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Analysis

Clocks

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

If you forget everything else about Quentin, you’ll probably remember that he was that guy in that Faulkner novel who was so obsessed with clocks. Let’s face it: the guy’s got a bit of a problem. Just about everything he does or thinks about in his section is punctuated with some awareness of how that action does (or doesn’t) fit into time.

Believe it or not, we’ve got a few things to say about clocks, as well. If you didn’t get enough from Quentin himself, that is. Here’s what we’ve got:

  1. Clocks are the markers of the historical past. If the clock keeps ticking, then things that happen before "now" have to have happened "then." If you want to run with this (and oh, believe us, Quentin does), then without any clocks, there wouldn’t be any difference between the present and the past. If there’s no "today," then how can there be a "yesterday"? It’s all pretty zany, we know – but it’s a decently sophisticated existential meditation. At least, that’s what Quentin thinks. Here’s what he remembers his father saying, "Because Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life" (2.53).

    In other words, all the things that you think you might have missed (like, say, the chance to fix Caddy’s life) only become possible when the clock stops marking off the difference between the past and the present. Notice how violent this description of time is? Clocks slaying time? The Compsons don’t really think of the present as their friend.

  2. There’s a big difference between public time and private time. Remember how Quentin keeps listening to the bells of the Harvard campus? That’s public time, the kind that everyone can hear. If you don’t get to class by the time the bell tolls, you’re late. Everyone knows this.

    The trouble is, individuals often experience time in ways that are different than the public measurement of time. Think about it. It seems like you’ve only been playing a video game for a few minutes, but actually it’s 3:00 in the morning and you’re totally screwed because you have to be in class at eight tomorrow. You didn’t even notice the time passing. Sound familiar? That’s a form of individual time. It’s something that Faulkner experiments with for all of his characters, but most consciously with Quentin. Remember what Quentin says about his own watch?

    Just in case you don’t, we’ve got it here for you:

    It was Grandfather's and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it's rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father's. (2.1)
If we focus in on that last line, we see what Mr. Compson’s getting at: a watch, even a watch that’s been in the family forever and ever, can’t actually measure time the way that an individual experiences it. Watches, in fact, are almost no good at all for that. Perhaps that’s why Quentin breaks his.

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