The Sound and the Fury

This section of the book is commonly referred to as "Benjy's section" because it is narrated by the retarded youngest

The Sound and the Fury

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, 1910: Benjy is howling outside, and Caddy runs out the door to him, "right out of the mirror" (77).

Mother speaks, undated: Mother tells Father that she wants to go away and take only Jason, because he is the only child who loves her, the only child who is truly a Bascomb, not a Compson. She says that the other three children are her "punishment for putting aside [her] pride and marrying a man who held himself above [her]" (104). These three are "not [her] flesh and blood" and she is actually afraid of them, that they are the symbols of a curse upon her and the family. She views Caddy not merely as damaging the family name with her promiscuity but actually "corrupting" the other children (104).

Quentin's conversations with Father, undated (a string of separate conversations on the same theme): Quentin tells his father that he committed incest with Caddy; his father does not believe him. Father takes a practical, logical, if unemotional view of Caddy's sexuality, telling Quentin that women have "a practical fertility of suspicion . . . [and] an affinity for evil," that he should not take her promiscuity to heart because it was inevitable (96). When Quentin tells him that he would like to have been born a eunuch so that he never had to think about sex, he responds "it's because you are a virgin: dont you see? Women are never virgins. Purity is a negative state and therefore contrary to nature. It's nature is hurting you not Caddy."

Quentin replies "that's just words" and father counters "so is virginity" (116). Quentin insists that he has committed incest with Caddy and that he wants to die, but still Father won't believe him. Father tells him that he is merely "blind to what is in yourself to that part of general truth the sequence of natural events and their causes which shadows every mans brow even benjys . . . you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this" (177). He claims that not even Caddy was really "quite worth despair," that Quentin will grow out of the pain he feels at her betrayal of his ideal (178).

Analysis of June Second, 1910:

From the very first sentence of the section, Quentin is obsessed with time; words associated with time like "watch," "clock," "chime," and "hour" occur on almost every page. When Quentin wakes he is "in time again, hearing the watch," and the rest of the day represents an attempt to escape time, to get "out of time" (76). His first action when he wakes is to break the hands off his watch in an attempt to stop time, to escape the "reducto absurdum of all human experience" which is the gradual progression toward death (76). Perversely taking literally his father's statement that "time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life," he tears the hands off his watch, only to find that it continues to tick even without the hands (85). Throughout this section, Quentin tries to escape time in similar ways; he tries to avoid looking at clocks, he tries to travel away from the sound of school chimes or factory whistles. By the end of the section he has succeeded in escaping knowledge of the time (when he returns to school he hears the bell ringing and has no idea what hour it is chiming off), but he still has not taken himself out of time. In the end, as he knows throughout this section, the only way to escape time is to die.

Jean-Paul Sartre, in his analysis of this novel, sees Quentin's suicide as not merely a way of escaping time but of exploding time. His suicide is present in all the actions of the day, not so much a fate he could dream of escaping as "an immobile wall, a thing which he approaches backward, and which he neither wants to nor can conceive" (Sartre, 91). It is not a future but a part of the present, the point from which the story is told. Quentin narrates the day's events in the past tense, as if they have already happened; the "present" from which he looks back at the day's events must be the moment of his death. As Sartre puts it:

Since the hero's last thoughts coincide approximately with the bursting of his memory and its annihilation, who is remembering? . . . . [Faulkner] has chosen the infinitesimal instant of death. Thus when Quentin's memory begins to unravel its recollections ("Through the wall I heard Shreve's bed-springs and then his slippers on the floor hishing. I got up . . . ") he is already dead (92).

In other words, time explodes at the instant of Quentin's suicide, and the events of this "infinitesimal instant" are recorded in this section. By killing himself, Quentin has found the only way to access time that is "alive" in the sense that his father details, time that has escaped the clicking of little wheels.

But why does Quentin want to escape time? The answer lies in one of the conversations with his father that are recorded in this section. When Quentin claims that he committed incest with Caddy, his father refuses to believe him and says:

You cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this . . . it is hard believing to think that a love or a sorrow is a bond purchased without design and which matures willynilly and is recalled without warning . . . no you will not do that until you come to believe that even she was not quite worth despair perhaps (177-178).

Quentin's response to this statement is "i will never do that nobody knows what i know." His attempt to stop the progression of time is an attempt to preserve the rawness of the pain Caddy's promiscuity and marriage have caused him; he never wants to think of her as "not quite worth despair."

Like Benjy, Quentin is obsessed with an absent Caddy, and both brothers' sections are ordered around memories of her, specifically of her promiscuity. For both brothers, her absence is linked to her promiscuity, but for Quentin her promiscuity signals not merely her loss from his life but also the loss of the romantically idealized idea of life he has built for himself. This ideal life has at its center a valuation of purity and cleanness and a rejection of sexuality; Quentin sees his own developing sexuality as well as his sister's as sinful. The loss of her virginity is the painful center of a spiral of loss as his illusions are shattered.

Critics have read Quentin's obsession with Caddy's virginity as an antebellum-style preoccupation with family honor, but in fact family honor is hardly ever mentioned in this section. The pain that Caddy's promiscuity causes Quentin seems too raw, too intense, too visceral to be merely a disappointment at the staining family honor. And perhaps most importantly, Quentin's response to her promiscuity, namely telling his father that he and she committed incest, is not the act of a person concerned with family honor. Rather it is the act of a boy so in love with his sister and so obsessed with maintaining the closeness of their relationship that he would rather be condemned by the town and suffer in hell than let her go. He is, in fact, obsessed with her purity and virginity, but not to maintain appearances in the town; he wants her forever to remain the unstained, saintly mother/sister he imagines her to be.

Quentin did not, of course, commit incest with Caddy. And yet the encounters he remembers are fraught with sexual overtones. When Caddy walks in on Quentin and Natalie kissing in the barn, for instance, Quentin throws himself into the "stinking" mud of the pigpen. When this fails to get a response from Caddy, he wipes mud on her:

You dont you dont I'll make you I'll make you give a damn. She hit my hands away I smeared mud on her with the other hand I couldnt feel the wet smacking of her hand I wiped mud from my legs smeared it on her wet hard turning body hearing her fingers going into my face but I couldnt feel it even when the rain began to taste sweet on my lips (137).

Echoing the mud-stained drawers that symbolize her later sexuality, Quentin smears mud on Caddy's body in a heated exchange, feeling as he does so her "wet hard turning body." The mud is both Quentin's penance for his sexual experimentation with Natalie and the sign of sexuality between Quentin and Caddy.

The scene in the branch of the river is similarly sexual in nature. Quentin finds Caddy at the branch trying to wash away the guilt she finds; amid the "suck[ing] and gurgl[ing]" waves of the water. When he asks her if she loves Dalton Ames, she places his hand on her chest and he feels her heart "thudding" (150). He smells honeysuckle "on her face and throat like paint her blood pounded against my hand I was leaning on my other arm it began to jerk and jump and I had to pant to get any air at all out of that thick gray honeysuckle;" and he lies "crying against her damp blouse" (150).

Taking out a knife, he holds it against her throat and tells her "it wont take but a second Ill try not to hurt." She replies "no like this you have to push it harder," and he says "touch your hand to it" (151). In this scene we have the repetitive surging both of the water and of Caddy's blood beneath Quentin's hand. We have the two siblings lying on top of one another at the edge of this surging water, the pungent smell of honeysuckle (which Quentin associates with sex throughout the section) so thick around them that Quentin has trouble breathing. We have a knife (a common phallic symbol) wh

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