The Sound and the Fury Questions and Answers
by William Faulkner

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Faulkner is at once America's most traditional and its most modern writer. Amplify this statement with illustration from The Sound and the Fury.

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I think that The Sound and the Fury shows Faulkner's skill to cradle both the traditional and the modern.  He writes with an understanding that the past is a part of the modern setting.  In a later work, Requiem for a Nun, Faulkner wrote  "The past is never dead. It's not even past."  This reflects how Faulkner is able to embrace tradition and modernity in The Sound and the Fury.  The latter is never far off from the former.

Illustrating how both are intertwined is how Faulkner sees the Compson Home. On the outside, they fulfill the traditional notion of Southern life.  Their world is filled with the perception of wealth and power, and the established ethos of respectability.  They feature children who have gone to prestigious schools like Harvard, and others who are gainfully employed.  The traditional fulfillment of social expectation is where Faulkner draws out the external perception of the Compson household.  Its members dutifully pay homage to what is expected of them.  They fulfill their traditional conceptions.  Mrs. Compson embodies the traditional matriarch with her upholding of tradition, even to the point of stifling others:  ""I know I’m just a troublesome old woman. But I know that people cannot flout God’s laws with impunity."  Mr. Compson is the embodiment of the Southern gentleman, a fading presence in both his social world and his family's.  There is a dignity within the Compson home, filled with "Benjy's pasture" and an almost idyllic rendering of Southern life.  In these contexts, there is a traditional element that Faulkner draws upon in the development of the characters and the world in which they live.

This element of the past is critical in understanding their modern predicament. Faulkner embodies the modern element in the Compson narrative.  Nearly every aspect in which the idealized past is sought is undercut with a modern reality of sadness and melancholy.  Mrs. Compson's harsh and emotionally alienating condition causes her children to become neurotic and deprived of a mother's love.  Her presence in the modern setting causes only pain and suffering.  Mr. Compson's condition of being in the world is one where futility and pain seem to be constant companions.  The modern world that he envisions is trapped by the "mausoleum of all hope and desire."   Benjy's pasture is now the source of his pain, a domain where he hears "Caddy" called out by golfers and cries out for the loss of his sister.  The Compson home is dilapidated and decaying, reflective of an uncertain modern identity.  The elegance of the past has become supplanted with the doubt and ambiguity of the present.  Faulkner shows characters who struggle with the modern condition in light of their past, a force that continues to shape their lives without any full acknowledgement or understanding as to how it does.  This is seen in how the narrative structure of the novel is one events filter in and out of consciousness, preventing a full understanding or totality of them.

Dilsey becomes the final element that links past and present together.  She is a critical part of the Compson home.  She keeps everything together, frayed past and all.  Dilsey is the force that guides the Compson home into an uncertain modern setting.  Through Dilsey, Faulkner is able to straddle both worlds.  It is a tightrope in which characters are bound by a fallen past into an even more uncertain future. The result of this is that Faulkner establishes himself as a traditional and modern writer.

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