Study Guide

The Sound and the Fury Language and Communication

By William Faulkner

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.