The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner
Analysis: What’s Up With the Ending?
Ending? What ending? Were you expecting a "happily ever after"? If so, you sure picked the wrong novel. The Sound and the Fury just ain’t about happiness. Or about ending things, for that matter. Why isn’t there an ending? Well, that’s a good question. If you look back at the Macbeth quote from which the title of our novel is drawn, you’ll see that Faulkner’s obsessed with the idea of "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" (Macbeth 5.5). In other words, maybe the only thing more terrifying and depressing than a tragic ending is the realization that there won’t be any ending. Things will just stay the same…forever. (Insert scary monster movie soundtrack here.)
That’s not to say that lots of stuff doesn’t happen in the last chapter of the novel. After all, Quentin runs off with Jason’s money, leaving the house (and the Compson family) for good. We see just how rotten Jason actually is. Dilsey gets a good day’s praying in at church. All in all, it’s a fairly productive day.
Scratch beneath the surface, though, and you’ll see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. (Haven’t we heard that one somewhere?) The family continues to put pressure on its female children, making unreasonable demands that force them to escape. We could agree with Mrs. Compson and insist that Quentin ran away because she’s just plain bad (like her mother was), but we think that there might be more to it than that. After all, nobody else in the Compson family changes, either. Jason’s as obsessed with flour as he was when he was a seven-year-old boy. Dilsey’s as solid in her faith as she was when the Compson children were little kids. As she asserts, everything happens in "the Lawd’s own time" ( 1.1296). It just seems like the Lord hasn’t gotten around to recognizing that the Compsons are stuck in a bit of a quagmire.
Instead of an ending, then, let’s chat a bit about the last scene of the novel. Luster takes Benjy out for a ride in the carriage and decides to shake things up a bit. He’s only shaking things up a very little bit – instead of driving around the downtown circle clockwise, he’s going to go counter-clockwise. Unfortunately, this totally freaks Benjy out. He begins bellowing. And bellowing. And bellowing. Jason sees them and runs over, furious that Luster has caused Benjy to make a scene. As the novel closes, things start moving in their normal order:
I could hear Queenie's feet and the bright shapes went smooth and steady on both sides, the shadows of them flowing across Queenie's back. They went on like the bright tops of wheels. Then those on one side stopped at the tall white post where the soldier was. But on the other side they went on smooth and steady, but a little slower. (4.1105)
In other words, things are going just as they’re supposed to go.
It seems like a pretty insignificant episode – but it’s actually a rather clever way to propose a teeny-tiny positive side to the whole "things never change and life is miserable" theme that Faulkner has going. You see, Benjy’s actually comforted by the routine of a world that continues to operate in exactly the same way as it did yesterday. For one member of the Compson family, at least, stasis is a way to ensure that the world is in proper working order. It’s not a perfect ending, that’s for sure. It’s not even a very hopeful one. It does testify, however, to the ability of people to endure pretty much anything. Benjy, for one, sees his world turn completely upside-down. As it returns to his normal order, however, he calms down. Things will be today just as they were yesterday. They’ll be the same tomorrow as they are today. Maybe that isn’t so bad, after all.