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William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is a novel that depicts the loss of traditional Southern values after the Civil War. This corruption is shown through the Compson family, whose notions of family honor and obsession with their family name are the driving force in severing all the ties that once held them together. Mr. Compson tries to instill these notions into his four children, but each is so occupied by their own beliefs and obsessions that this effort results in a house that is completely devoid of love and consumed by self-absorption. Caddy is perhaps the most prominent figure in the novel. The three Compson boys obsess over her, looking to her as a mother figure and source of love and understanding but ironically, it is Caddy that serves as the family’s downfall. Engaging in sex and getting pregnant, Caddy not only shames her family but also tramples all the ideals of the old South, as does her daughter after her. Quentin relies on his knowledge of Southern codes to provide order, yet Jason cares only for himself and his personal gain. These traits are pivotal in explaining Faulkner’s purpose, using one family’s corruption as a symbol of the downfall of the old South.
Time is also an important concept in Faulkner’s novel. Time’s influence on human interaction and thought is depicted through the three Compson boys. Benjy, who is mentally retarded and has no concept of time, uses his disability to escape the Compsons’ obsession with their name and honor. Quentin meanwhile is obsessed with the past and is trapped in these thoughts, eventually committing suicide to escape the ticking of time. Jason concentrates only on the present and future, believing that time can never be wasted and letting greed consume him. Time’s influence on the family also helps to showcase the novel’s purpose as it slowly eats away at the family and further contributes to its corruption.
Though The Sound and the Fury is about the downfall of the old South, Faulkner uses the Compsons’ servant Dilsey as a symbol of hope for the future.
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