The Sound and the Fury

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Themes and Colors
Time, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
Decline and Corruption Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Sin and Sexuality Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Sound and the Fury, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Sin and Sexuality Theme Icon

For a traditional Southern lady, sexuality is associated with sin and virginity with innocence, but Caddy tramples on “Southern chastity” by becoming sexually active at an early age. The association of sexuality with sin and “uncleanness” is symbolically foreshadowed by Caddy’s dirty underwear as a child. Though sexuality is a personal subject and not inherently sinful – except in this traditional Southern worldview – all of Caddy’s brothers become obsessed with Caddy’s promiscuity. Quentin’s guilt involves what he allowed to happen (and how it stained the family honor) but also his own possessive love for Caddy herself. His obsession with her chastity is so tormenting to him because it stems from both a desire to protect her and a repressed desire to have her for himself. Jason, however, sees Caddy’s sexuality as a personal affront and another opportunity for bitterness, as her divorce cost him a potential job at a bank.

Miss Quentin, Caddy’s illegitimate daughter, inherits her mother’s promiscuous nature, but Miss Quentin feels no shame for her actions, as she no longer subscribes to the notion of sex as inherently sinful. Indeed, when compared to Quentin’s obsessions and Jason’s bitter rage, Caddy and Miss Quentin become two of the more positive characters in the book. They at least, in comparison to the other Compsons, are capable of love.

Sin and Sexuality ThemeTracker

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Sin and Sexuality Quotes in The Sound and the Fury

Below you will find the important quotes in The Sound and the Fury related to the theme of Sin and Sexuality.
April Seventh, 1928 Quotes

Caddy was all wet and muddy behind, and I started to cry and she came and squatted in the water.
“Hush now.” she said. “I’m not going to run away.” So I hushed. Caddy smelled like trees in the rain.

Related Characters: Benjamin (Benjy) Compson (speaker), Candace (Caddy) Compson
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

When Benjy thinks "Caddy smelled like trees," we get one of the refrains of his narrative. Caddy, the second-born Compson child after Quentin, is the only one who can consistently comfort Benjy. Caddy loves Benjy deeply, and even in the midst of her argument with Quentin she realizes that someone needs to help Benjy cope with what he cannot understand of his surroundings. 

While playing outside, Caddy ends up "all wet and muddy behind." This imagery will also repeat itself throughout this first section, suggesting both Caddy's childhood sloppiness (she doesn't care much for the dress others want her to keep clean) and her transition into adolescence. Faulkner's male characters tend to be deeply afraid of menstruation and female sexuality in general, and as Caddy becomes sexually mature her family members increasingly associate her with dirtiness, earthiness, and lack of purity. 


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“All right.” Versh said. “You the one going to get whipped. I aint.” He went and pushed Caddy up into the tree to the first limb. We watched the muddy bottom of her drawers. Then we couldn’t see her. We could hear the tree thrashing…
“What you seeing.” Frony whispered.
I saw them. Then I saw Caddy, with flowers in her hair, and a long veil like shining wind. Caddy Caddy

Related Characters: Benjamin (Benjy) Compson (speaker), Frony Gibson (speaker), Versh Gibson (speaker), Candace (Caddy) Compson
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, already, the imagery of Caddy's "muddy bottom" finds its way into Benjy's narration. There is something voyeuristic about the others standing around watching from below while she climbs into the tree. There's little indication that Benjy feels anything but adoration for Caddy, but his oldest brother Quentin certainly has confused feelings about Caddy's emerging sexuality.

The kids are trying to spy on their grandmother Damuddy through an upstairs window, compelled by rumors that she is sick and dying. The Compton children, especially Caddy, are driven by their curiosity to find out what is happening in their chaotic home. Given the incompetence of their parents, the kids have to make their own sense of events like their grandmother's impending death.

At the end of this passage, Benjy sees Caddy again and is thrown back (or forward) into a memory of Caddy's wedding. Because both of these events happen in the past, but years apart, it can be extremely confusing to read Benjy's narrative. It is a multi-layered past, and Damuddy's death occurs well before Caddy’s wedding. But Benjy links things together through sensation and emotion, not through temporality or cause-and-effect. This allows Faulkner to link Damuddy’s funeral and Caddy’s wedding thematically: they are both, in part, signals that the Compsons’ prosperity is waning.

Caddy and I ran. We ran up the kitchen steps, onto the porch, and Caddy knelt down in the dark and held me… “I wont.” she said. “I wont anymore, ever. Benjy. Benjy.” Then she was crying, and I cried, and we held each other. “Hush.” she said. “Hush. I wont anymore.” So I hushed and Caddy got up and we went into the kitchen and turned the light on and Caddy took the kitchen soap and washed her mouth at the sink, hard. Caddy smelled like trees.
I kept a telling you to stay away from there, Luster said. They sat up in the swing, quick. Quentin had her hands on her hair. He had a red tie.

Related Characters: Benjamin (Benjy) Compson (speaker), Candace (Caddy) Compson (speaker), Luster Gibson (speaker), Quentin Compson, The man in the red tie
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, an occurrence in the novel's present (April 1928) sends Benjy spiraling into a memory. Benjy is trapped inside himself, still mourning his loss of Caddy all these years later but unable to vocalize any of his sadness or anxiety. In this memory, Benjy sees Caddy on the swing kissing a boyfriend, and he panics. After the boyfriend, Charlie, becomes angry at Benjy, Caddy chooses her brother over her boyfriend and runs away with Benjy to comfort him.

Because nearly everyone else is ineffective at comforting Benjy, Caddy is left to do too much of it. What might be seen as a “normal” developmental phenomenon— her first kiss on the swing outside their house— is interrupted by Benjy, who can only understand the kiss as another sign that Caddy is planning to run away. After comforting him, Caddy washes her mouth “hard” with soap. She has internalized much of the shame her family forces upon her, and wants to wash away her sin against the Compson honor.

Once she does this, Caddy once again smells like trees in Benjy’s mind; this tells us that Benjy has returned to a relative stability within himself. At the end of the passage, we return to the present, where Benjy has interrupted Miss Quentin (Caddy’s daughter) kissing someone (the man with the red tie) on the same swing.

Caddy came to the door and stood there, looking at Father and Mother. Her eyes flew at me, and away. I began to cry. It went loud and I got up. Caddy came in and stood with her back to the wall, looking at me. I went toward her, crying, and she shrank against the wall and I saw her eyes and I cried louder and pulled at her dress. She put her hands out but I pulled at her dress. Her eyes ran.

Related Characters: Benjamin (Benjy) Compson (speaker), Candace (Caddy) Compson, Mr. Compson, Mrs. Compson
Page Number: 68-69
Explanation and Analysis:

Even though Benjy is in some ways less aware of the things happening around him, he seems to intuit the emotional states of other characters, especially Caddy, very well. She returns home after presumably having sex for the first time, and the sense of shame emanating from Caddy is tangible. Once again Benjy and Caddy run away together, but this time they stay inside the house. When they are kids, the Compsons are almost always outside; but now, slightly older, they stay more often within the walls of their home.

It’s not exactly clear in this passage whether Caddy is comforting Benjy or vice versa. Benjy’s crying grows louder when he sees Caddy’s eyes, meaning he understands her shame and sadness on an emotional level, if not cognitively. Benjy understands everything, even his own crying, as something happening outside of himself. Here, for example, he understands his crying in this way: “It went loud and I got up.” Benjy knows he is crying, but does not seem to connect his crying to whatever noise is growing louder around him.

In passages like this one, Faulkner uses Benjy’s perceptual uniqueness to introduce events, like Caddy’s first sexual experience, that will end up central to the rest of the novel. By giving us our first glimpse of these events through Benjy’s eyes, Faulkner avoids traditional cause-and-effect narration and makes things like sexuality and sibling interaction strange and mysterious once again.

June Second, 1910 Quotes

In the South you are ashamed of being a virgin. Boys. Men. They lie about it. Because it means less to women, Father said. He said it was men invented virginity not women… and I said, Why couldn’t it have been me and not her who is unvirgin and he said, That’s why that’s sad too; nothing is even worth the changing of it, and Shreve said if he’s got better sense than to chase after the dirty little sluts and I said Did you ever have a sister? Did you? Did you?

Related Characters: Quentin Compson (speaker), Mr. Compson (speaker), Shreve (speaker), Candace (Caddy) Compson
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout his section of the novel, Quentin is obsessively drawn back to things his father has told him about the world. In this example, Quentin remembers a dialogue with his father about his virginity and Caddy’s lack thereof. Even though Mr. Compson’s statements can seem absurdly broad, it often seems like his ideas might be closely aligned with Faulkner’s. In other words, because they offer the most lucid abstractions about the world that this novel has to offer, Mr. Compson’s monologues might be the place where Faulkner expresses something similar to his view of the world.

Even though this passage contains dialogue, it is effectively monologic. Mr. Compson identifies a phenomenon— boys and men being ashamed of their virginity in the South— and goes on to explain it. He says “it was men who invented virginity,” and so men are more worried about it than women.

In the most interesting part of this discussion, Mr. Compson says “nothing is even worth the changing of it.” This suggestion that even the saddest and most painful things fade away over time and aren’t worth changing betrays a deeply cynical view of the world, one that will be echoed in Quentin’s despair that nothing seems to be heavy enough to weigh him down, keeping him grounded in life. At the end of this passage, Quentin’s mind jumps to another memory of a discussion with his roommate Shreve, one example of many where Quentin becomes angry at another man suggesting that his sister (Caddy) might be something like a “dirty little slut.”

Got to marry somebody
Have there been very many Caddy
I don’t know too many will you look after Benjy and Father
You don’t know whose it is then does he know
Don’t touch me will you look after Benjy and Father

Related Characters: Quentin Compson (speaker), Candace (Caddy) Compson (speaker), Benjamin (Benjy) Compson, Mr. Compson
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Some of the more emotionally powerful passages in Quentin’s section are those in which Faulkner leaves traditional sentence structure behind and allows words and phrases to flood the page. This is one of them. Quentin is hit so quickly and fiercely with memories of a conversation with Caddy about her lost virginity that the narrative has no time for grammar or punctuation.

Caddy has seemingly decided to marry Herbert, one of her suitors, and knows her departure could be somewhat final— this is why she asks “will you look after Benjy and Father.” But Quentin is more worried about who Caddy has had sex with. First he asks “Have there been very many,” and we know Quentin is tortured by his belief that he should have stopped his younger sister from having sex with anyone at all. Then he says “You don’t know whose it is then does he know,” hinting at an unborn child belonging to someone besides Herbert. When Caddy says “Don’t touch me,” we start to imagine a very heated conversation, with Quentin grabbing Caddy and Caddy trying to pull away.

Listen no good taking it so hard its not your fault kid it would have been some other fellow
Did you ever have a sister did you
No but theyre all bitches
I hit him my open hand beat the impulse to shut it to his face his hand moved as fast as mine the cigarette went over the rail I swung the other hand he caught it too before the cigarette reached the water he held both my wrists in the same hand

Related Characters: Quentin Compson (speaker), Dalton Ames (speaker)
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

Quentin confronts Dalton Ames, a man at least a few years older than him who has presumably impregnated Caddy. Dalton condescends to Quentin, calling him “kid” and saying it’s not Quentin’s fault. But Dalton drastically underestimates the amount of emotional importance this situation has for Quentin, unaware that Quentin fixates obsessively on Caddy’s virginity (to the point of threatening to kill Dalton earlier in the passage).

When Quentin says “Did you ever have a sister did you,” he gives Dalton one last chance to realize the harm he has done to Quentin’s sense of honor. Dalton replies, “No but theyre all bitches,” and Quentin tries to hit Dalton. But Dalton is much stronger than Quentin, grabbing both of Quentin’s hands with just one of his. Although Quentin holds such a deep conviction that he must protect Caddy from sexual advances, he is physically much weaker than her suitors and finds himself unable to do much of anything. His inability to enforce his internal rule system on the outside world may be part of what makes this memory so disturbing to Quentin.

April Sixth, 1928 Quotes

Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say. I says you’re lucky if her playing out of school is all that worries you. I says she ought to be down there in that kitchen right now, instead of up there in her room, gobbing paint on her face and waiting for six niggers that cant even stand up out of a chair unless they’ve got a pan full of bread and meat to balance them, to fix breakfast for her.

Related Characters: Jason Compson IV (speaker), Ms. Quentin Compson
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

Another abrupt switch in narrative style brings us from Quentin’s almost unbearably heavy section into Jason’s comparably easy-to-read, but still disturbing, section. Clearly, from his first sentence, Jason is not as troubled as Quentin is by concepts like considering a woman a "bitch." Whereas Quentin’s whole sense of self seems to revolve around troubled concepts of masculinity and virginity, Jason is brutally practical and cruel.

We learn that the “she” of this section is Miss Quentin, Caddy’s illegitimate child who has been taken from her mother and absorbed into the Compson family as if she has no mother at all. Jason’s main concern with this younger Quentin (whose name is confusing until we realize who she is) is to make things as easy for himself as possible. He thinks of his niece as a “bitch” and the black servants, like Dilsey, who have sustained his family throughout his entire life as “six niggers that cant even stand up out of a chair unless they’ve got a pan full of bread and meat to balance them.” Jason, unlike the other Compsons, is fiercely focused on making money and making his way through life, and always assumes that he is the victim of other people's laziness and irresponsibility.

“All right,” I says. “We’ll just put this off a while. But don’t think you can run it over me. I’m not an old woman, nor an old half dead nigger, either. You dam little slut,” I says.
“Dilsey,” she says. “Dilsey, I want my mother.”
Dilsey went to her. “Now, now,” she says. “He aint gwine so much as lay his hand on you while Ise here.” Mother came on down the stairs.
“Jason,” she says. “Dilsey.”
“Now, now,” Dilsey says. “I aint gwine let him tech you.” She put her hand on Quentin. She knocked it down.
“You damn old nigger,” she says. She ran toward the door.

Related Characters: Jason Compson IV (speaker), Mrs. Compson (speaker), Ms. Quentin Compson (speaker), Dilsey Gibson (speaker)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel’s chronology, the only people left in the Compson home are Mrs. Compson, Jason (the youngest of the four children, now grown up), Benjy, Miss Quentin, and the six black servants. The family has virtually disintegrated, and Jason makes the mistake of thinking that he’s the only one holding together what remains of the Compsons.

It has always been, throughout the novel, Dilsey and the other black servants who are the stable core of the family. But Jason struggles to be the leader of the family and establish authority over Miss Quentin, who has a tendency to skip school and ride around in cars with men.

Jason often gets angry at his niece Quentin, and here he calls her a “little slut” and threatens to beat her. Dilsey, sure of her role as the true leader of the Compson family, steps in to protect Quentin. Dilsey has raised Jason from birth on, and knows he will probably back down. Even after Dilsey protects her, though, Quentin disparages her brutally. Quentin is furious that Dilsey cannot honor her request to see her mother, and in her anger easily slips into the same racism that Jason embodies. Quentin is certainly sympathetic in comparison to Jason, but she too can be very cruel and racist.

“Remember what I say,” I says. “I mean it. Let me hear one more time that you are slipping up and down back alleys with one of those dam squirts.”

She turned back at that. “I don’t slip around,” she says. “I dare anybody to know everything I do.”
“And they all know it, too,” I says. “Everybody in this town knows what you are. But I wont have it anymore, you hear? I don’t care what you do, myself,” I says. “But I’ve got a position in this town, and I’m not going to have any member of my family going on like a nigger wench. You hear me?”

Related Characters: Jason Compson IV (speaker), Ms. Quentin Compson (speaker)
Page Number: 188-189
Explanation and Analysis:

Jason’s relationship with his niece Quentin consists, as far as we can tell, almost entirely of arguments with her in which he accuses her of sneaking around with a boy and she slips away or tells a lie. But here she takes Jason’s accusation head-on, daring “anybody to know everything I do.” Jason, concerned about his family honor but more so about his job security, insists that Quentin has earned a bad reputation around town.

We might be able to forgive Jason some of his meanness given all of the tragedies he has lived through, but phrases like this one are especially hard to read: “I’m not going to have any member of my family going on like a nigger wench.” This is doubly brutal, as Jason dehumanizes and black women while lowering Quentin to that same dehumanized status. Quentin, meanwhile, seems to revolt at every turn against this family that is at once hers and not hers; she knows her mother, Caddy, is out there somewhere but is always prevented from seeing her.

“You can say nonsense,” Mother says. “But she must never know. She must never even learn that name. Dilsey, I forbid you ever to speak that name in her hearing. If she could grow up never to know that she had a mother, I would thank God.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Compson (speaker), Candace (Caddy) Compson, Ms. Quentin Compson, Dilsey Gibson
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

Always conjuring up things to worry about besides the more pressing issues right in front of her, Mrs. Compson seeks to prevent Quentin from ever learning her mother’s name. Mrs. Compson even dreams of her granddaughter growing up “never to know that she had a mother.”

Dilsey is in a precarious position, knowing that Mrs. Compson’s wish for Quentin is absurd but also that she cannot easily disobey her. The amount of shame in the Compson family about Caddy’s illegitimate child is somewhat shocking, as it threatens to tear the family apart once again. Mrs. Compson does little of practical note to help her family-- she even burns what she thinks are checks from Caddy-- but instead mostly stays inside her room and dreads whatever might happen next. This passage also once again emphasizes the importance of names, particularly for the character of Mrs. Compson.

How the hell can I do anything right, with that dam family and her not making any effort to control her nor any of them like that time when she happened to see one of them kissing Caddy and all next day she went around the house in a black dress and a veil and even Father couldn’t get her to say a word except crying and saying her little daughter was dead and Caddy about fifteen then… I haven’t got much pride, I cant afford it with a kitchen full of niggers to feed and robbing the state asylum of its star freshman. Blood, I says, governors and generals.

Related Characters: Jason Compson IV (speaker), Benjamin (Benjy) Compson, Candace (Caddy) Compson, Mr. Compson, Mrs. Compson
Page Number: 229-230
Explanation and Analysis:

In a conversation with his coworker Earl, Jason seems to realize the absurdity of his mother’s role in their increasingly small family. First he realizes that Mrs. Compson is “not making any effort to control her nor any of them.” Then Jason remembers a time when his mother saw Caddy kissing someone and “all next day went around the house in a black dress and veil.” This is one of the only passages where Jason critiques his mother and acknowledges that his father might be a helpful presence. The memory also shows the unhealthy level of shame and pressure placed on Caddy at a young age, and is another illustration of Mrs. Compson's neurotic, melodramatic nature.

Throughout this novel, Faulkner experiments with how little he can give his readers while still giving them the chance to understand what is going on. Here Jason uses only the pronouns “she” and “her” but we can figure out that he is speaking about his mother.

At the end of this passage, we find a brutal assessment of his brother Benjy— “robbing the state asylum of its star freshman”— and then get a seemingly random statement, “governors and generals.” Jason refers to the collective history of the South and its defeat in the Civil War, a concept central to Faulkner’s fiction. In doing so he tries to link his family’s troubled history to that of the South as a whole — emphasizing the idea of how far the Compson "blood" has fallen.

“When they began to sell the land to send Quentin to Harvard I told your father that he must make an equal provision for you. Then when Herbert offered to take you into the bank I said, Jason is provided for now, and when all the expense began to pile up and I was forced to sell our furniture and the rest of the pasture, I wrote her at once because I said she will realise that she and Quentin have had their share and part of Jason’s too and that it depends on her now to compensate him… You were right to reproach me.”
“Do you think I need any man’s help to stand on my feet?” I says. “Let alone a woman that cant name the father of her own child.”

Related Characters: Jason Compson IV (speaker), Mrs. Compson (speaker), Quentin Compson, Candace (Caddy) Compson, Mr. Compson, Herbert Head
Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mrs. Compson makes a last-ditch effort to explain their troubled finances to Jason and comfort her own guilt about her role in the family’s downfall. She summarizes many of the things that have brought the family to where it is now: the sale of part of their land to finance Quentin’s Harvard education, the rejection of help from Caddy’s husband Herbert, and the tension between Caddy— always just outside the bubble of her own family— and the others.

When Mrs. Compson says Caddy will “realise that she and Quentin have had their share,” the name Quentin remains ambiguous. She might be saying that Caddy’s brother Quentin had his share when he was sent to Harvard or that her daughter Quentin got her share when she was taken in by the remaining Compsons. Faulkner’s doubling of names throughout the novel allows him to leave ambiguities like this, and thereby link two different characters together thematically; in this case, both Quentins have an unacknowledged debt to the Compsons as far as Mrs. Compson is concerned.

After all this, Jason reasserts his fragile patriarchal role and asks, “Do you think I need any man’s help to stand on my feet?” And it would be even worse, he says, to accept help from his dishonorable sister Caddy.