Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Yoknapatawpha County (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Beginning with his third novel, William Faulkner set a great deal of his fiction in the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County. Faulkner drew this county for a map included in his novel Absalom, Absalom! (1936). He included details about plot events and where they occurred. The county is named after a river in Mississippi and the Native American word Yoknapatawpha. The details make it clear that it corresponds to Lafayette County, Mississippi, where Faulkner lived in the town of Oxford, called Jefferson in his fiction. Throughout Faulkner’s fiction, he creates a detailed history of the land, its inhabitants, its changes, and its significance. By taking his home, what he called his own “little postage stamp of native soil,” and transforming it into the powerful mythical county of his fiction, Faulkner created an enduring literary landscape.
Jefferson. Typical southern town of the period, Jefferson plays a central role in the story. The siblings play on their land and the surrounding area, from Benjy’s pasture to neighboring yards, the riverbank, and the creek, where a number of important events take place. The powerful last scene of the novel takes place in the town square, complete with Confederate statue, where Luster upsets Benjy by going the wrong way on a one-way street. The town is also where Jason rushes in and out of the store...
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The Impact of the Civil War on the South
The loss of the Civil War in the nineteenth century had a profound impact on the psyche of the south. The region not only lost the war, but their whole way of life as well. The aristocratic structure of slavery was destroyed when the South lost the war, but many of the social values remained. Whites still controlled the economic and social structure of the region. Blacks, while no longer slaves, were generally under the rule of white society. What evolved over the next hundred years in the South was a society where blacks were legally free, but socially disenfranchised from an equal education and equal economic opportunities. The relationship of the blacks to whites depicted by Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury reflects that social and economic divide. The blacks in the novel are servants of the Compsons. Their role as servant is expanded by Faulkner to that of spiritual caretaker, especially as he portrays the character of Dilsey.
In conjunction with the South's defeat in the Civil War was the area's lessening economic influence. During the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, industrial and manufacturing businesses came to dominate the U.S. economy. Agriculture, the mainstay of the Southern economy, was less profitable, especially for relatively small family farms. The economic problems of the South can be seen in the way Faulkner portrays the Compsons. Their economic...
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Chronology of Major Events
circa 1889—The birth of Quentin Compson.
circa 1891—The birth of Candace (Caddy) Compson.
circa 1893—The birth of Jason IV Compson.
April 7, 1895—The birth of Benjamin Compson (formerly "Maury," called "Benjy").
Fall 1898—The death of Damuddy.
circa 1900—Benjamin Compson’s name changed from "Maury Compson."
April 25, 1910—The marriage of Candace Compson to Herbert Head.
May 1910—The castration of Benjamin Compson after he runs after some young girls.
June 2, 1910—The date of the narration in Part Two of the novel; the suicide of Quentin Compson.
circa Fall 1910—Herbert Head discovers the pregnancy of Candace and abandons her.
circa Winter 1910—The birth of Miss Quentin, daughter of Candace Compson; Miss Quentin is brought home to the Compson estate by Mr (Jason III) Compson.
circa 1912—The death of Mr (Jason III) Compson, brought on by alcoholism; Jason IV and Candace Compson meet at the grave of Jason III, and Candace begins sending money for the care of Miss Quentin.
circa 1914—The death of Roskus Gibson.
April 6, 1918—Date of the narration in Part Three of the novel.
April 7, 1928—Date of the narration in Part One of the novel.
April 8, 1928—Date of the narration in Part Four of the novel; Miss Quentin takes the money that Jason kept in a box and runs...
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Part 1 Questions and Answers
1. Explain why Benjy cried when the golfer called, “Here caddie.”
2. What was Luster looking for by the stream?
3. When Caddy and Benjy passed the pig pen on Christmas Eve, why did Caddy say the pigs were upset?
4. Why, as children, did Caddy and Quentin think they would be whipped?
5. Why did Caddy climb a tree?
6. What did Benjy think of Caddy after she had climbed the tree?
7. What did Uncle Maury have Benjy deliver?
8. Why was Benjy’s name changed?
9. Why did Benjy withdraw from Caddy?
10. What was unusual about how the man on a swing with Miss Quentin was dressed?
1. Benjy cried because the word “caddie” was like the name of his sister who had left her home.
2. Luster was looking for a lost quarter by the stream.
3. Caddy told Benjy the pigs were upset because one of them had just been slaughtered.
4. As children, Caddy and Quentin thought they would be whipped because Quentin had knocked Caddy down and she had muddied her drawers.
5. Caddy climbed a tree to see if the adults were having a party or a funeral.
6. After Caddy had climbed a tree, Benjy thought that she smelled like trees.
7. Uncle Maury had Benjy deliver a letter to Mrs Patterson, with whom Uncle Maury was having an affair.
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Part 2 Questions and Answers
1. What did Quentin do with the watch from his father?
2. What, for Quentin, was the significance of the month of June?
3. What did Quentin tell his father that he and Caddy had done?
4. What did Quentin enclose with the suicide note to his ¬father?
5. How did the Compson family pay for Quentin’s tuition to Harvard?
6. What reward did a store in Boston offer to anybody who could catch the giant trout?
7. Where did the three boys go after they gave up the idea of catching the trout?
8. What did Caddy do to Natalie, the girlfriend of Quentin?
9. What did Dalton Ames do with his gun after he had demonstrated how it worked?
10. What is the last thing that Quentin does before going out to commit suicide?
1. Quentin broke the glass of the watch, then tore off the hands.
2. Quentin called June “the month of brides,” thinking of the wedding of his sister Caddy.
3. Quentin told his father that he and Caddy had committed incest.
4. Quentin enclosed the key to his trunk with the suicide note to his father.
5. The Compson family paid for Quentin’s tuition to Harvard by selling the piece of land known as “Benjy’s pasture.”
6. A store in Boston offered a fishing pole worth $25 to anyone who could catch the giant trout.
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Part 3 Questions and Answers
1. Why did a teacher from Miss Quentin’s school call Mrs Compson?
2. What did Caddy say she would do if Jason did not reply to her letter by April 10th?
3. What was Jason investing money in?
4. Why, especially, did Jason hold a grudge against Caddy?
5. How does Jason let Caddy see her infant daughter?
6. How does Jason manage to obtain the money that Caddy sends for the care of Miss Quentin?
7. What does Uncle Maury request of Jason in his letter?
8. What does Jason do when he sees Miss Quentin in a car with a travelling entertainer?
9. What does Jason learn every time he goes into the telegraph office?
10. What does Mrs Compson think Miss Quentin has been doing in her room at night?
1. A teacher from Miss Quentin’s school said Mrs Compson’s granddaughter had been absent far too much and was close to being expelled.
2. Caddy said that if Jason did not reply to her letter by April 10th, she would come down herself and see that her money was used to buy Miss Quentin an Easter dress.
3. Jason was investing money in cotton.
4. Jason held a grudge against Caddy, especially, because her husband, Herbert Head, had promised Jason a job at his bank but failed to make good on his pledge.
5. Jason passes Caddy in a carriage and holds up her infant daughter...
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Part 4 Questions and Answers
1. What does Jason think at first when he finds that the window of his room has been broken?
2. What does Jason call Mrs Compson when she is slow about giving him the key to Miss Quentin’s room?
3. What does Mrs Compson look for when she learns that Miss Quentin is missing?
4. What does Jason do as soon as he gets into Miss Quentin’s room and finds the bed has not been slept in?
5. What does Luster tell Dilsey about Miss Quentin before they go to church?
6. What did Mrs Compson ask for after Dilsey returned from church?
7. Why did the sheriff refuse to help Jason pursue Miss Quentin and the travelling entertainer with a red tie?
8. Why was Jason so upset about the loss of his niece and of the money?
9. Where did Jason expect to find his niece and the man with the red tie?
10. What first starts Benjy crying in the afternoon?
1. When Jason finds the window in his room has been broken, he first thinks that Luster and Benjy are responsible.
2. When she is slow about giving him the key to Miss Quentin’s room, Jason calls Mrs Compson an “old fool.”
3. When she learns that Miss Quentin is missing, Mrs Compson looks for a suicide note.
4. When Jason gets into Miss Quentin’s room and finds the bed has not been slept in, he runs to his room and checks the box...
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Writing in his book The Falkners of Mississippi in a chapter called "Cowboys, Indians, and a Flying Machine," Murray Falkner describes the Falkner brothers attending movies in Oxford, Mississippi, as children. Since the movies they saw were silent, meaning was largely conveyed through montage rather than texts at the bottom of a frame. Montage is the juxtaposition of images that produces an idea independent of either image in isolation. For example, a shot of a man licking his lips followed by a shot of a bowl of soup creates an idea of hunger independent of either image in isolation. Faulkner makes liberal use of this technique, especially in the interior monologues in Benjy's and Quentin's narrations. Interior monologues seem disordered so that they will resemble consciousness, but for meaning to occur, some structural principle must order consciousness. Ridding the text of its apparent disorder is especially important in Benjy's narration since it contains less symbolic ordering than Quentin's narration. Montage, a cinematic metaphor, helps provide this order. If Faulkner chooses to contrast the scene of Caddy in a swing with a boy to another scene of Quentin in a swing with a man, the reader is induced to feel a sense of loss, for Caddy is much more understanding of Benjy's feelings than Quentin is. Montage sequences, dealt with earlier as juxtaposition, effectively order the narrations of Benjy and Quentin. Faulkner may have uncovered the technique from...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Faulkner's Compsons have some relation to his own family and some to people he knew in Oxford as he was growing up. Book II "Childhood and Youth" in Joseph Blotner's Faulkner: A Biography gives a good view of Faulkner's childhood and adolescence. While all the Falkner children were boys, Sallie Murry and Estelle Oldham, who later became Faulkner's wife, frequently joined them in play. Reading Blotner might help readers assess how closely Faulkner worked with biographical materials in his fiction. C. Vann Woodward's The Burden of Southern History provides a good overview of the South.
1. How closely is Faulkner working with his own past in the invention of the Compson family?
2. The decline of once-powerful families has been frequently dealt with in literature. Does a Southern past have much to do with the Compson family fall? Does it enrich that fall?
3. Faulkner appears to have used many cinematic devices in writing The Sound and the Fury. Can the book ever become a good movie or television play? Which medium do you think is closer to the form of the novel, television or film, and why?
4. How does Faulkner create order out of seemingly disordered consciousness in Benjy's and Quentin's narratives?
5. What symbolic structures does Faulkner employ in The Sound and the Fury, and how effective are they?
6. What effects does Faulkner gain by a changing point of view: from...
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Unlike many of William Faulkner's novels, which deal with the politics of class, race, or man's responsibility to the land, The Sound and the Fury is the story of the tragic downfall of a once-prominent Southern family known as the Compsons. The narrative, which covers thirty years, is the American dream in reverse. In The Sound and the Fury the Compsons fall from genteel poverty, deliberately end their line, and lose their sense of civic mindedness. In this family, readers encounter hypochondria in one parent and alcoholism in another. In the children, we are confronted with incestuous feelings between a brother and sister, castration and/or fear of castration, and a loss of innocence through changing family values. As the family line dies out, children suffer pregnancy out of wedlock, idiocy, suicide, and sterile bachelorhood. In the end, only the family cook and servant, Dilsey, is left to suggest the positive virtues this family once had. Because of the disintegration of the family, the novel is more emotive than issue laden; it feels more than it thinks, and what it thinks of is the past. The French writer and existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once described the characters in The Sound and the Fury as passengers in a speeding motor car looking backwards. In what might be a typical view of Southerners in the 1920s, the future is not in view, and the present is but a blur; only the past is seen with clarity. More than...
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Compare and Contrast
1929: Black and white relations in the South were stratified along racial lines. Education was officially segregated, with facilities for black and white children "separate but equal."
Today: In the urban South, many African Americans, as elsewhere in the United States, have gained economic and professional status. Poor blacks everywhere in America are experiencing poverty and poor education at record low levels. Education is supposedly integrated, but neighborhood racial patterns have worked against equalizing education.
1929: While the family structure was beginning to disintegrate because of social changes in the country, most families had two parents and extended families living close together was common.
Today: The two-parent "nuclear" family structure has been shattered by high rates of divorce and remarriage. A relatively high percentage of children in the United States live in single-parent families.
1929: Creativity in the arts was flourishing in the United States. Reading novels and short stories was a major form of entertainment. Only a few writers were financially successful.
Today: Much of the literary creativity of Americans has become channeled into team efforts for television sitcoms and dramatic serials. The novel is still a significant form of recreation, but the film has superseded the novel as the primary form for written creative expression. A...
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Topics for Further Study
Research mental retardation and discuss the accuracy of Faulkner's portrayal of Benjy. Compare public attitudes toward mental impairment and illness today to the attitudes shown in Faulkner's novel.
Discuss the importance of Dilsey's role in the novel. What do you think is Faulkner saying about race relations in the book and how does his portrayal compare with current depictions of African Americans in literature or the media?
Find information about other cultures' attitude toward incest. Discuss the concept of incest as a taboo, and from both a moral and biological perspective.
Compare Faulkner's style in The Sound and the Fury with James Joyce's use of the subjective point of view in The Dubliners or The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
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The Sound and the Fury resembles nothing in Faulkner's previous work. When Faulkner wrote the novel, he was not sure that he would ever be published again and so was writing only for himself. His discouragement was the result of overwhelmingly negative responses to his earlier manuscript, Flags in the Dust, which his publisher rejected outright. Because of Faulkner's disillusion with both manuscript and publisher, Faulkner's friend Ben Wasson edited Flags in the Dust for him; eventually, Wasson placed the book—known now as Sartoris— with a publisher. Aside from the difficulties surrounding its publication, Flags in the Dust was an important step in Faulkner's artistic development, because it was in this manuscript that he created his fictional agrarian county of Yoknapatawpha, which he continued to explore in the majority of his works. Though his Yoknapatawpha works represent a great advance over his earlier writings, in artistic technique, The Sound and the Fury is light years ahead of all of his earlier work.
In various interviews, Faulkner made many contradictory statements about his reading of Joyce's Ulysses. When or if he read Ulysses is unclear. Sometimes Faulkner acknowledged his indebtedness to Joyce; sometimes he did not. However, parallels between the two novels are evident. The monologues of Ulysses are all built around a single day, just as Faulkner's narratives of Benjy and Quentin...
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Faulkner's short story, "That Evening Sun," which preceded The Sound and the Fury, features Mr. and Mrs. Compson, and the Compson children with Quentin as narrator. Nancy, the Compson's sometime servant and washwoman, is the focus of the story. She has an affair with a white man, gets pregnant by him, and poses a dilemma for her husband, Jesus. If Jesus tries to attack Nancy's seducer, he will probably be lynched; thus, he chooses to leave. Nancy nonetheless fears Jesus will kill her, although in the story he never threatens her. Racist feelings draw Nancy to her white lover, and racism colors the fear that pervades the story. The Compson parents are irrationally fearful, since Jesus has never threatened them, but perhaps the racial attitudes of the community make their fear seem logical. Jason, like other children, is learning his community's racial biases, but he does not know what the word nigger means; all he knows is that it is not good to be a nigger. When he asks Nancy if she is a nigger, he is unaware that being black is part of the definition. The corruption of children in this powerful short story presage the corruption of the children in the novel.
Jason's brother Quentin and Shreve, Quentin's roommate at Harvard, play major roles in the story and narrative structure of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! Here the roommates are trying to comprehend the situation between Thomas Sutpen, Charles Bon, Sutpen's son by a...
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The Sound and the Fury was adapted for television in 1955 and for film in 1959 in two forgettable productions. The television play was created for NBC and featured a cast of Franchot Tone, Lillian Gish, and Ethel Waters. The film, produced by Twentieth Century- Fox, was directed by Martin Ritt. The best performance was by Joanne Woodward as Quentin; Yul Brynner played Jason.
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Jerry Wald produced and Martin Ritt directed a film version of The Sound and the Fury in 1959. Jason was played by Yul Brynner and Benjy by Jack Warden. Margaret Leighton portrayed Caddy and Joanne Woodward played her daughter, Quentin. Ethel Waters was cast in the role of Dilsey. Unavailable on video.
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What Do I Read Next?
A tale of incest in the Sutpen family set in the South, Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (1936) features Quentin Compson as a character.
Truman Capote's 1948 novel Other Voices, Other Rooms is the story of alienated youth set in the author's usual Southern Gothic atmosphere.
Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning romantic novel Gone with the Wind, published in 1936, depicts the destruction of Southern culture during the Civil War.
Robert Perm Warren's 1946 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the King's Men portrays a charismatic Southern politician who has been compared to the real politician Huey Long.
Both of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning plays Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) depict the sexual frustration of his characters in the context of Southern society.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. Caddy Compson. New York: Chelsea House, 1990. Contains ten critical essays focusing on Caddy Compson.
Karl, Frederick R. William Faulkner: American Writer. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989. A 1,000-page biography of Faulkner that also provides insightful critical analyses of his major works. Karl’s discussion of how Faulkner wove together the complex parts of The Sound and the Fury is particularly illuminating.
Matthews, John T. “The Sound and the Fury”: Faulkner and the Lost Cause. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A short but insightful book-length study of the novel, with chapters devoted to its importance in Faulkner’s canon and to its composition, critical reception, characterization, setting, and narrative technique.
Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. One of the first, and most useful, book-length studies of the Faulkner canon. The discussion of The Sound and the Fury focuses on the narratives of the Compson brothers.
Volpe, Edmund L. A Reader’s Guide to William Faulkner. New York: Noonday Press, 1964. The best beginner’s guide to Faulkner’s work. Appendix contains scene-by-scene rendering of Benjy’s and Quentin’s sometimes confusing narratives...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Adams, Richard P. Faulkner: Myth and Motion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Bloom, Harold, ed. William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.
Brodhead, Richard H., ed. Faulkner: New Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1983.
Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: First Encounters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.
Crunden, Robert M. A Brief History of American Culture. New York: Paragon House, 1994.
Fadiman, Clifton. "Hardly Worth While," Nation, January 15, 1930, pp. 74-75.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage, 1984.
Griffin, Robert J. "Ethical Point of View in The Sound and the Fury," in Essays in Modern American Literature, edited by Richard E Langford, Stetson University Press, 1963, pp 55-64.
Heller, Terry. In Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Salem Press, 1991, pp. 1088-1110.
Mizener, Arthur. "William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury," in Twelve Great American Novels, New American Library, 1967, pp. 120-59.
Polk, Noel, ed. New Essays on The Sound and the Fury. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Robbins, Frances Lamont. Review in Outlook and Independent, Vol. 153, No. 7, October 16, 1929, pp. 268-69.
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