Study Guide

The Sound and the Fury Sin

By William Faulkner


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.