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The Book Club

William Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury

1. Faulkner’s “stream of consciousness” narrative style. “The Sound And The Fury” appropriately showcases Faulkner’s mastery of the “stream of consciousness” narrative style; giving significant life and additional perspectives to the characters of Benjy, Quentin and Jason. The first-person narrative manner in the initial three chapters grants the reader access to a full range of emotions, allows heightened comprehension of the characters’ psyche and reactions under varying circumstances, and importantly contrasts their characteristics. These fine definitions and distinctions enhance individuality, increases the understanding of each family member (integral for characterisation), and exposes their personalities for scrutiny. Having access to their collection of thoughts allows the reader to place their own value judgements accordingly (free of bias from a third-person narrator); such that genuine and sincere ones shine through, while cynical and negative ones are further condemned. I must admit I do not actually fully understand the Southern references (after reading some guides) or some of the religious significance, but do have a vague idea of the background and involved values.

2. What on earth is Benjy talking or ranting about? No thanks to Benjy’s psychological deficiencies and lack of proper speech patterns, it took me quite some time before I could figure out the flow of events, the overall character and relationships map, as well as the development of the entire plot. Present-day happenings are confused with random flashbacks and recollections (within Benjy’s vivid, albeit, confusing, mind); and reliance on Faulkner’s inconsistent use of the italics is definitely not the solution. Conquering the first chapter is half the battle won, given the non-linearity of the sequence of events. The confluence of the past and present not only represents the distortion of time, but also offers glimpses into the Compson family’s past (including Caddy, as she appears to be the rare family member who genuinely cares for Benjy). Since Benjy has no real concept of time, and can only associate various settings, events or objects collectively, the reader would have to rely on the people around him to make sense of the chapter. I did not realise the significance of T.P. and Versh as caretakers in this section, but heavily relied on Luster’s presence to figure whether Benjy is in the present moment.

3. The concept of time. Quentin recalls his father’s comments: “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools”. Quentin seems to be the one most affected by the relentless passage of time, as evidenced when he furiously attempts to smash his watch (in the end, he remains haunted by its continuous ticking). He is constantly under the mercy of his own obsession with the past (with his perceived responsibility for allowing Caddy to go astray, his inability to prevent her marriage, and even the expectations compounded by his family heritage); which adds greatly to his insecurity and anxiety. It seems evident that he has not fully comprehended his father’s admonition to ignore the shackles of time and the confines of the status quo, and hence finds suicide the only way out when he is unable to break free of the rigidity and inflexibility he finds himself trapped in.

4. Clocks and time. “Clocks slay time. Time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life”.

5. The confusion that is Quentin Compson’s narrative. Despite his intelligence and intellect, his section of the novel is equally confusing and disorientating even when it is placed next to Benjy’s segment. His strict adherence to his traditional principles, inability to come to terms with Caddy’s betrayal of these values (and his obsession with this sister), coupled with great family expectations; all these allow his despondency to manifest. Far from being a man of punitive action, he allows his thoughts to run wild: as exemplified in the lengthy continuous statements and dialogues in his narrative. These collections of words are devoid of pronunciation, proper paragraphing, and chronological arrangement; which naturally are symbols for his deteriorating state of mind. His narrative is akin to a series of ramblings within his own head, and beyond confusion over the points of time of the events that he refers to; it is unclear whether the acts that he expounds upon have been actually carried out.

6. Failure of motherhood and parenthood. Especially in the second half of the novel, Caroline Compson’s deficiencies as a mother are made more evident, as seen from her meek submission to Jason and inability to gain control and run the household properly. She has to bear considerable responsibility for her impotency in affirmative action, and in terms of granting her children the appropriate care and concern in their formative years. Her negligence of her children’s needs as she wallows in self-pity allows the family situation to deteriorate further; as she lavishes disproportionate attention to Jason, who lacks the ability and values to manage the household effectively and efficiently. Quentin, in his narrative, also laments the lack of motherly love and attention when he was young. From another perspective, Caddy’s absence in the period of Miss Quentin’s growth and development conversely reflects the importance of motherhood and nuanced parenthood, so that the right values can be inculcated, companionship can be provided, and protection be rendered when necessary. These two instances reinforce the need for a strong mother figure within a family.

7. Jason’s great expectations (and despicable character). Beyond his act of swindling money from his sister behind his mother’s back (thereby betraying the trust and faith of both characters simultaneously), he is constantly trying to manipulate present circumstances to his personal favour. He is self-centred and miserably selfish; with his perspectives zoomed inwards upon himself per se. Even though he is the only one who enjoys any form of true affection from his mother, he fails to reciprocate her trust and concern, and is more pre-occupied with money (hiding thousands of dollars in his room for no particular purpose) and lust (his relationship with the prostitute is clearly sexual). From Benjy’s narrative in the beginning, the reader also gets a sense of his distance from his siblings and the family, and his characteristics of arrogance and self-pity. His cruelty is also shown when he burns two show tickets he had in front of Luster, even though he never had the intention to watch the performance. He attributes his lack of achievement to Herbert’s separation from Caddy; though the reader can judge that it is his inability to forgive, forget (and to move on), his poor interactions with others (including shades of blatant racism), and his despicable character that stunts his and his family’s growth.

8. Renewal and resurrection. “The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place”.

9. Caddy as the Compson family coagulant. Even though she is not entirely at fault for the family’s dissolution and eventual destruction, she is at the centre of many of the characters’ relationships. Benjy and Quentin are extremely close to her as siblings, and her absence as a mother for Miss Quentin proves to be a constant source of conflict between Jason and his mother (as they fight over her care and management). Her departure from the family sets into motion a series of events that range from death to degradation of affection between members; as the family slowly but surely marches towards its end.

10. “I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin. Dilsey makes this prophetic statement towards the end of the novel, as she makes the observation that the Compson family is entering the final phase of its gradual and painful decline. Dilsey’s strength, determination and ability in running the Compson household as well as her own family not only reflects her tremendous management competency, but her attitudes and steadfastness towards her values and ideals serve as stark contrasts to the societal rigidity and moral degradation of the Compsons. Given that she has been with the family for such a long period of time, she is best suited to deliver such a statement; and the reader gets a greater appreciation for her steady presence in spite of the mistreatment and potpourri of imminent and ongoing tragedies.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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