Sanity and Insanity in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury

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Sanity and Insanity in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury

Quentin Compson, the oldest son of the Compson family in William Faulkner's novel, The Sound and the Fury, personifies all the key elements of insanity. Taking place in the imaginary town of Jefferson, Mississippi, the once high class and wealthy Compson family is beginning their downfall. Employing a stream of consciousness technique narrated from four points of view, Benjy, the "idiot child," Jason the cruel liar, cheat, and misogynist, Quentin the introvert, and the author narrating as a detached observer, Faulkner creates the situation of a completely dysfunctional family. Faulkner shows that failure to cope with the natural changes in the passage of time will drive one out of his mind. Despite what many critics believe, Quentin is indeed insane, as well as every other member of the Compson family, with the exception of Benjy.

Quentin is seriously mentally ill and does many stupid things to lead up to "serious harm," his suicide. His inability to live normally in society results in the drowning of himself. Quentin is an anachronism; he is out of his time and place. His passion in upholding the purity of womanhood is ironic in his questionable incest with his sister. Incest, notwithstanding, simply trying to make his father believe that such actions did occur is pure madness. Quentin is disgusted with life and feels that nothing can help anyone. He says, "It's not when you realise [sic] that nothing can help you- religion, pride, anything- It's when you realise [sic] that you don't need any aid" (80). When Quentin uses the word aid, he is referring to the daily things in life that help make life bearable. Things like: friends, family, compliments, and self-esteem. These are all types of aid. To think that no one needs any of these things to deal with the hardships in life is senseless. Certainly one must be lunatic to believe that nothing can help someone, that life is simply a free for all. As a Harvard student, Quentin should at least have some pride in his accomplishments. Certainly it was no accident for Faulkner to choose a suicidal man as the most psychopathic character for his novel.
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