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What happens in The Sound and the Fury?

If you’re working your way through William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, hopefully you read part one of my posts about the novel. It lays the groundwork for what we’re going to talk about today: each section of the novel. Each section is broken down into three parts: why that brother/narrator is obsessed with Caddy, the present action, and the memories that come to mind. Hopefully you find this helpful in understanding what is going on, who is speaking, and when thoughts are moving through time.


Part I: April 7, 1928

Benjy’s hang up with Caddy: she is more of a mother figure to him than Mrs. Compson, providing soft physical touch, considerate conversation, and creates a soothing environment for him when she is around.


Present action: It is the day of Benjy's 33rd birthday and he is being watched by his ‘minder’ Luster. Luster is looking for his lost quarter (so he can attend a travelling show in town) and the two wander between the edge of their property where there is a golf course and the Branch (a local term to discern a small body of water). They then discover Miss. Quentin (Caddy's 'illegitimate' daughter) kissing a man with a red tie on the swing—he is a performer in the travelling show. They return to the house and Dilsey gives Benjy his birthday cake and Benjy burns his hand on the candles. Jason returns home and he fights with Miss Quentin who storms out and leaves.


Memories:

Note that scholars still argue how many times Benjy’s narrative moves in time.

  • Caddy says it’s not yet dinner time.

  • Caddy frees Benjy’s clothing from getting caught on a nail.

  • Christmas time and Caddy tells Benjy to put his hands in his pockets. Caddy is wearing perfume and kisses Charlie.

  • Quentin leaves to attend Harvard university.

  • Caddy gets married and leaves. Benjy and T.P. get drunk on sarsaparilla.

  • Mr. Compson brings Miss Quentin home.

Part II: June 2, 1910

Quentin’s hang up with Caddy: he is both jealous of and cannot believe that Caddy would have sex, leaving him ‘behind’. Not wanting to share his sister with others, Quentin wants to restore order over Caddy based on his masculine ‘old south’ values/morality.


Present action: Quentin wakes and is cognizant of time (reoccurring theme throughout this section). He breaks his pocket watch that his father had given him. Quentin rides the streetcar to a watch maker but doesn’t leave his watch for repair. He then buys two weights. He bumps into Deacon and asks him to give his roommate, Shreve, a letter the next day (his suicide note). Quentin then rides out of town to a small town. He encounters three boys who are fishing and tell him the tale of a local fish. Continuing, Quentin goes to purchase food from a bakery and buys extra to give to a poor little girl who ends up following him—but not speaking—around town. Eventually the girl’s brother accuses Quentin of abducting the girl and the police arrest him. He bumps into Soab and Shreve (with two women) as he is taken into the police station. He pays $7 in bail and is set free. The whole crew piles into Soab’s car and go for a picnic. Quentin and Soab fight and Quentin leaves to return to his room at the university.


Memories:

Quentin’s narrative becomes looser and looser as he spirals towards his suicide.

  • Mr. Compson’s philosophies/teachings to Quentin and discovery/discussion of Caddy’s pregnancy. Quentin’s ‘old south’ values of honour and as a first-born son cannot reconcile Caddy’s sin and his virginity.

  • Meeting with Herbert Head (Caddy's fiancé).

  • Quentin remembers how his mother treated him and Caddy and believes she is the cause for Caddy’s ‘downfall’.

  • He tries to convince his father that it was he who impregnated Caddy, believing that might erase her sin.

  • Quentin sees Caddy washing her body in the Branch after having sex with another man and Quentin turns violent proposing a suicide pact between the two as e places a knife to Caddy’s neck.

  • He is preoccupied with Caddy’s lover Dalton Ames and, in an act of symbolic impotence, attempts to shoot Dalton but is talked out of it (this mirrors the scene in the present where he loses the first fight with Soab).

Part III: April 6, 1928 (Good Friday)

Jason’s hang up with Caddy: her husband (Herbert Head) was supposed to provide Jason a job in the bank in a city. But when Caddy and Herbert divorce, Jason loses the opportunity and holds it against her, growing ever more bitter.


Present action: Given the title of each section, Jason’s section happens prior to Benjy’s section. Jason is the head of household since the death of Mr. Compson (and suicide of first-born Quentin) and is often fighting with his mother and Miss Quentin. Mrs. Compson is particularly concerned with Miss Quentin skipping school and what she does during that time. Jason argues his mother should let him ‘strong arm’ Miss Quentin into obeying the house rules. After a confrontation at breakfast, Jason drives to pick up the mail and then arrives at his job at the local farm supply shop. While we see Jason dabbling in the stock market (losing money) he has also been secretly taking the money sent by Caddy to Miss Quentin for his own gains. Miss Quentin arrives at his office expecting a letter and money from her mother, but Jason manipulates her into signing away her money and offers her only $10. Twice Jason attempts to follow Miss Quentin and the man with the red tie (who is part of the travelling show)—once on foot and then by car. Once of his car tires is deflated. An awkward inner ensues here Jason strongly hints at Miss Quentin’s activities during the day with Mrs. Compson and Miss Quentin at the table.


Memories:

  • Caddy returns to her hometown and begs Jason for a glimpse of her daughter. In exchange for money, Jason puts Miss. Quentin in the carriage and quickly drives her past a window for Caddy to see.

  • After Mr. Compson’s death, Jason convinces his mother that he should have power of attorney over her money. She agrees and he manipulates her into ‘burning’ Caddy’s cheques—when really he has been depositing the real cheques into his own account and taking money from his mother.

Part IV: April 8, 1928 (Easter Monday)

An omniscient narrator gives us a clearer view of the Compson family in the present.


Present plot: Dilsey, the Compson’s cook, begins her day by setting up the kitchen and fetching hot water for Mrs. Compson. She urges Luster to work and lays the table for breakfast, although Miss Quentin doesn’t come down to eat. Jason is immediately suspicious—his own window being broken—and rushes to Mis Quentins room to discover her gone and then he discovers all his money in his strongbox is missing as well. He races to the town’s sheriff and explains, but the sheriff is aware that Jason is more interested in getting his hands on Miss Quentin than his money and insinuates he knows Jason hasn’t been honest with how he gets his money. Racing out of town to follow the travelling show, Jason confronts a man who then violently beats Jason. Dilsey takes Benjy to the Easter Sunday church service in the Black community and is moved by the visiting preacher. The morning events, combined with the message of the sermon, makes her realize she is seeing the ‘ending’ of the Compson family. She sends Benjy out in the carriage with Luster driving, advising him to take the same route T.P. used to take to the graveyard. When Luster goes the wrong way, Benjy begins to howl at the lack of order/predictability and Jason enters the scene to right the carriage.


Themes and Symbols

  • Time. Passage of it, fluidity it, its ability to jump around.

  • Virginity, purity, gender constructs.

  • Old south (pre-Civil War) vs. new south values.

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