The Sound and the Fury

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

Summary
Analysis
This chapter is narrated by Jason Compson, and it begins on the morning of Good Friday, the day before Benjy’s section takes place. Jason is arguing with his mother about Miss Quentin, Jason’s niece. Mrs. Compson is worried that Miss Quentin is skipping school, and Jason says she is being promiscuous just like her mother, Caddy. Jason bitterly says that he never had a chance to go to Harvard like his brother Quentin, but always had to work for a living.
Jason’s narrative is much clearer than Benjy’s or Quentin’s, but it is disturbing in its tone – Jason has become a bitter, cruel, and sarcastic man, and his language reflects this. He repeatedly refers to Caddy and Miss Quentin as “bitches,” and rants inwardly about how he has been wronged in the past, which supposedly excuses his cruelty and greed in the present.
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Mrs. Compson cannot control Miss Quentin, but she is afraid to let Jason discipline her, as he can be cruel and easily angered. She says that Jason is her only true child, the only one who is more Bascomb – her maiden name – than Compson. She repeats her usual litany of self-pity and complaint, that she will be dead soon and everyone will be better off, and that all her family’s problems have been punishments against her. Finally she agrees to let Jason discipline Quentin, and he goes to find her.
Though Jason is the cruelest of the Compson children, he is still the one Mrs. Compson has chosen to bestow her affection on. It is never explained why, but perhaps because Jason shares his mother’s tendency to self-pity and purposeful unhappiness, he is “more Bascomb than Compson.” He is now the head of the family, which has sunk to a new low.
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Miss Quentin is with Dilsey in the dining room, and Jason confronts her about skipping school. Quentin tries to argue but he grows violent and grabs her wrists, asking her about sleeping with boys in town. Dilsey tries to interject and protect Quentin, but Jason pushes her away. He is about to take off his belt and beat Quentin when Mrs. Compson comes down the stairs.
Jason immediately reveals the anger and violence with which he now rules the household. The Compsons have truly fallen from their glory days now. Miss Quentin shares Caddy’s tendencies to promiscuity, but Miss Quentin is not ashamed of her actions as Caddy was, and she lacks Caddy's warmth.
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Miss Quentin is upset and Dilsey comforts her, promising to protect her, but then Quentin turns her anger on Dilsey and pushes her away too. Jason goes to drive Quentin to school, and as he leaves the house Dilsey is tending to the upset Mrs. Compson. Jason goes around the house to get his car and encounters Luster and Benjy. He sends them away angrily, ranting to himself about his lazy servants and idiot brother.
Though Jason treats her terribly, Miss Quentin is not a likeable character either, as she turns even on Dilsey when she tries to help her. Miss Quentin has been raised in a house completely without love, except for love from Dilsey, whom she does not respect for racist reasons. Mrs. Compson is ineffective and Jason is antagonistic.
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Jason drives Miss Quentin to school and the family’s situation becomes more clear – Caddy sends money to Quentin for her upbringing and welfare, but Mrs. Compson burns the checks, as she still refuses to have anything to do with Caddy. Jason and Quentin argue in the car, and again Jason grows violent. Quentin leaves for school and taunts Jason that she knows she is bad and going to hell.
Miss Quentin has been raised in such a bad family situation that she is as despairing as any of the Compsons, but she lashes out with anger just like Jason. Mrs. Compson’s shallow pride hurts the household. Jason’s scheme for stealing from the family is hinted at here but not yet explained.
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Jason then goes to his work, which is as a clerk in the farm-supply store in town. He gets a letter from Caddy asking about whether Miss Quentin has been receiving her money. Jason then goes on an inner rant about the laziness of black laborers, and how Jews in New York are making money by swindling Southerners. Jason uses his extra money (which is still mysterious) to play the cotton markets, and he pays an insider in New York to send him information.
The reality of the Compson family becomes more clear – Jason, the new head of the house, works at a farm supply store and steals from his own family. To add to his other negative qualities, Jason is also one of the most viciously racist characters in the novel. The Compsons have indeed fallen from their days of governors and generals.
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Jason opens his next letter, which is from Lorraine, a prostitute he visits in Memphis. Jason then rants about women, and how he can control them with money or fear. Sometimes he gives Lorraine money, but he never calls her on the phone or writes her.
Jason also hates women. Most of his bitterness comes from Caddy, who supposedly lost him a job at a bank, but Jason then extends this to all women.
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Jason burns Lorraine’s letter and is then called up to the front of the store by Earl, his boss. Jason mocks the “redneck” customer who comes in, and follows this exchange with an inner tirade about how much he has had to work all his life, and how Benjy, Miss Quentin, his mother, and the Gibsons (Dilsey and her family) are nothing but burdens to him.
Jason uses the past as a source for bitterness. Because Herbert Head retracted his job offer when he divorced Caddy, and Jason wasn’t able to go to Harvard like Quentin, Jason feels justified in ranting about his constant burdens, and feeling like the world is against him.
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Jason is still bitter that Mr. Compson never sent him to Harvard like his brother Quentin, and Jason remembers when his father died. In the memory Uncle Maury comforts the mourning Mrs. Compson, but Jason is only thinking about how Maury has borrowed more money from them.
Jason has no affection for his family members. Even with his mother, who favors him above the rest, Jason abuses her affection and trust to steal money from her. He thinks of things only in terms of petty greed.
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Jason then remembers Mr. Compson taking in the baby Miss Quentin, even though Mrs. Compson had disowned Caddy. In the memory Dilsey accepts that she will raise the baby, as she has raised all the Compson children. Mrs. Compson is distraught at the situation, and decides then that Miss Quentin will never know Caddy’s name. That night Mrs. Compson tells Jason she is glad that Jason is alive and not Quentin, if one of her sons had to die.
Mrs. Compson shows her superstitious nature regarding names again, as she refuses to allow Caddy’s name to be spoken. Dilsey takes up another burden without question, assuming that Mrs. Compson will be an ineffective mother. Mr. Compson is a kinder figure than his wife, despite his nihilism and alcoholism.
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Back in the present, Jason ignores his letter from Uncle Maury, as it will be asking for money, as always, and turns to the next letter from Caddy. He then shifts into a memory of the day Mr. Compson was buried, when Jason encountered Caddy after their mother had gone home. Caddy offered to pay Jason a hundred dollars just to see Miss Quentin for a minute, and Jason took her money and then gave Caddy only a passing glimpse of her daughter as they drove away.
Jason remembers the past as he thinks angrily of Caddy, but Faulkner also uses these flashbacks to explain, piece by piece, Jason’s scheme for stealing money from his family. Caddy clearly has money, possibly paid to her by Herbert Head, and is probably better off than the Compsons still in Jefferson. Jason shows his petty cruelty yet again.
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The next morning Caddy found Jason at his store, trying to convince him to let her see Miss Quentin, but he bullied her into leaving, still raging about the job at the bank she “stole” from him. Caddy then convinced Dilsey, but Jason threatened Dilsey if she ever let Caddy see Miss Quentin or Benjy. Dilsey called Jason a “cold man” and thanked God she had more heart than he.
All of Jason’s bitterness and cruelty to Caddy and Miss Quentin seems to be based on his lost bank job. Jason ignores the fact that it was Caddy who got him the job offer in the first place. Dilsey again acts as the only pillar of moral stability in the family.
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Caddy then met with Jason again, and she relented to an arrangement where she would send money for Miss Quentin’s welfare, but she must promise to stay away from the family. Back in the present, Jason complains about Earl, his boss, and then opens Caddy’s letter, which contains a money order, not a check. This messes up Jason’s scheme – which is still unclear – as it requires Quentin to sign for the money herself.
The pieces start coming together – Caddy sends monthly checks to Miss Quentin, but Jason cashes them and gives a fake check to his mother, who burns them, as she is still too proud to accept anything from the disowned Caddy. Earl is a patient, honorable man, who clearly keeps Jason on only for his family’s sake.
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Miss Quentin suddenly shows up at the store, asking about the letter. Jason mocks her and says the money order is only for ten dollars. He keeps bullying her and Quentin finally relents to him, signing the money order without looking at the amount. Jason then sends her back to school.
What is so disturbing is that Jason has all the power in the family now. All the people he torments – Miss Quentin, Benjy, Luster, and Dilsey – can do nothing against him, as he is physically stronger and now the “head of the family.”
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Jason takes his dinner break, goes to the bank, and gets some blank checks that he “fixes” for his mother. His scheme becomes apparent – Jason himself cashes Caddy’s monthly checks for Miss Quentin and gives a false check to Mrs. Compson, who tearfully burns them. This is the extra money Jason uses to play the cotton market and pay for his prostitute in Memphis.
Jason feels justified in his bitterness and self-pity, despite the fact that he is the one stealing from others. Because he had been wronged in the past, he feels no shame in taking from others, feeling that the money is rightfully his.
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Jason goes to the telegraph office, where he learns that his stock in the cotton market has gone down, which enrages him. He mocks and threatens everyone at the office and then goes home to eat dinner, which Earl had specifically asked him not to do. Jason gives his mother the false check, and she laments what a burden she and Miss Quentin are to Jason, but she still burns the check, as she wants no charity from a “fallen woman.”
Mrs. Compson clings to her pride in her family name, though the family has clearly become corrupted beyond all recognition. Jason takes advantage of his mother’s affection and trust and feels no guilt about it, in fact believing her complaints that the family is a great burden to him, even though he is stealing from them.
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Mrs. Compson continues to complain about how much she suffers for her children, and Jason mostly ignores her. He then listens to Luster feeding Benjy and rants to himself about all the lazy mouths he has to feed. Jason wants to send Benjy to the asylum in Jackson as soon as he can, as he is embarrassed and annoyed by Benjy’s presence. Miss Quentin doesn’t come home for dinner, which upsets Mrs. Compson and makes Jason feel justified in his cruelty to her.
Mrs. Compson and Jason do perhaps share the most “Bascomb blood,” as they both can twist any situation to make themselves the victim. Caddy was the only sibling to truly care for Benjy, and Jason actively dislikes him and is embarrassed by him.
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Jason gives his mother the letter from Uncle Maury, which is written in flowery prose and asks for money, as usual. Jason then goes back to work, where he argues with Earl about how long he can take his dinner break. Jason tells Earl he was at the dentist and threatens to quit. Earl is patient with Jason’s sarcasm and anger, but he does imply that Jason bought his car with money stolen from Mrs. Compson. This enrages Jason further.
Jason uses his natural cleverness for greedy schemes, but many people apparently see through his thievery, or else just dislike him because of his caustic personality. Uncle Maury has not changed at all, still acting as a well-educated Southern gentleman who will not work but must live off his sister.
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Jason goes into the back room of the store and starts mocking and tormenting Earl’s old black assistant, but he is interrupted when he sees Miss Quentin pass by the store with a man in a red tie. The red tie is especially infuriating to Jason, and he leaves the store to follow them. He thinks about how people must think the whole Compson family is crazy, now that he – the last sane one – is out chasing a girl in the streets. Quentin and the man know Jason is following them, and they lose him in the back alleys of Jefferson.
Jason feels that he is the only “sane” Compson, and the one keeping any respect the family might have. He shares his parents’ pride in their heritage, and part of his hatred of Miss Quentin is because she is “staining” the family name. Jason enjoys ranting about the laziness of black people, despite the fact that they are little better off than slaves in this society, and must work their whole lives away.
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Jason is then interrupted in his chase by a telegram boy, who says that his account in the cotton market has fallen even further. Jason rants about the Jews again and vows to get out of the cotton business. He then drives home angrily and gets a splitting headache. He argues with Mrs. Compson some more and then heads back to work.
Jason seems to relish his misfortune, and purposefully drives people to treat him badly just so he can be bitter about it. He has a native, practical cleverness, but he has no ideals or goals beyond money-making schemes. He has pride but no honor.
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On his drive back into town Jason is nearly run down by a Ford, and then he sees the man in the red tie driving it and Miss Quentin in the passenger seat. Crazed with anger, Jason chases the Ford five miles out from town and then gets out of his car when he comes to a river. He thinks about how Quentin is sullying the family name, and how he has to argue with people about her, telling them his family used to own slaves while the rest of the town was all poor.
Quentin has learned her antagonism and anger from Jason, so he gets a taste of his own medicine. His arrogance is entirely based in the Compsons’ glorious past, as the present family has nothing to be proud of. The people of Jefferson are moving on into a modern age, while the Compsons cling to the past.
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Jason’s headache gets worse in the bright sun, and he follows the tire tracks of the Ford into some underbrush. He hopes to catch Miss Quentin having sex with the man in a ditch, but then he hears their car start and the Ford drives past him and away, honking its horn. Jason runs back to his own car and finds that Quentin and the man have slashed one of his tires.
Jason also has a physical ailment with his painful headaches, and these could either be caused by or increase his constant anger. He assumes Miss Quentin, like all women, is just a “bitch” who could never outsmart him.
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Jason goes to a nearby store and pumps up his tire and then drives back to town. He gets another telegram, saying he has lost more money. Jason goes back to work, argues with Earl some more, and rants to himself about women. He can hear the band playing at the minstrel show nearby, which makes him think more about how lazy all black people are, and how hard he has to work. Finally the store closes and Jason goes home for the night.
Jason has bad luck this day on the cotton market, and he immediately turns that into anger at others. Even though he is stealing from his niece and taking long meal breaks from his job, he still feels totally justified in calling black people lazy.
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Jason arrives and finds Luster, who says that Mrs. Compson and Miss Quentin are fighting upstairs and Dilsey is trying to mediate. Luster complains about how he can’t go to the minstrel show, as he doesn’t have a quarter. Jason takes out two tickets to the show that Earl had given him. He tells Luster he doesn’t want them, but Luster can have them for a quarter. Dilsey comes downstairs and tries to shame Jason, but Luster can only watch helplessly as Jason burns the tickets.
Jason lashes out in this petty way, tormenting a fourteen-year-old boy who worked all day at a job far beyond his maturity level. Dilsey understands Jason’s small-mindedness and cruelty and tries to shame him, but he feels no guilt for his actions – he has had a bad day, so he feels justified in whatever he might do.
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Jason sits down and reads the paper, and he threatens to make Dilsey bring him his food unless Miss Quentin and his mother will come downstairs for dinner. They submit, and the three sit at the table and eat. Jason mockingly alludes to Quentin’s exploits with the man in the red tie, but he never explicitly mentions it to Mrs. Compson. Finally Quentin explodes angrily, asking Mrs. Compson why Jason treats her so badly. She says it is Jason who makes her misbehave. Mrs. Compson dithers and Miss Quentin leaves the table, saying she wishes she was dead.
Mrs. Compson cannot stand up to Jason, as she still considers him her closest child, and the rightful head of the family just because that is the way things are traditionally done. Only Dilsey tries to protect the objects of Jason’s tormenting, like Benjy and Miss Quentin, and so Jason torments her just the same. Part of Jason fears her at the same time, though, and he never goes too far with Dilsey.
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Mrs. Compson then complains about how she doesn’t understand Miss Quentin, and how none of her family loved her except for Jason. Mrs. Compson says Quentin is probably studying in her room, but Jason suspects she is up to something. Jason hears Benjy snoring, and he thinks about how Benjy was castrated after he attacked the schoolgirls. Jason finishes by saying he is just trying to get his fair share, and wants a chance to get his money back.
Jason clears up some of the confusing plot with his clear narrative (like explaining that Benjy was indeed castrated), but his section is otherwise disturbing in its constant bitterness and self-pity. The Compson family has fallen into almost a tragic farce at this point, very far from its glorious beginnings.
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