A central insight of the stream of consciousness technique – and of modernist fiction generally – is how deeply subjective and distinct individual experience is. This contradicts the assumptions of realist fiction—that a supremely objective omniscient perspective is possible. Faulkner has said that The Sound and the Fury was an effort to tell a story, and that each section of the novel is a new attempt (and in his modest view, a failure)—a new attempt because from a different perspective. Each perspective adds new layers to, and comments on and contradicts and reaffirms, to various degrees, the perspective of the others.
Contemptuous of the family honor and name, and the moral codes that Quentin was obsessed with, Jason Compson is nevertheless attached to the racist, sexist, aristocratic hierarchy of the Old South, and retains the sense of entitlement and prejudices of that tradition. We get to know him—whether we want to or not!—through the same first-person technique of stream of consciousness that Faulkner uses to develop his brothers’ characters. We get to know Dilsey not through first-person stream of consciousness, however—and it may feel like a great relief to get out of the Compson brothers’ heads! At the same time, we can never see any of the those characters simply, because we have been inside their minds, and made to deeply identify with them, whether we want to or not, because that’s what reading a first-person stream of consciousness narrative does.
Please answer these questions about the third and fourth sections of the novel.
- How does Jason’s narration compare to Benjy’s and Quentin’s, in terms of dwelling on the present versus the past? What seems to trigger memories for him, compared to his brothers? Cite and analyze evidence.
- How does Jason’s section of the novel help you understand the first two sections better, including the Compson family history? How does it change your judgment of Benjy, Quentin, Caddy and Quention, Jr., if it does? Cite and analyze evidence.
- The fourth section of the novel, which focuses on Dilsey, is not told from a first-person perspective. Instead, we have a third-person limited omniscient narrator. And what is limited about this narrator’s perspective–especially compared to the three first-person narratives? Overall, how does some degree of intimacy with Dilsey’s perspective and daily life affect our understanding of the previous three sections? Cite evidence.