Study Guide

The Sound and the Fury Innocence

By William Faulkner


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.