The Sound and the Fury
THE STORY, continued
JUNE SECOND 1910
Having made it through Benjy's section, you'll find Quentin's both easier and more
difficult. It's easier because the memories of Quentin- who may act foolishly but
is very intelligent- are more coherent than Benjy's. In addition, Quentin remembers
some of the same things Benjy does. You'll recognize the episode with T. P. and the "sassprilluh"
at Caddy's wedding, or the scene when Benjy drags Caddy into the bathroom. Quentin
also remembers Caddy's muddy drawers and seeing Nancy's bones in the ditch.
On the other hand, Quentin's section is longer, more obscure, and more packed with
images and fragmented ideas than Benjy's. Quentin's mind, like his brother's, is
largely in the past as he makes his daily rounds in the present. But whereas places
and sensations in the present- the fence, the fire- propelled Benjy back into the past,
Quentin's memories need no prompting. Occasionally something in the present will
remind him of the past. For example, he hits Gerald Bland, a Harvard student, because
Gerald says something that reminds him of Caddy's seducer, Dalton Ames. But basically Quentin
is thinking about one thing- Caddy's sexuality. Sometimes he remembers the first
time she kissed a boy. Other times he thinks about her loss of virginity. He also
remembers the night before her wedding and the wedding itself.
Quentin's mind works more quickly than Benjy's, so the shifts in time in his section
are much more frequent. Quentin often thinks in fragments of sentences. Sometimes
his mind jumps back and forth between the present and the past. Other times it moves
among several different memories. Quentin frequently repeats words ("Dalton Ames") or
phrases ("the voice that breathed"). Sometimes he remembers only part of a memory
that is not fully explained until later in the section. For example, the line "one
moment she was standing" appears several times before the memory is fully developed toward
the end of the section. In some passages, a half dozen memories are strung together.
But beware: Not all time shifts are signaled by changes in typeface.
As you read Quentin's section, watch for scenes that you remember from Benjy's section.
Often Quentin presents the same events in ways that make a lot more sense. Reading
Quentin's memories, you'll be able to go back and understand what Benjy was talking
about. Other times, Quentin also knows more than Benjy. Benjy, to take one example,
remembers the night that Caddy came home after having had sex with Dalton Ames.
But after Benjy has been put to bed, Quentin has a conversation with her. Benjy
only knew that something was very wrong. Quentin feels the same way, but he lets you know what
happened and how Caddy felt about it.
Be alert, too, to the words Quentin uses most often. His section is filled with references
to time (watches, clocks, chimes), shadows, water, sisters, and honeysuckle. These
recurring images are keys to Quentin's thoughts. When Benjy saw water, it was usually just water. Things had associations for him (fire was associated with a sense
of security), but he was not capable of thinking that something was like something
else. For Quentin, however, water is never simply water, but has symbolic importance.
NOTE: EVENTS IN QUENTIN'S SECTION
Quentin has a number of relatively unimportant
memories (of breaking his leg, of reading a picture book, of Jason and the Patterson
boy going into a kite-making "business") that cannot be dated. The following memories,
listed in chronological order, are the most significant.
- Damuddy's death (1898)
- Benjy's name change (1900)
- Kissing Natalie (undated)
- Caddy kissing a boy (1906-1907)
- Caddy having sex with Dalton Ames (late summer 1909)
- Wedding announcement (1910)
- Meeting Herbert (April 22, 1910)
- Wedding eve (April 23, 1910)
- Wedding (April 24, 1910)
Quentin awakens in his Harvard dorm on the morning of June 2, 1910. He can tell time
by the shadows on his curtains and does not need to look at his watch, which was
once his grandfather's. His roommate, Shreve, warns him he'll be late for chapel.
As he wakes up, Quentin thinks about (1) the passage of time and his father's ideas
on the subject; (2) Christ and St. Francis; (3) sisters; (4) Caddy's wedding; (5)
Caddy's wedding announcement; (6) a conversation he had with his father on the night
she lost her virginity; (7) Mr. Compson's comments on virginity; (8) a quarrel he had
with Spoade, a Harvard acquaintance, about women; and (9) committing suicide.
Let's look closely at one paragraph- the first one on page 95- to see how this works.
Quentin is thinking about what a nice day it is and how good the weather is for
the Harvard crew's boat race later that day. It is June, the month of marriages.
The lines "She ran right out of the mirror..." are a memory of Caddy's wedding. Next he thinks
of Caddy's wedding announcement: "Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson announce..."
He then thinks of the roses at her wedding- they are red, not virginal white like
dogwood blossoms. "I said I have committed incest, Father I said" is a memory of a conversation
Quentin had with his father on the night that Caddy lost her virginity (see pages
219-22 in the novel for a fuller account of this conversation). Then his mind returns to the boat race. Unlike Benjy, whose mind calls up one scene at a time, Quentin
has run several memories together in the course of a minute.
The conversation with his father about Caddy (he claims that Caddy had slept with
him, not Dalton Ames) is described at slightly greater length on pages 97-98. This
memory is interrupted by a startling image: "And I will look down and see my murmuring
bones and the deep water like wind..." Quentin is picturing his death by drowning.
Quentin smashes the face of his watch, cutting his thumb, and then pulls off the hands
of the watch. He paints the cut with iodine. Then he packs his trunk, keeping out
two changes of clothing, locks it, and addresses it. He writes and seals two notes.
Quentin then goes looking for Deacon, a black man he wants to run an errand for him,
but can't find him. He has breakfast and visits a jeweler's shop, where he talks
about watches. Then he goes to a hardware store to buy flat-irons. Because he has
earlier imagined his bones in deep water and thought "on the Day when He says Rise only the
flat-iron would come floating up" (p. 98), we realize that Quentin will use the
flat-irons in his suicide.
Quentin's section has many references to time. In these first ten pages,
Quentin tells time by the shadow, listens to the ticking of his watch, smashes the
face of the watch, listens to the college chimes, and brings the watch to a jewelry
store whose window is filled with watches. Between memories of Caddy's wedding, Quentin
is thinking about his father's pronouncements on the subject of time. On giving him
the watch, Mr. Compson called it "the mausoleum of all hope and desire." He said,
"I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now
and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it." Mr. Compson
says that no one ever accomplishes anything. Later, Quentin recalls Mr. Compson's
comment that Christ "was worn away by a minute clicking of little wheels." That is, the
demands of daily life are killing. Quentin wants to know whether any of the watches
in the jeweler's window show the right time, but he doesn't want to know what it
is. Quentin wants to live in a world without time.
Throughout this section, Quentin will ask people where there's a clock (the boys fishing
in the river, for example) and will listen for the chimes. Being time-bound is the
human tragedy, Mr. Compson suggests ("only when the clock stops does time come to
life"; page 105). But Quentin wants to stop the clock, not to bring time to life, but
On a streetcar to the river, Quentin sits next to a black man and thinks about his
feelings toward blacks. When he sees his shadow in the water, he imagines it drowned.
The Harvard crew comes out of the boathouse. One of its members is Gerald Bland,
a man he knows. Gerald's mother drives by to pick him up. Mrs. Bland, who has taken an
apartment in Cambridge to be close to her son, likes to boast about his conquests
While these events are occurring in the present, Quentin has other thoughts. He remembers
kissing a girl ("Moving sitting still"), a memory that will be explored at greater
length on pages 167-72. He remembers Caddy standing in the door on the night she
lost her virginity. He also remembers the children playing in the branch the night
of Damuddy's death. Compare this recollection ("I'm going to run away"; page 109)
with Benjy's account of the same incident (page 21). He remembers the changing of
Benjy's name and the comment that changing his name won't change his luck (see Benjy's recollection
of the same comment; page 71). While he is thinking about his own death, Quentin
remembers that Benjy smelled Damuddy's death. His recollection of a conversation
with Dalton Ames on page 113 ("Did you ever have a sister?") will be reproduced at
length on pages 185 and 197. Quentin also remembers his mother's wishes for him
to go to Harvard and the first time Caddy kisses a boy. You recognize his recollection
of Benjy's behavior at Caddy's wedding ("He was lying beside the box under the window";
page 114) from Benjy's account on page 47.
In a long section (pages 114-16), Quentin remembers meeting Herbert, the man Caddy
marries. Here you learn for the first time that Herbert has promised Jason a job
in his bank. Herbert has given Caddy a car for a present. Mrs. Compson is thrilled
with the car and with Herbert, and she goes on about it (pages 115-16) in the pretentious
manner you can identify as unmistakably hers.
Other memories on these pages include one of Jason and the Patterson boy (the son
of the woman Uncle Maury had the affair with, in Benjy's section) making kites together.
(This foretells Jason's future in business.) Quentin also remembers his father's
selling the pasture so he can go to Harvard. And he thinks back yet another time to
the discussion about incest. He replays a conversation in which his mother accuses
him of spying on Caddy. Finally, he recalls a conversation about women with his father
(women have "an affinity for evil," his father says). Quentin thinks to himself that
"Father and I protect women."
In these pages, Quentin finds Deacon and hands him the letter to give to Shreve. By
now we realize that the letters he wrote are suicide notes. Back in his room, he
and Shreve discuss Gerald Bland and his mother.
His thoughts, however, are elsewhere. Quentin remembers a number of scenes you recall
from Benjy's section: Benjy drunk at Caddy's wedding, Uncle Maury drinking at Christmastime
(the Patterson episode), and Jason keeping his hands in his pockets and falling down. These pages also contain a recollection of a long monologue by Mrs. Compson
when Caddy loses her virginity.
Quentin also remembers the night before Caddy's wedding: his fantasy that he shot
Herbert (page 130), Caddy's request that he look after Benjy and Father (page 131),
and Caddy's telling him that she is sick (page 131). You'll soon understand why.
On pages 133-38, there is a lengthy recollection of his meeting with Herbert. Herbert tried
to treat him like a regular guy, making crude jokes about women, much to Quentin's
Quentin walks along the river, still watching his shadow in the water. He meets some
boys who are trying to catch a famous fish so large that there is a prize for catching
it. They discuss what they'll do with the prize money, but it's clear they don't
really want to catch it. Some readers believe this is a comment on Quentin's relationship
Caddy is still the focus of Quentin's thoughts as he walks along. He recalls at length
the scene in which Caddy stands at the door, with Benjy pulling at her dress (for
Benjy's memory, see page 82), on the night she lost her virginity. Several notable
memories occur in these pages. In answer to Quentin's repeated question about how many
boys she's slept with, Caddy responds, "There was something terrible in me." The
night before her wedding, she makes Quentin promise not to let the family send Benjy
to Jackson. Quentin asks her why she's marrying a "blackguard" like Herbert and tells Caddy
that Herbert had been expelled from prep school. Caddy explains she had to marry
someone because she's pregnant. Quentin offers to run away with her and Benjy,
but Caddy asks what they'll do for money.
There are two other important memories in these pages. One is Quentin's recollection
of a story Versh told him about a man mutilating himself. This may be a memory of
Benjy's castration. But Quentin thinks, "But that's not it. It's not not having
them," and then recalls a conversation with his father about his own virginity. The castrated
man Quentin is thinking about is probably himself. The other important image is Quentin's
fantasy of incest with Caddy. The two of them are beyond hell together, protected by a "clean flame" (pages 144-45).
NOTE: QUENTIN AND SHADOWS
Quentin constantly sees shadows. He notices the shadows
of all the objects around him. He is also aware of his own shadow- he steps on it,
tries to trick it, imagines it drowned. Quentin's obsession with shadows points to
one of the themes Faulkner examines in The Sound and the Fury: what is real and what is only
a shadow? One way of approaching the theme is to say Quentin lives in the shadow
of the past. Certainly his memories of Caddy are much more real to him than his preparations for suicide. As you may have noticed in this discussion, Quentin's actions in
the present can usually be summarized in a line or two; his memories are much fuller
and richer. It could also be said that Quentin is a pale copy of a normal man, like
a shadow. He is still a virgin and doesn't seem to like sex very much. In addition to
being asexual, he never seems actually to carry out any of his fantasies. As you'll
see later, he doesn't shoot Dalton Ames when he has the chance. He doesn't make
love to Caddy. When he fights with Gerald Bland- mistaking him for Ames- he lets Bland beat
him up. Quentin is not capable of acting very effectively in the world.
The frequent mention of shadows recalls Macbeth's statement that "Life's but a walking
shadow." Quentin's life certainly is.
A ragged little Italian girl follows Quentin into a bakery. He calls her "sister"
and buys her something to eat. Then, for hours, while she follows him around, he
tries to figure out where she lives.
Being with the girl evokes memories in Quentin. He remembers once again his father's
remarks about women. He also remembers how he slapped Caddy the first time she kissed
a boy. That, in turn, brings to mind the first time he kissed a girl, whose name
was Natalie. He thought of her as dirty.
Eventually, the Italian girl's brother, Julio, appears with a local constable and
accuses Quentin of kidnapping his sister. At that moment, Gerald Bland, his mother,
Shreve, and some friends drive up. They testify to Quentin's character, and Quentin
is fined six dollars and let off.
The episode strikes Quentin as dreadfully funny. Julio's threats to kill Quentin are
a parody of Quentin's threats against Dalton Ames. More significantly, Julio is a
man who has strong feelings about his sister. Instead of recognizing Quentin as a
kindred spirit, Julio attacks him.
In the car with his friends, Quentin remembers again Caddy's explanation that her
promiscuity was caused by "something terrible in me." When he asked her if she loved
the men she slept with, Caddy replied, "When they touched me I died." Quentin tells
Caddy he'll convince their father that it was he, not Dalton Ames, who had slept with
her. In these pages, descriptions of sexual activity are always accompanied by the
smell of honeysuckle.
Quentin recalls at some length the events surrounding Caddy's loss of her virginity.
The smell of honeysuckle is so overpowering that Quentin can barely breathe. Sitting
by the branch, Caddy and Quentin talk. Quentin reminds her of the time she got her
drawers muddy (for Benjy's account, see page 21) and wonders if they can still see Nancy's
bones (which Benjy sees on pages 40-41). He suggests that he cut both their throats,
and Caddy agrees, but he is unable to do it. Later, she agrees to sleep with him,
and he backs away. He tells her that "theres a curse on us its not our fault."
Several days later, Quentin confronts Dalton Ames, the man Caddy had sex with. He
refuses to leave town, as Quentin requests. Quentin asks him if he ever had a sister,
and when Dalton replies, "no but they're all bitches," Quentin hits him. Dalton demonstrates his skill with a pistol and then puts it in Quentin's hand. But Quentin cannot
pull the trigger. Instead he faints- "like a girl," he realizes later.
Back in the country scene again, Shreve tells Quentin, who doesn't quite remember
what happened, that when Gerald was boasting about his women, Quentin jumped up
and said, "Did you ever have a sister?" and hit him. Quentin clearly confused Gerald
with Dalton Ames. And just as Dalton Ames was a better shot than Quentin, Gerald is a better
boxer. In the twilight Quentin takes a trolley back to school.
It may be hard to identify with Quentin's obsession with Caddy's virginity.
Would most brothers today be so upset if their sisters, by their own choice, slept
with a boyfriend? (And would most mothers dress in black the day after their daughter first kissed a boy, as Mrs. Compson did?) Even Benjy gets into the act, crying
and dragging Caddy into the bathroom so she can wash herself.
But Quentin's strong feelings about his sister- and hers about him- seem less unusual.
Perhaps, like Quentin, you too have an especially warm or close tie with a brother
or sister. And you may recognize and sympathize with Quentin's anger at the men who
seem to him to be taking Caddy away.
Quentin remembers Benjy sitting in front of a mirror, and Dilsey saying that Mrs.
Compson was too proud for him (a comment Versh makes in Benjy's section). He also
remembers falling asleep as a child.
Back in his room, as he cleans the blood off his tie with gasoline (pages 213-14),
Quentin's thoughts rush by. He thinks of Caddy with the first car in town, and of
Benjy, then thinks again, "if I'd just had a mother."
Quentin is making the final preparations for his suicide. "A quarter hour yet. And
then I'll not be. The peacefullest words." Washing his face and brushing his teeth,
he dresses neatly.
His thoughts are flying thick and fast. He remembers Caddy's wedding, the wedding
announcement, the sale of the pasture, Caddy standing in the door and Benjy crying
(at the loss of her virginity), and Caddy's accusation that he was spying on her.
Again he recalls his father's dismissive comments about women. He remembers his father's
nasty comments about Uncle Maury and his mother's defense of him. He also recalls
his grandfather: "Grandfather wore his uniform and we could hear the murmur of their
voices... Grandfather was always right." This ancestral certainty is gone for good.
Finally, Quentin remembers his final conversation with his father about incest. Mr.
Compson understands why Quentin wanted to believe he'd committed incest with Caddy.
But to Mr. Compson, Caddy's loss of virginity is no tragedy. He tells Quentin that
"you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this," and suggests
that Quentin leave for Harvard a little early.
Making sure that everything is in perfect order, Quentin leaves the room and heads
for the river.
NOTE: The last remembered conversation with Mr. Compson explains one of the motivations
for Quentin's suicide. Quentin had tried to inflate Caddy's virginity into something
crucial. Imagining that he had taken it- that the two of them had committed incest- was a way of making it important. The two of them would be damned, in a special
part of hell. But Mr. Compson says, in effect, you'll get over it. Quentin doesn't
want to get over it. As his father's final comment suggests, for Quentin "was" is
the saddest word. Only the past is lovable, beautiful, or real. The only way to give life
meaning is to end it.
Given all the facts you now have about Quentin, was the river the only option for
him? Why can't Quentin see any other possibilities? Can you imagine Quentin, having
decided against suicide, as an older man? What would his role in the family have
been if he had lived?
APRIL SIXTH 1928
Jason's section of The Sound and the Fury is entirely different from Benjy's and Quentin's.
Jason's memories of the past are not as vivid as they are for his two brothers. Jason's
voice is very different too. While Benjy's voice is calm and gentle, and Quentin's impassioned and convoluted, Jason's voice is hurried, nasty, and vulgar. In
the section Jason narrates, we see that Mrs. Compson is right: he is not like anyone
else in the family.
Jason's main interests are in the present. He is most concerned with his continuing
battles with his niece, Quentin, and his cotton brokers in New York. In the course
of his narration, you'll hear and see a lot about the kind of person Jason is. But
you'll also find out what happened after Quentin died and Herbert Head kicked Caddy out.
And you'll learn about some complicated financial double-dealing.
Jason's day- April 6, 1928, Good Friday- begins with a fight about Quentin. Mrs. Compson
is concerned because the girl's been cutting school. Typically, her real worry is
not about her granddaughter, but what the school authorities will think. Jason goes
to the kitchen and grabs the girl by the arm. Dilsey tries to prevent Jason from
beating her, but Quentin doesn't appreciate her protection, calling Dilsey a nigger
and telling her to get away. Quentin and Jason fight about money. Jason claims he
is supporting her, while Quentin says the money she lives on comes from her mother. Jason
implies Mrs. Compson burns all Caddy's checks. Quentin is not ashamed of her behavior:
"I'm bad and I'm going to hell, and I don't care," she says.
NOTE: In Jason's constant attention to the way Quentin looks- her lipstick, her makeup,
her dresses, the way she does her hair- and in the scene where her kimono falls open,
revealing her breasts, there is some suggestion of sexual attraction between uncle and niece. If so, this would be an ironic echo of the attraction between Caddy and
her brother Quentin. It is interesting that Jason is so hard on his niece Quentin
in light of the fact (which will emerge later in the section) that he is keeping
a mistress in Memphis. "I've got every respect for a good honest whore," he explains (page
291). But when he calls Quentin a "little whore" (page 269), the respect apparently
does not extend to her. He is also unforgiving of Caddy. He seems to have special
anger at the women in his family.
Jason's meanness is not limited to the members of his immediate family. When he gets
to work, he is nasty to Uncle Job, an old man who works for his boss, Earl. And,
talking to a traveling salesman, he makes cracks about the Jews. Jason plays the
cotton market, and worries that other people have inside information. His view of the business
world is identical to his view of his family: everyone else gets all the good stuff.
Jason's frenzied efforts to keep up with the cotton market- his feeling that he's
being played for a sucker by brokers in New York and that the clerks at the local
Western Union office are withholding information from him- are a major focus of
At the store, Jason receives a letter from Caddy, who asks tenderly about Quentin.
It is clear from the letter that she cares about her daughter. It is also clear that
she has been giving Jason a fair amount of money to pay for Quentin's keep.
Although Jason is always complaining about how much he works (and about how his brother
Quentin was sent to Harvard while he didn't receive a college education), it doesn't
seem that he works very much. Later you'll see Jason go home for a midday dinner
in defiance of his boss. And he takes time off in the middle of the afternoon to
go chasing after his niece Quentin and her boyfriend. His boss, Earl, a good-hearted
man, keeps him on largely out of pity for Mrs. Compson. Jason, realizing this, keeps
provoking Earl to fire him.
Jason's memories lack the vividness of Benjy's or Quentin's. Shortly after his son
Quentin's funeral, Mr. Compson went north to pick up baby Quentin. Mr. Compson and
Dilsey welcome the baby, but Mrs. Compson plans to raise her without ever speaking
Caddy's name. (In Benjy's section, Roskus, Dilsey, and Frony talk about how awful this is;
see page 37.) It turns out (page 274) Mr. Compson wanted to let Caddy come home
when Herbert threw her out, but Mrs. Compson forbade it. Mrs. Compson has always
been at war with Caddy's sexuality. Once when she caught Caddy kissing a boy, Mrs. Compson
wore a black dress and veil the next day (page 286).
Jason remembers his father's funeral too. Once again, Uncle Maury was there, with
his fawning manner and his outstretched hand. Walking away from the grave, Jason
encountered a woman in a veil who turned out to be Caddy. Talking to Caddy at the
funeral, Jason "got to thinking about when we were little and one thing and another and I got
to feeling funny again, kind of mad or something." When she offers Jason fifty dollars
to let her see baby Quentin, Jason agrees, and drives by her in a hired car, holding the baby up to the window for a moment. When Caddy complains, Jason threatens to
tell their mother that she's been in town. Caddy reliably sends checks and clearly
wants Quentin to be taken care of, but Jason won't let her see bank statements and
prevents her from approaching Dilsey.
NOTE: Although Jason thinks that he can shuck off the past, he, too, is in its grip.
He knows the difference between past and present in a way his brothers don't. But
the past still colors Jason's priorities and views of the present. He is punitive
toward his niece Quentin, nasty to the world, and paranoid about business, because of his
feelings about his siblings. The memories may not dance before his eyes, but old
feelings are still calling Jason's tune.
Caddy has sent Quentin a money order for fifty dollars over and above her support
check in a letter that Jason opens. When the girl comes to the store to ask for
the money, Jason tells her that Caddy has sent only ten dollars. Jason then leaves
the store, although his boss has asked him to stay because it's a busy day. He stops by the
telegraph office for news of the market, then hurries home.
For years, Jason has been pulling an elaborate financial scam on his mother. Mrs.
Compson has been burning what she thinks are Caddy's support checks for Quentin.
In reality, the checks she burns have been forged by Jason, and he has deposited
the real checks in Mrs. Compson's bank account, pretending that they are his salary. He has
used his own salary from the store for playing the market and for his Memphis women.
As he gives his mother the latest phony check, which replaces the money order from
Caddy, Jason pretends to argue with her about the wisdom of destroying these checks.
It turns out later that Jason has managed another deal as well. With the little money
she inherited from her husband, Mrs. Compson bought Jason a share in the hardware store
where he worked. Without telling her, Jason withdrew the money from the business
to buy a car.
Returning to the store after lunch, Jason sees Quentin drive off with a man in a red
tie. He follows them. When he leaves his car in a field to chase after them on foot,
they let the air out of his tires. Jason returns to town in a fury and with a terrible headache, resentful both of Quentin and of "these damn little slick haired squirts."
NOTE: Because you have read the previous two sections, you know more than Jason does
about some things. Having watched the way the man with the red tie treated Benjy
(pages 59-60), you know that he really is rotten. And you also know that Jason's
chase is in vain- Quentin will run off with him the following night.
Jason returns to the store for a few minutes, then stops at the telegraph office
for one more nasty exchange with the clerks. Coming home, he finds Benjy at the gate.
Jason sees Benjy as a butt for his jokes. He doesn't realize Benjy has feelings.
In the kitchen, waiting for dinner, Jason indulges in another mean act. Earl, his
boss, has given him two free tickets to the show. Although Luster desperately wants
to go, Jason will not give him a ticket. He offers to sell him one for money Luster
doesn't have. Rather than give it to him, he burns it before Luster's eyes.
NOTE: Dilsey then gets Luster a quarter from Frony. Luster drops it on the golf course
on Saturday morning. This is the background of Luster's frantic hunt for a quarter
during Benjy's section. Saturday night is the last night of the show. In Jason's
section, you see Jefferson is full of people waiting for the show. We understand Luster's
sense of urgency.
After insisting that Quentin and his mother come down to dinner so that he can pick
another fight, Jason goes off to his room to count his money before going to bed.
NOTE: A number of Jason's passing comments fill in gaps in what you learned in the
previous two sections of The Sound and the Fury. For example, Jason notices Benjy
going to a dark place on the wall where the mirror used to hang. That explains an
action in Benjy's section on page 74. Jason also remembers that Mr. Burgess, the father
of the little girl Benjy chased, hit him with a fence plank. Mrs. Compson's mention
of Jason's allergy to gasoline on page 296 recalls Quentin's reference to it on
page 213. Jason's section contains many such tidbits that increase the sense you probably
have by now of really knowing the Compson family.
APRIL EIGHTH 1928
The last section of The Sound and the Fury is written by an omniscient author; that
is, the person who is writing sees clearly, and more or less objectively, what is
going on. However, the point of view stays close to that of Dilsey. In this section
she emerges most clearly as the person who holds the family together (her goodness and
strength were apparent earlier). For that reason, the section is often called Dilsey's
section, even though it is not told in her voice.
Easter morning at the Compsons' begins with familiar scenes. Mrs. Compson, complaining
that Dilsey isn't doing enough, gives her a half dozen contradictory orders. ("You're
not the one who has to bear it," Mrs. Compson says to the woman who does.) Jason
claims that the window in his bedroom is broken and blames it on Luster. Benjy sits
at the table and moans. Dilsey moves about the kitchen, singing and preparing breakfast.
When the clock strikes five, Dilsey says, "Eight o'clock," knowing that the clock
NOTE: Dilsey's remark must be considered in the light of the other time imagery in
The Sound and the Fury. Quentin, you remember, tore the hands off his watch and
didn't want to know the time. In contrast, Dilsey knows what time it is even if the
clock is wrong. Her comment shows Dilsey's ability to distinguish between the present and
the past. Later the ticking of the clock is likened to "the dry pulse of the decaying
house itself." Here, the passage of time is connected to the decline of the Compson
Dilsey goes to wake the girl, in her usual role of buffer between uncle and niece.
Quentin is not in her room, however. Mrs. Compson, certain that her granddaughter
has followed in the other Quentin's footsteps, wants to search for a suicide note.
Jason, realizing he's been robbed, calls the police.
NOTE: The section is written by an outside observer. Therefore, it contains the descriptions
of people and places you get in most novels. Here, in The Sound and the Fury's final
section, you learn for the first time what Dilsey and Benjy look like, what Mrs. Compson is wearing, and that the house's front porch is falling down.
Benjy is wailing with unaccustomed force. The sound "might have been all time and
injustice and sorrow become vocal for an instant"- a suggestion that Benjy represents
a universal condition. (There is also evidence here for those who see Benjy as a
Christ figure, suffering for humanity.) Dilsey decides Benjy is smelling what's happening
in the house, just as he used to be able to smell death (as you saw in Benjy's
and Quentin's sections).
Dilsey, Luster, and Frony take Benjy with them to church. Frony, more concerned with
appearances than her mother, worries what people will think. Dilsey is confident
that God doesn't care. In church, the Gibsons (you learn their last name in this
section too) hear a powerful sermon about Christ's Resurrection. Dilsey, weeping, realizes
that she has seen the final fall of the Compson family. "I seed de beginnin, en now
I sees de endin," she tells Frony.
Dilsey's simple but profound religiosity contrasts with the false
piety of Mrs. Compson. When Jason is fussing about Quentin, Mrs. Compson complains
that this is happening "on Sunday morning, in my own house," when "I've tried so
hard to raise them Christians." However, she doesn't go to church on Easter Sunday. Dilsey
tells Frony that God doesn't care whether Benjy is smart or not. Dilsey's God is
accepting and loving. In contrast, Mrs. Compson says, "Whoever God is, He would not
permit that. I'm a lady." Her God observes caste lines. Mrs. Compson makes a point of asking
that Dilsey hand her the Bible. Dilsey had previously put it on the bed, but that
wasn't good enough for Mrs. Compson, who couldn't be troubled to reach for it. Mrs.
Compson uses the Bible to show off how good she is. It isn't an important part of
her life, the way it is Dilsey's.
Jason chases after Quentin and the man with the red tie. The sheriff, wondering why
Jason kept so much money at home and suspecting whose it was, refuses to accompany
him. Jason drives to the town where the show had just moved, almost enjoying the
injustice of it all. He bursts into the show trailer, asking where his niece and the man are,
and one of the show people knocks him down. (Jason approaches both the sheriff and
the show people in the same manner- hostile and aggrieved- and immediately alienates
them.) The owner tells him he kicked the man with the red tie out of the show. Jason
is forced to hire a young black man to drive him back to Jefferson because his head
NOTE: JASON AND THE PAST
The narrator makes clear that Jason's concern was not for
his niece or even for the money, but that both represented his revenge for the job
he'd been deprived of when Herbert and Caddy broke up. The girl, indeed, was the
symbol of the loss of that job. Jason's life since 1911 seems to have been organized around
punishing everyone around him for that loss. As the narrator points out, Jason enjoys
his anger and his suffering. Why is it that he might be considered as much a prisoner of the past as Benjy or Quentin?
Back at the house, it is impossible to quiet Benjy. He is given the slipper Quentin
complained about in Jason's section, and you now realize it must have been Caddy's.
But even the slipper is not enough to make him happy. Dilsey allows Luster to take
Benjy on the usual Sunday outing to the graveyard. Luster gives him a flower to hold-
a broken narcissus, another symbol of the Resurrection (and a damaged one). As they
approach the town square, Luster, showing off, turns left around the Confederate
monument instead of right, as T. P., who usually drives, always does. Benjy bellows more
horrendously than ever. Jason, who has just arrived back in Jefferson, turns the
surrey around the right way. As it begins to retrace the route home, Benjy looks
out, happy again. For him, everything is now in its ordered place.
NOTE: Some readers point to the pessimism of this ending. Benjy is quieted for a moment,
but Jason will soon send him to the asylum. Indeed, despite his defeat by his niece
Quentin, Jason takes the reins at the end.
By the mid-1940s, many of Faulkner's novels were out of print. This disturbed the
literary critic Malcolm Cowley, who was convinced Faulkner was a great writer. Cowley
decided to combine extracts from several of Faulkner's works in an anthology. From
The Sound and the Fury, he chose the fourth section. Cowley asked Faulkner to summarize
the three earlier sections of the novel in a few pages so readers of The Portable
Faulkner (New York: Viking, 1946) would understand what had transpired in them.
He complied and the anthology was published in 1946. Later that year, another editor asked
Faulkner for an introduction for a new edition of The Sound and the Fury. He refused
to write one but agreed to let the publisher use the Appendix from the Portable
Faulkner as an introduction to the novel. However, he insisted that it be called an Appendix,
not a foreword. In the Vintage Books Edition (New York: Random House, 1954), though,
the Appendix was returned to the back of the book.
Within the space of a couple of pages, the Appendix tells the story of the Compson
family. It gives the plot of The Sound and the Fury and introduces you to the main
characters. But it does more than that. It tells you what happened long before Benjy's
earliest memory, and it tells you what happened after the novel proper's last scene
in 1928. The Appendix almost makes The Sound and the Fury a story within a story.
Ikkemotubbe was an Indian chief who owned land in northern Mississippi. He sold a
square of it to Jason Compson at just about the time Indians were removed from Mississippi
and forced to settle in Oklahoma. Jason was the grandson of Quentin Compson, a Scottish immigrant who settled in Carolina and then in Kentucky. Jason's father, Charles,
fought for the British Army in Georgia during the American Revolution but then joined
the Americans. Later he participated in an unsuccessful plot to detach the Mississippi Valley from the United States and place it under Spain. After Jason bought
the land from Ikkemotubbe, he had an architect build a stately house with formal
lawns and white columns. The furniture came by steamboat from France and New Orleans.
Jason's son, Quentin II, became governor of Mississippi. Quentin's son, Jason II, was a
not very successful Confederate general in the Civil War. He began to sell off the
family land, some of it to settlers who came down from New England after the Civil
War ended in 1865.
NOTE: FAULKNER'S MYTH OF THE SOUTH
The beginning of the Appendix contains elements
from Faulkner's later novels. The Compsons get their land from an Indian chief who
has been unjustly forced from it. The original French settlers of the Indian chiefs
land called him "l'Homme," or "The Man." The chief picks an English name that sounds
similar- Doom. In Go Down, Moses, Faulkner wrote that Mississippi was cursed from
the start because white men had stolen it from the Indians. The Appendix indicates
the Compsons are doomed from the start because the land itself comes from Doom.
Other parts of this story are familiar too. The story of the architect hired to build
the big white house and the future shipped from France comes from Absalom, Absalom!
In that novel, too, poor immigrants come to America and one of them sets himself
up as an aristocrat. (In Absalom, Absalom! his name is Thomas Sutpen, and he is a friend
of the Compsons.) But he and the land are doomed, and the dream collapses. In the
end, some poor, scrambling people- in other novels, Faulkner calls them the Snopeses-
take over. In the Appendix, Faulkner tells you that is beginning to happen by the
time General Jason Compson dies in 1900. His grandson, the Jason Compson of The Sound
and the Fury, will complete the process.
The Compson family's good fortune did not last. Only Jason I and Quentin II lived
as true aristocrats. For Faulkner, this tale of poor immigrants who transform themselves
into aristocrats but ultimately fail and are followed by other poor people who lack
their aristocratic values is the story of the South.
In the Appendix, Faulkner also links the Compson's story to events in American history.
He mentions the American Revolution, President Andrew Jackson, Daniel Boone, and
the Civil War. This makes the Compsons seem representative of their region and gives
their decline a broader significance.
The Appendix presents in brief the story of The Sound and the Fury and short introductions
to its characters.
The attempt in the Appendix to bring the story up-to-date is interesting for a number
of reasons. References to Hollywood and World War II place The Sound and the Fury
in the real world, the same way as earlier references to Andrew Jackson and Daniel
Boone. The mention of Hollywood may have been a bitter joke by Faulkner, who hated his
work there as a screenwriter. Because both Hollywood and Nazi Germany are morally
corrupt places, it seems as if Caddy has become more interested in money than in
love. Dilsey won't even look at the photograph of Caddy with a German general when the town
librarian brings it to her. Dilsey senses that the Caddy she knew is gone forever.
Jason "held his own with the Snopeses who took over the little town following the
turn of the century as the Compsons... faded from it." When his mother died, he sold
the house and committed his brother to the state asylum. The Appendix also makes
it clear that he stole the support money that Caddy sent for her daughter and that Quentin
took back from him when she ran away. Jason is very happy after his mother dies.
Although he never marries, a woman from Memphis in an imitation fur coat comes to
visit him every Saturday night. The introductions to Dilsey and her children are brief.
Faulkner stresses their strength and the predictability of their lives.
When he talked about The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner called the Appendix his final
attempt to tell the story of the little girl with the muddy drawers.
In a sense, he was right. The Appendix does summarize the story of The Sound and the
Fury. It also adds to it, as we have seen. And it takes away from it. The portrait
of Quentin in the Appendix is much less complicated than it is in the novel. And
Caddy is less interesting and less central.
NOTE: Warning! Faulkner wrote the Appendix without rereading The Sound and the Fury.
As a result, he got some facts wrong. For example, he says that Luster is fourteen,
when he must be at least sixteen or seventeen. And he says that Benjy was castrated
in 1913, when the novel suggests that it was 1910.
Do you ever wish you could talk to the author of a book you've just read? Most of
the time you can't do that. You can't ask Shakespeare what he really thought of Hamlet.
Stephen Crane can't explain the meaning of the red sun in The Red Badge of Courage.
But William Faulkner gave interviews during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he
was writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia. The transcripts of his conversations
with students have been published, as you'll see in the Further Reading section of this guide. There you'll also find listings of other interviews in which Faulkner
talked about his work.
Of course, you can't always trust what authors say about what they wrote. Sometimes
writers aren't aware of what they've done, or they'd prefer not to talk about their
work. William Faulkner liked to pretend that he was just a simple Mississippi farmer.
It's true he didn't spend much time in college, but he was a great reader. He may have
been a farmer, but he was not a simple man.
In the Appendix, Faulkner is telling you what he thinks the novel meant. The author
may not be correct about everything. Make up your own mind about what he says.
A STEP BEYOND
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