The sound and the Fury: Essay Questions

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1.  Consider the use of modernism in this work.

The Sound and the Fury is typically regarded as a high modernist novel and, consequently, embraces various traits associated with this movement. Briefly, modernism signifies a break from the tradition of realism and in relation to this is experimental in form (be that art, literature, architecture and so forth).


While the lack of exposition, for example, may initially alienate the reader in Chapter One, the use of the stream of consciousness, which has often been drawn upon by writers such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, is another means to depict the thought processes of a character. In comparison to realist portrayals of character, it is also possible to argue that this technique offers a fuller picture of the psychological make-up. The fragmented depiction of the passing of time is also seen as modernist as this too highlights how linear time is a construct and, therefore, not the only way to view history or memory.


2. Comment on and analyze the use of Benjy as the first-person narrator in Chapter One.

Benjy is aged 33 at the beginning of the novel and in the present it is his birthday. He is deemed to be mentally deficient by many of those around him, except Caddy and Dilsey, and the use of him as a first-person narrator allows us to see that he understands more than others may realize. His inability to communicate with speech is given as the reason for his marginal status, but the depiction of his thoughts and memories demonstrate the way he associates one event with another.


Because he is unable to speak, it is also possible to argue that he is the ideal vehicle to express the stream of consciousness that is beloved by many writers influenced by modernism. The shifts between past and present are rapid and difficult to negotiate and are made only marginally easier with the use of italics. This sense of alienation that comes with the lack of a traditional introduction or exposition means that the readers are forced to note the experiments with form as well as content.


3. Analyse the depictions of Caddy and consider the impact of her not having a chapter as her siblings do.

Caddy is voiceless when compared to her brothers as each of these has a chapter allotted to them. She is sidelined by the family after her husband throws her out, and this is reflected in the novel as she is only referred to by others.


Despite having being silenced, she is depicted through these others as the one who has been the strongest (even as a child) and until she falls pregnant has enjoyed her freedom. As a child, then, she has some power and is seen to refuse to submit to the whining of others (such as Jason and her mother), but as a woman she is at the mercy of the prejudices of others. She is depicted as being thwarted by such views as she is expected to marry somebody after becoming pregnant, and is regarded as a ‘fallen woman’ once he realizes that she is having a child to somebody else. Her name is never mentioned in the house and is supposed to have no contact with her daughter. Because of these factors, she becomes the victim of patriarchy as she is punished for her independence.


4. Describe the racism inherent in the speech of many of the characters and how this is used in the novel.

Racist terms abound here and although repugnant it is possible to see that these casually racist characters are hung by their own words. Jason is an especially monstrous depiction of a racist and misogynist and through him his small minded prejudices are seen to have no value.


In Chapter Four, it is possible to see more fully that this is finally a novel that is sympathetic to those who are enslaved by abuses of power and the focus on Dilsey demonstrates this all the more. Despite the malevolent treatment of her employers, and this includes Mrs Compson, she is seen to be the only one who is able or willing to try to keep the Compson family together. This is colored by Christian views that are not tinged with hypocrisy. Her decision to take Benjy to church when others think he should not be seen there demonstrates this.


5. To what extent does the decline of the Compson family reflect the decline of the South.

The Compsons are a fictional construct and have been described as a formerly prominent family of the South. Their decline in fortunes and the disintegration of the family bonds may be seen to run parallel with the decline in the South post-Reconstruction. Both this family and the South have a slave-owning past and are still mired in racism and the notion of white superiority; as this novel and history have demonstrated, this decline is one that can only be welcomed.


There are elements that are associated with the South that are often overlooked, though, such as the concept of honor and the challenge to this value is seen in Caddy’s pregnancy. Her ostracism is founded on the belief that she has brought shame on the family, but as is made evident with the male members of the family (such as Uncle Maury, Quentin and Jason) she is also treated more harshly because she is a woman (and a ‘fallen woman’ at that).

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