The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner
Lots of families have a bad apple somewhere in its family tree. Cinderella had some nasty stepsisters. King Lear had two evil daughters, Goneril and Regan. The Compsons have Jason.
We wish we could say that Jason had some redeeming qualities. The thing is, he really doesn’t. We’re not even kidding. As a child, Jason was a tattletale. Faulkner makes clear that even as a child, Jason’s telling is really only a measure of his inefficacy. As Caddy points out, if you’ve "already told…There’s not anything else you can tell, now" (1.322). "Telling" is the sort of power that doesn’t build friends or last long. Jason’s not in for long-term relationship building, however – unless that relationship involves looking out for Number One.
Moreover, even as a wee tyke, Jason is obsessed with one thing: money. He scams other little kids into selling kites made from flour paste. (This obsession with the flour barrel sticks with him throughout his life. He’s pretty aware of how much flour the house uses as a grown-up, as well.) As an adult, he spends his time either stealing his niece’s money, convincing his mother that he’s making tons of money or watching the stock market. Given that he actually manages to keep lots of money (at least until the end of the novel, at any rate), things seem to be working out for him.
It’s tempting to think that Jason’s the one who makes out best in the Compson family. For one thing, we all know that nice guys finish last. That should mean that Jason finishes first, right? Well, yes. And no. See, everyone in this novel loses the thing that they care about most. Benjy loses Caddy. Quentin loses Caddy. Quentin Jr. loses Caddy. And Jason? Well, he loses the money that Caddy sent. It’s pretty much the same thing, after all.
Unfortunately, even when Jason has money, he’s ridiculously unhappy. And bitter. And mean. We’ve quoted it before and we’ll quote it again: his opening line, " Once a bitch, always a bitch, I say" (3.1), is a glorious way to show us just how nasty the guy actually is. Like his brothers, Jason spends most of his life regretting the past. The difference between Jason and his brothers is that Jason always manages to find someone to blame for his sorry fate. And let’s face it, his fate actually is honestly pretty sorry. He lives in a run-down house with a self-absorbed mother. He’s got a charity job at a hardware store – and he wouldn’t even have that if his mother wasn’t an old friend of the owner.
At the end of the day, though, Jason manages to pin all his problems on Caddy. It’s Caddy who doesn’t hook him up with a job at a bank. It’s Caddy who sends money to her daughter, not to him. It’s Caddy who took the family name and trampled it into the mud. In other words, it’s really convenient when you have a target to dump all your hate on. Jason even extends his hatred of Caddy to women in general. As he says of his lover:
I never promise a woman anything nor let her know what I’m going to give her. That’s the only way to manage them. Always keep them guessing. If you cant think of any other way to surprise them, give them a bust in the jaw. (3.122)
Hating women doesn’t stop Jason from hating other people, as well; he’s also prejudiced against African-Americans and Jews. Interestingly, even his hate for other races is tied up in his own analysis of economic profit: "I give every man his due, regardless of religion or anything else. I have nothing against the jews as an individual […] it’s just the race. You’ll admit that they produce nothing" (3.102).
And here’s his opinion of black employees at the hardware store: "What this country needs is white labor. Let these dam trifling niggers starve for a couple of years, then they’d see what a soft thing they have" (3.98).
Here’s the thing, though: all of Jason’s hate and bitterness and all-around awfulness make him seem ….well, flat. His character doesn’t really change, does it? He’s crummy as a kid. He’s crummy as an adult. In other words, he just doesn’t keep us guessing. He scams kids as a kid; he scams adults (his mother, as a matter of fact) as an adult. So here’s our question: is Jason a believable character? Is it possible that a human being can be that downright unpleasant all the time? Or does Jason just become a massive foil for the other characters?
OK, that’s a whole pile of questions. But they’re a long-winded way to point out that Jason sometimes seems like the cartoon-character version of himself. He’s as horrible a human being as he imagines Caddy to be. Go figure.