The Sound and the Fury

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The Sound and the Fury April Eighth, 1928 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is Easter Sunday, two days after Jason’s section and one day after Benjy’s. The narrator is now a third-person voice, which begins by following Dilsey. At dawn Dilsey emerges from her cabin and walks up to the Compton house. Mrs. Compson immediately starts asking her for her hot water bottle, and Dilsey lights the fire and gets the kitchen up and running. Luster has overslept, as he went to the show the night before, so Dilsey has to do all the morning work herself.
Instead of Caddy, the last Compson sibling, Faulkner uses an omniscient narrator to tell this chapter. In this way he can view the Compsons objectively, like Benjy, but with a more traditional narrative style that helps explain the final downfall of the Compsons. It is significant that the chapter begins on Easter morning and follows Dilsey –the only possible hope for the “resurrection” of the family.
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Luster comes up from the basement, where he has been trying to play the musical saw, and Dilsey orders him to wake up Benjy and get him dressed. Luster keeps delaying in his work – trying to go back to the basement – and Mrs. Compson keeps interfering, but Dilsey still gets everything started and breakfast made. Luster finally enters with Benjy, and he says that Jason has been accusing him of breaking his window the night before. Luster denies doing it, but Dilsey says he has as much “Compson devilment” in him as any of the white family members.
Dilsey is a hopeful figure because she has retained the Southern values of the original Compsons – charity, family, and religious faith – without the corruption of arrogance and self-absorption. This is ironic because Dilsey is a black servant, the lowest class of Southerner, and she is now the only hope for an aristocratic white family and a Southern heritage built on slave-ownership. As in this scene, the Compsons just get in Dilsey’s way.
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Dilsey serves Benjy his breakfast and treats him with tenderness and sympathy. Jason comes downstairs, angry and sarcastic about his broken window. He accuses Miss Quentin, who is still asleep – she is always allowed to sleep in on Sundays – and orders Dilsey to go wake her up. Dilsey tries to let her sleep, but Jason is insistent and Mrs. Compson does not help her. As Dilsey goes upstairs Mrs. Compson and Jason complain about having to let the servants go to church today, as it is Easter.
The Compsons only remember it is Easter because they complain about the Gibsons leaving and not making them dinner. Mrs. Compson talks about God and Christianity, but the family clearly never goes to church, as Miss Quentin sleeps in Sundays. Dilsey is the only one other than Caddy to treat Benjy as a real human being, rather than a hindrance or embarrassment.
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Upstairs Dilsey calls gently for Miss Quentin, but there is no response. Jason suddenly understands what has happened and gets up from the table, violently takes the keys from his mother, and opens the door, despite Dilsey’s protests and promises to protect Miss Quentin. They go into Quentin’s room and find it empty. Mrs. Compson is immediately distraught, and for some reason thinks Miss Quentin has killed herself because she was named for the other Quentin. Dilsey tries to soothe her and take her away.
Miss Quentin’s escape is the true end of the Compson line – all that remains is a severely mentally-disabled man and a bitter, wifeless clerk who is unable to love, and so cannot get married and have legitimate children. The famous Compsons collapse with a whimper. Yet this downfall happens on Easter Sunday, the celebration of Christ rising from the dead, so Faulkner implies that there still might be hope.
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Jason immediately rushes to a closet and takes out his strongbox, which has been forced open. His papers are still there, but all his money is gone. He stands in shock for a moment and then calls the police, ordering them to have a deputy ready to leave with him. Jason then leaves without eating breakfast.
Miss Quentin has stolen back the money Jason stole from her. Jason is shown to be just as impotent as the other Compson men, especially as compared to the Compson women.
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Meanwhile Benjy is wailing again, and Dilsey and Luster try to calm him down. Dilsey asks Luster about Miss Quentin, and Luster says he sees her sneak out of her room and go down the tree all the time. Dilsey says nothing about this to the Compsons, but instead gets ready for church. She finds Luster trying to play the musical saw again, and she makes him get Benjy and leave for church. Benjy is still upset, and Dilsey comforts him.
Dilsey makes a quiet decision here not to say anything about Miss Quentin. Perhaps she realizes that almost anything Quentin is running away to will be better than the life she has now. Dilsey steps back and accepts that this is the end of the Compsons, and then she gathers her fortitude and goes on to church.
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Luster, Benjy, Dilsey, and Frony walk together to the local black church for an Easter service. Many other people on the way greet Dilsey with respect, but some white people in town whisper about Benjy. Dilsey calls them “trash white folks” and says they think Benjy isn’t good enough for white church, but too good for black church. She says God doesn’t care how intelligent Benjy is – he is just as valuable as anyone.
Dilsey continues as a quiet pillar of strength among the madness of the Compsons’ world. Only she loves Benjy like Caddy did, and as a Christ-figure herself Dilsey loves Benjy with faithful eyes, seeing him as a valuable child of God. Dilsey recognizes that the “trash white folks” are still living in the past, clinging to their racist worldviews.
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At the church there is a visiting preacher called Reverend Shegog. At first he is disappointing to the congregation, as he is tiny and speaks like a white person, but then his voice swells and shifts into black dialect, and he delivers a rousing sermon about the suffering and death of Jesus, and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. Dilsey sits perfectly still during the sermon, tears rolling down her face.
This is the spiritual climax of the novel, as Faulkner fully associates Dilsey with Christ, the only hopeful figure who can resurrect the fallen Compsons. This then extends to the South itself, where a role reversal has taken place – the former slaves are the hope for the future, while the fallen aristocrats only get in the way.
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As they leave the church Frony asks Dilsey why she is so upset, but Dilsey only says that she has “seen the beginning, and now she sees the ending.” The Gibsons and Benjy return to the Compson house to find Jason still gone. Mrs. Compson is in bed, still convinced that Miss Quentin has killed herself, probably to hurt Mrs. Compson herself, and she wants Dilsey to find the suicide note. Dilsey tries to reassure her and then leaves the room, still repeating that she has seen the “first and the last.”
Dilsey shows the healthiest relationship with time of any character, as she is able to step back and see this generation of Compsons as a part of history, a cycle that must lead to a new beginning. She does not feel time as a suffocating thing like Quentin, or as an excuse for bitterness and cruelty like Jason. But Faulkner only offers us Dilsey’s sparse and simple phrase to encompass the sweep of the Compson tragedy - there is no language to truly capture it, even with four narrators.
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The narrative then moves to Jason, who arrives at the sheriff’s house, demanding they leave immediately and track down Miss Quentin. The sheriff delays, finally saying that he is suspicious of Jason’s accusation. Jason grows furious and says three thousand dollars have been stolen, and the sheriff asks why Jason had so much money hidden in the house, and whether Mrs. Compson knew about it. The sheriff says that Jason probably drove Miss Quentin into running off, and he declines to help Jason in his search without more evidence.
Despite Jason’s belief that he is the only one upholding the respectable Compson name, it is clear that he has a reputation in town as a cruel, greedy man. The sheriff even sympathizes with the promiscuous Miss Quentin over the enraged Jason, which shows that times have indeed changed in Jefferson, though the Compsons still cling to their old prejudices.
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Jason leaves the sheriff, enraged, and gasses up his car. He thinks with a kind of triumph about how it will probably rain and he will miss dinner, and so he will have more opportunities to feel outraged and victimized. He imagines himself attacking the sheriff, but he does not think specifically of Miss Quentin or his money – for him they only exist as an extension of the bank job he was deprived of by Caddy and Herbert Head.
Jason never admitted this to himself when he was narrating, but Faulkner can objectively explain that Jason enjoys suffering hardships just so he can wallow in self-pity and bitterness. And the greatest source of that self-pity is Caddy and the job she “stole” from him.
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Jason drives towards Mottson, which is where the minstrel show will be next week – Jason thinks Miss Quentin will be there with the man in the red tie. Jason starts to get a headache as a drives, and he ties a camphor-soaked rag around his neck. He tries to distract himself with thoughts of Lorraine, his Memphis prostitute, but this only makes him more enraged that he has been outwitted by a woman.
Jason’s hatred of women only shows how impotent he is, like all the Compson men. Mr. Compson allowed himself to be controlled by his self-obsessed wife, Benjy is dependent on Caddy for his sense of order, Quentin couldn’t live with the jealousy and shame of Caddy’s promiscuity, and Jason lets his whole life be ruined by Caddy’s divorce and Miss Quentin’s escape.
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Jason reaches Mottson and finds the minstrel show tent. He wants to ambush Miss Quentin and get his money back quickly, but first he comes across a frail old man. Jason rudely demands information from him, and the man suddenly becomes violent and attacks Jason. Jason strikes him on the head and the old man collapses. Jason runs for his car, but the old man chases him with a hatchet.
Jason is lashing out at the world again, but now the world is striking back. He cannot accept his life being controlled by Miss Quentin as it was by Caddy. Though Caddy never actually did anything to hurt her brothers, they allowed themselves to be hurt anyway.
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Jason is rescued by the man who runs the minstrel show, who leads him around the corner, explaining that the old man is crazy. Jason asks about Miss Quentin, and the man says that she and the man with the red tie are not there. He had sent them away, as he disapproved of their behavior. Jason believes him, but his headache is now so bad he can’t drive home, and no drugstores are open on Easter Sunday. He pays a black man four dollars to drive him back to Jefferson.
Jason almost seems to give up here in the face of his painful headache and the knowledge of his failure. He has been outwitted by a woman, and he cannot even properly pursue her because most of the money she stole was rightfully hers in the first place. The man who runs the minstrel show still holds the old values of sexuality as sin – but Faulkner will also reveal that the man with the red tie was already wanted for bigamy.
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Back in Jefferson, Dilsey sends Luster and Benjy outside so they can’t cause any trouble. Benjy starts watching the nearby golfers and moaning when they say “caddie,” and Luster gives him a flower to try and cheer him up. Luster then grows frustrated and purposefully upsets Benjy by whispering Caddy’s name to him. Dilsey comes out of the house and comforts Benjy, holding him and wiping his tears and drool.
Like the cycle of the Compson family, the end of the novel returns to its beginning. We are back in Benjy’s familiar world of chaos and order, where a flower gives him comfort and a single word causes him misery. Dilsey shows her Christ-like charity and patience again.
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T.P. would usually drive Benjy to the cemetery to comfort him, but T.P. isn’t around today so Luster offers to drive the carriage instead. Dilsey warns him to stick to T.P.’s usual route and be careful, but she lets him go, calling Benjy “the Lord’s child” as they leave. Luster reassures her of his competence, and they ride off to town.
This is a recurrence of Benjy’s memory of T.P. driving the carriage to the cemetery because Roskus was ill. The Compsons have clung to their old traditions and routines, despite the world changing around them and their own sharp decline.
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At a monument to a Confederate soldier Luster deviates from T.P.’s usual course, and Benjy immediately starts howling at the strange route. At that moment Jason returns, and he runs across the town square to strike Luster. He orders him to never change his route again, but to take Benjy straight home, and then Jason strikes the crying Benjy. Luster immediately starts riding home, chastised. When Benjy again sees the familiar scenery of Jefferson, he feels that everything is in its ordered place again, and he grows quiet, his eyes empty and serene.
This last scene is symbolic of the sad end of the Compsons – they are so self-involved and steeped in their outdated ideas of order that they have not noticed their own decay and corruption. But at the same time there is a note of hopefulness here as well, as the family could be rescued from chaos and returned to order, perhaps with Dilsey’s strength and virtue.
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