Faulkner deals with the concept of time in a unique way in The Sound and the Fury. Benjy, the book’s first narrator, is mentally disabled and completely lacks a sense of time. Faulkner creates the sensation of Benjy’s perceptions by shifting the narrative years backwards or forwards mid-paragraph, as certain words and sensations remind Benjy of past experiences. This allows Faulkner to make surprising and poignant connections between past and present events. Quentin, the next narrator, is the opposite of Benjy – Quentin is obsessed with time, and cannot seem to escape its inexorable passing. Quentin’s main preoccupation is with the lost glory of his family (as represented by Caddy’s lost virginity), so the constant chiming of clocks and the ticking of his grandfather’s watch becomes a symbol of the decline he cannot escape. Among the main characters, Dilsey has the only healthy relationship with time and the past, as she is able to step back and see herself and the Compson family as a small piece of history – she has seen the beginning, and now she sees the end.
The title of the novel itself, The Sound and the Fury, comes from a monologue in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where the speaker laments the pointlessness of an individual life within the relentless march of time and history. This theme then becomes generally symbolic of the overarching decline of the Compson family, as well as its individual members. The characters are unable to forget the past and move into the modern world. They cannot see themselves without pride and self-absorption, even as time marches on and leaves them broken behind it.
Time, Memory, and the Past ThemeTracker
Time, Memory, and the Past Quotes in The Sound and the Fury
“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
In the midst of the voices and the hands Ben sat, rapt in his sweet blue gaze. Dilsey sat bolt upright beside, crying rigidly and quietly in the annealment and the blood of the remembered Lamb.
As they walked through the bright noon, up the sandy road with the dispersing congregation talking easily again group to group, she continued to weep, unmindful of the talk…
“Whyn’t you quit dat, mammy?” Frony said. “Wid dese people looking. We be passin white folks soon.”
“I’ve seed de first en de last,” Dilsey said. “Never you mind me.”
“First en last whut?” Frony said.
“Never you mind,” Dilsey said. “I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin.”
“Fiddlesticks,” Mrs. Compson said. “It’s in the blood. Like uncle, like niece. Or mother. I don’t know which would be worse. I don’t seem to care.”
“Whut you keep on talkin that way fur?” Dilsey said. “Whut she want to do anything like that fur?”
“I don’t know. What reason did Quentin have? Under God’s heaven what reason did he have? It cant be simply to flout and hurt me. Whoever God is, He would not permit that. I’m a lady. You might not believe that from my offspring, but I am.”
Ben’s voice roared and roared. Queenie moved again, her feet began to clop-clop steadily again, and at once Ben hushed. Luster looked quickly back over his shoulder, then he drove on. 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.