Study Guide

The Sound and the Fury Race

By William Faulkner


"White folks gives n***** money because know first white man comes along with a band going to get it all back, so n***** 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 n*****s. White folks dont have funerals."

[…]"I like to know why not." Frony said. "White folks dies too. Your grandmammy dead as any n***** 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 n*****." "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 n***** 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 n*****s. 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 n*****s, 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 n***** 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 n*****s, no matter who they are the only thing to do is treat them like a n*****. (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 n*****s 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.