The Sound and the Fury | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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The Sound and the Fury | Appendix | Summary

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Summary

Written by William Faulkner in 1945, 16 years after The Sound and the Fury was initially published, the Appendix first appeared with the novel in the 1946 Modern Library edition, at the front of the book. Critic Philip Cohen called it "a superb extended genealogy" of the Compsons that is also relevant to other works by the author. It traces the fictional family from 1699 to 1945, revealing what happens to Benjy, Caddy, and other characters.

The first two entries in the Appendix give information about the Mississippi land that eventually becomes the Compsons' property. A Chickasaw chief named Ikkemotubbe signed over one square mile of land in northern Mississippi, in return for peaceful passage for his people along the Trail of Tears. The Compsons' ancestors gradually added to the land to form the Compson Domain, a big plantation "fit to breed princes, statesmen and generals and bishops, to avenge the dispossessed Compsons."

The Appendix reveals a family that has been troubled from the beginning, perpetually on the losing side of history. One Compson after another is on the run from poor political alliances or the law. However, a Confederate brigadier general in the Civil War, Jason Lycurgus Compson II, is the first who must mortgage the family property and sell it off bit by bit, accelerating the process of the Compsons' ultimate decay and disintegration on display in the novel.

The Appendix also includes characters alive during the novel. Jason Compson III is revealed as an alcoholic. By the time he dies, all that is left of the Compson property is a "fragment containing the house and the kitchen garden and the collapsing stables and one servant's cabin in which Dilsey's family lived." The sections that follow also provide some insightful details and facts about the four Compson children and Miss Quentin, which do not appear in the rest of the novel. Some examples:

  • Quentin: He "loved death above all" and waited to commit suicide at the end of his term to "get the full value of his paid-in-advance tuition" because the money came from the sale of land that was one of the only things Benjy loved.
  • Caddy: In 1920, Caddy marries a minor movie tycoon, but divorces him in 1925. She remains beautiful and apparently wealthy. The final news about her comes from a Jefferson librarian who spotted a picture of her former classmate seated beside a German staff general in 1943. She desperately wanted to rescue Caddy but can't get Jason, or even Dilsey, interested in the idea. She realizes Caddy may not want to be saved.
  • Jason: When his mother dies in 1933, Jason feels he no longer has to fear Dilsey or continue shouldering his family's obligations. He wastes no time in sending Benjy off to the mental hospital in Jackson and dismissing Dilsey and all the other Gibsons from their jobs. He sells the house and develops his own business as a cotton dealer. He lives above the general store, and Lorraine visits him often.
  • Benjy: Jason sends his brother to the state asylum in 1933. Benjy loved three things: Caddy, the pasture sold to pay for Quentin's tuition, and firelight. The Appendix notes that he cannot remember what he has lost, but only loss itself.
  • Miss Quentin: The man in the red tie with whom she ran off, along with Jason's money, was already a convicted bigamist, or married to two different women, when he met her. Like her mother, she disappears into history, but without the wealth or luxurious lifestyle her mother experiences. Like the other Compsons, Miss Quentin seems doomed.

The Appendix ends with entries about Dilsey's family—"not Compsons. They were black." T.P. moved to Memphis. Frony married a Pullman porter and moved to St. Louis, but she came back to Memphis so Dilsey would live with her in her old age. Faulkner has a lighthearted perspective on Luster, whom he says was able to keep Benjy entertained. As for Dilsey? Faulkner writes only, "They endured."

Analysis

Despite the fact that William Faulkner himself referred to the Appendix as the "key to the whole book," critics are divided about the addition to the novel in 1946. Scholars have meticulously analyzed every word, pointing out many discrepancies between what is stated in the Appendix and the actual plot of the novel. Those who think the Appendix detracts from the narrative and should not be included point out that it was originally the brainchild of the editor of the Portable Faulkner, Malcolm Cowley, who simply wanted an explanatory introduction to the excerpt from the novel that he planned to include. It shouldn't be considered any more than that. Debate has also centered on whether the Appendix should appear before or after the text of the novel. Regardless of these other issues, one thing most critics agree upon is the significance of the final line of the Appendix. About Dilsey, the force holding the Compson household together, Faulkner could say only, "They endured." Indeed, Dilsey endured it all, and those few words are a tribute to her strength.

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