The Themes in The Sound and the Fury are so closely interwoven with the Characters and structure of the novel that it is difficult to separate these elements. In all four sections of the novel, however, time is an important theme that Faulkner develops. The central Characters of the four sections each cope with time in a different way. In the first section, Benjy’s sense of time is defective. His thoughts move from present to past time without the ability to grasp the real meaning of events. Benjy is free from time because he cannot understand its impact on his feelings. Quentin’s efforts to cope with the present are impeded by his memories. He cannot accept the changes in his life that time inevitably brings. His sense of loss over the innocence of his childhood love of Caddy is unbearable. Rather than deal with life’s changes over time, he puts an end to time by committing suicide. Jason, on the other hand, lives in time present, around which all his actions flow. By living in time present, Jason reacts to events as they occur, unlike Quentin who acts on time past. In the last section of the book, Dilsey represents another view of time. Hers is a historical view. She embraces all of her life experiences and those of the Compsons with a religious faith about the timelessness of life. Her view most closely reflects the author’s viewpoint on time. By having the novel cover four days, each section representing one day, Faulkner is able to use time to give the novel a tight framework.
Pride is the undoing of the Compson family. The loss of their property and status demoralizes the elder Compsons, Caroline and Jason III, the parents of Benjy, Quentin, Jason, and Caddy. Out of their sense of family pride and their economic and social decline, they turn inward. Mr. Compson turns to alcohol in his sense of loss. Mrs. Compson retreats to her bed and self-pity. Quentin’s concern over the family “honor” and how Caddy has shamed the family lead him to kill himself. The younger Jason is racked with pride and it is his undoing. With him it is both pride and jealousy. He feels cheated and feels that he deserves better. Caddy deceived him, he thinks, and he uses this to justify stealing from her. When Caddy’s daughter, Quentin, steals from her uncle, Jason, he is outraged that he has been undone. Faulkner shows the tragic results of pride in the Characters of these Compson family members.
C Love and Passion
Natural and unnatural love among siblings, love between the sexes, and Christian love are Themes that pervade The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner shows the love the Compson brothers have for Caddy. Benjy loves the care she gave him when they were young. When he hears the word “caddie” called out on the golf course, he moans because it sounds like her name. He misses her after she leaves home to marry. Benjy’s love is the love of an innocent for someone who has shown him affection. Quentin’s love for his sister Caddy is an unnatural one. He has incestuous feelings for her. He is jealous of her boyfriends and denies that she has had lovers. He fantasizes an incestuous relationship between them, although Faulkner writes in his “Appendix: Compson 1699-1945” that Quentin “loved not the idea of the incest which he would not commit, but some presbyterian concept of its eternal punishment: he, not God, could by that means cast himself and his sister both into hell, where he could guard her forever and keep her forevermore intact amid the eternal fires.” Caddy, as she is presented through her brothers’ monologues, seems to develop in a natural way. As a child, she shows love toward Benjy and Quentin. As a young woman, she has lovers, becomes pregnant, marries, and leaves home. Christian love is the thematic note on which the book ends. Through Dilsey, Faulkner presents the view of love that springs from religious faith, a love that endures pain and accepts reality.
D Sanity and Insanity
The contrast between Benjy and Jason reflects a theme of sanity and insanity in The Sound and the Fury. An idiot who does not comprehend reality, Benjy displays a world in chaos through his monologue. Faulkner uses his character to explore the meaninglessness of sensory reactions to sounds, sights, and language. Quentin’s suicide also can be regarded as an act of insanity because it comes from his inability to deal with reality. Mr. Compson’s alcoholism can be seen as a slow suicide. It is an unnatural retreat from reality, as is Mrs. Compson’s retreat to her bed. The two Characters who emerge as sane in the novel are Jason and Dilsey. Dilsey’s sanity is rooted in her total acceptance of the realities of life. Jason also deals with the here and now, but his sanity is perverted by his resentments.