The Sense of Familial Stress and Personal Fate
Faulkner himself disparaged this novel, professing care for it only because it had caused him so many pains, though it then left him feeling he had failed four times, (in each part with the same story retold), and on one occasion he evaded the awkward question of which was his favourite among his works by citing The Sound and the Fury under the metaphor of a parent’s special care for the child who has not turned out well.But The Sound and the Fury, a surprising departure and advance over his first three novels, became one of his most widely noticed works, and not merely as an experiment in a narrative technique then much discussed. It was also more directly regarded for its mysterious power in the partial yet cumulative disclosures under its fluctuantly clouded light, and through the sense of familial stress and personal fate which emerges with intense’ effect from the objective-subjective nexus of even the most cryptic passages of individual consciousness. As for the novel’s four parts being. the same story re-attempted, that is an illuminating concept to which many readers may be inclined to add that each part not only succeeds in itself but excellently complements the other. In any case, whatever Faulkner’s difficulties in creating this novel and whatever his doubts after it was done, he did not abandon his quest for an ultimate fictional reality to be conveyed through his characters subjectivity, while he continued to stricture each of his novels uniquely.
The Decadence and Deterioration of the Compson Family
The Compson family shown in this novel has traits which can be perceived as signs of a decadence resulting from a peculiar regional. history and its impact upon a class within it. In the Compson parents this is a manifest decadence of a more than regional kind, but its Yoknapatawphan form i s particular and extreme. The Compsons, as the author wrote in an Appendix, were “that long line of men who had something in them of decency and pride, even after they had begun to fail at the integrity, and the pride had become mostly vanity and self-pity.” Mrs. Compson is of less notable descent but more inclined to claim its merit, as she and her sponging brother Maury meet change and misfortune with neither fortitude nor grace but with pretensions and self-indulgent dependence. By all their behaviour; they illustrate in detailed regional terms the debilitation which their kind anywhere are liable to without ample security and supposed privilege once enjoyed are severely reduced ; more particularly they suggest the shallowness of certain presumptions which change had undercut in the post-bellum South. Mr. Compson is given to drink and reading classical Latin and expressing a lofty fine-edged cynicism that comprises not just his family’s situation or the South’s but all humanity and the cosmos itself. He comes into focus most often in the novel’s second section, through Quentin’s recalling, as a freshman at Harvard, the very phrasings of his father’s elegantly-uttered abstractions deprecating the whole scheme of things. The remembering runs back into Quentin’s childhood and troubled adolescence, along with his unforgettable fixation upon his sexually restless and incautions sister Caddy, and all such melancholy details enter chillingly, into the flow of Quentin’s reveries as he fatalistically prepares for suicide. Jason, whose stream of consciousness and actions constitute the, novel’s third section, is as embittered as his father, but unlike the more sensitively attuned Quentin, he has not subsided into melancholy. Intent on advancing himself materially and meanwhile freeing himself from encumbrance by his relatives, he gives the practical man’s two-dimensional and opportunistic view of all the others, yet he too shows in his own way their common trait of inordinateness when at the novel’s end he intervenes brutally in all directions during his fit of annoyance in the, public square. His mother’s son, and Mr. Compson’s and Quentin’s opposite, he is still a Compson, spoiled in yet a different way, in a family’s deterioration which is also disintegrative. In Jason, a bachelor cotton-merchant with a week-end mistress from
according to the Mote in the Appendix, the Compson line ends. Memphis
The Subjective Approach
Quentin’s brief tortured existence spans the last decade of the nineteenth century and first of the twentieth. The narrative as a whole goes up to 1928, and the three sections other than Quentin’s look back from that Good Friday-Easter week-end. From Quentin’s birth in the 1890’s to 1928 is roughly the period of Faulkner’s own observant boyhood and youth, and his early manhood’s turn to his vocation. While the Faulkners were not a demoralized and disintegrating family, they too had ancestors more distinguished. The autobiographical element is therefore clearly noticeable. At the same time, Faulkner shows a certain judiciously detached manner in writing his novel. He shaped The Sound and the Fury out of a keen awareness of life in a
town and county where the past still lived as an influence and not just as a vague sentiment. We find in this novel a fusion of socio-historical fact and the privately-felt weight of the past. The novel tends toward the imaginative centre of Faulkner’s regional subject as he knew it. Out of such knowledge he found the subjective approach as a means of giving the realities of life in the South the articulation and accents of fiction. The application of this novel’s drastic experimental techniques to matter so broadly grounded in the region’s transitions was a daring risk, but the results show the sure instinct of genius in dealing with the Compsons as conditioned by place, time, and a complicated personal-societal heritage. We must admire the assurance and aptness with which he was able to sense the heart of his story in this novel through the modulations of his characters’ subjectivity. Mississippi
Dilsey, Unforgettable Regional Figure
Yet within the wide comprehensiveness of this novel, the most genuine and the most unforgettable regional figure is none of the Compsons, not even Quentin, but their negro servant, Dilsey. She too is of course native to that place, inheritor of its history and bearer of its burdensome ongoing processes, but she has “endured” in the way that Faulkner generally attributes to the negroes in his .novels. It is Dilsey, with the limited assistance of her husband and her adolescent son (who is Benjy’s attendant) who must sustain the Compsons in what passes for custom and ceremony in their deranged and disharmonious existence. Present in the awareness of others, she pervades the whole story, a critical but constant guardian whose every glance and act is a just evaluation. She is not called upon to account for herself in the way in which Benjy, thin Quentin, then Jason do. Throughout the first three sections her appearances, actions, and utterances show her truly even ‘through such different eyes ; and in the last section she is set forth in an omniscient narrative which pertains to the remaining members of the family at this time, after Quentin’s suicide eighteen years earlier, and then his father’s death and Caddy’s defection, and now the flight of Caddy’s ,daughter Quentin after stealing Jason’s cash-box.
In this fourth section Dilsey is seen at two extremes––first in the midst of her continuing trials, with the uproar this Easter Morning over the theft of Jason’s money, and then in her only respite, with her only comfort, her simple religion, as she listens in the negro church to a stirring sermon on the theme : “I got the recollection and the blood of the Lamb.” Dilsey, who always outspoken, has yet often been as stern with her dependent white folks as with anyone else, now lets her accumulated grief overflow, and there is a memorable image of tears running down her wrinkled cheeks as she listens to the sermon. She continues to weep as she walks’ from the church, and when a companion tells her to quit because they will be passing white folks soon, Dilsey says : “I’ve seed de first en de last”……I seed de beginnin en now I sees de endia “ (“I have seen the first and the last ……I saw the beginning and now I see the ending”). Thereby she measures a family’s history, and her own, but she does nor utter, what her instinct must have told her, that for all of them so situated it had been a fate, an irreversible doom. Perhaps this illuminates her stoic endurance, in that she has never deceived and wasted herself by any hope except through her religion, which was not of this world and which saw no remedies here and now (that is, in this earthly existence).
Quentin’s Reflections Over Negroes
To Quentin, Dilsey had become a point of reference in his haunted and shocked sense of the South with its post-bellum life still turning in many ways upon a disorienting defeat and a heritage of bi-racial questions. On this Faulkner afterwards gave Quentin full scope and exercise in his novel Absalom, Absalom. But in The Sound and the Fury Quentin has already begun to generalize about the curious ambiguities of relationship between white folks and their negro servants. From childhood Quentin remembers as .an example that, when mental deficiency became evident in the child whom his mother had named after her brother Maury, she changed the name to Benjamin, with allusion to Jacob’s son held hostage in
, and Dilsey had said it was done “because Mother was too proud for him.” This recollection leads the maturing Quentin to credit the negroes acuteness in dealing with their white employers : Egypt
They came into white people’s lives like that in sudden sharp black trickles that isolate white facts for an instant in unarguable truth like, under a microscope.
In the same context Quentin acknowledges their inscrutability (“voices that laugh when you see nothing to laugh at, tears when no reason for tears”) and wonders at their passion for gambling and their proneness to religious trance. On Quentin’s first trip to the North he had looked out of the train’s window at a stop in
.and thrown a coin to an old negro man whose presence here seemed to say “You are home again.” It leaves him thinking of Virginia
that quality about them of shabby and timeles patience, of static serenity that blending of child-like and ready incompetence and paradoxical reliability that tends and, protects them it loves out of all reason and robs them steadily and evades responsibility and obligations by means too barefaced to be called subterfuge] even and is taken in theft or evasion with only that frank and spontaneous admiration for the victor which a gentleman feels for anyone who beats him in a fair contest, and withal a fond and unflagging tolerance for ‘white folks’ vagaries like that of a grandparent for unpredictable and troublesome children.
Later he comes to think that
the best way to take all people, black or white, is to take them for what they think they are, then leave them alone. That was when I realized that a nigger is not a person, so much as a form of behaviour ; a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among.
The Universal Quality of the Portrayal of Dilsey
Faulkner’s other examples of his appreciation of certain, elements in the negro temperament are to be seen in such portrayals as that of Lucas Beauchamp in Intruder in the Dust where the characterization centres on the conception of himself that Lucas holds in relation to the world of the white folks. (Faulkner also re-introduced Quentin in one of his subsequent novels, called Absalom, Absalom where the maturing Quentin ponders upon the. black race more deeply). In The Sound and the Fury, the presence of Dilsey contributes to the theme not so much by her racial traits and talents as in the more nearly universal terms of her grimly principled character and behaviour among the unnerved volatile Compsons. Dilsey’s endurance in the midst of the action and throughout its course certifies the novel’s inter-related regionalism and realism, implying human verities in the face of contradictory actualities. Concurrently the local is evoked under trailing vapours of an erosive past ; that history is disastrously compounded by inscrutable heredity, and, for all the characters, situation is given arrest in a secondary, reflexive period of a region’s and a family’s life. Yet with all this local and contemporary veracity The Sound and the Fury stands out in Faulkner’s work primarily for a mode of representation which even at its most experimentally subjective could penetrate realistically into the diverse existences of three brothers, to give a sense of Benjy’s automatically associative non sequential consciousness, Jason’s volcanic bitterness, and Quentin’s fixations and his fevered turning away from all the life he knew, including his own. In hazarding this projection of fictional technique Faulkner did not surrender any claimed ground or minimize his chosen responsibility as realist and regionalist.