The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner
Analysis: Steaminess Rating
Exactly how steamy is this story?
For a novel that revolves around sex, The Sound and the Fury just doesn’t have a lot to see. Sure, there’s some discussion of people’s sex lives: Jason’s got a prostitute in Memphis, and Quentin (Jr.) makes out with a guy form the circus. But really, you’d expect more, wouldn’t you?
After all, the novel hinges upon the fact that Caddy actually has a sex life. Everybody seems to want to know all about it. Her mother spends most of her time thinking about it, as a matter of fact. It’s all a bit creepy. Despite this, however, we never actually read about Caddy’s love life.
OK, that’s sort of not true, we admit: Quentin’s entire narrative goes something like "Caddy and sex and Caddy and sex." (That’s a pretty gross paraphrase, by the way.) The closest thing to a sex scene in the novel actually happens mostly in Quentin’s head. Remember when he sticks a knife to Caddy’s throat and tries to kill her? We hate to point this out, but a knife is pretty phallic. Quentin can’t actually sleep with her, but he sure tries to symbolically re-create a sexual encounter. Furthermore, we don't really believe Quentin about this scene. He’s not the most reliable narrator (see our thoughts on this in his "Character Analysis"). After all, nobody seems to believe that he’s actually capable of committing incest – least of all Caddy herself.
OK, so it’s not sex that dominates this novel. Why the PG-13 rating, then? Well, it’s not so much sex but the cultural constructions of sex that matter in this text.
Huh? Don’t worry, we’ll explain. See, Faulkner’s pretty obsessed with Southern values: a lady should be a lady and a gentleman should act like a gentleman. The trouble is, not many of his characters actually do this. And those that do (Mrs. Compson, for example) are actually not the nicest people.
What does this say about Southern values? Well, we talk about that in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory." We’re talking about sex right now. And, as it happens, sexual identity (or the lack thereof) is sort of the cornerstone of the whole Southern lady thing. When Mrs. Compson goes around casting gloom and doom on everyone, she’s actually mourning the loss of a value system that her children can’t seem to recognize. Caddy runs off with those guys in the night, and her patched-together marriage occurs because she has to hide the fact that she’s pregnant. This, in terms of Mrs. Compson’s code, is The Worst Thing a girl can do.
Like it or not, Mrs. Compson's understanding of "proper" behavior has lots of pull in this novel. Although her children may not admit it, they’re all acting (and re-acting) against her sense of right and wrong. Even Quentin, who quotes his father for almost all of his section, seems to need his father’s voice because it helps to drown out his mother’s thoughts on Caddy’s sexuality.