The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner expresses racism in a unique way by having three different first person narrators Benjy (partially omniscient), Quentin, and Jason. Can you find any...

The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner expresses racism in a unique way by having three different first person narrators Benjy (partially omniscient), Quentin, and Jason. Can you find any examples where there is a connection between the narrative form and racism?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is a complex issue to address because nearly everything in The Sound and the Fury is intricate.  I would suggest that a potential connection between the narrative form and racism is evident in the fragmentation of the Compson family and the narrative totality in Dilsey.  In order for this view to be accepted, one has to accept that Dilsey is the unifying presence and force that the Compsons could never be.  Faulkner's development of the Compson family is rooted in fragmentation and disunity.  The frayed relationship of the elder and Mrs. Compson is matched by the atomized nature of the children.  Caddy, the emotional focal point of the siblings, is never given a section and conjecture abounds as to what happened to her.  Quentin commits suicide amidst an abyss of self- hate, doubt, and frailty, seeing death as a shelter from the pain of living.  Jason is absorbed with materialism and shallow trappings of power as means to conceal the anger that burdens within.  Benjy embodies the incomplete nature of the family.  He possesses the ability to smell tragedy, but is castrated and intellectually incapable of conveying any of this to anyone.

In these aspects, the family's divided narrative focus is evident.  This enhances Faulkner's communication of the issue of race in the Compson family.  The issue of race is reflective of this divided condition.   Neither member of the family can truly understand and articulate the full throated dynamics of race because they lack the full means to articulate their own condition in the world. They are limited human beings, and Faulkner might be suggesting that their own psychological limitations is where racist attitudes develop.  Jason's brutal and shallow nature compels him to view Dilsey and people of color in less of a light.  His degrading treatment of Dilsey is reflective of the degradation he subjects others to and is rooted to the degrading psychological that lies at the center of his being in the world.  Benjy is in capable of understanding so much in the world, and the dynamics of race is a part of it.  His cries are as much about his own consciousness as much as the "hopeless sound of all voiceless misery under the sun," of which the dynamics of race are a part.  Quentin articulates a fear of change and progression.  This is seen in his coveting of Caddy and inability to do anything but express a mourning for the future.  It is in this fragmented state where Faulkner depicts Quentin's inability to understand the condition of race.  In each of the three narratives, race cannot be understood primarily because the narrative references cannot understand their own senses of self.  Faulkner's use of the narrative form, one that is rooted in the fragmented inexactitude of the Compson, precludes a full understanding of race.

It is through this where Dilsey becomes the unifying force.  Dilsey, Faulkner's almost- heroine at the end, embodies the collective unity that the members of the Compson home lack.  Faulkner gives to Dilsey the unifying language that the other narrative forms in the novel lack.  Faulkner gives Dilsey the coherency and language that the other characters could never possess:

She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage or fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts.  

When she provides the care for Benjy or endures Jason's brutuality, Dilsey is shown to be much more than the limited and fragmented conditions of the Compsons.  In the redemption of caring for the children or standing for her own faith as in her Easter best, Faulkner provides the frame of reference to overcoming racism in the totality of Dilsey.  In the ending note of endurance and withstanding the pain of modern consciousness, Faulkner intimates as how one challenges the conditions of racism, personal qualities that the narrative structures of the other children lack.

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