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The Sound and the Fury | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In The Sound and the Fury (June Second, 1910), why does Quentin's father, Jason Compson III, tell him, "I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire"?

Jason Compson III's comment is in reference to time as he gives Quentin a watch. At the beginning of the section Quentin narrates, its ticking is the first sound he hears when he wakes up in the morning. Quentin is obsessed with the passing of time and burdened by the Old South's history. But for Quentin's father, time is an unstoppable force, and it is folly to try to overcome it. Any chance of accomplishing one's "hope or desire" is inevitably lost in the rush toward mortality that time, which he refers to as a mausoleum (or tomb), represents. It is too late for Quentin to save Caddy's honor no matter how much he desires to do so. She has moved forward as a woman and cannot go back to the "pure" girl she was before. In his frustration, Quentin breaks the watch his father gave him, promptly cutting his finger on its broken face. This is yet another reminder of the Compson family's demise, and also that no matter how hard Quentin tries, time has more power over him than he can ever have over time, and it will always wound him.

In The Sound and the Fury (June Second, 1910), what is the significance of Quentin's watch to him?

As a gift from his father, Jason Compson III, and handed down from his grandfather, Quentin's watch is a constant reminder to him of his family's once proud heritage, now decayed. The watch and its constant ticking also remind Quentin that he cannot stop time. Despite his father's words upon giving the gift—"I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment"—Quentin is obsessed with time and the watch. When he tries to break the watch, however, it keeps ticking. Quentin cannot escape its sound, which reminds him of his family's doom. The slow marching forward of time will consume them as it consumes everything. Quentin can no longer see the time on the watch, however, because he broke the watch's hands. This signifies his attempt to break from the world of time. It is followed by his suicide later that day, the ultimate escape from time through death. This is why, as he runs errands in preparation for his death, he deliberately avoids knowing the exact time.

How do the Gibson men compare and contrast to the Compson men in The Sound and the Fury?

The Compson men are all broken, in one way or another. Jason Compson III is an alcoholic. Quentin is crushed by his obsessive regard for the old codes of chivalry and honor and his unhealthy attachment to his sister, Caddy. Jason is a sadist who despises others, and Benjy is mentally challenged and cannot speak. All of them are social outsiders who have trouble fitting into the world in some way. Their family relationships are deeply dysfunctional. In contrast, the Gibson men are fully able to function in their world, and their family relationships are healthy ones. Roskus is perceptive in a way the Compson men are not. He is able to recognize how dysfunctional the Compsons are and expresses his distaste for the way they exile Caddy from the family. Versh and T.P. have a strong, loving mother in Dilsey, who also takes care of her grandson, Luster. Roskus, Versh, and T.P. all perform their duties for the Compson family without getting swallowed up or defined by the Compsons' dysfunction.

Why do some of the characters in The Sound and the Fury have identical names?

The Sound and the Fury has two Maurys, two Quentins, and two Jasons. William Faulkner creates confusion with names to demonstrate that language has little or no meaning. For example, the name Quentin alone does not tell readers what they need to know in order to understand which Quentin the name refers to or what the correct time period is. The family's history swirls in readers' minds as it does in the minds of the characters. Readers need more information to make the correct identification: is it Caddy's brother or her daughter, who is named for him? Is it the past or the present? The doubling of names also demonstrates both how members of the family are too close emotionally and, at the same time, too distant from one another. Just as the names are handed down from generation to generation in the Compson family, so is the family's dysfunction, which affects them all. Therefore, the repetition of the names is a reminder that the Compsons are cursed by their family history. Just because characters share the same name does not mean they are interchangeable, however, and the doubling of names sometimes draws attention to the differences between them. Jason is named after his father, but the son's cruelty is far from his father's gentleness. The repetition of Quentin's name is a poignant reminder of his loss to suicide, but also of the emotionally incestuous bond he felt with his sister, Caddy, the mother of his namesake and niece, Miss Quentin. He kills himself because he can't disentangle himself from his family history, but his niece escapes from the family by stealing Jason's money and running away.

In Quentin's narrative in The Sound and the Fury (June Second, 1910), how are his several thoughts about gulls and a trout related?

Quentin notices a gull when he first reaches the river on the morning of his suicide. "I could smell water, and in a break in the wall I saw a glint of water and two masts, and a gull motionless in midair, like on an invisible wire between the masts." A short time later, when watching a ship go through a drawbridge, he sees "three gulls hovering above the stern like toys on invisible wires." What is significant about these images is the feeling of time being suspended. The birds are not moving in flight; they seem to defeat time by hovering in midair. This is exactly what Quentin wishes he could do. Later that day, during his second trip to the river, Quentin watches a trout in the water: "The trout hung, delicate and motionless among the wavering shadows." Again, he is drawn to the feeling of time being suspended. The addition of the shadow to this image reveals how much closer Quentin is to death. When he, too, is in the water, he will be motionless; time will finally stop for him. Of course, in reality, the trout, like the gulls, is not going to remain motionless. The gulls are flying and the trout will swim on in the flux of time, famous for not getting caught.

Whenever Quentin smells honeysuckle in The Sound and the Fury, what does it represent for him?

Quentin associates the smell of honeysuckle with Caddy's sexuality and promiscuity. He is nearly overwhelmed by the sickeningly sweet smell of honeysuckle when Caddy first loses her virginity to Dalton Ames. On that night, the plant is in full bloom, and the scent permeates the air. Quentin's torment over his sister's "dishonor" heightens his senses, indelibly marking the honeysuckle smell on his memory. Thoughts of honeysuckle, or catching the scent of it, inevitably bring Caddy to mind, even in the Boston area where honeysuckle does not often grow: "There were vines and creepers where at home would be honeysuckle." So caught up is Quentin in the overwhelming sensations he associates with Caddy's sexuality and what he perceives as her dishonor that suicide becomes his only escape.

Why is Caddy's virginity so important to Quentin in The Sound and the Fury (June Second, 1910)?

Although on the surface, Caddy's virginity represents the family honor for Quentin, it has a deeper meaning for him. Quentin desperately wants to believe that there is something pure in a world that he sees as mostly spoiled. He wants for things to be simpler, for the world to be black and white like the old-fashioned Southern code of chivalry he unsuccessfully tries to impose on the modern world. His father, who believes life is meaningless and pointless, dismisses Quentin's desire for purity as meaningless and pointless as well. He tells Quentin his obsession with purity is founded on nonsense: "men invented virginity not women ... it's like death." He goes on to make fun of Quentin for wishing he could trade his virgin status for Caddy's loss of virginity ("nothing is even worth the changing of it"). In doing so, his father contributes to Quentin's feeling that he no longer wants to remain in a world where there is nothing worth defending.

In The Sound and the Fury (June Second, 1910), how do Quentin's interactions with Deacon illustrate situational irony?

Deacon knows how to act the way members of the Old South expected an African American to act. He wears "a sort of Uncle Tom's cabin outfit" and speaks deferentially with "Yes, suh," addressing Quentin as "young marster," while referring to himself as "de old nigger." As a result, Quentin feels comfortable with him. Quentin desperately wants to return to those pre–Civil War days when Southern gentlemen felt safe and in charge, smug because of their supposed protection of women and slaves. Quentin is comfortable with Deacon because Deacon's words and actions remind Quentin of his idealized version of the South, another demonstration of Quentin's desire to escape time by remaining in an era that has ceased to exist. In contrast, Quentin is very uncomfortable when African Americans treat him like anybody else, making him and his Southern "gloried past" invisible. Situational irony refers to any circumstance in which the expectation does not match the actual outcome. The situational irony that exists in this case is that Deacon is practicing a charade. He is completely independent, a modern thinker who is far from a plantation slave, but he has figured out how to capitalize on the foolishness of the Southerners who need him to represent an idealized version of their past.

What is the relationship between Dilsey and Caroline Compson in The Sound and the Fury?

Even though Jason is the male head of the household, in reality, his mother, Caroline, literally "holds the keys" to the estate. Underneath her posturing as a weak invalid, Caroline is, above all, a self-serving, image-conscious woman. She, not Jason, is the boss of Dilsey, and Dilsey knows to do whatever she asks. In this way, their relationship echoes a slave–mistress relationship as Caroline still acts as Dilsey's mistress, even in a post-slavery world, and binds herself to a dying past. But, their relationship has a twist. That Caroline views Dilsey as nothing more than a servant is clear. She cannot see the maternal role Dilsey plays in the Compson household that she herself can never take on. She cannot acknowledge that Dilsey is actually the glue that holds the Compson family together. Dilsey's real value as a human is dismissed in favor of the services she provides and Caroline pays for.

In The Sound and the Fury, how is it possible to view Quentin either as a victim of his circumstances or as a weak and pathetic character?

The two divergent views of Quentin can both be justified by the text. When seen as a victim of his circumstances, Quentin can be viewed as overly influenced by his father and his pessimistic point of view. As he comes to accept his father's point of view, Quentin is doomed to a sense of the meaninglessness of life. When this feeling is combined with his regret over the lost glory of the family, his overinflated sense of duty to preserve the family's honor, and his tragic love for Caddy, Quentin's fate seems inevitable. If readers view Quentin as a weak and pathetic character, on the other hand, they may focus on his multiple failures to affect change. Instead of obsessing over Caddy's promiscuity, making men care about their actions, or getting his mother to love him, why doesn't Quentin focus on his own future? He is the one who gets to leave the South behind and go to Harvard for an education that will practically guarantee a successful life. He is the one in whom his family has invested any hope they have for their own futures. Yet instead of taking advantage of these possibilities, he remains trapped in the past and in the situations he cannot change.

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