Study Guide

The Sound and the Fury Quotes

  • Language and Communication

    I couldn't feel the gate at all, but I could smell the bright cold. (1.31)

    Benjy, who is unable to communicate with other people, conveys his impressions of his surroundings through his sense of smell. He "smells" his knowledge, like his knowledge of the cold weather.

    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. (1.105)

    Benjy describes moving in a carriage and turning a corner by describing the way that he perceives the buildings moving (or flowing) around him.

    "It's froze." Caddy said. "Look." She broke the top of the water and held a piece of it against my face. "Ice. That means how cold it is." (1. 236)

    Caddy, the one person who understands how Benjy interprets his world, uses sensory information to help him infer conclusions about his environment.

    "Saying a name." Frony said. "He dont know nobody's name."

    "You just say it and see if he dont." Dilsey said. "You say it to him while he sleeping and I bet he hear you." (1.386-7)

    Benjy can’t communicate, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand Caddy’s name. His response to even the mention of his sister is perhaps the most important recurring thread of his narrative.

    "Oh." she said. She put the bottle down and came and put her arms around me. "So that was it. And you were trying to tell Caddy and you couldn't tell her. You wanted to, but you couldn't, could you. Of course Caddy wont. Of course Caddy wont. Just wait till I dress." (1.543)

    Only Caddy recognizes Benjy’s attempts to interact with the rest of the world. Perhaps Benjy misses her so much because she serves as his guide and his link between his inner life and the outside world.

    I opened the gate and they stopped, turning. I was trying to say, and I caught her, trying to say, and she screamed and I was trying to say and trying arid the bright shapes began to stop and I tried to get out. I tried to get it off of my face, but the bright shapes were going again. They were going up the hill to where it fell away and I tried to cry. But when I breathed in, I couldn't breathe out again to cry, and I tried to keep from falling off the hill and I fell off the hill into the bright, whirling shapes. (1.700)

    Benjy’s "trying to say" is a form of failed communication which the girls walking by his gate interpret as an assault. The confusion of his language at this point reflects the intensity and confusion of his emotions as he watches the girls pass.

    Then she was across the porch I couldn't hear her heels then in the moonlight like a cloud, the floating shadow of the veil running across the grass, into the bellowing. She ran out of her dress, clutching her bridal, running into the bellowing where T. P. in the dew Whooey Sassprilluh Benjy under the box bellowing. (2.20)

    Quentin’s thoughts become more and more confused as he thinks about one of the most traumatic days of his life – the day Caddy got married. Note how the first sentence begins coherently ("she was across the porch") but ends in turmoil ("she ran out of her dress clutching her bridal").

    They all talked at once, their voices insistent and contradictory and impatient, making of unreality a possibility, then a probability, then an incontrovertible fact, as people will when their desires become words. (2.261)

    Although this refers to the three boys fishing (who are pretty minor characters), it becomes a way for Quentin (and perhaps for Faulkner) to meditate on the use of language. Think about this in connection with one of Quentin’s refrains, "If I could say mother Mother."

    and i you dont believe i am serious and he i think you are too serious to give me any cause for alarm you wouldnt have felt driven to the expedient of telling me you had committed incest otherwise and i i wasnt lying i wasnt lying and he you wanted to sublimate a piece of natural human folly into a horror and then exorcise it with truth and i it was to isolate her out of the loud world so that it would have to flee us of necessity and then the sound of it would be as though it had never been (2.1008)

    Quentin remembers how his father refuses to believe his attempts to claim that he and Caddy committed incest. In a way, Quentin’s right – he’s not lying. He wants to save Caddy from other men – even if it means imagining himself into an incestuous relationship. Note the quick switching between Quentin and "he" (his father) – it’s a sign of how frantic Quentin’s memory is becoming.

    While I was looking at it a report came in. It was up two points. They were all buying. I could tell that from what they were saying. Getting aboard. Like they didn't know it could go but one way. Like there was a law or something against doing anything but buying. (2.121)

    Jason believes wholeheartedly in the ability to pay for better information (and better technology). OK, it’s not the internet age – but he does manage to get frequent telegrams about the stock exchange. Ironically, Jason’s best communication is with a machine.

  • Family

    "He thirty three." Luster said. "Thirty three this morning."

    "You mean, he been three years old thirty years." (1.180-81)

    Benjy’s birthday comes to symbolize the ways that the Compson family is stuck in continual unhappiness. His birthdays pass each year – but he never develops mentally past the age of three.

    "They aint no luck going be on no place where one of they own chillen's name aint never spoke." (1.382)

    Although Benjy’s own name (Maury) isn’t spoken, the person Roskus is referring to here is Caddy. Two children have effectively been excised from the Compson family’s history.

    I saw them. Then I saw Caddy, with flowers in her hair, and a long veil like shining wind. Caddy Caddy (1.503)

    Benjy’s refrain, "Caddy Caddy" is the heart of the book. That fact that he’s able to get to the heart of his unhappiness and loneliness means that, in many ways, he’s more with it than either of his brothers.

    His name's Benjy now, Caddy said.

    How come it is, Dilsey said. He aint wore out the name he was born with yet, is he. (1.766-7)

    Mrs. Compson decides to change Benjy’s name once it’s apparent that he’s mentally handicapped – she doesn’t want him to share her brother’s name. Dilsey’s comment offers us a perspective on how shallow Mrs. Compson’s sense of family is.

    But I thought at first that I ought to miss having a lot of them around me because I thought that Northerners thought I did, but I didn't know that I really had missed Roskus and Dilsey and them until that morning in Virginia. (2.56)

    The Gibsons (Dilsey and Roskus) could be said to play a larger role in the Compson children’s lives than even their own mother – a fact that Quentin, ironically, doesn’t figure out until he’s left the South to go to school. Northern stereotypes about racial relations allow him to understand his own real affection for Dilsey and Roskus.

    My little sister had no. If I could say Mother. Mother (2.91)

    Quentin can’t stand the fact that Caddy has a sex life – and he blames her sexuality on their mother. He’s right, but not in the way that he thinks. Caddy pushes against the strict morality that their mother tries to impose upon her children, and this contributes to her decision to hook up with Dalton Ames.

    The first I knew was when you jumped up all of a sudden and said, "Did you ever have a sister? did you?" and when he said No, you hit him. I noticed you kept on looking at him, but you didn't seem to be paying any attention to what anybody was saying until you jumped up and asked him if he had any sisters. (2.881)

    Quentin gets into a fight with Gerald Bland because he likes to talk about the ladies. Because so much of Quentin’s life revolves upon his relationship with his sister, he relates to all other women as if they were his – or somebody’s – sister.

    "I know I'm just a trouble and a burden to you," she says, crying on the pillow.

    "I ought to know it," I says. "You've been telling me that for thirty years. Even Ben ought to know it now." (3.12-13)

    Jason, Mrs. Compson’s favorite child, is the only one willing to listen to her whining – and that’s because he uses it to feed his anger about, well, everything.

    Then when she sent Quentin home for me to feed too I says I guess that's right too, instead of me having to go way up north for a job they sent the job down here to me and then Mother begun to cry and I says it's not that I have any objection to having it here; if it's any satisfaction to you I'll quit work and nurse it myself and let you and Dilsey keep the flour barrel full, or Ben. Rent him out to a sideshow; there must be folks somewhere that would pay a dime to see him […] (3.147)

    Jason thinks of his family in economic terms – the amount of money that it costs to feed them, the amount he lost by not getting the job at the bank. The flour barrel becomes a symbol of how he measures his money – remember how he used to make (and sell) kites using flour as paste?

    "You're not the one who has to bear it," Mrs Compson said. "It's not your responsibility. You can go away. You dont have to bear the brunt of it day in and day out. You owe nothing to them, to Mr Compson's memory. I know you have never had any tenderness for Jason. You've never tried to conceal it." (4.49)

    Quentin comes to realize how important the Gibsons are to him as kin, but Mrs. Compson never does. After forty years, she still treats Dilsey as an outsider and a servant.

  • Innocence

    Caddy smelled like trees and like when she says we were asleep. (1.38)

    Caddy’s innocence is, for Benjy, a natural smell – like the trees which surround his house.

    "I'm seven years old." Caddy said. "I guess I know."

    "I'm older than that." Quentin said. "I go to school. Dont I, Versh." (1.193-4)

    One of the first things we learn about Quentin is that he goes to school (which foreshadows the second chapter, when he’s at Harvard). Quentin thinks that education is the same thing as experience, but that’s one of his biggest mistakes.

    "What's a funeral." Jason said. […]

    "Where they moans." Frony said. "They moaned two days on Sis Beulah Clay." (1.402-4)

    The kids’ interpretation of their grandmother’s death gets filtered through Frony’s understanding of death and funerals. She’s heard of a funeral (unlike the other children), but her definition of it is a child’s definition.

    "Dogs are dead." Caddy said. "And when Nancy fell in the ditch and Roskus shot her and the buzzards came and undressed her." (1.412)

    As a small child, Caddy’s attempts to deal with her grandmother’s death lead her to think about the deaths she can comprehend – the animals on the farm.

    When is the Lawd's own time, Dilsey." Caddy said.

    "It's Sunday." Quentin said. "Dont you know anything." (1.296-7)

    Dilsey relies upon her faith, trusting that God will do things in his own time. Quentin, of course, is quick to interpret this – the first of many times when Quentin attempts to make sense of religion. His misinterpretation of Dilsey’s words sets off a series of later inabilities to understand religion.

    Bad health is the primary reason for all life. Created by disease, within putrefaction, into decay. (1.565)

    Mr. Compson, tired of the excuses that his brother-in-law offers for mooching off of the Compson family, offers a sardonic commentary on the corrupt nature of all human existence. The fact that one of the most innocent of the Compson children offers this as one of his only memories of his father is ironic, at the very least.

    It's not when you realise that nothing can help you--religion, pride, anything--it's when you realise that you dont need any aid. (2.16)

    Mr. Compson’s advice to Quentin sounds like an existential crisis: when you don’t need anything, you probably don’t care about anything. For Quentin, that’s a terrifying prospect.

    There was a clock, high up in the sun, and I thought about how, when you dont want to do a thing, your body will try to trick you into doing it, sort of unawares. (2.32)

    Because he’s so focused on the past, Quentin’s insistent on forgetting time. His very body, however, won’t allow him to do that. Quentin wants to live in the past, but his body must live in – and change with – passing time.

    "I dont care," she says. "I'm bad and I'm going to hell, and I dont care. I'd rather be in hell than anywhere where you are." (3.96)

    Quentin’s resistance to her uncle sounds a lot like the rebellion of a small child. Her way to avoid responsibility for her own actions is to believe Jason’s words implicitly: he tells her that she’s worthless, and she believes it.

    His skin was dead looking and hairless; dropsical too, he moved with a shambling gait like a trained bear. His hair was pale and fine. It had been brushed smoothly down upon his brow like that of children in daguerrotypes. His eyes were clear, of the pale sweet blue of cornflowers, his thick mouth hung open, drooling a little. (4.67)

    We don’t get a description of Benjy until almost the end of the novel. (It’s probably a good idea to wonder why this is.) The narrator depicts Benjy as a sort of stereotypically innocent child – with a face like that of children in pictures.

  • Sin

    Roses. Not virgins like dogwood, milkweed. I said I have committed incest, Father I said. Roses. (2.4)

    Thinking about the flowers in Caddy’s wedding bouquet sends Quentin into a frenzy. In his mind, roses aren’t "virginal" flowers – in other words, Caddy’s not a virgin when she gets married. To save himself from this thought, he decides to confess that he’s committed incest with Caddy, even though he hasn’t.

    That Christ was not crucified: he was worn away by a minute clicking of little wheels. That had no sister. (2.2)

    Note how Quentin’s sentences start with "that" – as if he’s continuing a single thought. One interpretation of this passage could be that Quentin sees himself as a Christ-like figure – but even then, he can’t fully identify with Christ, because Christ never had to deal with the type of feelings that Quentin has for Caddy.

    Because if it were just to hell; if that were all of it. Finished. If things just finished themselves. Nobody else there but her and me. If we could just have done something so dreadful that they would have fled hell except us. (2.10)

    Quentin desires a sin so bad that everyone would leave him alone with Caddy. As he thinks, it’s better than the mess of human relationships he has to deal with now.

    you are confusing sin and morality women dont do that your mother is thinking of morality whether it be sin or not has not occurred to her […] (2.147)

    Mr. Compson’s insistence than men and women operate with different codes of conduct could be part of the reason that Quentin spends so much time obsessing about how Caddy makes the choices that she does.

    If it could just be a hell beyond that: the clean flame the two of us more than dead. Then you will have only me then only me then the two of us amid the pointing and the horror beyond the clean flame (2.252)

    For Quentin, the idea of hell becomes a sort of symbolic purification: if he can confess to incest, he’ll have cleared Caddy’s name for all eternity. Hell becomes a "clean flame" for the both of them.

    […] and he i think you are too serious to give me any cause for alarm you wouldnt have felt driven to the expedient of telling me you had committed incest otherwise […] (2.1008)

    Unfortunately, no one takes Quentin’s determination to protect Caddy seriously – least of all his father. Or, for that matter, Caddy. Quentin’s protection is mostly theoretical (or imaginary).

    […] watching pennies has healed more scars than jesus […] (2.1008)

    Hmm. So true, so true. At least, that’s what Quentin’s father thinks. Sending him to college is supposed to be a way to get him in touch with reality. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work.

    In the South you are ashamed of being a virgin. Boys. Men. They lie about it. (2.13)

    Everyone seems to have a clear understanding of the South and its sexual mores except for Quentin. Here, Northerners explain to Quentin his own culture.

    I thought that Benjamin was punishment enough for any sins I have committed I thought he was my punishment for putting aside my pride and marrying a man who held himself above me I dont complain I loved him above all of them because of it because my duty […] (2.154)

    Hmm. So your children are your punishment. Mrs. Compson’s screwed-up sense of divine retribution allows her to skip out on actually involving herself in her children’s lives.

    "But she has inherited all of the headstrong traits. Quentin's too. I thought at the time, with the heritage she would already have, to give her that name, too. Sometimes I think she is the judgment of both of them upon me." (3.257)

    Yet another shining example of Mrs. C’s loving tenderness. There’s a good dose of fatality in all her comments: if she blames Quentin on fate, then she doesn’t have to deal with the fact that Quentin’s basically been ignored all her life.

  • Home

    They were hitting little, across the pasture. I went back along the fence to where the flag was. It flapped on the bright grass and the trees. (1.4)

    Benjy’s recognition of the loss of his field is one of the first observations we’re given in the novel (although his perspective doesn’t allow us to understand his description as a form of loss).

    How long he had been there I didn't know, but he sat straddle of the mule, his head wrapped in a piece of blanket, as if they had been built there with the fence and the road, or with the hill, carved out of the hill itself, like a sign put there saying You are home again. (2.56)

    The sight of a black man on the road becomes a universal symbol of home for Quentin. Stereotypical? Yes. Racist? Well, we’re really not sure.

    He lay on the ground under the window, bellowing. We have sold Benjy's pasture so that Quentin may go to Harvard (2.89)

    The family sells Benjy’s land to a golf course in order to buy Quentin’s education, which is supposed to be the hope of the family’s future…which is part of why his suicide is so traumatic for the Compsons.

    Only our country was not like this country. There was something about just walking through it. A kind of still and violent fecundity that satisfied even bread-hunger like. Flowing around you, not brooding and nursing every niggard stone. (2.228)

    To Quentin, the very land of the North seems like alien territory. The light, the heat, and the dust are all recurring themes in his interior monologue – they’re actually different in "this country."

    Some days in late August at home are like this, the air thin and eager like this, with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar. (2.341)

    We’re not quite sure how air can contain so much emotion, but Quentin seems more than willing to invest lots of emotional capital in how different the land of the North is from that of the South.

    The earth immediately about the door was bare. It had a patina, as though from the soles of bare feet in generations, like old silver or the walls of Mexican houses which have been plastered by hand. Beside the house, shading it in summer, stood three mulberry trees, the fledged leaves that would later be broad and placid as the palms of hands streaming flatly undulant upon the driving air. (4.3)

    OK. This is a house. But note how different the narrator’s voice is when describing Dilsey’s house here: the diction is clean and simple, the syntax straightforward. It’s pretty different from descriptions of the Compson house, right?

    […] she says Thank God if he had to be taken too, it is you left me and not Quentin. Thank God you are not a Compson, because all I have left now is you and Maury and I says, Well I could spare Uncle Maury myself. (3.182)

    Uncle Maury’s the token useless family member in this novel. Everybody hates him – except, of course, his sister (Mrs. Compson).

    It was not a girl's room. It was not anybody's room, and the faint scent of cheap cosmetics and the few feminine objects and the other evidences of crude and hopeless efforts to feminise it but added to its anonymity, giving it that dead and stereotyped transience of rooms in assignation houses. (4.146)

    By the time Quentin grows up, the Compson house has become anything but a home. Her room is a reflection of this – it’s completely impersonal.

    "Come on, sister." (2.401)

    The little girl Quentin meets on his walk immediately becomes his "sister." Ironically, this backfires on him: his attempts to take care of the girl land him in jail.

    He needs to be sent to Jackson, Quentin said. How can anybody live in a house like this. (1.938)

    This is Quentin Jr., of course. By the time she’s a teenager, Benjy has become more of a fixture in the house than a family member.

  • Guilt and Blame

    "I'm going to tell on you." Jason said.

    He was crying. "You've already told." Caddy said. "There's not anything else you can tell, now."(1.322-3)

    Jason’s a tattler. It’s pretty much what he does all of his childhood. Caddy’s the only person who calls him on it – which may explain why he feels so much hatred towards her.

    "They aint no luck on this place." Roskus said. "I seen it at first but when they changed his name I knowed it." (1.359)

    Roskus’s superstitions may seem a bit unrealistic, but they allow him to understand the history of the Compson household without placing blame on members of the Compson family (unlike Mrs. Compson or Jason, who blame just about everybody).

    I said, Why couldn't it have been me and not her who is unvirgin (1.13)

    Quentin blames Caddy for having sex. His obsession with her purity becomes the focal point of his life.

    Women are like that they dont acquire knowledge of people we are for that they are just born with a practical fertility of suspicion that makes a crop every so often and usually right they have an affinity for evil for supplying whatever the evil lacks in itself for drawing it about them instinctively as you do bed-clothing in slumber fertilising the mind for it until the evil has served its purpose whether it ever existed or no (2.103)

    Mr. Compson’s understanding of gender leads him to all sorts of generalizations – in this case, one which blames women in general for the mistakes which Caddy makes.

    what have I done to have been given children like these Benjamin was punishment enough and now for her to have no more regard for me her own mother I've suffered for her dreamed and planned and sacrificed I went down into the valley yet never since she opened her eyes has she given me one unselfish thought at times I look at her I wonder if she can be my child except Jason he has never given me one moment's sorrow since I first held him in my arms I knew then that he was to be my joy and my salvation I thought that Benjamin was punishment enough for any sins I have committed I thought he was my punishment for putting aside my pride and marrying a man who held himself above me I dont complain I loved him above all of them because of it because my duty (2.154)

    This is Mrs. Compson’s one big moment in this text. It’s interesting that her monologue is worked into Quentin’s section – suggesting that perhaps her logic influences him more than we’d otherwise assume.

    Ill make you say we did Im stronger than you Ill make you know we did you thought it was them but it was me listen I fooled you all the time it was me (2.563)

    Quentin’s attempt to assume the guilt for all of Caddy’s sexuality hinges on his ability to be physically strong – but we’ve seen him get his butt kicked by both Dalton Ames and Gerald Bland. Hmm. No wonder it doesn’t work out. In this particular passage, he tries to convince Caddy that he can change her history just by being stronger than she is.

    Well, Jason likes work. I says no I never had university advantages because at Harvard they teach you how to go for a swim at night without knowing how to swim and at Sewanee they dont even teach you what water is. (3.147)

    Jason spends his life blaming just about everyone in his family for his own situation in life. Give the guy credit, though – he can be pretty funny. Hmm. That’s a good point. What do you make of the fact that the most despicable guy in the novel is also the funniest?

    Mother says. "I know I’m just a troublesome old woman. But I know that people cannot flout God’s laws with impunity." (3.168)

    Jason appreciates his mother’s willingness to blame her family’s fate upon herself – if only because it allows him to agree with her.

    "But she must never know. She must never even learn that name. Dilsey, I forbid you ever to speak that name in her hearing. If she could grow up never to know that she had a mother, I would thank God." (3.170)

    The fact that Mrs. Compson is willing to cut Caddy completely out of her daughter’s life allows us to see just how deeply she believes in her own sense of divine "justice."

  • Principles

    She was wet. We were playing in the branch and Caddy squatted down and got her dress wet and Versh said,

    "Your mommer going to whip you for getting your dress wet." (1.187-8)

    Caddy’s wet dress is a symbol.

    And folks don’t like to look at a looney. Taint no luck in it. (1.217)

    Superstitions and principles often seem like they’re interchangeable in this novel. Luster is one of the only people who will talk openly about Benjy’s place in the Compson family – and even then, he can only account for people ignoring him by attributing it to "luck."

    Jason cried. His hands were in his pockets.

    "Jason going to be rich man." Versh said. "He holding his money all the time." (1.443-4)

    We learn early on just how Jason organizes his life: around money. Versh’s description may be a joke early in the book, but it turns out to be pretty accurate.

    Huh, Dilsey said. Name aint going to help him. Hurt him, neither. Folks don’t have no luck, changing names. My name been Dilsey since fore I could remember and it be Dilsey when they’s long forgot me. (1.771)

    Dilsey’s sure of her sense of self – something which most of the other members of the Compson family couldn’t ever say. Perhaps this is why she’s so critical of Mrs. Compson’s decision to change Benjy’s name. As her comment implies, words (like names) are only important in that they signify something real. Benjy’s the same person whether he’s called Maury or Benjy. Changing his name, therefore, is a futile attempt to change him.

    "Candace." Mother said. "I told you not to call him that. It was bad enough when your father insisted on calling you by that silly nickname, and I will not have him called by one. Nicknames are vulgar. Only common people use them. Benjamin." she said. (1.843)

    Mrs. Compson’s sense of right and wrong depend entirely on her views of what "good" people and "common" people do. This leads her to some absurd measures – like refusing to recognize nicknames. We’ve got to be honest – we admire her persistence. Too bad she’s usually pretty silly.

    "Oh." Father said. "She. And then what." (1.914)

    Quentin’s defense of women starts early in his life: he gets into a fight when another boy taunts a teacher. His father doesn’t even have to hear anything beyond the pronoun "she" to know why the fight started.

    Like Father said down the long and lonely light-rays you might see Jesus walking, like. And the good Saint Francis that said Little Sister Death, that never had a sister. (2.2)

    In this passage, Quentin cycles through religious figures who could become role models or guides for him. All he can determine, however, is that they’re different than he is – they never had sisters. In other words, no one can understand the pain and isolation that he’s feeling right now, because no one else has ever had to live with Caddy.

    It was his club's boast that he never ran for chapel and had never got there on time and had never been absent in four years and had never made either chapel or first lecture with a shirt on his back and socks on his feet. (2.14)

    Spoade offers a model for a different sort of Harvard student than Quentin is – one universally respected for following his own code of conduct.

    Jesus walking on Galilee and Washington not telling lies. (2.17)

    Religious and political figures – the central figures for Christianity and America – are some of the figures Quentin turns to as prototypical role models.

    Ever since then I have believed that God is not only a gentleman and a sport; he is a Kentuckian too. (2.72)

    Is Quentin joking here? He’s referring to Bland here, but we’re also pretty sure that he almost believes his own joke. Faulkner’s playing with Southern piety, which seems (here, at least) to be as bound up in notions of "gentlemanlike" behavior as it does in Christian virtues. Is a Christian the same thing as a gentleman? Well, we’ll leave that particular question up to you.

    She approved of Gerald associating with me because I at least revealed a blundering sense of noblesse oblige by getting myself born below Mason and Dixon, and a few others whose Geography met the requirements (minimum). Forgave, at least. Or condoned. But since she met Spoade coming out of chapel one He said she couldn't be a lady no lady would be out at that hour of the night she never had been able to forgive him for having five names, including that of a present English ducal house. (2.73)

    Faulkner satirizes the social conventions of the South, but the novel is also deeply committed to exploring the sorts of morality which emerge from these conventions.

    Father and I protect women from one another from themselves our women (2.103)

    This is Quentin in a nutshell. The need to protect everyone from everyone leads him to suicide.

  • Race

    "White folks gives nigger money because know first white man comes along with a band going to get it all back, so nigger can go to work for some more." (1.146)

    Luster’s obsession with the circus is an ironic – if apt – example of this. The fact that anonymous black characters voice this sentiment might suggest that it’s actually a general observation of Faulkner’s.

    "Oh." Caddy said. "That's niggers. White folks dont have funerals."

    […]"I like to know why not." Frony said. "White folks dies too. Your grandmammy dead as any nigger can get, I reckon." (1.406, 411)

    Frony’s comments set death as the final point of equality for all people (it’s also a strange foreshadowing of Quentin’s obsession with his shadow dying before he does).

    I admire Maury. He is invaluable to my own sense of racial superiority. I wouldn't swap Maury for a matched team. (1.561)

    OK, Mr. Compson’s obviously being a bit ironic here. Maury is precisely the character who disproves any theories of racial superiority…he’s a complete loser. Mr. Compson suggests this by refusing to swap Maury for a "matched team" – a pair of horses. Your brother-in-law for a horse? Now that’s a fair trade. At least, he sort of thinks so.

    There now. Just look at what your grandpa did to that poor old nigger." "Yes," I said. "Now he can spend day after day marching in parades. If it hadn't been for my grandfather, he'd have to work like whitefolks." (2.28-29)

    The Civil War looms in the background of most of the racial relations depicted in this text. The after-effects of Reconstruction are discussed here.

    But I never knew even a working nigger that you could find when you wanted him, let alone one that lived off the fat of the land. (2.30)

    Quentin’s often blatantly over-generalizing – and often racist. Here’s a great example. That’s not to say, though, that he’s also capable of some searing commentaries on the after-effects of slavery.

    […] with that quality about them of shabby and timeless patience, of static serenity: that blending of childlike and ready incompetence and paradoxical reliability that tends and protects them it loves out of all reason and robs them steadily and evades responsibility and obligations by means too barefaced to be called subterfuge even and is taken in theft or evasion with only that frank and spontaneous admiration for the victor which a gentleman feels for anyone who beats him in a fair contest, and withal a fond and unflagging tolerance for whitefolks' vagaries like that of a grandparent for unpredictable and troublesome children, which I had forgotten. (2.61)

    Is this a positive comment or another overly-generalizing one? It’s hard to tell. Perhaps that’s Quentin’s weakness – or perhaps it’s Faulkner’s.

    I used to think that a Southerner had to be always conscious of niggers. I thought that Northerners would expect him to. When I first came East I kept thinking You've got to remember to think of them as colored people not niggers, and if it hadn't happened that I wasn't thrown with many of them, I'd have wasted a lot of time and trouble before I learned that the best way to take all people, black or white, is to take them for what they think they are, then leave them alone. (2.56)

    Race relations in the South are, for Faulkner, also always about the relationship between the North and the South.

    That was when I realized that a nigger is not a person so much as a form of behavior; a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among. (2.56)

    This is actually a pretty astute comment on the ways that society creates race. Of course, it’s also an observation on race articulated completely from a white point of view, but it’s still a rather surprising comment on the biases of the society Quentin lives in.

    His eyes were soft and irisless and brown, and suddenly I saw Roskus watching me from behind all his whitefolks' claptrap of uniforms and politics and Harvard manner, diffident, secret, inarticulate and sad. (2.124)

    Deacon makes his living preying on young white men in Cambridge. But, as he talks to Quentin, he suddenly becomes recognizable as a black man – one much like the man Quentin loved at home.

    They come into white people's lives like that in sudden sharp black trickles that isolate white facts for an instant in unarguable truth like under a microscope; the rest of the time just voices that laugh when you see nothing to laugh at, tears when no reason for tears. (2.905)

    There’s a strange tension between generalizations (the plural pronoun "they") and Quentin’s attempts to grapple with the ways that his relationship with Deacon is one of the only comprehensible relationships he has in the North.

    When people act like niggers, no matter who they are the only thing to do is treat them like a nigger. (3.17)

    Quentin’s attempts to understand his own ideas and emotions about race are thrown into sharp contrast by Jason’s outright racism.

    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. (3.108)

    Jason’s understanding of the world around him is almost always articulated in economic terms. Here, he muses that racial tension could be solved by depriving blacks of their jobs. Ironically, of course, this is exactly what’s happened to him: he "lost" the job that he was promised at the bank.

  • Memory and the Past

    Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. (2.1)

    The Civil War disintegrates in Mr. Compson’s analysis, becoming nothing more than a reminder of individual defeat. Interestingly, this analysis carries over into his advice for Quentin regarding Caddy.

    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)

    Even time for Quentin is something that he inherits from his family: a second- (or third-) hand watch measures time for him. In some ways, the watch becomes for Quentin a symbol of repetition as much as for the continual movement of time.

    Father said it used to be a gentleman was known by his books; nowadays he is known by the ones he has not returned (2.18)

    Mr. Compson’s ironic commentary on the decay of the Southern gentleman is also a marker of the shift from property-owning gentry to the middle class. Gentlemen buy their own books; middle-class men check them out from the library.

    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)

    By positing living time as something outside of temporality, Mr. Compson sets up an impossible existence for Quentin. The only way for him to escape time is to leave it altogether –and the only way that he can think of to do that is to kill himself.

    Again. Sadder than was. Again. Saddest of all. Again. (2.95)

    Quentin’s suggesting that the endless monotony of the present is more depressing than the past. Faulkner’s showing his colors as a modernist here: history is a pretty horrible thing to face, but the sense that history could repeat itself over and over (and over) is more horrible yet.

    Honeysuckle was the saddest odor of all, I think. I remember lots of them. Wistaria was one. (2.903)

    It’s interesting that Quentin’s starting to sound a lot like Benjy here, isn’t it? Remembering the flowers around his house, Quentin implies that the scents they give off have connected themselves to specific memories. Remember how Quentin smells honeysuckle on the night that Caddy runs off with Dalton Ames?

    A quarter hour yet. And then I'll not be. The peacefullest words. Peacefullest words. Non fui. Sum. Fui. Non sum. Somewhere I heard bells once. Mississippi or Massachusetts. I was. I am not. Massachusetts or Mississippi. (2.1005)

    This is Quentin breaking down. In case you were wondering, the strange words are Latin. Your friendly Shmoop translation service suggests that they mean "I was not. I am. I was. I am not." Depressing, huh? Quentin’s pretty much talking himself into suicide at this point.

    […] and he was the saddest word of all there is nothing else in the world its not despair until time its not even time until it was (2.1008)

    Quentin remembers his father’s musing that "was" is one of the saddest words of all. Why "was?" Well, we bet that it’s got something to do with the fact that the past is, for Mr. Compson, over and done with. You only actually feel things once you start remembering them. It’s a strange sort of temporality – one that lives looking backwards.

    All right, den," Luster said. "You want somethin to beller about?" He looked over his shoulder, toward the house. Then he whispered: "Caddy! Beller now. "Caddy! "Caddy! "Caddy! (4.441)

    The very mention of Caddy’s name sends Benjy into a howling frenzy. Luster knows that this is the one sure-fire way to get a reaction out of Benjy – and we see that this is the one communicative link that others try to make with Benjy. In other words, they’re completely happy to let Benjy live mostly in the past.

    "I've seed de first en de last," Dilsey said. […] "I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin." (4.280-282)

    Dilsey’s the one character who recognizes Quentin’s running away as the end of the Compson family. She’s also the only one stable enough to recognize a difference between past, present, and future – between the beginning and the ending.

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    Caddy was all wet and muddy behind, and I started to cry and she came and squatted in the water. (1.212)

    Dirty drawers are a foreshadowing of sexual experience. All of Caddy’s brothers seem to be obsessed with this memory of Caddy – this is Benjy’s memory of the scene.

    He went and pushed Caddy up into the tree to the first limb. We watched the muddy bottom of her drawers. Then we couldn't see her. We could hear the tree thrashing. (1.498)

    Caddy’s muddy drawers are linked to her sexual experience, but they’re also a foreshadowing of the way that she will eventually disappear. Her adventurousness is an often-overlooked aspect of her disappearance.

    Caddy put her arms around me, and her shining veil, and I couldn't smell trees anymore and I began to cry. (1.507)

    Benjy comprehends the world through his sense of smell. When Caddy no longer smells like trees, he understands that she’s no longer innocent.

    I got undressed and I looked at myself and I began to cry. Hush, Luster said. Looking for them aint going to do no good. They're gone. (1.947)

    Benjy is castrated after he attempts to reach out to girls walking by the road. This is the one passage which overtly references the castration – which is only presented here as a loss which has already occurred.

    Because it means less to women, Father said. He said it was men invented virginity not women. Father said it's like death: only a state in which the others are left and I said, But to believe it doesn't matter and he said, That's what's so sad about anything: not only virginity […] (2.13)

    Ouch. Mr. Compson’s got a point here. Musing that Southern values for women (including chastity) were invented by men who want idealized images of the women in their lives, he suggests that virginity is only as important as Quentin thinks is. Like so many other things in this novel, it’s all in Quentin’s head.

    Why wont you bring him to the house, Caddy? Why must you do like nigger women do in the pasture the ditches the dark woods hot hidden furious in the dark woods. (2.76)

    Quentin’s attempt to hurt Caddy comes off as a racial slur – he tries to shame her by equating her with black women. It’s interesting, though, that he seems pretty investing in imagining Caddy running off into the woods. There’s an awful lot of adjectives here – almost as if he’s trying to picture what Caddy does in the woods as he’s speaking to her.

    There was something terrible in me sometimes at night I could see it grinning at me I could see it through them grinning at me through their faces it's gone now and I'm sick (2.214)

    Caddy’s description of her sexual encounters is a bit strange, right? She sees in the men she meets a reflection of the horrible things in herself. This is one of the only insights we get into Caddy’s character – and it suggests that she might be as submerged in her own world as either Quentin or Jason.

    Because women so delicate so mysterious Father said. Delicate equilibrium of periodical filth between two moons balanced. Moons he said full and yellow as harvest moons her hips thighs. (2.379)

    So, in other words, a woman’s essence is that fact that she menstruates. It’s not such a thoughtful analysis of women – but then again, it’s not an uncommon one. Note how Mr. Compson uses the image of the moon to denote the time between a woman’s periods – but his mind shifts to use the roundness of moon as a metaphor for the human body.

    Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say. (3.1)

    Ah, Jason. A lovely man. Faulkner doesn’t give us any time to doubt that we hate him – after all, any character who starts his section with these lines is probably a total jerk, right?