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The Sound and the Fury | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In the final scene of The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928), why is it significant that the Compsons' usual route around the square is actually counterclockwise?

Benjy is comforted by routine, and he expects to follow the same route on his trip to the cemetery as always. This means that Luster will drive Benjy around the square counterclockwise. When Luster accidentally reverses that route by driving clockwise, the outcome is too much for Benjy to bear, and he bellows louder than ever before. Benjy calms down again only after Jason employs violence to whip the carriage around so it moves in the counterclockwise direction Benjy expects. Given the significance of time throughout the novel, especially the fact that the Compsons do not seem to be able to move forward into the future of the new South, the counterclockwise movement of the carriage is significant. In effect, by going counterclockwise, the carriage represents time moving backward rather than forward, as it would if it moved clockwise. The Compsons almost all seem to be moving backward rather than forward themselves. Although Jason seems to want to be part of the new South's future, he recognizes that his family cannot survive it. Benjy is still riding in a carriage driven by an African American as he has done for years, and the destination of his journey remains the same: the cemetery. Jason himself is doomed to remain stuck in Jefferson where the Compsons have always lived.

Why does William Faulkner begin the fourth section of The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928) with a lengthy description of Dilsey and her environment?

William Faulkner's extended description of Dilsey begins as she steps outside her house on Easter Sunday. This description is possibly longer and more focused on physical characteristics than that of any other character in the novel. Faulkner describes Dilsey's clothing (not once, but twice, when she changes outfits), as well as her face and facial expression, and her body. He mentions the weather, and describes the trees and birds that surround her cabin. Dilsey performs a series of ordinary actions as she begins her workday, including using an umbrella to avoid the rain, fetching firewood, and building a fire in the Compsons' kitchen stove. By focusing on these physical characteristics and ordinary activities so thoroughly, Faulkner grounds his description of Dilsey in reality and in the present moment. She seems like a real person living in real time in a real place as she goes about her business. For this reason, the description of Dilsey contrasts sharply with the first three sections of the novel, in which readers are deeply immersed in the tortured minds of the Compson brothers. Dilsey, an old woman simply going about her day, couldn't be further away from Benjy's inarticulate vulnerability, Quentin's suicidal tendencies, or Jason's endless scheming and cruelty. Dilsey offers a sane, balanced approach to life that contrasts strongly with the Compson family's drama, decay, and disintegration.

In The Sound and the Fury, how might Dilsey be viewed as a Christ figure?

Dilsey lives her life according to her Christian principles. She acts out of love for her fellow human beings, and she treats others the way she herself would like to be treated. She will even risk her own well-being if needed to protect others. This is clearest in the scene from Jason's section during which Dilsey offers to take a beating in Miss Quentin's place. She would rather feel pain herself than have a young woman subjected to violence. Like Jesus, Dilsey will bear suffering in her attempt to save others. Dilsey also has wisdom she shares in simple language as Jesus did. Her folksy truths, based on Jesus's teachings, are both cautionary and directive. She internalizes the messages of the Bible, and on Easter Sunday she embodies the message of Reverend Shegog's sermon. Dilsey becomes the beginning and the end by fully embracing the present and accepting her place in the flow of time. The Compsons fall apart, but she endures.

What is the significance of the change in Reverend Shegog's voice as he preaches in The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928)?

At church on Easter morning, a startling transformation occurs in Reverend Shegog's voice that causes the congregation to sit up and take notice. It happens as he quotes the words of the prophets from the Bible. Because the prophets' words were spoken orally long before they were written down, it is as if Reverend Shegog is the modern mouthpiece of the Lord, just as the prophets were believed to deliver God's word directly from the source. At first, the preacher's humble appearance ("a meagre figure") does not impress the congregation in Dilsey's church. When the preacher is transformed into a powerful force by speaking God's words, however, it is an important reminder to the African Americans in their tiny church of how God makes himself known to everyone. As "the voice takes them into itself," all the trappings of the world fall away, showing God at the center of life and revealing the possibility of resurrection and salvation for all.

In The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928), what is the significance of the statue of the Confederate soldier who "gazed with empty eyes" on the town square?

The Confederate soldier with empty eyes represents the death of the Confederacy and therefore the Old South. Although the statue is made of stone and stands in a prominent place, it has no power. Without life force, the soldier cannot fight. The empty eyes of the statue suggest that the soul of the Old South is dead. Its institutions can no longer be protected or defended, nor should they be. Although the Confederacy might still try to stand at the middle of Southern towns, it has no force behind it. The soldier's eyes are also in clear contrast to Benjy's. When Jason puts the carriage back on course for his brother, Benjy's eyes become "empty and blue and serene" again. Both sets of eyes are empty, but Benjy's can return to a serene expression once what he considers order is restored. The statue's eyes will never change; they will never be serene because things cannot be set right with the Confederacy.

In The Sound and the Fury, what do Dilsey and Caddy have in common?

Dilsey and Caddy are both strong women. By sheer force of will they can make things happen, and they can survive tragedy and hardship. Both women also take charge of those around them. Dilsey tells people what to do, and even as a girl, Caddy prefers to direct her siblings' actions. Dilsey and Caddy are also both maternal. Dilsey is a good mother to her own children and also acts as a surrogate mother for the Compson children. From a young age, Caddy takes on a mothering role in Benjy's life. She is a natural at understanding his needs and comforting him. In fact, she pays more attention to his needs than their own mother does. This is one reason why Caddy's inability to mother her own daughter is particularly tragic; she has shown strong maternal instincts that might have made her a fine mother to Miss Quentin. Her absence from her daughter's life—and the awful environment in which Miss Quentin grows up—is painful and tragic for them both.

What does it mean in The Sound and the Fury (April Eighth, 1928) when Benjy is calmed upon seeing the houses on the square "each in its ordered place"?

The closing scene of The Sound and the Fury paints the picture of a town that is pristine, neat, and orderly. Yet as readers have seen behind the facade of the Compson house, the society of small Southern towns is in decay and disarray. The picture-perfect town is nowhere near perfect. The order of the Old South is gone, and the people are struggling to make sense of the new order that is being imposed. Benjy's sense that everything is "in its ordered place" according to a timeworn routine is an illusion that things are as they have always been and therefore always will be. His family is in a state of decline from which it cannot recover and is rapidly disintegrating.

How might the placement of the Appendix to The Sound and the Fury at either the front or back of the novel affect how the novel is read?

According to William Faulkner, the Appendix is the key to The Sound and the Fury. Some editions choose to include the Appendix at the beginning of the novel. Others include it at the end. Because Faulkner instructed editors to place it at the beginning, many scholars favor taking this approach. They want to honor the author's wishes, and they also believe that reading the Appendix first provides information about the Compson family and their history that makes the difficult stream-of-consciousness narratives in Benjy's and Quentin's sections easier to follow. The family history the Appendix details also provides a broader context that may shed light on each character's behavior and motivations. Scholars who prefer the Appendix at the back of the book, to be read last, suggest that it best serves to answer readers' concerns about what happens to the Compsons. This is a question that cannot be asked until readers get to know the characters, so it makes sense to place the Appendix at that point in the reading experience. In this manner, it can satisfy readers' curiosity about each character's fate. These scholars also argue that the novel should be read in the order in which Faulkner wrote it rather than in chronological order to best convey its powerful themes of time and of decay and disintegration.

What is the significance of Benjy's moaning and bellowing throughout The Sound and the Fury?

Benjy often moans and bellows at some point in all four sections of the novel. He cannot speak and he may not understand what is happening around him, but Benjy can feel. For example, he moans and bellows because so many things around him remind him of his beloved sister, Caddy, who has been exiled from the family. Caddy treated Benjy with love and compassion. He never adjusts to her loss, continuing to watch for her at the fence by the golf course years after she has left the family forever. When Luster teases Benjy by repeating Caddy's name to him, Benjy cannot stop bellowing in grief. Benjy's moaning and bellowing also acts as a reminder of the constant undercurrent of pain, loss, and frustration that defines the dysfunctional Compson family, whose history is riddled with tragedy. Benjy's sorrowful sounds point to deep wounds that the Compsons either prefer to avoid or cannot bear to acknowledge, including exile, loneliness, and death. They express a sadness so deep and despairing it is beyond words, another indication that William Faulkner sees language as insufficient to express the depths of human pain.

In the final line of the Appendix for The Sound and the Fury ("They endured."), to whom does the pronoun they refer?

Because the entry is about Dilsey, the use of the plural pronoun they is very confusing at first. Did William Faulkner make a mistake here, meaning to use the singular pronoun she? Faulkner's careful choice of words throughout the novel suggests otherwise. Unlike the Compsons, who are so often disconnected and isolated from one another, Dilsey is connected deeply to others through her care of the Compson family, and her family is tightly unified. The pronoun they suggests Dilsey's connection to this larger community. The Old South is also dying. Dilsey has experienced the decay of that society during her long service to the Compsons. She clearly sees it all—"de first en de last"—but stands outside of that construct herself. So, Dilsey represents that part of the Old South that will survive its demise, the people who are healthy and complete without being defined by that society and can therefore withstand change. The plural pronoun in "They endured" refers to these people, the real future of the South.

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