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The Sound and the Fury | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How can the rhythm of each of the first three sections of The Sound and the Fury be described, and what does the rhythm reveal about each narrator?

The rythm of Benjy's section might be described as choppy. This feeling arises from the fragmented nature of the narration. Moving from past to present without making clear connections between them, the section also causes readers to become disoriented and have to go back and forth trying to make sense of the text. This constant shifting of gears mirrors how Benjy's mind works, and how violently his past intrudes on his present. Quentin's section often feels painfully drawn out, as if it is suddenly moving much too fast. Long and convoluted sentences and paragraphs sometimes force readers to slow down. At other times, the sentences rush by in a flood of language. This section's conflicting rhythms represent Quentin's conflicted relationship to time. Quentin is deeply invested in the past. He wants time to slow down, but it rushes him and everything else forward into the future. Jason's section is rapid-fire. The sentences are short and reflect the speedy movement of Jason's mind as it darts nimbly from observation to response and on to the next opportunity to inflict pain or make money. His is the mind of a man caught up minute-to-minute with slights, grievances, and regrets. Jason feels no need to reflect deeply on things, as Quentin does.

In The Sound and the Fury (April Sixth, 1928), how do Jason and his mother, Caroline Compson, characterize Caddy and Quentin's relationship, and why?

Caddy and Quentin never committed incest. But Jason and his mother both make statements implying their suspicions that Caddy's baby has been fathered by Quentin. As Caroline laments the fact that Jason and Miss Quentin simply cannot get along, she mentions that Miss Quentin has "inherited all of [Caddy's] headstrong traits. Quentin's too. I thought at the time, with the heritage she would already have, to give her that name, too. Sometimes I think she is the judgment of Caddy and Quentin upon me." She goes on to say of Caddy and Quentin's closeness, "It was always [Caddy] and Quentin ... When Quentin started to school we had to let her go the next year, so she could be with him." Later in the conversation, Jason says that Caddy can't name the father of her own child, implying that she doesn't know who the father is. This seems more horrifying to Caroline Compson than the possibility of incest. Their mother protests: "If I believed that were possible, after all my suffering." Jason goes on to clarify, saying she is spared from that because Miss Quentin is "too much like both of them to doubt that." Again, his mother protests: "I couldn't bear that." So, having the last word on the topic, Jason chooses to dismiss it: "Then quit thinking about it." Jason's and his mother's speculations show how they believe the family is so emotionally incestuous that it could manifest as literal incest, another sign of the family's decay.

What role do the italicized passages play in the first two sections of The Sound and the Fury?

In the first part of the novel, which is narrated by Benjy, italics can signal a shift from the present time to a memory and vice versa. However, it does not take long to understand that such shifts in time also occur without italics and even within a single italicized section. So, readers come to realize that they cannot count on italics for clues about where the narration is leading them in Benjy's or Quentin's sections of the novel. William Faulkner told his editor that he had carefully thought through the italics. He wrote, "I purposely used italics for both actual scenes and remembered scenes for the reason not to indicate the different dates of happenings, but merely to permit the reader to anticipate a thought-transference, letting the recollection postulate its own date." The failure of the italics in the novel to fulfill this task consistently could be viewed as one more indication by Faulkner that neither time nor language can be fully understood, and that communication itself is suffering from decay and disintegration.

How does William Faulkner's use of chronology change from the first to the last of the four sections of The Sound and the Fury?

The first section of the novel (April Seventh, 1928) is the most difficult to follow in terms of its time line. It leaps back and forth in a fragmented fashion between the past and present, and sometimes it becomes hard to tell apart 10 different memories from previous periods of Benjy's life, which are interwoven. Quentin's section (June Second, 1910) is somewhat easier to follow, but only because Quentin does not suffer from Benjy's mental disability. He can tell the difference between past, present, and future more clearly than can Benjy. Quentin's description of his day can therefore be quite straightforward at times. However, his thoughts and memories are often just as challenging as Benjy's because they are so fragmented and feverish. Jason is the most down-to-earth of the three brothers in his narration of the novel's third section (April Sixth, 1928). Focused firmly on his goal of making money, Jason refers only occasionally to memories of any kind. Jason does not dwell on the past, so his section follows a more conventional timeline. The chronology of the book's fourth section is fully linear, meaning that it moves in a straight line rather than dipping in or out of the past at all. So, the novel goes from a largely nonlinear to a linear chronology. This reflects the theme of time, as the novel itself seems to struggle against linear time, like the Compson brothers, and then gradually, like Dilsey, embraces it. The novel also shifts between three days in 1928 (April 7, April 6, and April 8) and the date of Quentin's suicide (June 10, 1910). The sections narrated by the three Compson brothers are out of order chronologically, as the brothers themselves, none of whom can adjust or adapt to life or the world around them, are also out of order. Only April 8, the section in which Dilsey attends Easter church services, is in its proper chronological place. In this section, Dilsey recognizes the true flow of time, as the Compsons continue their inevitable decline when Miss Quentin robs Jason and escapes.

In The Sound and the Fury, when Miss Quentin or Dilsey asks Caroline for help coping with Jason, what does Caroline do, and how does her response fit her character?

Caroline Compson never sides with anyone but Jason, even when his abuse is blatant. Miss Quentin cries to her to make Jason stop treating her as he does, but Caroline, Miss Quentin's grandmother, just scolds her for being ungrateful. When Dilsey suggests that Caroline should try to control Jason's temper and threats, Caroline reminds her that she is nothing more than a servant. Caroline wants to depend on someone else, and she is especially happy to lean on her beloved Jason. She seems oblivious to his sarcastic treatment of her, and grants him full authority. She doesn't question him and thinks no one else in the household should, either. Holding on to her Old Southern values, she believes servants like Dilsey should be kept in line and young girls like Miss Quentin should be locked in their rooms.

In The Sound and the Fury, how does Dilsey refuse to act like a traditional servant, and why ?

On occasion, Dilsey stands up to the Compsons and complains about their disgusting attitudes and poor treatment of others. Nor can she listen to much in the way of self-pity when she believes strongly in doing one's best in any situation. Her strong Christian beliefs are what lead her to do so. She cannot let others be treated cruelly in front of her without saying something. She even places herself between Jason and Miss Quentin when he threatens violence. Dilsey's self-pride is also behind her unconventional behavior toward the Compsons. Dilsey is a good person who lives into her values, and she knows that. She has too much self-respect to let herself be treated poorly. She draws the line when either Jason or his mother gets too pushy and treats her as a mindless animal who must do their bidding. Her candor with her employers also indicates that her role in the household goes beyond the traditional subservience of a servant in other ways. Dilsey is not just a housekeeper, for example, she is the Compson children's surrogate mother.

As controlling as Jason is in The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928), why does he allow his mother to keep the household keys?

Caroline Compson's possession of the household keys is actually not Jason's choice. It is her own. She makes this clear when Jason takes the keys away from her to unlock Miss Quentin's door: "You know I never let anyone take my keys, Dilsey." This fits into Caroline's need to keep up the appearance of the Old South, when the mistress of the house was in charge. Until this fateful Easter morning, however, Jason probably didn't care much about the household keys. The keys that are important to him are the ones that unlock his money box. That is the only thing he values enough to lock up and hide away. Those keys are the ones he will "never let anyone take."

What is the central event described in the final section of The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928), and why is it important?

The central event of the final section of The Sound and the Fury is the church service attended by the African Americans. Through this service, the idea of sacrifice and resurrection are brought together in the form of an Easter celebration. Miss Quentin's theft and escape and Jason's pursuit of her are not nearly as important as the truths Dilsey brings home from the sermon. These dramatic occurrences pale beside Dilsey's pronouncements, becoming just more typical events in the long Compson family decline. But Dilsey sees the whole range of existence, the beginning and the end, as brought to life by Reverend Shegog's powerful sermon. Without this bigger truth, the power of strength, courage, and love would be lost in the sordid details of the Compson family's history.

In The Sound and the Fury (June Second, 1910), how does Quentin's relationship with shadows relate to his relationship to his sister, Caddy?

Shadows are created when light hits a physical object. But shadows themselves, insubstantial and fleeting, are visual illusions. Quentin walks the streets of Boston, goes to shops, talks to other people, and all the while, he is living in a shadow world, unable to ever function fully in the present. During his travels, he interacts with his own shadow as if it were his double, a reminder of how out of touch with the reality of other people he may be on some level. Quentin is haunted by his sister (or really, his shadow version of her, who he imagines her to be versus who she really is). She resembles a ghost to him more than a flesh-and-blood woman, and it is not coincidental that her physical being, in the form of her sexuality, makes him so uneasy. He is more at home with the shadow women that his moral code represents: pure, virginal, and untouched by reality.

Why do most readers of The Sound and the Fury view Caddy as the main character, even though she does not act as a narrator?

Caddy's brothers narrate each of the novel's first three sections. Each man has been profoundly affected by Caddy, and their stories all revolve around her. Caddy is the special person whom Benjy needs and wants, his surrogate mother. Caddy is the fallen sister whom Quentin adores and yet who makes it impossible for him to live. For Jason, Caddy represents the object of hate and desire for vengeance that propels him through life. Without Caddy, there is no story. She does not have a voice in telling the story, but it nevertheless centers on her. As William Faulkner acknowledged, the story began with a single image of Caddy in her muddy drawers, with everything building out from that image.

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