The Sound and the Fury

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Quentin’s Watch Symbol Analysis

Quentin’s Watch Symbol Icon
Quentin’s father gave him his watch in the hopes that it would make him occasionally forget about time, but the watch only increases Quentin’s obsession. Because it belonged to his father and grandfather, the watch reminds Quentin of his family’s honor and heritage, which then contributes to his guilt and depression regarding Caddy’s sins and his own perception of how the family has fallen. Quentin tries to break the watch to free himself from its constant haunting presence, but the watch keeps ticking even without its hands. When he goes to drown himself, Quentin leaves the watch behind in his room, but it is the sense of time – and his own unimportance within history – that actually drives him to suicide. This watch also symbolizes the larger theme of time itself, and how different characters perceive it in the novel. For Benjy the past and present meld together into one vague series of perceptions, but for Quentin everything is precisely marked off by the defined ticking of his watch.

Quentin’s Watch Quotes in The Sound and the Fury

The The Sound and the Fury quotes below all refer to the symbol of Quentin’s Watch. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Sound and the Fury published in 1990.
June Second, 1910 Quotes

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire… I give it to you not that 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.

Related Characters: Quentin Compson (speaker), Mr. Compson (speaker), Mr. Compson
Related Symbols: Quentin’s Watch, Shadows
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we switch abruptly from Benjy’s section to Quentin’s, hoping for more clarity but not finding it. The style changes noticeably, from Benjy’s scattered narration to Quentin’s much more analytical but still very scattered section. Like Benjy, Quentin finds himself thrown from the present back into the past, with all its painful memories.

At the very start of Quentin’s section, its two major themes are present: shadows and time. Quentin is disturbed by the shadows following him and everyone else around all the time. He is also tortured by time, embodied in the watch given to him by his father, along with one of Mr. Compson’s characteristically vast philosophical pronouncements: “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire…”

Hearing the watch Quentin is “in time again” and cannot escape it. Though Mr. Compson gives Quentin the watch in the hope that he might “forget it now and then for a moment,” it clearly has the opposite effect.

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I went to the dresser and took up my watch, with the face still down. I tapped the crystal on the corner of the dresser and caught the fragments of glass in my hand and put them into the ashtray and twisted the hands off and put them in the tray. The watch ticked on.

Related Characters: Quentin Compson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Quentin’s Watch
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

In a foreshadowing of his suicide to come, Quentin takes his first step toward ending time (at least as he knows it). Tortured by his watch and its always-ticking insistence on the passing of time, Quentin tries to destroy it. But even once he removes its parts the watch continues to tick; as Quentin has learned, there is nothing he can do to stop either the forward progress of time or the backward pull of his painful memories.

Quentin’s narration never seems to build up to big moments like this. It gives little warning that something important is about to happen, and we only find out later that a passage like this one was actually full of significance. Everything is downplayed, and this passage reads as if breaking his watch were something Quentin does every day as part of his routine. Even as he prepares to take his own life, Quentin is obsessively neat, placing the glass and the watch hands nicely in the ashtray. He seems to want things to end without much disturbance for anyone else, but we already know from Benjy’s section that Quentin’s death will wreak havoc on the Compson family.

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Quentin’s Watch Symbol Timeline in The Sound and the Fury

The timeline below shows where the symbol Quentin’s Watch appears in The Sound and the Fury. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
June Second, 1910
Time, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Decline and Corruption Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
...in his dorm room at Harvard, sees a shadow on the wall, and hears his watch ticking. The watch belonged to his grandfather, and Quentin remembers his father giving him the... (full context)
Time, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...lets all the sounds of the street fade away except for the ticking of his watch. He goes to a clock shop and gives his broken watch to the man behind... (full context)
Time, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
...there are any factories around that whistle on the hour, and shows them his broken watch. The boys walk away, arguing about where they will fish or swim next. (full context)
Time, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Decline and Corruption Theme Icon
A bell sounds again, and Quentin puts on his vest and puts his watch into Shreve’s desk drawer. Then he brushes his teeth, puts on his hat, and leaves... (full context)