The Sound and the Fury Suggested Essay Topics
by William Faulkner

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Suggested Essay Topics

Part 1
1. Faulkner in the first section of The Sound and the Fury represented the world of a retarded man as filled with sensuous impressions that are joined by associations. There are no abstractions. Many experts on retardation will question whether that representation applies to all the retarded. Do you know any retarded people? Do you think it applies to them?

2. Several of the characters in The Sound and the Fury might be characterized as insane or nearly so, but only Benjy is retarded. How do people distinguish between insanity and retardation? How well do you think these distinctions apply in the novel by Faulkner?

3. The name "Benjamin" is taken from the youngest son of Jacob in the Biblical story of Joseph (Genesis IV). Read this story and see what references you can find to it in the first part of The Sound and the Fury. Why do you think the name "Benjamin" or "Benjy" was chosen?

4. The Sound and the Fury never records any extended conversation between Caddy and her father, yet he seems to have been fond of her. He puts her, rather than her elder brother, in charge on the night of Damuddy’s death. What do you think the relationship between Mr Compson and Caddy was like?

5. One thing that can make the first part of The Sound and the Fury confusing is that Benjy uses the name "Quentin" for both his brother and his niece and does not otherwise distinguish between them. Does Benjy fully realize that they are two different people? How much do you think he distinguishes between the name and the human being?

Part 2
1. Discuss the significance of Quentin’s heirloom watch in The Sound and the Fury. Why does Mr Compson call it "the mausoleum of all hope and desire?" Why does Quentin break the watch? Why does Quentin take it to the jeweler, if he does not really want the watch repaired? Why does he finally leave the watch in the drawer of Shreve MacKenzie? To appreciate the significance of the symbol, it may help to remember that watches, when the story was written, were generally larger and more ornate than those used today. They ticked far more loudly, and had to be wound regularly.

2. The section narrated from Quentin’s point of view blends not only past and present but fantasy and reality. How much of what Quentin reports actually happened and how much do you think he imagined? Do you think, for example, that the confrontation with Dalton Ames actually took place or not? If it did, do you think it happened as Quentin recalls it?

3. What does Quentin mean when he speaks of "little sister death?" Does this suggest that his obsession with Caddy is, in some way, an infatuation with death? Is he, in other words, in love with death? Does the association tell us anything about the way Quentin regards Caddy?

4. Quentin is terrified of his own sexuality, in part because it is incestuously focused on his sister Caddy. Do you believe a psychologist would have been able to help him? If so, do you think he would have wanted the help?

5. The Sound and the Fury certainly does not give us a very attractive picture of the South, but the depiction of the North is just as harsh. While the South is especially marked by cruelty and narrow-mindedness, the North is filled with greed and corruption. Compare in detail the people from the North and South. Which region, if any, do you think that Faulkner prefers?

Part 3
1. All of the Compsons except Jason seem to have a rather casual attitude toward money. Why, then, is Jason obsessed with it?

2. One theme of The Sound and the Fury is how the commercial culture of the North is replacing traditional Southern ways. How can this change be observed in the town of Jefferson? Do you think Faulkner considered the change good or bad?

3. Caddy attempts to care for her daughter at a distance, sending money instead of giving personal affection. How does this mirror the earlier relationship between Mrs Compson and Caddy? Compare these two mother-daughter pairs.

Part 4
1. There are parallels between the Compson family and the family of...

(The entire section is 1,118 words.)