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The Sound and the Fury | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In what ways does Jason's attitude toward time in The Sound and the Fury (April Sixth, 1928) differentiate or not differentiate him from the other Compsons?

Jason's attitude toward time differentiates him from the rest of his family in some important respects. Rather than being haunted by memories of the Old South like most of the other Compsons, Jason is happy to focus on the future. He does not long for the Old South in a sentimental way as his brother, Quentin, did. Instead, he looks for any chance he can to line his pockets with the money of the new South, even if that means selling every bit of the Compson land. Jason has a car he is very proud of, and his daily visits to the telegraph office to check the stock market keep him in touch with New York City, far from the South. In contrast, his mother still rides around in a carriage drawn by horses and driven by an African American servant. She has little contact with the world outside her immediate family, preferring to wallow in the past rather than move forward. Jason's desire to accumulate wealth means he always has his eye on the future, not the past. Despite this, Jason is as afflicted by the Compsons' past and the family's decline. Disappointed, thwarted, and enraged, he must take a job he despises, and care for his mother and his niece, Miss Quentin, effectively denying him any ability to define a future of his own. Jason turns to embezzlement to stockpile money he steals from his mother and sister, only to see this attempt at providing a future for himself vanish when Miss Quentin robs him.

For what purpose is the fourth section of The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928) narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator?

The first three sections of the book are each narrated in the first person by either Benjy, Quentin, or Jason. The first-person narration highlights how each of the Compson brothers, none of whom can escape their family's doom or shake off the past, is essentially trapped in his own mind. The fourth section of the book, however, is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator who can see into the minds of all the characters. Part of the fourth section is devoted to the narrator's description of Dilsey, her visit to church, and her life with the Compsons. She is not trapped in her own mind: stable and loving, she reaches out and acts as a caretaker for others. Her behavior provides an alternative model for the Compson brothers, particularly the obsessive self-focus of Quentin and Jason. The rest of the novel's fourth section follows Jason's unsuccessful pursuit of his niece, who has run off with his stash of money, and emphasizes the futility and despair of the crumbling Compson family. Having a third-person omniscient narrator allows readers to pull back and see a broader human spectrum that encompasses both the tragedy (represented by the Compsons) and the hope (represented by Dilsey).

How is Jason's bigotry made clear in The Sound and the Fury (April Sixth, 1928), and what does it reveal about him?

Jason's thoughts and spoken words make his bigotry clear. No matter what work an African American is doing, Jason will find fault with it: they are too slow, they do as little as possible, and so on. He uses the word nigger liberally to insult and belittle African Americans, referring to the people who work for him at the store, including Job, as "trifling" and "no-count niggers." Jason's prejudice does not stop with African Americans. He also loathes women, labeling them "bitches" and seeing them as sluts. Jason threatens the women in his family with physical abuse, reasoning that "if you can't think of another way to surprise them, give them a bust in the jaw." He clearly thinks women are weaker and less intelligent than himself. He treats them as easy marks for his schemes, stealing from his own mother and sister. Jason's bigotry is an expression of his anger at his own powerlessness, which he then takes out on others. Angry at being trapped by taking care of his family and working a dead-end job, he feels a constant need to prove his superiority to others and to dominate them. Insulting and demeaning people gives him the illusion that he is better than they are and can control them, and therefore must not really be powerless after all. Jason is, of course, completely deluding himself.

What evidence is there in The Sound and the Fury (April Sixth, 1928) that Jason is fooling himself and is not as smart as he thinks he is?

Jason does not seem to realize how much people dislike him—and how aware they are of his schemes. Not only does he mistakenly believe he deserves people's respect, he is convinced he has it. Earl refers more than once to his suspicions regarding Jason's lies to his mother, Caroline, and the way Jason skims her money. He knows, for example, that Jason has bought his car with his mother's money, which Jason told her he invested in the store. Even Job knows Jason is a liar and a schemer, and Dilsey finds him despicable. On Easter morning when Jason demands attention from law officials after his niece takes his money, he seems to think the mere mention of his name will spur them into action. On the contrary, when Jason resorts to visiting the sheriff's home to demand help, the sheriff declines involvement. He places the blame for Miss Quentin's running away squarely on Jason: "You drove that girl into running off." And he lets Jason know that he believes the money she took was not Jason's to begin with: "And I have some suspicions about who that money belongs to." The fact that Miss Quentin has run off with all his money—some of which Caddy had sent Jason to help support her daughter—is certainly strong proof that Jason has overestimated his own intelligence.

What are the meanings of the names of Quentin, Candace, and Benjamin in The Sound and the Fury, and how do they reflect each of these characters?

Quentin is the name of a martyred Christian saint. His head was cut off and thrown into a river with his body. Many years later, a blind woman found his body, miraculously intact, because she could smell its "sanctity" or holiness. The origin of Quentin's name reflects both his worship of Caddy's purity, which he considers sacred, and his suicide by drowning. Candace is the name of an Ethiopian queen who ruled without a king. The name brings to mind a strong woman who can stand on her own. Candace can also be translated as "Queen Mother," and Caddy certainly serves as a mother figure in The Sound and the Fury, particularly for Benjy. In the Bible, Benjamin is the youngest son of Rachel and Jacob and the brother of Joseph, who rose to power in Egypt after all his brothers except Benjamin sold him into slavery. Benjamin means both "son of sorrow" and "son of the south." Benjy's position in the family is unique because his disability places him in a position of innocence. In addition, he is, like his brothers and father, a son of the South. He is also the son of his family's sorrow, born of a tragic, decaying family line, and its official mourner, moaning sorrowfully throughout the novel.

Why is there situational irony in the fact that Jason has been given Jason Compson III's name in The Sound and the Fury?

Situational irony occurs when the way a situation is expected to turn out differs from the way it actually does. Jason shares his name with his father, Jason Compson III. Of all the Compson children, Jason is the most resistant to his father's charm and kindness. He finds absolutely no value in any advice his father gives. Jason is disgusted by his father's alcoholism. To Jason, it represents the ultimate in lack of control, thereby rendering his father powerless as a man in Jason's estimation. Because he has no respect for his father, Jason has no desire to follow in his footsteps in any way, despite having been given the honor of bearing his name. In addition, although Jason is his father's namesake, his mother, Caroline, views her son as much more of a Bascomb than a Compson, as if he is not really an extension of the Compsons at all. Finally, as the fourth Compson to bear the name Jason, he is also the one with whom the lineage ends. Jason is unable to have a normal relationship with a woman, much less produce an heir.

In section four of The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928), what does Jason's encounter with the old man who attacks him as Jason searches for Miss Quentin represent?

After Miss Quentin and the man in the red tie run off with his money, Jason searches for them in the train cars used by the traveling show. He is attacked by an old man after Jason grabs him and demands to know where his niece is. The old man threatens to go for a butcher knife, and he and Jason struggle. Jason realizes how dangerous the situation is, hits the man, and rushes out. The old man recovers and comes after him with a hatchet, apparently hitting Jason on the head before two men drag Jason to safety. Jason is a bully who hungers for control. Driven by anger and frustration, he holds many grudges, and his mind overflows with petty grievances and disappointments he cannot redress. He is, therefore, in the habit of threatening others, such as Miss Quentin, with physical violence. Now, Jason must confront an angry, possibly unstable, man he cannot possibly control, and the tables are turned. This time, Jason fears for his physical safety, and rightly so. The old man initially defends himself against Jason's intimidation, but he also resembles Jason in his "puny fury" and "fatally single-minded" intensity. Even after Jason hits him and knocks him down, the old man gets a hatchet and continues to pursue Jason because he is holding a grudge, claiming Jason called him "a liar." This old man is who Jason might become in his own old age.

How does Jason respond when women cry in The Sound and the Fury, and what does this reveal about his view of women in general?

When women cry in front of him, Jason becomes enraged. It feeds into his desire to control women in every way, to have them obey him without question. When he is driving Miss Quentin to school and she looks like she is about to cry, he thinks, "if you cry here in this car, on the street, I'll whip you." When Caddy cries at his cruelty to her regarding Miss Quentin, he threatens to walk away. Only when she stops crying does he agree to anything, warning her, "As long as you behave and do like I tell you." The one exception is his mother, over whom Jason always has complete control. When she cries in response to something he says, he dismisses it with sarcasm: "You asked me" or "All right ... Have it your way." This is in direct contrast to how his father or Uncle Maury try to comfort Caroline when she cries.

Why does William Faulkner sometimes leave out periods at the end of sentences during Quentin's meeting with Caddy's fiance, Herbert Head, in The Sound and the Fury (June Second, 1910)?

Quentin's meeting and subsequent fight with Caddy's fiancé, Herbert Head, is a dialogue with no periods at the ends of its sentences. Quentin is full of jealousy over his sister's engagement. Herbert touches a raw nerve when he wonders about Caddy's fascination with her brother, whom she talks about as if Quentin is "the only man in the world." What Herbert implies is already an affront to Quentin's code of honor about defending women's purity. Herbert then claims that "I wasn't the first or the last," making it clear that he has slept with Caddy, and that he is just one of many. Quentin loses his temper completely, and the men almost get into a brawl. Periods are meant to signal the end of a sentence. The lack of periods at the ends of sentences in this scene suggests the intensity of Quentin's emotions and how quickly the scene escalates from a harmless meeting to a physical fight. Just as Quentin cannot stop his flood of anger, the sentences don't seem to be able to stop, either, but flow right into one another as the words rush together. The lack of end punctuation also echoes Herbert's statement about Caddy's seemingly endless stream of sexual partners that shows no sign of stopping. Quentin's obsession with his sister's honor is also related to his desire to stop the flow of time. The lack of periods at the ends of the sentences in this section mimics his inability to make time stop, to put a period on it and end its flow.

According to The Sound and the Fury (June Second, 1910), what is Quentin's relationship to traditional definitions of masculinity, and what does it reveal about him?

Quentin attempts to be traditionally masculine in various ways. He is a defender of women's honor and will defend that honor with his fists if he sees fit. In fact, he gets into two fistfights in this section of the novel, and barely avoids a third. He despises men who insult women or treat them as sexual objects. As the Compson's eldest son, he is at Harvard to take on the responsibility of improving his family's future prospects, fulfilling the role of responsible son. In other respects, Quentin seems unable to fulfill traditional definitions of masculinity, often in the very same areas in which he tries to fulfill them. His attempts to fight other men all end badly. When he fights Gerald, for example, he gets badly beaten up himself, and his fights with Herbert Head and Dalton Ames are futile and absurd. Quentin's unhealthy attachment to Caddy and his lack of sexual experience with women in general also fail to fit definitions of traditional masculine behavior. In addition, the burden of being his family's salvation does not sit well with Quentin. He feels guilty about being at Harvard because his family had to sell off land to pay for his tuition. In the end, his suicide puts an end to this plan.

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