, as time itself seems to pass in two separate but coexisting ways. The external, physical time of the real world passes chronologically, leaving past events behind to make way for the present. This external time is central to the final section of the novel, as the omniscient narrator is unaffected by his own sense of time, allowing us to see an impartial view of the physical passing of time in relation to the Compson family and their history. However, the stream of conscious narrative style emphasizes the passing of internal time over external time as the three Compson boys narrate from their own deeply skewed perceptions of how the past relates to the present. Faulkner successfully epitomizes the subjective nature of this internal time, as each brother gives us an entirely different portrayal of the same timeline.
Conn, Peter. “William Faulkner map of Yoknapatawpha County”. In Literature in America: An Illustrated History, by Peter Conn, 430 – 435. New York: CUP Archive, 1989.
Cotsell, Michael. William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. Penrith: Humanities-Ebooks, 2008. Accessed December 2, 2015. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oGg1YVA4LOAC&pg.
Evers, Stephanie K. ““Trying to Say”. Narrative Aesthetic and Patriarchal Language in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.” M.A Thesis, University of South Alabama, 2009.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. London: Random House, 2013. McHaney, Thomas L. The Sound and the Fury. Farmington Hills: Gale Group, 2000.
Morley, Catherine. Modern American Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
Phillips, Gene D. Fiction, Film and Faulkner: The Art of Adaptation. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2001.
Roberts, James L. CliffsNotes on Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Lincoln: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. “On The Sound and the Fury. Time in the Work of Faulkner”. In Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Penn Warren, 87 – 95. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1966.
Tebbetts, Terrell L. “Postmodern Criticism.” In A Companion to Faulkner Studies, edited by Charles A. Peek and Robert W. Hamblin, 125 – 163. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
 William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury (London: Random House, 2013). Subsequent references in parenthesis are to this edition.  Jean-Paul Sartre, “On The Sound and the Fury. Time in the Work of Faulkner”, in Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robert Penn Warren (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1966), 89.  Sartre, “On The Sound and the Fury”, 89.  Sartre, “On The Sound and the Fury”, 89.  Sartre, “On The Sound and the Fury”, 89.  Sartre, “On The Sound and the Fury”, 89.  Sartre, “On The Sound and the Fury”, 89.  Catherine Morley, Modern American Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 130.  Morley, Modern American Literature, 81.  Peter Conn, “William Faulkner map of Yoknapatawpha County”, in Literature in America: An Illustrated History, by Peter Conn (New York: CUP Archive, 1989), 431.  James L. Roberts, CliffsNotes on Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (Lincoln: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999), 36.  Thomas L McHaney, The Sound and the Fury (Farmington Hills: Gale Group, 2000), 5.  Gene D. Phillips, Fiction, Film and Faulkner: The Art of Adaptation (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2001), 153.  Michael Cotsell, William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury (Penrith: Humanities-Ebooks, 2008), accessed December 2, 2015, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oGg1YVA4LOAC&pg.  Sartre, “On The Sound and the Fury”, 89.  Terrell L. Tebbetts, “Postmodern Criticism,” in A Companion to Faulkner Studies, eds. Charles A. Peek and Robert W. Hamblin (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004), 136.  Stephanie K. Evers, ““Trying to Say”. Narrative Aesthetic and Patriarchal Language in Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury” (M.A Thesis, University of South Alabama, 2009) 86.  Evers, “Trying to Say”, 86.