Modern Southern Fiction
Prof. Bruce Harvey
Interpretive Summary Sheet for Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury
SEQUENCE OF SECTIONS
--they move, roughly, forward in chronological time
--Benjy: no time; only the present; unconscious of time
--Quentin: lives in the past; wants to stop time
--Jason: trying to catch up with time/the future
--Dilsey: promise of resurrection/eternal time
--social reality/concrete world becomes increasingly "thicker" as we move from disorganized impressions of Benjy, through the highly subjective Quentin and Jason sections, to the "objective" third-person narration of the last section
--note that it is only in Jason's section that we are given a concrete image of the Compson house in all of its decrepitude
--Benjy cannot master absence
--his cognitive process revolves around absence/presence
--Faulkner isn't really interested in rendering the mind of an idiot (although Benjy's inability to master absence, his inarticulate love, fetishizing of slipper, etc. all have some poignancy); instead Benjy is mainly a narrative device, which provides immediacy without subjective distortion (of next two sections)
--all subsequent events of following sections become foreshadowed
--juxtapositions can be overwhelmingly moving in the second reading (simple scene of the father holding the children)
--water/mud-pig-unclean = purity/filth-sex anxieties
--Quentin wants to regress into oblivion/death almost as some cosmic motherhood of nothingness (grottoes) vs unnuturing real mother
--does Quentin kill himself because of some metaphysical obsession with time's passage, or a philosophical/ethical obsession with lost "virtue" of his sister, or because he simply cannot live without her? does he mostly care about Caddy or her honor?
--obsession with order/cleanliness: meticulous death
--traditional code of the South revealed:
--white paternal/ "warm" nostalgic attitude towards blacks
--nouveaux riches of the Blands by contrast
--chivalric code: Quentin feels emasculated
--does he care about Caddy's behavior? are his stoicism lessons via his father glib or caring?
--Jason, to some extent, reflects the pro-business, economically-obsessed mentality of the new commercial South
--Jason is callous: but note his attachment to his mother
--Jason prides himself on being rational: is he?
--what psychological need does Jason's bitterness serve?
--Jason does have a certain wit and brittle logic which puts bite into his sarcasm
--he has a desire to win over implied audience (unlike other sections), even though he thinks he is self-sufficient
--Faulkner's sermon is incredibly realistic
--language of the "heart" in the sermon: breaks down barriers of individuality/solipsism?
--not sentimentalized: she's tough on her own children
--Why might Quentin the daughter show no love of Benjy (hasn't seen him when little, which is why we "feel" for him?)
OVERARCHING THEMES OR ISSUES
--Caddy always immaterial/impalpable (never concretely described)
--what causes the breakup of the Compson family: lack of maternal love (she's not evil; but a negative force)?
--do you think that Faulkner likes women?
--girls climbing up and down trees (Edenic knowledge, etc.)
--resurrection vs. drowning in water
--deterioration of a family (and perhaps the South) vs. the dignity/endurance and faith of Dilsey