Analysis of Memory and Time in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury Essay

Analysis of Memory and Time in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury Essay

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Sartre and Brooks’ Literary Critiques: Analysis of Memory and Time in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury


“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time.” Cicero presaged the study of historical memory and conceptions of time, which assumes that what and how we remember molds our past into something more than a chronological succession of events. Ever more appreciative of the subjectivity of recollection, we grasp that without memory, time passes away as little more than sterile chronology. In literary as well as literal history, time derives its meaning from Bergson’s “duration” – time as personal consciousness (322). In Faulkner’s fiction, duration is a centerpiece, even as chronology fails. Such is the case in The Sound and the Fury. For the Compson family, history as memory indeed testifies to their passage from respectable to regrettable. Thus it is appropriate that some literary critics of the novel have focused on time and memory in their analysis. Jean-Paul Sartre and Cleanth Brooks attempt to explain the Compson dynamic by examining conceptions of time in the novel’s four narratives. Sartre and Brooks address certain themes in common, including emotional and mental paralysis or freedom, and the interconnectedness of the past and the present – the future having forsaken the troubled Compsons. Sartre, perhaps better than Brooks, aptly makes the case for time as duration in the Compson experience.

Sartre is concerned foremost with how the characters react to the limits of time. As evidence that time is personal, he explains “The story does not unfold; we discover it under each word” (265). He rightly suggests that the tensions between time and the characters free readers to better grasp the meaning o...


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... who concocts violent schemes in his platonic passion, and who, Brooks suggests, lives for his despair and takes his life to preserve his suffering for all time. Quentin is so absorbed by the past and mythic codes of honor that he sees “no future he is willing to contemplate” (complete work, 333; 291).

There is no escaping time in Faulkner’s fiction. The Sound and the Fury showcases two forms of time – the temporal chronology which is frustratingly disrupted and the duration of individual consciousness which speaks to lived memory. Cleanth Brooks wisely warns that, overwhelmed as we are by the apparent timelessness of the novel, we should not reduce its characters to mere abstraction, “stages in a dialectic” (292). They are people who expect and suffer - and remember. Restoring subjectivity to the passage of time also restores humanity to those who passed it.

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