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The Sound and the Fury Themes & Motifs

This Study Guide consists of approximately 43 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Sound and the Fury.
This section contains 1,081 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)

Themes and Motifs

Time

Time is a central theme of the novel. Time slips back and forth throughout each section giving the reader a glimpse of the past as well as the present lives of the Compson family. Time is seen as ill relevant. The Compson family members make the same mistakes throughout time.

In the April 7, 1928 section, Faulkner uses the view of Benjy Compson a severely mentally challenged man to show the ill relevance of time. To Benjy time has no meaning. His days are the same only the people change. This gives the reader a sense of confusion of the time that the events are taking place. This confusion shows the intensity of the family’s relationships and the interwoven connection between the family members.

Benjy interweaves the past and the present seamlessly negotiating time without noticing the time change. Quentin is stuck in the past. He cannot let go of the past and only escapes it by taking his life. The ticking of his watch show the passage of time. He breaks it in an attempt to stop time, but cannot stop it or keep it from being constantly present in his mind. Jason focuses on the future. He always looks to what could be rather than what is. Dilsey focuses on the present and is the only one who seems content with her life.

Pride

Pride is a theme of the novel. Mrs. Compson believes herself to be superior to those around her because of her family’s station. This has fallen over the years, but Mrs. Compson remembers when their family was respected in the community and will not relinquish her feelings of superiority. She lords this over her household staff and makes them wait on her hand and foot as if she is aristocracy.

Jason’s pride makes him feel that his job at the farm supply store is beneath him. It leads him to steal from his own sister because he blames her for not being more successful. His pride makes him a bitter cynical man who does not enjoy the simple pleasures in life, but is always looking to the future and how to capitalize on the actions of others. He goes after Quentin when she steals his money because his pride is hurt. She outsmarted him and was able to take back what was hers.

Jason and his mother believe that they deserve better in life because of their family name. Mrs. Compson believes others should wait on her hand and foot and be happy to do so. Jason believes that a good life should be handed to him and he should not have to work hard for it. He blames others for his not having the life he believes he deserves. Pride makes them self-centered and believing that the world owes them a good life.

Loyalty/Obsession

Loyalty and Obsession are themes of the novel. The Compson family is loyal to one another. Quentin is loyal to Caddy so loyal and obsessed that he feels responsible for Caddy’s mistakes and tells his father that Caddy’s baby is his. Mr. Compson sends him to Harvard early because he is concerned with Quentin’s obsession with his sister.

Jason Compson IV is obsessed with money and has no loyalty for his siblings. He does not like his brothers and sister. He is loyal to his mother. Throughout his childhood and adulthood he has spied on his siblings for his mother telling her all of their transgressions. This loyalty leaves him alienated from his siblings, which affects his forming relationships in adulthood. Jason becomes a cynical man who relies on himself and does not trust anyone else.

Benjy has an obsession with Caddy. When he hears her name, he becomes upset and cries because he misses her. Even when he hears the golfers on the golf course next to the family home call out for their caddies, he becomes upset because it sounds like her name. She is a kindly presence in his life that he misses and mourns its loss.

Innocence

Innocence is a theme of the novel. Benjy embodies innocence. He cannot be corrupted by the other members of the family. He lives in his own world where the selfishness, creed and lust of the Compson family does not reach him. He loves Caddy like his brothers, but her transgressions do not affect his outlook on life. Quentin is so affected by her pregnancy and the blight on the family name that he takes the blame and kills himself. Jason blames Caddy for the problems of the family and his lack of a proper living.

Benjy does not understand what has happened. He has no sense of time so to him Caddy is still part of the family and he misses her, but as long as her name is not mentioned he does not understand that she is not there. In his mind, he travels to a time when she was there and he cannot differentiate between what is the present and what is the past.

Love

Love is a theme of the novel. Mr. Compson loves his children and his wife. Quentin loves him his family and becomes very homesick in Boston away from his family. He loves his sister, Caddy, so much he risks the wrath of his father by telling him that Caddy's baby is his. He insists he committed incest to try to save his sister's reputation. Benjy loves Caddy. He could always distinguish her because to him she smells like trees. Mrs. Compson loves Jason because he is more like her than any of her children.

Dilsey loves the Compson children as if they were her own. She raised them because their mother is a hypochrondriac who spends her time in her bed waiting to die. Dilsey is a kind person who does not begrudge anyone anything, but spends her life looking after someone else's children. She protects Benjy by keeping him calm and from disturbing the rest of the family who get upset with him when he is loud. She also attempts to protect Miss Quentin from Jason. She believes he is too harsh on her and protects her no matter what wrath comes her way. She is like her own granddaughter because she took care of her mother Caddy. Miss Quentin is so much like her that it is uncanny. Dilsey wants to protect Miss Quentin like she was unable to protect Caddy.

This section contains 1,081 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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