The Sound and the Fury | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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The Sound and the Fury | April Sixth, 1928 | Summary

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Summary

The third section of the novel is narrated by Jason, the middle Compson son, and follows him during the course of a day. Jason still lives in the home in which he was raised, and works at the general store in town. His anger and bitterness at being left to provide for his mother, Caddy's illegitimate daughter, Miss Quentin, and his mentally disabled younger brother Benjy is clear from the opening words of his narrative: "Once a bitch, always a bitch." He dwells repeatedly on the raw deal he believes he has been given in life; his stream of foul language, bigotry, and negativity accompanies him wherever he goes.

April 6th seems to be a typical weekday morning at the Compson house. Jason is impatient and angry, and his mother is whining. He and his mother discuss Miss Quentin's recent truancy from school. She appears to be promiscuous, as well. Jason manages to insult most of the family while his mother laments her misfortune at having so many problem children, with the exception of Jason, "the only one of them that isn't a reproach to me."

Jason and Miss Quentin's animosity is obvious, and her temper is a match for his. Despite warnings from his mother and Dilsey not to lose his temper with or touch the girl, Jason does both. A true bully, he threatens to beat Miss Quentin with his belt. Dilsey grabs his arm to try to stop him, but he pushes her away, causing her to stumble. She then tells him to hit her instead of Quentin. He backs down only when his mother, Caroline, comes downstairs to see what is happening.

Jason drives Miss Quentin to school on his way to work. They argue about money. Jason claims he pays for everything for her; Miss Quentin counters that her mother actually does. Caddy sends money each month to cover her daughter's expenses. As Jason threatens her again with physical abuse, Miss Quentin loses her spirit and seems ready to cry. She tells him, "I don't see why I was ever born ... I'm bad and I'm going to hell, and I don't care. I'd rather be in hell than anywhere where you are."

At work, Jason opens Caddy's monthly letter with the check for Miss Quentin. Her note makes it obvious that Jason has failed to deliver personal notes she has written to her daughter. Jason is responsible for this because he intercepts any letters containing money Caddy has sent her in order to keep it for himself. Jason then visits the telegraph office to check on the speculations (risky investments) he has made in the stock market. Much of Jason's time is spent hiding his activities from other people. He sends a wire to Caddy, claiming falsely that everything is fine and Quentin will write her a letter that day. He returns to the store and reads a second letter, this one from a prostitute in Memphis, Lorraine, to whom he sends money secretly. He then burns Lorraine's letter.

Memories of the day Miss Quentin came to the Compson home as a baby mingle in Jason's mind with the day of his father's funeral. He has a third letter in hand, from his Uncle Maury, but he prefers not to open it. His loathing for Uncle Maury, who always has sponged off the Compson family, is clear. However, Jason is eager to open an unidentified fourth letter, which is likely from Caddy to her daughter, Quentin.

Jason recalls what could be his most reprehensible action ever. In 1912, Caddy, who has been excommunicated from the family at the decree of their mother, learns of their father's death by chance from a newspaper. She comes to the funeral secretly, but Jason sees her later at the cemetery. She begs him to let her see Miss Quentin, who is a baby now living with the Compson family, for "just ... a minute." Jason agrees, but only if she pays him $100 first. She doesn't trust him, but she hands over the money. Then, instead of giving Caddy any real time with her daughter, he drives past Caddy in a carriage, holding up Quentin so she can see her baby literally for one minute, but denies her any other contact.

Furious, Caddy shows up at the store the next day to confront Jason. Again he threatens her, but when he gets home he finds out that Caddy has been there, visiting Miss Quentin and Benjy with Dilsey's help. Infuriated, Jason threatens that if Caddy ever comes back or stops sending money for Miss Quentin's care, he will fire Dilsey, send Benjy to the mental hospital in Jackson, and let their mother take Miss Quentin away to an undisclosed destination. Caddy is forced to agree, begging Jason to keep his promise to take care of Miss Quentin.

With the words "And so when Earl came up front ... " Jason returns to the present. Jason finally opens the mysterious fourth letter. It is indeed from Caddy to Miss Quentin, and includes a $50 money order payable to her. Miss Quentin knows that the money is coming, and she suddenly arrives in Jason's office to ask if the letter has arrived. Jason is evasive, then domineering, and makes her beg for the money. He gives her the letter but will not show her the front of the money order, forcing her to endorse it without looking at it. Jason tells her it is for $10, obviously far less than Quentin was expecting. He secretly keeps the remaining $40 for himself. She leaves angrily. Jason visits an abandoned building where bank supplies were stored after a bank went out of business and obtains blank checks so he can create a fake check, which he seals along with Caddy's letter in the original envelope.

Jason visits his mother in her room and delivers the fake check to her. Jason encourages his mother as she performs what appears to be a monthly ritual. She burns Caddy's check, written for $200. Little does she know it is a fake. She is doing it as a symbol of her total rejection of her daughter: "We Bascombs need nobody's charity. Certainly not that of a fallen woman." His mother believes that the checks Jason deposits monthly into the bank account (over which he has power of attorney) are his paychecks. In fact, they are Caddy's checks. Caddy, then, is actually supporting the family.

Jason is using his own pay to play the stock market, to send money to Lorraine, and for whatever else he wants—all while smugly taking credit for being such a good son and provider. But Jason's elaborate schemes don't end there. His mother also believes the $1,000 she gave him has been invested in Earl's store. Instead, Jason has used it to buy a car. Jason's mother tells him how sorry she is he hasn't had "the chance the others had." She recalls that Caddy's husband promised Jason a job in a bank but did not deliver. Jason suggests that Benjy should go to the state mental asylum in Jackson.

Jason opens the letter from Uncle Maury, which states that he has taken money out of Caroline's account, something that seems to happen fairly often. He asks his nephew to keep the transaction to himself. Jason does not approve, of course, but does not argue too much about it. He gets his mother's bankbook and goes to the bank, where he deposits Caddy's real check and cashes the money order that Quentin has endorsed.

When he stops at the telegraph office before returning to work, he is furious to find that the price of cotton has dropped 13 points. When Earl questions why he was gone so long, Jason lies that he had to go to the dentist. Earl is suspicious that Jason is stealing money from his mother and tries unsuccessfully to use that knowledge as a threat to keep Jason in line.

Jason spies Miss Quentin—who should be in school—with a man in a red tie, who Jason realizes is from the traveling show. As he is trying to see where they go, a messenger from the telegraph office brings him more bad news about the decline in his stocks. Acting as if it is a family emergency, Jason tells Earl he must go home. Jason returns to the Compson house, mostly to put the cash in his money box, locked in his room, before setting out to find Miss Quentin.

As he drives, he is nearly hit by the speeding car containing his niece and the man in the red tie. They trick him into following them into the countryside on foot, and then take the air out of his tires and drive off. Infuriated, he goes to a gas station to put air in his tires and goes back to town. He stops again at the telegraph office and discovers that the stock market has plunged even further while he was hunting down Miss Quentin. The stock market is now closed; he is too late and has lost money he can't get back. He returns to the store where he dares Earl to fire him.

Jason returns home. Miss Quentin and Mother argue as Dilsey tries to intervene. Luster is longing to go to the show to hear a band play and asks Jason for a quarter. Instead, Jason displays two tickets Earl gave him and tells Luster he can buy them for a nickel a piece. Luster has no money of course, and Jason cruelly burns the tickets right in front of him. Dilsey is disgusted by this and demands that Jason leave the kitchen.

At supper, Jason tells a twisted, passive-aggressive story about the car chase he had with Miss Quentin—without identifying her, of course. Her response is to crumble, saying, "I wish we were all dead," before running upstairs. Caroline and Jason discuss family history, including Caddy and Quentin's extreme closeness and the sale of the Compsons' furniture and lands to send Quentin to Harvard and to cover later debts. Caroline heads up to bed, locking Miss Quentin in her room on the way. Before he goes to bed, Jason counts the money in his money box and thinks about his brother, Benjy, and Benjy's castration years before.

Analysis

Jason's section describes events that happen the day before Benjy's narration in the first part of the novel, April Seventh, 1928. The man with the red tie that Benjy encounters on the swing with Miss Quentin is the same man Jason spots on the previous day riding with her. Luster's search for the quarter during Benjy's narration is for the same coin his grandmother promises him she will get from Frony the night before, following Jason's torture of the boy by burning show tickets in front of him. These tight connections help showcase William Faulkner's brilliant job of interweaving the narratives so that events in each section relate to one another.

Benjy and Quentin are obsessed with Caddy, but Jason is obsessed with money. Many of his thoughts and actions are focused on acquiring it, keeping it from others, and justifying his deceptive schemes for doing so. Even what Jason seems to do for fun involves money—making risky investments in the stock market. Yet part of that whole game is a desire to control it, which Jason cannot do, and he becomes infuriated when the market shifts without his knowledge as he runs around town taking care of family business.

The extent of the family's pain, suffering, and entrapment with each other comes into sharper focus as Jason details a day in his life. Unlike Benjy's and Quentin's sections, this one takes place largely in the present and in chronological order, with only occasional detours into memories from the past. In this regard, Jason seems to have a more down-to-earth relationship to time than his brothers. However, Jason is fixated on getting his hands on as much money as possible. He spends his day focusing fiercely on the present as he maintains his many, often illegal, financial schemes. Through this feverish stockpiling of wealth, Jason is actually trying to build toward the future.

Jason's love of money is part of his desire for control and power. His overwhelming need to control money is revealed by his various and complex financial schemes. Each scheme involves lying, power over others, and personal gain through control of their money. For example, demanding money from his sister, Caddy, to let her see her own daughter gives him power over her. Being the person to whom Caddy sends money for Miss Quentin's support gives him total control over both Caddy and her daughter.

This ability to dominate others is Jason's way of proving to himself that he is superior because he is smarter than anyone else. Jason believes he is clever, but the only person he really fools is his mother, Caroline. Caddy, Miss Quentin, Earl, Job, and the sheriff all know he is swindling his own family—and doing it with defiant smugness, while fooling himself that no one will catch on. As Job puts it, "You fools a man whut so smart he cant even keep up wid hisself. ... Dat's Mr Jason Compson."

When Jason isn't feeling powerful enough, he resorts to bullying. Like all bullies, his tactics include both verbal and physical attacks. In the workplace and around town, where physical violence will not be tolerated, Jason expresses his brutality verbally. He criticizes and demeans everyone in his path—customers, fellow workers, and other townspeople. His verbal violence is constant at home as well. He regularly makes his mother cry. He yells at Luster for being lazy and for having Benjy "where people can see him." His speaks harshly to Miss Quentin, and he delights in reminding Caddy that she is exiled from the family: "We don't even know your name at that house."

Jason also repeatedly threatens others with physical violence, especially women in the Compson home, believing it is necessary to control them. Dilsey, now an old woman, boldly stands up to him when he threatens to beat Miss Quentin, even after he shoves Dilsey away. She clearly sees his loathsome need to resort to violence to feel like the man in charge and suggests he hit her instead of Miss Quentin "ef nothing else but hittin somebody wont do you."

Jason is more than a power-hungry control freak. He is a true sadist, someone who gains pleasure from other's pain. Jason's has no regrets about hurting people's feelings. In fact, that is his goal. Dilsey refuses to play into his hands; she never lets him wound her emotionally or physically, seeing him clearly as a "cold man ... if man you is."

Jason is chronically disappointed about his life and feels trapped by taking care of his dysfunctional family. He, of course, is deeply dysfunctional himself. He feels as castrated, or powerless, as Benjy on some level, which is why the chapter ends with Jason imagining his brother's castration. Like most bullies, he is fixated on increasing and maintaining his own power. He constantly scopes the world around him for threats to his sense of dominance and control because he can never feel powerful enough. Because Jason feels cheated and wounded by life, he cheats and wounds everyone else.

Unsurprisingly, Jason's interior monologue is a stream of grievances and frustrations. It is no coincidence that he makes so many comments that are racist and misogynistic. Like many of Jason's observations, they are as much defensive as they are offensive. His inability to extricate himself from his situation and his sense of powerlessness contributes to his toxic hatred of others, especially those whose social status in the South is lower and more vulnerable than his own. When he gives Lorraine, a prostitute, $40, he smugly links the act to power and control, not to mention his raging sexism: "I never promise a woman anything nor let her know what I'm going to give her. That's the only way to manage them."

Jason's relationship with his mother is also telling. Caroline Compson's personality is revealed, not through description but through the conversations she has with Jason. After all, this is a woman who is so self-absorbed that nearly every word she speaks is about herself. She is pathetic in her need to be seen as a long-suffering victim. She claims she does everything for her children, including sacrificing to make things "as easy for you as I can." Yet she never does anything except lounge around claiming illness, cry out of self-pity, and worry about her social status. Dilsey treats her like a child, and Jason works her like a puppet on a string.

Jason's sarcastic comments are plentiful in his narration, but the most prominent irony is situational. What his mother believes about him differs considerably from the harsh reality of who her son really is. Caroline heaps praise on Jason, regularly identifying him as her favorite child. She trusts him implicitly, yet he is lying and stealing from her. She proudly identifies him as a Bascomb, like her, yet Jason despises his mother's brother, Uncle Maury. He certainly doesn't want to be like either one of them. His mother constantly refers to herself as "just a burden," and Jason does not disagree. In fact, he tells her so to her face. He views his mother as little more than an easily manipulated pawn in his money schemes.

Jason's section draws to a close the same way it began, confirming that he will never change. He repeats the dismissive words that opened the section—"Like I say once a bitch always a bitch." But Jason himself is going nowhere, decaying and disintegrating into nothingness like the rest of the Compsons.

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