Study Guide

The Sound and the Fury Principles

By William Faulkner


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.