The Sound and the Fury

Setting (time, place, influence)

The novel takes place in rural Mississippi in a fictional county called Yoknapatawpha County. It also takes place in the area surrounding Boston, including Harvard University where Quentin is a student. The time frame covers a considerable range from 1910 to 1928, in the "narrative" itself. However, through flashbacks incidents that took place well before 1910, including back to roughly 1890 are also referenced. (W. Almquist)

Major Characters



This child in a man's body, emotive creature, impulsive and passionate, soundless yet thoughtful, epitomizes Faulkner's stream of consciousness writing style as he delves into, quite frankly, the mind of a retarded man. Bound to Caddy, in all that she represents, her smell, her vitality, the change and disconnect she brings to the Compson family, Benjy bellows at every utterance of her name—even if it comes from the golf course, Benjy's supposed-to-be land. He relies on shapes, sounds, smells, and colors much more than the other characters as he provides a much more objective memory, simply presenting the story without social or partial commentary. His story is pure and sadly true, the loss of his dear testicles paralleling the overall loss of the Compson family, as something is missing, something too crucial to replace, too important to forget, and too painful to quickly come to grips with. (BMITT)



Poor Quentin. Quentin is afflicted by his repeated failures to fulfill his chivalry and attempted strength as he recalls all the times he has fallen far short of bravado and, instead, tumbled despairingly down an abyss of failure, self-loathing, and futility. The portal through which Faulkner allows us to gaze into the ceaseless torment of Quentin's quotidian consciousness is dense and difficult, yet that is so much of what makes it a brilliant window into a mind haunted by specters of unresolved realities and troubled by the ineluctability of the past. For Quentin, suicide is not a choice, but it is a decision so petrified in the bedrock of resolve that it has become a necessity, an unalterable reality. For Quentin, no choice exists to do anything else, which is something that requires a certain amount of empathy from us to even attempt to understand. (Peter B.)

The oldest of the Compson children, Quentin’s story generally precedes those of the other characters. Besides memories of the children as youths in Mississippi, Quentin primarily only exists in this book as the narrator of his own section. His section is incredibly thought provoking, and his inescapable suicide evokes very little pathos in its audience—portrayed as an appointment for Quentin rather than the stereotypical emotionally-charged climax of life. That said, when referenced by characters like Caroline and Jason, he is not remembered lightly. We learn from his subconscious that Quentin feels an inexplicable devotion to his sister Caddy that he transfers to all women, as is seen by his protection of the little girl in town. With his unique and often neurotic mental underpinnings, Quentin reveals a side of the Compson family that is difficult to be shown by the Benjy section and too past for the chronologically subsequent sections of Jason and Dilsey. Quentin illuminates a deep connection with his father, arguably the only good character, and a time when the Compson family still retained some of its former greatness. (WHolt)

A note on Quentin's suicide: To Quentin, drowning himself is ultimately the only justifiable solution to his deeply overwhelming frustration. Thus, it is almost as if Faulkner implies that by committing suicide, Quentin finds his way back to the youthful innocence of his past. Quentin’s death consequently is less tragic than it is beautiful. It is the gallant and triumphant act of chivalry that had failed so many times in his adolescence. It is the honesty and morality that he craved and was left unfulfilled. It is the one thing he could control, the one thing he knew was inevitable, the one way he could rewind time. Quentin appears to conquer the things in death that he never was able to in life: Caddy’s promiscuity, his father’s opinion of sexual purity, and the passing of time. (KWatts)

It should be noted that what drives Quentin to his suicide is not Caddy’s actions or his inability to protect the women in his life; rather, he is haunted by his dedication to traditional values and morals of the Antebellum South, a paternalistic society that demanded purity of thought and action from women, and moral courage, chivalry, and honor from men. Caddy’s promiscuity bothers him because it is a direct affront to his worldview, and his father’s insistence that virginity is inherently meaningless only serves to deepen his misery and hopelessness. (Luke Hedrick)

Jason is the bitter, angry, racist brother who is the subject of the third section of the book. His bitterness stems from the fact that he has terrible luck and rarely catches a break, while he watches his siblings be treated better or more fairly than him, in his opinion of course. While things don’t go Jason’s way most of the time, his missed opportunities rarely, if ever, come to him without someone else playing a major role. Jason is especially angry to have missed out on being a banker with Caddy’s husband Herbert. Miss Quentin is also a problem child without any real parental supervision, so the responsibility to look after her also falls on Jason. Jason is caught up in his money, which he makes through the stock market, stealing from Ms. Quentin, and working as a clerk at a store. (RLucas)

Jason, in his characteristically delusional manner, also views himself as a champion of old Southern values and society. At one point, he is appalled to be in the street without his hat on his head (Heaven forbid!), indicating his obsession with the carefully constructed life that he leads. Miss Quentin outsmarting him truly cuts him to the core simply because she is a woman, and no matter what it takes, he wants to get back at her and put himself back on top. Maybe he should have thought twice about hiding $3000 in his closet before engaging himself in a contest of cunning and intelligence? He certainly does not see it this way. What’s more, he thinks he is man enough to march troops into town and lock up the sheriff for not helping him. Clearly, Jason struggles with the reality that he is only a store clerk and sees himself as playing a much more essential role in the town. In close contention with Cahline (CAH-leen), he perhaps best illustrates the Compsons’ difficulties in releasing the influence they once had as a powerful land-holding family in the deep South. (HW)

Dilsey is the biological mother of Versh, T.P., and Frony, as well as the grandmother of Luster. Genetics aside, Dilsey is essentially the mother of all the Compson children. Throughout the novel the reader experiences with the deterioration of the Compson family, and is exposed to each character’s fall, but Dilsey is constant throughout. Dilsey is the one character who, through all of the family’s troubles, has endured and survived. While Dilsey is unrelentingly bombarded by Jason’s negativity and abuse, and is forced to wait on the ever “sick” Caroline Compson, she does her job with dignity, never allowing any of them to devalue her. Every character in the Sound and the Fury has noticeable flaws, but to find one in Dilsey one would need dig really deep to discover a flaw in her character. (Elyse)

Dilsey is the character in Faulkner's novel that is easiest to like. She has worked her whole life for the Compson family and in the present day she is the straw that holds the family together. Simply put, Dilsey carries the Compson family. She not only cares for all of the Compson's but she raised a family of her own. Dilsey is presented in the final section of the novel as a women with unmatched patience and kindness. However, it is important not to place her on a pedestal because while she is entrenched in the Compson's world, she is not a Compson and thus the traumas that affect the Compson family would have touched her differently. SHe is also the only character that we never see inside the head of so while she is able to keep her composer on the exterior, her internal thoughts might not be as saint like as she projects them. Aside from that, Faulkner is able to create in Dilsey a single character that the majority of his readers respect and empathize with. (Molly)

The only girl child of Jason and Caroline Compson, rebellious Caddy remains somewhat of an enigma throughout the novel. The characterization of Caddy is soley based upon the accounts of her family, mainly her siblings Jason and Quentin. Disowned by her family for her promiscuity, Caddy is ostracized and never seen in the present day accounts in the novel. A large emphasis is placed on her role in the family during the past- caring and motherly towards Ben, loved despite her seemingly immoral actions by Quentin, and condemned by Jason for theoretically ruining his life. Caddy's daughter, Miss Quentin represents the reaction to the same treatment of Caddy, showing the similarity of rebellion in regard to an attempt at controlling every aspect of someone's life. (CarolineKelly)

Caddy is the rebellious and beautiful daughter of Caroline and Jason Compson. Her character embodies a force that combats against the conventions of her society, as she yearns to be the one who his brothers should “mind,” or the “giant” and the “king” on the playground (Faulkner 173). However, as she begins to mature, she becomes entangled with her own promiscuity, and has numerous relationships with men in the woods near her parents’ house, which causes her to beget a child, Miss Quentin, by Dalton Ames. She is married off to a wealthy banker, a blackguard, Herbert, who eventually finds out that Quentin is not his daughter, and Caddy is then disowned by the family. Caddy’s character and her downfall (of begetting Miss Quentin), exemplifies the theme of the corruption of youth. It seems as if Caddy never fully understood the implication of love and relationship having been born in a relatively chaotic family, and when she steps into the adult world through her promiscuity, she becomes entangled and confined by her own desires and hope. (Tai)

Minor Characters

Frony: Daughter of Dilsey. By the time Jason's section rolls around she is no longer living with the Compson family. She displays the societal change for african american families in the post civil war south. Dilsey chooses to stick around with the Compsons even though slaves have been emancipated but Frony's action of leaving the property to pursue her own life (along with Jason's african american co-worker) show the changing attitudes of both african americans and some whites in the post civil war south. Frony is important for highlighting this change because, in the process, she also highlights Jason's fear of change, racism, and the downfall of the Compson family (ECL)

Luster: Benjy’s caretaker. Luster constantly complains about his job of taking care of Ben and thus, does his job very poorly and shows little to no attention to Ben. In the first section of the novel, Luster focuses on his lost quarter, which he badly wants in order to go to the carnival. ZI

Caroline: Caroline Compson is the mother of the four main characters (Ben, Caddy, Q, Jason). She is completely self-absorbed and obsessed about how society perceives her family, and thus she is not a very good mother to any of her children. In fact the only child she ever praises is Jason and she is just plain cruel to Benjy. Her southern classist mentality also leads her to change her mentally handicapped child's name from Maury to Ben as well as be ashamed of Caddy's behavior. (LL)

Jason III: Jason Compson III is the husband of Caroline and father of Quentin, Caddy, Jason IV, and Benjy. He suffers from alcoholism (this proves to be very troubling for his youngest son, Jason) and demonstrates a pessimistic view on life that, along with several other factors, prompts Quentin to his grave. He is also one of the few characters who treats Ben like a human being, as he values fairness and honor. Jason III dies an early death in 1910. (rlovejoy)

Themes/Meanings of the Work

The childhood of the Compson children is marked by forced innocence as they live sheltered lifestyles primarily forced on them by their mother, Caroline, as she seeks to relive the Compson glory days. Using the Compson brood as central characters, Faulkner conveys the deep rooted superficiality of society. Upon closer examination of Faulkner's scattered story line, Ben is revealed to be the only innocent individual of the Compson children. Ironically, Ben is forced into this state of innocence because of a mental disability and he is the very one rejected from society. Civilization's rejection of Ben suggests that there is no place for purity in the equation of society. (AG-Tagoe)

One theme of the novel is to highlight the awkward time period in which the family lives. They are caught between the rigid social structure of the old South and the imbalance of the new South where slavery is no longer legal but exists in practice. The young generations of both Dilsey and Caroline's families deal with the changing order in a variety of ways. Jason views Dilsey and her kin as slaves because of their race and in no way are they part of the family. In comparison Dilsey, the older generation sees herself as a Compson and makes their problems her own. (SarahB)

The past plays an important role in the novel as all of the Compson children constantly find themselves reliving/reimaginging their childhood, a time full of memories that ultimately have significant effects on their present/future. Quentin, Jason, and Benjy all watch as points in their past unravel within their thoughts day by day as reminders of events that haunt them continuously, mostly having to do with Caddy's actions. Although we never see Caddy's view of the story, it is clear through the other's tales that her one choice have affected her and her brother's future forever, and the constant reminiscing (whether intentional or not) never allows any of the children to truly move on with their lives. (ElizC)


Two symbols pertinent throughout are Jason's automobile and the smell of honeysuckle. The first to own his own car in town, (Herbert bought it for Caddy's family) Jason relentlessly clings to his car as the sole evidence that his family stems from wealth. While the stench of gasoline always gives Jason vicious migraines, he still drives it everywhere in an attempt to impress society. While in reality he is a bitter sales clerk, he clings to the automobile, hoping it may increase his social status. Honeysuckle, another recurring symbol, repeatedly haunts Quentin's subconscious, as it represents the innocence and purity that Caddy has lost. When Quentin spends time with Caddy, he consistently mentions feeling suffocated by the stench of honeysuckle, meaning he is unable to look past Caddy's sexual immorality, blaming himself for what he believes to be the ultimate stain on femininity. (Gaustin)

Quentin’s Watch- Seeing as how Quentin is trapped in the past, his watch, which was a high-school graduation present from his father, is a fine symbol of the inevitability of time. When we first meet Quentin, he breaks the face of his watch without a stated reason as to why he did so. However, after learning that Quentin longs for the past values which are seemingly impossible to manage in his present life, it makes sense that he would want to break his ticking watch, a constant reminder of time’s passing by. (Tmott)

A prominent and recurring symbol throughout the novel, especially in the section narrated by Quentin Compson, is time represented by clocks. Quentin, who is plagued to repeat the past in mind and fails to live actively in the future, is haunted by his ticking watch and the bells on the Harvard campus. Just as the clock represents moments that have happened (since once we hear the tick, it has already taken place), Quentin, while he wears the watch and pays attention to its monotonous rhythm, remains stagnant, his mind immobile. Quentin recalls his father giving him the watch, which also represents the passing of his father’s hopeless philosophy of fatalism on to Quentin. The clock, that the outside world can hear, also serves to differentiate between external and internal time. For instance, all hear the same ticking of the clock, while perception of time in the mind varies from individual to individual. While Quentin may travel to the past, others may preoccupy themselves of thinking of the future. When Quentin musters the courage to act in his last moments by breaking the watch, he shows he is defying the restraints of time (past, present, and future) and saying that only he himself can regulate his life without the reminder of a ticking time bomb. This mentality is seen in the portrayal of his suicide as an act of the past instead of the future. The broken watch also sends the message that Quentin ultimately rejects his father’s depressing outlook on life, even though he may not have fully formed his own theory yet. Quentin has begun to climb out of his perpetual adolescence (breaking the watch signifies the first step), but with the baggage of his family troubles, knows he cannot fully do so and turns to suicide. (CChiaroni)

Significance of Opening Scene

The opening scene, though not the beginning of the novel chrnologically, takes place on April seventh, 1928. The reader is initially confused, and many of the contents of this first section will not be understood until later in the book. As Benjy roams his pasture, the reader is unknowingly introduced to Ben's obsession of his sister Caddy, following his moaning that results from the reference to a golf caddie. The opening section features a chronology (or lack thereof) that is more difficult than later sections, and truly reflects the haphazard organization of Benjy's mind. As the reader is introduced to a variety of major characters, their importance and roles are yet unknown. The opening scene and opening section as a whole provide viewpoints that will be important when the reader ultimately makes judgments about the novel as a whole. (CBerk)

Significance of Closing Scene

The closing scene of the Sound and the Fury paints the tragedy of the Compson family downfall. Luster, driving Benjy to the cemetery in a carriage, takes a path Benjy is unfamiliar with. Benjy cries in confusion and uncertainty, and Jason violently hits the two, one to punish and one to quiet. For a second the readers are transported back to what else but the sound and the fury of Benjy’s mental landscape, of the emotionally tormented Quentin, of the chaotic relationships between the Compsons. As Luster returns home, Benjy quiets because he sees the people and places he is used to, the way things are and are supposed to be. Through the transition between commotion and calm, perhaps Faulkner implies that the Compson story does not just end as abruptly as the novel does. Perhaps like the South, it will undergo a deep internal shake, and then order and peace will eventually be restored. (Aashna)

Fun Stuff

awwwww yeahhhhhhh SB 2012 baby!!!!