Documents fournis par Mme A. Bourgois

The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

Première partie : Cours de Mme Bourgois

Deuxième partie : Notes de lecture : étude de André Bleikastein, in la Pléiade ( références aux pages de l’édition de la Pléiade)




(Cours de Mme Bourgois)

Out, out brief candle !

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.

Macbeth, Act V, scene 5

Benjy’s Section


1) The first section of The Sound and the Fury presents itself as a tale told by an idiot.

"He was a prologue, like the gravedigger in the Elizabethan dramas. He serves his purpose and is gone". " I was trying to tell this story as it seemed to me that idiot child saw it", the author explained (interview, Jean Stein)

So the first section was to create the illusion of a mind registering what happens or recalling what happened without understanding in the least the multiple connections between the events. "He himself didn’t know what he was seeing" ( Interview, Jean Stein, 1957)

The idiot's mind functions like a camera or a tape recorder out of human manipulation and control.

It would of course be an error to imagine that Faulkner intended to provide an accurate record of what really goes on in an idiot's mind. Benjy is not a lunatic from an asylum but a character in fiction (indifference to the tenets of naturalism : he is dumb and yet he speaks, he is deaf and yet he can hear).

2) It would equally be misleading to pretend that Benjy's section defeats comprehension. It is true that Benjy provides no orderly dramatic exposition, but Faulkner gives us a series of identification devices :

- The device of italicization: the changes in typeface to indicate time-shifts. He uses italics to indicate time-shifts : " I purposely used italics for both actual scenes and remembered scenes for the reason not to indicate the different dates of happenings but merely to permit the reader to anticipate a thought-transference, letting the recollection postulate its own date". (Faulkner's own preference was for printing the Benjy section in inks of different colors. ( see the letters to Ben Wasson, Norton edition, p.220)

Beware : a change in italics does not always imply a scene shift. ( Use the guide to the chronology and scene shifts )

Ex. p. 41. There is a shift from the wedding scene to Damuddy's death which is not signalised. Ex. p. 42 : A change in typeface does not mean a change of setting.


a) Through a series of criss-crossed references we guess the date of the different scenes

- Caddy's wedding (in Quentin's section : p.87. 25th of April 1910. She is 18.

- Quentin's suicide. Date of the 2nd section : 1910.

- 23rd December. See in Benjy's section. p.14 : "Xmas is the day after tomorrow".

- We also know that Benjy is 33 on April 1928 (p.50) hence when 13 = 1903. p. 45 "13 years old"

- Caddy is 14. p. 43 hence 1904.

- On damuddy's death, Caddy is 7 = in 1898

- p. 62 : " A five year old child hence 1928 – 28 (33-5) = 1900

- p. 63 : Damuddy spoiled Jason that way and it took him 2 years to outgrow it hence 1900 – 2 = 1898. ( Exception p. 46)

b) The names of Benjy's successive guardians

They also provide a guidance through the general chronology. In 1928 : Luster, before it was T.P., and when still a child : Versh. (Versh : 5, T.P. : 5-18, Luster : 18 - ...)

c) Recurring actions and settings and motifs

Luster's search serves as a motif and signal of present time,– getting drunk – wet dress – howling, – smell, fence, branch, slippers, etc.

d) Benjy's change of name

He was called Maury until 1900.

e) Quentin

The name refers either to Benjy’s brother or to Caddy’s daughter

f) The associative trend of thoughts hinges on verbal clues – puns

Ex. "Caddie" : double meaning starts Ben bellowing. Nearly each time the transition is conveyed by a word recurring in each unit.

Ex. p. 12 : "Can't you never crawl though here without snagging on that nail" – getting caught. p. 12 : "cold", p. 14, "fence".

The associative process of Benjy's stream of consciousness is easily unravelled. The occurrence of a similar situation, position, action (ex. getting caught, being cold, waiting by the fence, seeing wheels, passing by a barn) starts an immediate remembrance.

Sometimes a past scene returns with difficulty. (cf. p. 23 & 25 : "Roskus came and said")

Ex. p. 23 : Damuddy's death scene illustrates that kind of slow process of memory.

A long scene is not necessarily remembered in its inner chronological unity. The event which is remembered first is not necessarily the first in the scene.

Ex. p. 12 unit 23 Dec : Caddy uncaught me : then we witness a process of association within the recollected scene.


We can see already that the section is far from being a perverse puzzle. The section waits for the reader to give it form and meaning. It does not tell a story, but creates within us the possibility of telling one. The burden of narrative organization and interpretation is transferred from narrator to reader, but it does not imply that the latter is confronted with mere confusion, nor that he is free to arrange the material he is given at his will. Indeed the seeming chaos of Benjy's section conceals a vertical order ( cf. Jakobson’s definition of the two axes of language: the syntagmatic one based on the principle of continuity and the paradigmatic order based on analogy).

That is : The horizontal linearity of external chronology is replaced by a synchronic patterning of internal relationships – by this we mean that not only are the sections significant by what they tell, by their narrative content, but also by their interrelations, their juxtapositions – through which similarities as well as differences come to light.

Ex : scenes that are separated in time tend to fall into groups and to form chains by reason of their common elements. Thus the Caddy scenes, the death scenes and the dispossession scenes : loss and lack. These two themes integrate the scenes into their larger meaning.

Ex. Caddy's wedding is linked to four death episodes. This points to the common significance of the events for Benjy, in terms of loss, and it foreshadows the metaphoric equivalence of sex and death.


The narrative units

On close inspection, Benjy's speech appears to follow a carefully modulated dramatic curve.

The section begins with extended narrative units devoted to relatively minor incidents.

- The delivery of Uncle Maury's message to Mrs. Patterson on Dec. 23. A trip to the cemetery after 1912 to visit Father's and Quentin's graves.

- A fairly detailed account of the day of damuddy's death in 1898. It is interrupted with increasing frequency by memories of Caddy's wedding, and of three other deaths in the family : Quentin’s , Mr. Compson's, Roskus’s.

- Then a sequence of thematically related episodes centering on the process of Caddy's growing alienation from Benjy. (Perfume, must sleep alone at 13, the swing leading to a parallel present scene with her daughter Quentin)

- Then Benjy's memories focus more and more sharply on the agony of loss : the episode of his assault on the Burgess girl is associated with his longing for Caddy's return and with his castration. The long scene of his renaming : a poignant reminder of his sister's love and kindness.

- The quick alternation of past and present scenes emphasizes the magnitude of his losses :

Ex. Quentin's treatment of Benjy is contrasted with Caddy's. The happy memories are set over against the atmosphere of nasty bickering prevailing in the family under Jason's reign.

As the past erupts into the present with ever-increasing urgency, Benjy's mind is set spinning. This climaxes with the most unbearable of all memories : Caddy's loss of sexual innocence.

Presence and Absence in Benjy's section

(Go away / come back / crying-howling and Hushes)

- Fort / da game (lire dans Freud, Essais de psychanalyse)

* Benjy's world is a fractured world, a world in the process of falling asunder. What gives his life its basic rhythm is a perpetual oscillation between serenity and anguish. He does not know any transition, or in-between but abrupt switches from contentment to pain and from pain to contentment, signalled by crying or silence.

- Recurring sentences : I began to cry – then they came back - I hushed. His monologue is punctuated with cries of pain, blind discharge of emotion. All these scenes exemplify the same pattern.

Ex. Jimson weed,–fire,– cushion – Caddy's slipper are things which Benjy likes. When they go away, he starts crying or howling, when they come back, he hushes.

Things and persons come and go, materialize out of nowhere and vanish. The jimson weed is there or gone, the bowl, the hand...

Conclusion : Benjy registers at least one distinction : the opposition of presence and absence. His acute and immediate responsiveness to the disappearance and return of objects brings to mind the symbolic FORT / DA game described by Freud. (Lire p. 16)

Freud's interpretation of the game is that by staging the disappearance and return of the reel, the boy symbolized his "great cultural achievement – the instinctual renunciation, which he had made in allowing his mother to go away without protesting"

This, Benjy fails to do : he is unable to master absence. He can only howl in impotent protest. There is no central " I " through whose agency the world might be ordered and made meaningful. There is no sense of identity.

There is no distinction between I and non I, there can be no boundary between inner and outer space, and nothing to focalise what Benjy does, perceives or suffers.

Everything is out there, in scattered fragments, and Benjy is at best the passive and uncomprehending watcher of what is happening to him.

His body is not any more his own. Each part of it seems to act autonomously (p. 42), his throat makes sounds. His hand tries to go back to his mouth, even the pain of burning is something external to him. (p.59)

Benjy is unable to master absence, especially the absence of the one person who matters : Caddy. His sister was the whole world to him, so that with her departure, his world has dissolved into emptiness. For Benjy, all possible forms of presence and absence relate back to, and are metaphors of, the presence and absence of Caddy. It is not fortuitous that all the objects mentioned above should be in some way associated with her.

The Brother-sister relationship : lack, dispossession

(the theme of lack – incest, barred desire, incest, nameless desire – sex and death)

Everything in the first section hinges upon the brother-sister relationship. (As much could be said of Quentin's and to a lesser extent of Jason's)

This relationship is both thematic focus and structuring principle. The three brothers are the plural subject of the narration. The sister turns out to be its primary object. The brothers are present through their voices. The sister is the absent/present figure evoked – invoked in their monologues.

Thematically, it is a central topic : it functions as paradigm for most of the tensions and exemplifies the relation of desire to its lost object.

The primacy of this relationship is as important for Quention as it is for Benjy. Yet, its basic significance can be more easily grasped in Benjy's section for the idiot expresses his feeling without ruses, obliquities and evasions. Faulkner qualifies his world as "the blind self-centeredness of innocence" : childishness unaware of good and evil.

Lack and Loss

Benjy lives in a condition of utter helplessness. Trapped in an adult body, his childish, degenerate mind can only express immediate needs. He voices an all-demanding desire and a radical impotence to achieve its aims.

Benjy is qualified by lack and dispossession. He is self-less, devoid of intelligence, deaf and dumb, speechless, infans : we do not listen to his voice, but we penetrate a stream of consciousness. A non discursive discourse, an attempt to verbalize the non-verbal, The section reads as a text of the unconscious with its disregard of time and logic, its ignorance of negation and contradictions, its evident reliance on the dream mechanisms of condensations and displacements.

Most of the scenes in which he is implicated are scenes of loss :

1) The rainy November day in 1900, when his name was changed from Maury to Benjamin on his mother's request : the name change suggests a loss of identity.

2) Another token of dispossession : the loss of the Compson pasture, sold to finance Quentin's studies at Harvard. p. 25 : "He still thinks they own that pasture"

3) Eventually, he even loses his sex (p. 71) "I got undressed and I looked at myself and I began to cry" (p.54) castration.

4) The come and go away pattern.


The supreme loss : The loss of Caddy.

As Faulkner said "that fierce, courageous being... was to him a touch and a sound that may be heard on any golf links and a smell like tree"

Cf. p. 11, p. 54, p. 22.

He is obsessed by a past forever vanished and he experiences an acute sense of loss, a painful awareness of the difference between WAS and IS. Hence, he waits at the gate after Caddy (p. 52 : "waiting is for him an immutable ritual, waiting for a return of the past, a way of negating time". )

His monologue constitutes a quest of the long-lost sister, a longing for the warm, secure, ordered world she represented – her return from school was expected and never failed. However, when she married, everything collapsed.

This quest is vain since if some memories bring back scenes of tender love yet the monologue dwells more on all the incidents presaging the final loss of his sister.

Ex. Many of the remembered scenes record the progress of Caddy's sexual maturation and of her consequent estrangement from him.

1) The perfume scene (p. 43, 44)

2) He remembers being 13 and no longer being allowed to sleep with her (p. 45)

3) Crying when he saw her in her wedding veil on her wedding day (p.43, p. 27)

4) Crying when she lost her virginity (p. 67)

Conclusion : Most of the events recalled are either anticipations or consequences of Benjy's major loss, his sexual mutilation. He attacks the Burgess girls because he mixes them up with Caddy.





The brother-sister relationship is patterned on that of child and mother. Caddy is a mother surrogate. She replaces Mrs. Compson, the failing mother. She gives him genuine love.

As Faulkner put it :

"... the only thing that held him into any sort of reality, into the world at all, was the trust that he had for his sister... he knew that she loved him and would defend him, and so she was the hole world to him"

Benjy's love for his sister-mother is absolute in its need and demand, devoid of authentic reciprocity. This love is possessive (he is jealous when she begins to be unfaithful). This love is also sexual. It is innocent and free from any sense of inner conflict and guilt, but he would not be so alert to her sexual development or preoccupied with her virginity if sex played no part in his desire. The Burgess Girl episode is revealing. It is not gratuitous that his sole attempt at sexual intercourse should occur at the gate where he used to wait for and meet Caddy. The Burgess girl functions as a substitute for Caddy. Then Benjy's sexual aggression must be viewed as an attempt at incest. Besides, the following castration becomes an inescapable punishment for the violation of the primal taboo. (see the little girl episode in Quentin's section : he calls her "sister" : dramatic and thematic parallelism of the two scene).


A Barred desire.

The barrier is a plainly visible and tangible one. Benjy's drama is given a symbolic mise-en-scène in the outer world. The space in which the idiot moves is a space of enclosure – circumscribed.

He is always seen with guardians – Versh, T.P. and Luster – who keep constant watch over him and control his move.

Confinement is suggested by the recurring image of the FENCE. He is allowed to look through the fence but not to go beyond. Yet what lies beyond is one of the three things he loves most : "Benjy's pasture".

The fence is a concrete token of exclusion and dispossession, and the pasture symbolises all that Benjy has lost. The pasture converted into a golf course, stands for the primeval garden, access to which is henceforth forbidden. Its symbolic function is the more manifest as it is immediately connected with the memory of Benjy's sister "Caddie".

It is equally revealing that, as he tries to crawl through the honeysuckle-chocked fence and he gets snagged on a nail, he should relive a past scene when he passed through with Caddy. The Fence that separates him from the lost garden is a symbol of his captivity.

Benjy constantly tries to break through various barriers. For example, when inside, he wants out, when in the yard, he runs to the gate.

GATE : is another key word of the first section. It belongs to the same chain of captivity. It encloses him, but it can also become an opening and give access to the other world. The gate functions as a promise escape. Cf. p. 257. Ben is wailing, hopeless, but as they passed through the gate " Now den", she said. Ben ceased.

The gate symbolises his blind yearning for freedom.

But this yearning is one with his desire for Caddy's return. He waits for her imagining that she may come home as she used to.

p.52 : "He think if he down to the gate Miss Caddy come back"

"Trying to say" : A nameless desire.( mark the intransitive use of the verb)

Once Benjy finds the gate unlocked and runs away. See. The Burgess girl episode, p. 52, 53.

This reads as his personal interpretation of what happened.

The close repetition of "trying to say" conveys the exact meaning of his gesture : attempt to break the isolation in which Caddy's departure has left him.

The entire section is a "trying to say" and we might even extend it to the whole book. According to Faulkner, he tried to render an image and failed to say what he wanted to. Hence this act as a metaphor of the failure of the writer.

We must also attend to the ambiguity of the sentence within the context of the scene. Apart from "I caught her, she screamed", nothing suggests a sexual assault. Yet it is as such that Benjy's act is construed by the girls and the adults. And Faulkner's comment leaves no doubt as to the sexual character of this "trying to do" (in a letter written to his literary agent, Ben Wasson, he stated that Benjy "tries to rape a young girl and is castrated").

It is amazing that an attempt at sexual intercourse should be masked as a wish for verbal communication.

"Trying to say" refers at once to the writer's creative endeavour and to Benjy's sexual impulse. Beyond Benjy's story, it reminds us what we know about the psychological circumstances of the novel's birth, and it confirms an assumption that The Sound and the Fury is an extended metaphor for a nameless desire. The novels reveals itself as a desire for utterance – "trying to say" and conceals at the same time what it is in essence, an utterance of desire, a discourse focused on the unspoken – the unspeakable, the dark and mute powers of sex and death.

Sex and Death.

In Benjy's monologue, sex and death are never far away and always seen in close conjunction.

Ex : Benjy's memory of the Burgess girl (sexual aggression) is interwoven with the castration scene (sexual death). The two scenes are significantly juxtaposed. Furthermore, the castration itself is suggested through ambiguous imagery : "the smooth, bright shapes", associated with the fast flow of houses and trees during the drive to the cemetery, and the sight of fire he loves and the memory of going to sleep with Caddy. (pp. 18-19, p.63, 72)

Hence, the "bright smooth shapes" herald a sleep that is suffocation. : "I couldn't breathe", falling "I fell off", a descent in to death.

These image associations are echoed in Quentin's monologue. Quentin links death and sleep and invokes hell-fire. His suicide at the end of the second section is symmetrical with Benjy's falling asleep at the close of section one.

This interweaving of images of life and death is typical of Benjy's section. Without being named Death is a haunting presence.

Ex : the earliest episode. The water splashing incident is overshadowed by the event of Damuddy's death. (17 narrative units).

Ex : from the memory of this death, Benjy's mind shifts to all the other deaths : Quentin (32), Compson (34-36), Roskus (37-36) and the macabre image of Nancy – the mare shot by Roskus and devoured by vultures, ‘undressed’. These successive deaths are entangled : it reads as an obsessive recurring single occurrence, a ritual passage to death.

Benjy senses the immediate presence of Death : he smells it (p. 38-39)

Last point : Benjy and the Graveyard. The family cemetery trip : the goal of the only outings of Benjy : one of his favourite game is playing with jimson weed : called by Dilsey ‘graveyards’

The weed was used by southern negroes in abortion and given obscene names by people because of their phallic form : ironic symbol of lost manhood. The game : a mourning rite, a ritual celebration of loss and death, symbol of all his losses.




I) Survey of the section

1) The characters and their function and thematic import.

2) The linear narrative pattern.

II) Similarities and differences between the two sections.

1) Significant parallels.

2) Narrative variations.

3) Difference.

III) Disjointedness and disintegration of the language in the monologue.

1) Fragmentation.

2) Dialogism and polyphony.

3) A quest for selfhood.

4) Nobody's voice.

IV) Quentin's trajectory from childhood to suicide.

1) Origin of his malaise : absence of motherly love.

2) The hog-wallow scene.

3) Quentin and misogyny.

4) His need for order and cleanliness.

V) The suicide as lover's date.

1) The prophetic hog-wallow scene.

2) The triangular relationship.

3) The fantasy of complete substitution.

VI) Father.

The voice of Father

The failure of the symbolical order

Incest as an address to the father

I) Survey of the section.

1) The characters. ( See the guide to F’s characters)

- The students : Shreve, Spoade (always late, p. 75) and Gerald Ames (p. 85, 86, 97,98,149)

- Caddy's lovers : boys, Ames Dalton, Herbert

- Negroes : Deacon, Louis Hatcher

- The little Italian girl and her brother Julio – Natalie.

- The three boys and the trout (one of them Jerry)

- Mrs Bland and her son Gerald.

- Subsidiary characters : Anse who arrests Quentin, the girls who attend the party.

The characters as function : in relation to Quentin.

a) Ames and Head

Symbol of manliness. They contrast with his impotence. Both have phallic attributes : a revolver and a cigar. Ames offers to lend Quentin his revolver (p.146) and Head offers him a cigar (p. 99), both of which are refused. This attitude confirms the denial of sexuality in which his impotence originates. The contrast between Quentin and his rivals is further suggested on the symbolic level through their respective relations to water and fire. For Quentin, water means both death and desire. Ames and Bland both have gained mastery over the female element. Bland is an accomplished oarsman (p.135) Ames fires into the water. The two characters are also related to fire and sun

Bland's symbolic function is emphasized by imagery assimilating him to a royal personage. It is interesting to note that his mother is likewise compared to a queen. To Quentin, this regal couple is an image of the parental couple. Through the superimposition of the husband-wife relationship, on can see the incest motif emerge. The ambiguous intimacy between Mrs Bland and her son, her admiration for his amorous exploits, her marveling for his beauty are suggestive of incestuous drives.


b) Related to time.

- Spoade : with his customary unhurried walk’, he was never on time – never hurries, never speeds his pace. He is a contrasting character and is set against Quentin's obsession. Spoade's unconcern for fleeting time is reinforced by the running crowd which passes him by. Besides Spoade uses reiterative expected actions. Rite : At 10, he puts on his socks while his coffee is cooling down.

This expected ritual is a way of neutralizing, humanizing time, of getting hold on it.

Negroes : subservient to time, unimpatient, static serenity.

The jeweller, the watch, the boys p110



c) Mother and sister.

- Gerald Bland and his mother. They form a couple and stand in contrast to Quentin who wants a mother. (85) Besides Gerald Bland and his boasting about girls represents both a threat and a model. Quentin is attracted by him and repulsed. It is significant that Quentin should take him for Ames Dalton.

- Little girl and Julio. Duplication of Quentin and Caddy's couple. It unfolds an underlying variation on the theme of brother and sister relationship. The lack, the quest for the long-lost sister.

d) lack, quest, longing for an object

- The three boys and the trout.

2) The linear Narrative pattern

The second section tells a story along a chronological pattern : the story of Quentin's last day. It starts in the morning when he wakes up and ends in late afternoon when he leaves college to commit suicide.




College.Waking up, listening to time


Shreve is ready to go and leaves for chapel


Watching out of the window at the running crows of students


Spoade's unhurried figure stands out


The sparrow on the window ledge


The watch episode : he breaks it and twists the hands off. He cuts his thumb




Washing and return of Shreve. Leaves


In town. Breakfast at Parker's. Buys a cigar which he gives to a nigger.


The jeweller's episode


Buys flat-irons for his suicide


Boards a streetcar –aimless 'I did not see the placard on the front" – journey


Reaches the bridge, leans on the railing and watches the TRIG and Gerald Bland rowing on a skiff.

87 - 89

Goes east. On a street car (back to Harvard) . Arrives at 12 (Since Spoade had a shirt on)


Encounter and dialogue, from about 12 to 12.30 (p.94, half hour)


Meets Shreve : note from Mrs. Bland, invitation to picnic party.


Noon – on the bus, a ride along the river.


Gets off the street car – walks along a road


Reaches the bridge : hides the flat-irons.


The trout episode and the three young boys Ending with Kerry left alone who climbs up a tree. (114)


The dirty Italian girl episode. At the baker's (Racism, dirty girl – 117), Ice Cream, trying to find her home.


Runs away, Night, Can’t get rid of her


...... river, Natalie






Joins the Bland picnic


Has fought Gerald Bland


Returns to college

3) Memories: See the guide to the scene shifts

The Jeweller : A rather intriguing figure.

There is something demoniac about him and the brief sketch we are given has many symbolic connotations. Functionally, insofar as he is expected to answer Quentin's questions, he reminds one of Mr. Compson, the Father. Metonymically, through his profession and environment and "rushing eye", he is turned into a symbol of time : "the metal to be screwed into his face related him more specifically to mechanical time". It is interesting to note that his description is focused exclusively on his eyes, as though he were a Cyclop amid an infernal setting. In myths and folklore, the unique eye is traditionally associated with divine and demoniac knowledge. It is on account of this presumed knowledge of time that Quentin pays a visit to the jeweller. Yet the latter's eye is also "blurred". Father Time will not reveal his secret. ( A lecture shall be devoted to Time. Read Sartre’s essay.)


II) Similarities and difference between the two sections.

Caddy : The center, the remote and haunting figure in which desire and death merge and meet. "Is it a wedding or a wake?" (p.78)

Everything revolves around the brother-sister relationship.

But Quentin is not as innocent. His world is a hell of anguish and guilt. His desire is as strong but never to be satisfied, gliding from substitute to substitute. His desire for his sister must be traced through a far more devious discourse. The disorder of his monologue conceals his desire. He does possess an extremely keen sense of good and evil. As a consequence, his relationship to Caddy is an intricate affair, raising complex psychological and moral issues. His love develops into a morbid passion whose outcome can only be death.

The two poles of Benjy's inarticulate anxiety become more explicit. Desire and death can be easily identified in Quentin's double obsession with incest and with suicide.

The narrative units : variation : the long walk with the dirty little girl, is a variation on the Burgess girl unit.

There is a significant parallelism between section one and two. At the close of section 1, Benjy looks at himself and begins to cry. At the close of section 2, Quentin looks at himself in the mirror, noticing his black eye and bloodstain. In both scenes, there are references to physical injury and both scenes point ironically back to Caddy. In Benjy's case, the implied reference to his castration sends us back to its cause : the Burgess girl whom Benjy mistook for his sister. Quentin's black eye and blood recall his fight with Bland whom he mistook for his sister's first lover.


III) Disjointedness and disintegration of the language in the monologue.

His barred, tortured desire informs and deforms the very texture of his language, being at once the root of its disorder and the key to its twisted logic. This concealed, censured, barred desire derationalizes the speech by its disruptive impact on the hierarchical structures of grammar. The repressed drive operates on all possible levels : syntactic, lexical, morphological and phonemic. (A whole study shall be devoted to the functioning of sentence structure).

Neutral juxtaposition of minimal sentences.

Quentin like Benjy resorts to one-unit kernel sentences to record present actions and perception. But the disjointedness appears also in a breaking up process : syntactic order is reduced to elemental patterns and repeatedly torn apart. The clauses tend to fall asunder or are abruptly broken off before completion. Quentin's monologue is characterized by the absence of punctuation and the disintegration of syntax : a complete breakdown of language. Much more confused than the first section.

Once more the disjointedness does not mean a chaotic monologue. The section ranges from clear and orderly narrative prose to opaque stream-of-consciousness.

Quentin is at times the first person narrator (recounting the events of his last days, reporting certain scenes of his past), but he proves unable to fulfil his narrative function with sustained consistency and whenever painful private memories of fantasies surge forth, he loses control over his words.

Again and again, he attempts to tell his story in orderly fashion; but his narrative gets caught in the vortex of his obsessions.

Ex : many paragraphs begin quite conventionally as controlled narration, but end in uncontrolled interior discourse.

The closer one gets to its emotional climax (p.136) the less he masters his language, the less he speaks and the more he listens to the voices of his past.

-> Unpunctuated passages, reported speech not presented between quotation marks, removal of capitals.

The confusion thus achieved is meant to render Quentin's emotional turmoil to express the network of his association. The time shifts and the swift shuffling back and forth between past and present convey the impression of a mind lost in his own neurotic world.

The section betrays a feverish restlessness that contrasts with the deliberateness of his external actions. The erratic, elliptical style, the unexpected detours and sudden turnabouts, the thought processes reveal a captive mind, compulsively racing within the closed circle of its fantasies and obsessions.

Ex. Quentin's mind is ceaselessly driven back to the same painful scenes :

- Persistent recurrence of identical words "Caddy, water, shadow, door, honeysuckle"

- Repetition of identical sentences, "did you ever have a sister, one minute she was standing there, Father I have committed..."

The syntax of fragmentation is counterbalanced by a closely patterned rhetoric of repetition suggesting obsession.

These repetitive patterns betray and convey the psychic nature of Quentin's mind : a re-enactment of his past. Past in waiting.

The subject of this history ? Dialogism and Polyphonism

The speech can hardly be called his. It is not the discourse of a single person. The very texture of the section : an interweaving and embedding of many voices.

Again, many voices, past and present are heard : the section is a polyphonic ensemble. There is a not a stable "I" presiding over the speech, but the very fragmentation of its monologue, its dreamlike incoherence, obsessive redundancy and polyphonic texture betrays an ego which is the locus of alienating identifications rather than the location of identity. His Ego is not the agent of mediation, integration and adaptation, but a desperate fabric of a self unravelled.

3) A quest for selfhood. (p. 154-157)

Quentin desperately searches for models to imitate and parts to play. He tries out various roles without ever finding any that is appropriate. He attempts to dramatize and dignify his existence by projecting himself into ennobling roles.

Shreve alludes ironically to Lochinvar, the hero of a ballad in Scott (p. 88) and makes an oblique reference to Byron's Don Juan (p. 88)

Spoade calls Quentin the champion of dame (p. 151). To Herbert, he is a "half medieval knight". Quentin, the name, suggests gallantry and romance.

His roles are provided by his culture :

- St. Francis of Assisi

- The medieval knight Galahad

- The Romantic hero Byron

- The Southern gentleman

Quentin lives in a world of words and books, a museum of romance, "of fine dead sounds", (p.155)

Conclusion : Nobody's voice

The monologue is a posthumous speech. Faulkner makes Quentin speak once he is dead. "All Faulkner's art aims to suggest to us that Quentin's soliloquy and his last walk are already his suicide". The voice we listen to in the second section is a voice out of nowhere. His self is shattered by the reciprocal exclusion of being and having been. A tormented mind, interlacing of tracks and traces, desire and memory, the pattern of a tortuous trajectory heading for death.


IV) Quentin's trajectory from childhood to suicide.

1) Origin of his malaise.

" The tragic complexity of motherless childhood"

In Quentin's monologue, there are several suggestions that he bitterly resents the fact that he has been deprived of motherly love.

p. 89 : " If I could say mother, mother..."

p. 156 : "If I'd just had a mother, so I could say mother, mother"

p. 95 : we read "Done in Mother's mind though. Finished. Finished. Finished. Then we were all poisoned". She poisoned them once and for all.

p. 156-157 : Quentin describes a picture in a story book which fascinated him when a child. This picture conveys a poignant sense of abandonment. Quentin projects the family situation onto this scene of darkness and confinement. The mother is equated with the dungeon, that is a lightless prison, keeping them captive through what she denied them.

Like Benjy, Quentin turned to Caddy for the love his mother denied him. His love for her has deep roots in infancy. Yet, in shifting his need of affection from the failing mother to the sister, he also transferred to her an early resentment of his mother's betrayal, a suspiciousness with regard to sex and a very ambivalent attitude towards women.

2) The hog-wallow scene : dramatization of the sudden revulsion after a timid attempt at sexual initiation.

The Natalie episode or the "Moving , sitting down" (p. 124) is a most revealing episode in this respect.

All the details in this childhood scene anticipate Quentin's future actions and attitudes.

His leap into the hog wallow is the enactment of an old puritan metaphor : the symbolic performance of what his first sexual experiment means to him. Yielding to the urges of the flesh equals wallowing in filth. He is dramatizing, enacting the moral metaphor : sex equals filth.

Read in Freudian terms, the equation sex = filth might be considered an index of regression to the anal sadistic stage of sexual development. The Natalie scene could then represent an abortive attempt to accede to genitality, and the hog wallow scene a return to pregenital sexuality. The traits associated with anal fixation are extremely numerous in Quentin's section. Obsession with the pure/ impure, sadistic impulses, compulsive orderliness and cleanliness, ablution rites, phobia of stains and soiled objects (in this respect, Quentin closely resembles Jason).

The hog wallow scene points forward to Quentin's allusion to Euboelus, the swineherd who plunged with his herd into the chasm formed in the earth when Pluto emerged to rape Persephone.

p. 159 : Quentin resumes the image at the end of his monologue "swine untethered in pains rushing coupled into the sea".

Mud becomes the substance of sin : it is water and earth : a sticky, stinking matter, a concrete image of sexual nausea. The ritual mudbath is a symbolic re-enactment of the previous mimed sexual act and its exorcism, its multiplication.

Quentin by wallowing in the mud, magically cures evil by evil, cleanses himself from defilement. This ritual is strongly reminiscent of the defence mechanism of obsessional neuroses : "undoing"

Sex is impure and good is equated in his mind with his sister's intact virginity.

Innocence is a sexless life. Cf. p. 107, he recalls Versh's story about a self-castrated man, but castration is only a pis-aller since it cannot obliterate the memory of having had sex.


3) Quentin and misogyny.

For Quentin, woman is evil. He conveys the Puritan myth of Even cause of Eden lost. The correlate of this deep aversion for women is the southern myth of sacred womanhood. He fights Gerald Bland to defend women's honour.

"Women are never virgins", p. 107. His definition is not far removed from Jason's "bitches" in section 3. (Joe Christmas, in Light in August) In his monologue, womanhood is constantly linked to suspect images and sensations : softness, warmth, darkness, wetness, dirt. We find a morbid concern with menstruation. (p. 118). Their soft external body is but a decoy that hides a terrible secret. The filth of sex : the periodically renewed promise of fecundity (hinted at by the references to the moon and harvests and the symbolism of yellow).

The threat of mortal engulfment.

In Quentin's diseased imagination, the menstrual flow and liquid putrefaction are confused in the same obscene streaming. The equation of woman with dirt is confirmed by the evocation of three female figures : Caddy, Natalie and the Italian girl.

Ex : Caddy and her muddy drawers. Natalie too is a dirty girl. As to the Italian girl episode, it alternates significantly with the account of the Natalie scene and the dirt motif is one of the links between the two scenes.

The suggestion of disgust is strengthened by animal similes.

All these touches lend the scene a nauseous atmosphere and emphasize the ominous effect of her silent presence. The little girl reminds him of the past, that is, the ironically rediscovered sister. But with her uncanny silence, her dark stare and her stubbornness in following him, she is a symbol of "little sister death". She is another metaphor for soiled innocence, a reminder of defilement whose unbearable memory is soon to be washed away by the waters of the Charles River.

4) His need for order and cleanliness.

This is his concern for purity and impurity.

Spots and stains make him uneasy.

Ex: He resented the fact that Louis Hatcher's lantern was not spotlessly clean.

Ex : He is anxious lest Herbert's cigar should cause a blister (p. 101)

Ex : After the fight with Gerald Bland : (p. 149), he is concerned with the stains on his vest.

Besides, his preoccupation with cleanliness before his suicide is conspicuous.

He sets very methodically about putting order into his death. (p. 77).

He wants to leave everything in order. He wants his exit to be a gentleman's. (See the record of his last gesture, p. 161-62 and p. 156-57).

He has a fastidious care about hygiene. Maniac meticulosity of his ultimate inspection.

In the extreme care he lavishes body and clothing : a touch of self-concern, he spruces himself up as if he were going out for a date. The ambiguity is hardly ambiguous, Quentin's suicide is a lover's date.

V) The suicide as lover's date.

The section tells us the long and complex process that leads Quentin to choose death.

1) The prophetic hog-wallow scene.

It is an initiation into sex. It is the intrusion of Caddy in the scene that provokes Quentin's guilt and anxiety, and more symptomatically her indifference and her lack of moral concern. What is jeopardized in the scene is the intimacy between the brother and the sister. So, when Quentin smears his body and hers with mud, he symbolically drags her into sex and re-establishes the threatened intimacy by forcing her to share his guilt. The scene is a ritual of defilement and purgation. Mud as metaphor of shit. He makes love with her and then proceeds to a purification in the water. What matters is that the sin be committed together.


2) The triangular relationship.

The scene is paradigmatic in that it involves a triangular relationship. The triad consists of Quentin, Natalie and Caddy. The little drama for three characters resembles an adultery story. Caddy is presumed to play the outraged partner : he casts her for his own role (the one he had during the splashing incident and which he will play in his subsequent encounter with Caddy . Eve of wedding, bridge scene with Dalton Ames.

The roles are different. Caddy is the dirty girl. Their looks have supplanted Quentin and he is the outraged partner.

In each scene, Quentin is potentially or overtly violent : he slaps her, smears her with mud and uses his knife.

The Italian girl episode culminates also in a grotesque inversion of roles : Quentin cast in the role of the seducer, while Julio assumes his role. The fight with Gerald is also based on a tragicomic version of the same pattern.

Quentin's desire is above all a desire for Caddy's desire : What he desperately denies is that she eludes him as a subject of desire. His concern for her virginity : the proof of her inaccessibility to another's desire.

The intrusion of the partner : in a rival desire : the reflection of his own and it ceases to be sexless.

Hence his ambivalent attitude : he both hates him and admires him.

He realizes by proxy his unavowed wish : the sexual possession of his sister. There is an unconscious identification with the successful competition that prevents his wreaking vengeance.

3) The fantasy of complete substitution.

Quentin is torn between two contradictory wishes : disposing of the rival and taking over his role, hence the desires merge in the fantasy of complete substitution : the fantasy of consummated incest.

"It was I, not Dalton"

"You thought it was them but it was me"

His desire just as in the oedipal situation is patterned on the father figure. Both male figures : Dalton and Gerald are father figure : sexual potency, physical strength.




VI) The Father.

If Caddy is the primary object of his speech, Father is the implied receiver, addressee. The section is punctuated by "father said", it is a conversation between Quentin and Mr.Compson. The father is the absent addressee and occupies a key position.

Quentin – Caddy – Father : another triad.

The Father/Son conflict is apparently missing. He makes him his confident. He turns to him as the one who knows, who can help him.

But, Father fails him : his discourse : nihilism; cynical speech on the absurdity of human conviction. An attempt to rationalize his own failure.

Beyond his individual failure lies the bankruptcy of the family, and the disease and decay of a whole culture.

Through his father, Quentin is heir to the Southern tradition, code of honor, puritanical standards, and aristocratic pattern of values.

But father transmits the code and teaches him his inanity.

This impasse of the father-son relationship is perhaps the major cause of Quentin's incapacity to live. Within the oedipal structure , the primal function of the Father is to declare the law and guarantee its authority. It is his task to deflect desire from its object. The mother, he assumes a crucial role as interdictor. Compson fails his son as lawgiver. Quentin's tragedy is determined by the absence of the mother ( a gap provisionally filled by Caddy and reopened by her desertion, but it can be traced back to a rift in the symbolic function identifying the father as the agency of the law. Cf. Lacan)

His incest fantasy is related to the Father.

We could not interpret it as merely a repressed wish. The point about it is that it is conceived as confessed to the father and what he intends is to challenge paternal authority and provoke him into acting as the punishing father : to provoke paternal retaliation.

Yet the fantasy is conjugated in a past tense : incest is referred as "I have committed"

His suicide : death by water. It results from multiple and contradictory motivations and aims at resolving their conflict.

a) Water delivers him and purifies him.

b) He associates it with the ritual cleansings of his childhood : he expects a purgation. Water connotes obliteration, oblivion, peace.

But, Water retains also its sexual implications. Caddy's body is linked to water and wetness.

Hence his suicide is incest at last consummated. It is not the consequence of Caddy's marriage : it is its symbolic counterpart : it is a wedding and a wake.


The opening paragraph of Jason's paragraph signals straightaway the distance separating the third section from the previous one.

The enunciative process

Another voice is heard : harsh, vulgar, self assertive. From the interior monologue with the unpredictable meanderings of its private logic, we switch to the plain and loud language of the dramatic soliloquy. As though we overheard the unpremeditated talk of someone thinking aloud, an impromptu oral account.

Jason's discourse emphasizes the narrator's awareness of himself in the act of speaking.

Ex : "I say", "That I say", "like I say"

He suggests time and again the presence of an addressee. The silent complicity of a listening YOU, often explicitly referred to in the text. The section points to an eagerness to communicate, a desire to win over his implied audience.

Significantly enough, YOU occurs in the second sentence of Jason's speech. Most often, his YOU is an all-inclusive "YOU" referring at once to Jason himself as receiver of his own message to an implied audience of people sharing his cultural values and outside the time space of the novel. To the reader, the elements of the speech event are problematical in the first and second sections, but strongly marked in the third, there is evidence that we are moving closer to normal communication patterns.

2) The novel resumes its traditional narrative functions. A story gets told by a dramatized story-teller. The presentation of events is most often in chronological sequence in contrast to sections one and two. Only one major flashback : Jason's reminiscence of his father's funeral and of an earlier scene when Mrs. Compson brought home Caddy’s infant child (.p. 178) Hence the narrative gains clarity and many gaps in the reader's information are filled in, and the fragments of the Compson story collected in the previous sections begin to fall into an intelligible pattern.

3) The characterization of the narrator-protagonist owes much to traditional novels. He acts as the comic villain of the play : an original combination of several standard types supplied by tradition : a cruel, mean, vernacular figure created by the humorists of the old Southwest. His mental and emotional life is reduced to a small set of cast sentences, stock responses. Jason presents affinities with the ‘humor’ defined by Ben Jonson and illustrated by Dickens. Also, heir to the railers, agent and target of the satirical thrust, a petty man-hater, a malcontent, venting his rancor, resentment in floods of invective and sarcasm, exposing human folly with merciless eloquence. Reducing the drama of the downfall of the Compson family to the ludicrous story of a madhouse chronicle. The protagonists of the family drama become in his monologue the typecast actors of a burlesque Southern melodrama: alcoholic father and uncle, whining hypochondriac mother, a trollop for a niece, a drooling idiot for a brother. The tale of the Fall of the Compson house turns to a burlesque farce.

All these alterations induce a different relationship between reader and narrator-character. In Quentin’s section , there was still a possible response through identification, a sympathy. With Jason, the eventuality of any identification is undercut by the novelist’s irony. The distance between Jason and his victims is paralleled by the distance of revulsion separating Jason from the author. For Faulkner, Jason represented ‘complete evil’. " He is the most vicious character in my opinion I ever thought of."

But our response is ambivalent; he is held up to ridicule and contempt, hence identification is deflected toward a sense of comic exhilaration arising from the conviction of our superiority. John Longley wrote : " We take delight in siding with Faulkner against Jason. We delight in deep collusion with the author behind Jason’s back, but the hasty escape into derisive laughter and comfortable contempt in front of this magnified mirror image of our own rancorous selves and aggressive emotions is suspect. Our violent recoil might suggest that the character is disturbing because we all know he lurks in us."

The relationship between Jason and Faulkner

Jason stands for everything he abhored. Yet it seems safe to assume that identification and distancing were at play here just as they were in the second section. Jason is not a mere grotesque figure projected in cool satirical detachment, but related to the ambiguities and complexities of the novelist’s psyche. When asked about The Sound and the Fury, in 1953, Mrs Maud Falkner, his mother, made the following comment: " Now, Jason in The S and The F, he talks just like my husband did. My husband had a hardware store uptown at one time. His way of talking was just like Jason’s, same words and same style. All those ‘you knows’. He had an old nigrah named Jobus, just like the character Job in the story. He was always after Jobus for not working hard enough, just like in the story."

If we are to believe this testimony, the sources for Jason are not far to seek and the possibility that this villainous character may have been modelled on F’s own father is a very intriguing one. Years ago, a critic suggested that he might be viewed as a fictional embodiment of the Super Ego. It is interesting to know that his voice is perhaps the voice of the father. One could press the point and interpret the 3rd section as an oedipal settling of accounts (a literary parricide)

Let us see now how the character relates to the others in the novel. How he functions within the thematic structure.

Thematically there is no major break between section 3 and the preceding ones. But the treatment of themes is set in different key and undergoes radical changes

Ex/ the brother-sister relationship: though hardly less central than in the previous sections, it looks as if it had been turned inside out. What Jason feels for Caddy is hatred, a hatred as intense as love. She is a rankling memory: she has been the instrument of disaster. The LOSS he has suffered is directly related to her: the job promised by Herbert Head has been lost because of her misconduct. The girl Quentin becomes in his eye, "the symbol of the lost job itself" His response to loss is different, but also related to sex, as evidenced by the associative mental process.

Jason as Quentin ‘s homologue or Jason and Quentin : Identity in difference.

On the face of it the 2 characters are poles apart and we might assume that Jason was originally conceived as a foil to his brother. Most critics have noted the contrast between Quentin ‘s quixotic idealism and Jason’s pragmatism. But behind these facades, one finds the same amount of self-centeredness, the same capacity for self-delusion. Jason is the negative of his brother, a tougher Quentin who has turned sour.

Their actions and attitudes reveal startlingly similar patterns. With both there is a persistent refusal or denial of the Other., a hostile response to anything likely to threaten their narcissistic world. However, it is here that the differences within the resemblance show. While Quentin’s aggressiveness turns finally into self destruction, Jason’s strikes out in sadism.

Jason’s sadism

One of the cruellest character in F’s fiction.

Its roots are in his childhood as can be seen in the early episode recorded in Benjy’s section, when he cuts up the paper dolls Caddy had made for Ben.

He takes a perverse pleasure in frustrating Caddy’s desire to see her daughter.

He torments Luster when he burns the 2 circus tickets before his eyes.

He remains true to his childhood, like Ben and Quentin. In the 1st section, there are many indications about Jason that presage what he will become as an adult. He is a fat and greedy child. He never misses a chance to tell. Always seen with his hands in his pockets. Dilsey is well aware of the childish perversity hidden behind his adult meanness when she scolds him " A big growed man like you"

Within the family circle, he indulges his petty tyrannical but sadistic whims

Outside; his animosity breaks out at the slightest provocation and he antagonizes whoever comes his way. He ceaselessly taunts Earl (his former business partner and employer since Jason withdrew his money to buy a car), he treats the customers with haughty condescension. He tells off the telegrapher, quarrels with the sheriff and assaults an old man.

Jason’s paranoia.

Projecting his malevolence on to the others, he senses treachery everywhere, suspects everyone and, during the frantic chase after his niece, his morbid suspicion develops into a delirious sense of persecution. Jason’s fantasies belong with the symptoms of paranoia. " To him, all the rest of the town and the world and the human race too except himself were Compsons, inexplicable yet quite predictable in that they were in no sense whatever he trusted." (F’s own comment)

The world is full of hostility and malice (cf. Quentin).

It soon appears that he stages the show of a hostile world. His behaviour patterns are determined by contradictory demands of his paranoid condition. By using every opportunity to antagonize his family, Jason, while finding release for his pent-up rage, also provokes retaliation from those he abuses. The expected counter attacks are the integral part of his singular game and serve many purposes : 1) they provide him with a justification for his own aggressions. 2) They supply food for self-pity by confirming him in his role of victim. 3) They gratify an obscure need for punishment as can be seen from the way he courts disaster in the final pursuit episode. Persecuting and being persecuted are complementary. The compulsive pattern of his internal drives requires that he be alternately agent and sufferer. His antagonistic relationship to others involves complex processes of exchange and transference and points to the devious workings of a residual sense of guilt. (Like Quentin) Jason even seems to derive a masochistic pleasure from his humiliations, especially during his pursuit of Quentin. " He repeats his story, harshly recapitulant, seeming to get an actual pleasure out of his outrage and impotence."(p269)

The differences between Jason and Quentin lies not so much in the psychological components of their personalities as in the dynamics of their working out. The basic features are almost identical but differently combined.

The differences can be traced also in Jason’s relation to society. Quentin was estranged, Benjy lived in autistic isolation), Jason’s relation is a mixture of rebellion and conformity.

His paranoid resentment flows into the fixed channels of common prejudice. His targets are misers, small towners, intellectuals, old maids, parsons, birds, medecines, southerners (p175, 213, 220, 221). His anti-intellectualism goes along with xenophobia. Champion of Americanism, hostile to foreigners, Jason also feels anti-Yankee and his national and regional prejudices are coupled with ethnic prejudices, as evidenced by a strong anti-Jewish feeling. "I have nothing against Jews as an individual. It’s just the race. You’ll admit that they produce nothing. They follow the pionneers into a new country and sell them clothes." (p.173). Needless to add that Jason scorns blacks (p172, 175, 186)

The Black, the Jew, the foreigner, the intellectual are all avatars of the despised and hated Other. He congeals them into categories, reduce them to a series of sock predicates. Once petrified by prejudice, they become safe object for his hatred and contempt.


He has on women a stock of clichés to neutralise their humanity. They are all bitches. Whatever a woman may do, it fits neatly into his ready made pattern. "Just like a woman." They become the supreme enemy because only their unpredictability is predictable. A woman is irrational; a permanent challenge and threat.

He has been twice flouted by a woman ( Caddy, then Quentin). His misogyny does not imply a total repudiation of sexuality. Jason turns Quentin’s gyneolatry inside out, spelling out what Quentin had suspected, namely that all women are bitches. He chooses a good honest whore for a mistress (Lorraine) The whore being the reverse and correlate of the virgin. (Freud), a mythic fabrication to rationalise women out of existence and to prevent the possibility of a true encounter (reduced to a marketable commodity)

Jason and Caddy and Her daughter

QuentinII is the favourite target of his rage and hatred. Money is the sole object of his love. Both passions are closely related to his sister. Caddy plays the role of money-provider. ( her marriage was to give him a respectable position, he steals Quentin’s money)

It is from Caddy that he expects the gratification of his dearest wishes. Hence he reminds once again of Quentin, but the incestuous love has been dissociated and displaced.

Jason’s relationship to his niece parallels Quentin’s relationship to Caddy and becomes its parodical reenactment.

He is preoccupied with her promiscuity (the kimono) as Quentin was with Caddy’s and his fury is strongly reminiscent of his brother’s. Besides the parallel is further emphasised by Quentin’s defiant attitude. Ex: when she threatens to tear her dress in front of him, one is reminded of the scene by the branch, when Caddy took hers off as a challenge to Quentin. In both scenes the gestures of undressing is a provocation and both brothers are scandalised. For both, sex is associated with the darkness of sin. Sexual obsession and ethnic prejudice overlap in the image of the promiscuous Negro girl, "like a nigger wench", says Jason (171), while Quentin asks Caddy " Why must you do like nigger women do in the ditches?"

In fact, Jason is secretly titillated. There is a touch of prurience and voyeurism about his constant spying on his niece and what impels him to chase her around the countryside is also the desire to catch her in the act. His hatred is related to a deeply repressed incestuous attraction.

See also how Quentin hits Bland to avenge a woman’s honour , while Jason does the same. In both scenes there is a tragi-comic misunderstanding. The person attacked being each time a surrogate for the actual antagonist who is out of reach ( Old man and Red tie, Bland and Ames)

The recurrence of similar situations, attitudes, gestures provide conclusive evidence of the very close affinities between Jason and Quentin. Yet they also emphasise the contrast between Past and Present. The 3rd section is a grating repetition of the second and a radical demystification of Quentin’s fevered romanticising.

The social dimension of the character

As Faulkner portrays him through the ambiguities of his speech and the contradictions of his behaviour, Jason appears as neither wholly guilty nor totally innocent: being both the victim of circumstances and the agent of his own defeat. The Evil he comes to embody is rooted in the corruption, not only of his family, but also of society at large and transcends the narrow limits of his shabby individuality.

The social dimension of Jason is crucial for a proper understanding of the third section and for a correct assessment of its significance within the novel. Many critics have noted a gradual shift from private to public concerns. There is indeed a growing awareness of the social and even economic issues involved in the action of the novel. Jason's section allows the reader to set the family drama in a social context and to relate it to all the subtle pressures and influences of a specific cultural environment.

What is meaningful is the way in which society conditions and shapes Jason's very language and thought. His monologue is thickly encrusted with ideological deposits. What he thinks is seldom what he thinks. His ideas are all second-hand and all come from the threadbare ideology of his environment. The very texture of his speech testifies to his mental barrenness: its diction is repetitive, its syntax multiplies subordinate clause and its language tends to freeze into ready-made formulas. His language immobilizes everything and everyone; a woman will always just act like a woman, a nigger will be forever a nigger.

Behind this accumulation of pseudo-logic and tautology, stale truisms and stereotyped fantasies, we sense an atrophied intelligence and the section is a nauseous compound of clichés, a dreary dictionary of idées reçus.

Jason seeks to master his own irrationality but also he seeks a social identity. Benjy and Quentin are outsiders, misfits; whereas Jason wants to belong, to be recognized. He minds what other people think. The irony is of course that he fails to be accepted and Earl keeps him only out of regard for his mother: he too is an outsider.

Yet he is a southerner. His portrait is a satire of the southern mind. He stands for the new South; he abandons the values of the traditional South. His greed, dishonesty, meanness are representative of the rising class. He is a vocal exponent of the new mercantile non-ethic driven by a coarse ambition. But Jason fails there too; last survivor of a degenerate Bourgeois family, he is caught in the paralysing contradictions of his heritage. Jason does not belong to the rising class. He is a Bascomb, member of the mercantile and uneducated lower middle class; yet he is anxious to have a status. Jason is a portrait of the petit bourgeois and through him speaks the malcontents of the new South in the 1920s: decayed aristocrats, grubbing small businessmen, hard-pressed, dirt farming rednecks; all those whom the economic system condemned to grovel in mediocrity. He speaks for this mass of disgruntled Southern whites.

Like most failures and misfits, Jason considers himself the victim of an unfair destiny which has robbed him of his due and pushed him out of his rightful place in society; but this awareness of a victimisation does not lead him to a recognition of a political involvement. In a characteristic American fashion, the feeling of helplessness in the face of inscrutable social and economic powers is overcompensated by a hysterical emphasis on the virtues of individual achievement: "I can stand on my own feet". These assertions of autonomy sound like ironic echoes of the legendary spirit of independence of the pioneers and a very parody of "self-reliance". His individualism is nothing but the mask and alibi of his conformity.

Suspiciousness, intolerance and prejudice round off the portrait and these features belong to the typical petit bourgeois mentality. Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, Racism, Misogyny, Anti-Intellectualism: it is in these forms of aggressiveness sanctioned and encouraged by society that the petit bourgeois's inarticulate resentment is channelled and fired. The political implications of these stereotyped attitudes and stock responses are obvious enough: Jason is part of these strata of American society where the Radical Right has always recruited its most ardent supporters. Jason is a "pseudo conservative", intent on keeping a good appearance in public, clinging self-righteously to the respectable image of himself in the roles of hard-working businessman, dutiful son and meritorious bread winner, he officially conforms to conservative standards. He even deludes himself into taking his roles seriously. Yet this surface of conventionality is disrupted time and again by the violence of his deeper impulses; a rigid adherence to conformity contradicted by a violent, unconscious dissatisfaction with the established order of society. Anger, fear, restlessness, paranoid suspicion, status-anxiety and ethnic prejudice are all features listed as characteristic of the pseudo-conservative syndrome.

Jason's character proves that Faulkner is fully aware of the dialectical interrelatedness of individual and society.

"There are too many Jasons in the South who can be successful, just as there are too many Quentins who are too sensitive to face reality"

This comment by Faulkner confirms the representative character of these two figures and points to their complementary function within the novel. Most critics have noticed this: in Quentin's collapse they read the breakdown of the Southern aristocracy; in Jason, they see the sinister prophet of the new mercantile class. Each of them standing for one phase in the process of decay which Faulkner has dramatized through the downfall of the Compsons.

Yet we must not overemphasise their opposition: what is significant are their complementarities. The resemblances between Quentin and Jason are so numerous, so close that their sections may be read as different versions of the same text, different performances of the same play. What the play is about is LOSS: Loss of love through loss of self, Loss of self through loss of love.

Benjy, the dispossessed idiot embodies this contradiction of loss at it most elemental; in Quentin's and Jason's sections, it assumes a more elaborate form of self-estrangement and their monologues demonstrate how alienation works within the recesses of a mind. Both brothers fail to pass the Test of Reality and to undertake the perilous journey from self to other. Alienation is rather psychosexual with Quentin. Alienation is rather psychosocial with Jason.



Having, on his own admission, failed to tell his story through the Compson brothers, Faulkner resolved to speak in his own voice, the authorial point of view. He does not assume the status of a detached, objective observer, nor that of an all-seeing and all-knowing narrator. There, the author is keenly attentive and engages in the process of interpretation. He explains what is reported but there is no full exhaustive explanation. Meanings are suggested, not asserted. Faulkner's method is conjectural. Its tentativeness is evidenced by the recurrence of comparative-conditional clauses (introduced by as if, as though), by words and phrases denoting uncertainty: "seemed", "appeared", "it might have been".

Hence a drastic change: Section I presents facts without meaning, Section 2&3 present meanings divorced from facts. Section 4 echoes the second section since both are a quest for meaning and it is the antithesis of Jason's section; Jason being a model of interpretative terrorism, a foil to the narrator of the 4th section. Here, the narrator, groping for plausible explanations through a maze of hypotheses makes no claim for final truth. He shares our perplexities and does not answer our questions, but the reader can stand back and take in the whole scene.

* From within to without:

Of the many changes taking place in the 4th section, the shift from within to without is the most readily perceptible. We see Benjy, the lumpish, slobbering giant; his hairless skin, fat body signalling his castrated condition, his cornflower-blue eyes, symbolic reminders of the childish innocence, also his lack of coordination recalling his mental debility. We have the caricatured sketches of Jason and Mrs. Compson with the physical resemblance between mother and son (underscored by the repetition of "cold"). Plus, of course, the famous portrait of Dilsey.

The characters, so portrayed, make for a new sense of reality. Emerging from the confined, claustrophobic ambience of the three monologues into the space of the visible, it is as if, after listening to voices in the dark, we were suddenly allowed to see their owners and to relate each voice to a face and a body. The characters strike us as oddly familiar; the shock we experience is the uncanny shock of recognition. The narrator uses a language of the body, with suggestive traits, gestures, manners, meaningful gestures, frequent reflex actions are self-betraying and revealing.

What we have learned through the thoughts and obsessions of the three brothers comes to inform our new mode of perception and the reading of the fourth section builds on all that precedes it and everything becomes pregnant with significance. All fictions move from the literal to the symbolic; as a story develops it produces meanings which cross-refer and interrelate and combine into complex semantic clusters. In The Sound and the Fury, this process is deliberately emphasised through the fictional strategy. In the last section, Faulkner achieves a maximum of symbolic reverberation by multiplying "objective correlatives" to the distress, disorder and decay which have been revealed from within.


Disorder and Decay

The landscape

The opening paragraph is oppressive. The vision seems just as bleak. It suggests the close of day rather than dawn. The grim greyness of this limbo landscape reminds of the twilight associated with Quentin's suicide. The traditional connotations of dawning are cancelled : no promise of a world born afresh. Space is enclosed and constricted "by a wall of grey-light". Humidity hanging ominously in the air, threatens to crumble into an infinity of "minute and venomous particles" or assumes the repulsive quality of "congealed oil". The landscape is desolate and disquieting, fraught with evil intent. No principle of order or cohesion to sustain it : it looks as though its disintegration were close at hand. This landscape materialises the mental and moral falling asunder of the Compsons : it has a metaphorical significance.

Easter Sunday begins ironically with a grey dawn and this gloomy greyness continues almost unabated to the end. As a further sinister omen, the air is soon filled with the shrill cries of jaybirds (associated with hell, see further on).

Even when the rain stops, the sun is "random and tentative", so weak it looks like a "pale scrap of cloth". The countryside is desolate. It is a dismal "waste land" and its barrenness, its shabbiness suggest a world drained of its substance, a mirage poised on the edge of the abyss, a deceptive décor masking nothingness.

In the center of this unreal scenery stands the Compson's house. The splitting up of the land and the gradual shrinking of the estate betoken the Compson's economic and social decline and point to the break up and extinction of the family group. The dilapidation of "the square, paintless house with its rotting portico" is another sign of the destructive work of time.

The Compson's house, once stately seat and emblem of dynastic pride has become a monument to decay and death. Faulkner referred to the "rotting family in the rotting house". Hence the traditional symbols of rebirth and ironically reversed : dawn and spring are described in terms of desolation and the irony is the more pointed as the action takes place on an Easter Sunday. This imagery of destruction and exhaustion, these suggestions of disorder and decay should warn us against a hasty "positive" reading of the final section.

Structural analysis of the closing chapter

Section 4 consists of four distinct narrative units. It begins with a prologue, going from dawn to about 9.30 am and focusing successively on Dilsey, Jason, Benjy and Luster. Through the characters involved as well as through the themes adumbrated, the three scenes within the prologue foreshadow in order the three more extended narrative sequences on which the novel ends. The first of these sequence (9.30 to 1.30) deals with Dilsey's departure for church – The Easter service – her return home. The second sequence (chronologically parallel to the first) links up with section 3 and relates Jason's pursuit of Miss Quentin. The third and last sequence is centered upon Benjy's and Luster's trip to the cemetery and ends with the incident near the monument to the Confederate Soldier. This outline of the section's narrative structure allows one to do away with one or two misconceptions, for it establishes at once that Dilsey is not the focal figure throughout, and that the narrative of the Easter Service does not occupy the whole section. The internal patterning of each section is as significant as the ordering of the four sections within the book.

Thus the counter pointing of the Easter Service and of Jason's futile pursuit of his niece is a deliberate procedure. The montage of parallel actions allows Faulkner to weave a network of identities and differences. Their simultaneity, indicated at the outset by the morning bells tolling at Dilsey's departure as well as at Jason's, is repeatedly recalled by references back and forth from one sequence to the other.

Ex : On leaving Jefferson, Jason thinks that "every damn one of them will be at church". Dilsey, back home, enters, a pervading reek of camphor in Mrs Compson's room, while Jason misses the camphor that would relieve his headache. Lastly at one o'clock, Dilsey tells Luster and Benjy that Jason will not be home for dinner, the latter, at the same time, is leaving Mottson where people are "turning peacefully into houses and Sunday Dinners".

Through this temporal parallelism the contrasts are made the more conspicuous : the Negroes walk slowly to the church in almost ritual procession, while Jason is driving to the carnival (a profane travesty of a religious festival) with frantic haste. The first sequence is marked by a sense of peaceful social communication and by religious communion. The second emphasises Jason's extreme isolation : alone in pursuit, alone in defeat. Dilsey's piety, shared by the black community is set over against Jason's pride as he defies divine power itself in a Satanic rage. While the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ brings the promise of eternal life, Jason's "passion" ends appropriately in a grotesque parody of death. "so this is how it'll end and he believed he was about to die". The Easter Service follows a slowly ascending curve culminating in Reverend Shegog's visionary sermon while Jason's tribulations evoke a furious and farcical drive to disaster.

The antithesis is worked out in small details and it is indeed tempting to read it as the opposition between Satan's fall and the glorious Resurrection of Christ. Yet, at this point, it is important to remember that Jason's sequence comes after the Paschal Episode. Everything suggests that the rout is only temporary and the very order of the episodes tips the balance in Jason's favour : the chase sequence re-establishes Jason in the leading role, even though it ends in his punishment and so throws us back into the sordid, hate-filled atmosphere of the third section.

This regressive movement is pursued to the novel's close. From Jason, the focus shifts to Benjy. Coming full circle, the final pages carry us back to the beginning. Once more, moaning and whimpering, he squats before his private graveyard; once more by the fence, he watches the golfers. Even Caddy's ghost reappears, summoned by Luster's perverse whispering of her name to Benjy, and by her satin slipper, the last material trace of the lost sister 'yellow now and cracked and soiled".

The very last scene, the trip to the cemetery was likewise anticipated in the first section. Yet, this time, the funeral excursion does not follow its customary route. Luster turns the horse to the left. Benjy roars in agony. Then Jason looms up and re-establishes the "order" violated by Luster's swerve (he brutalises the old mare, lashes out at Luster and strikes Ben), ORDER is re-established and restored !

But it is empty, utterly meaningless and ultimately absurd. The final glimpse of peace regained ironically contrasts with Jason's outburst of violence. The title of the novel is given here a further illustration with Benjy's wild howling "just sounds" and with Jason's rage. There is nothing left of the Compson's world but "SOUND AND FURY".

In terms of plot, this ending is no ending at all. The final scene puts an arbitrary stop to the action; it does not bring the expected denouement nor dramatic resolution. The scene is just a powerful echo of the violence and disorder.

"It is a significant and suggestive reflection on the novel as a whole. It concludes not an action, but the enactment of a process; the novel ends not with an ending, but with an unforgettable epitome of itself" (Beverley Gross)

The hermeneutic code fails here to work properly. Our expectations are flouted, the knots are not untied, the threads not unravelled. Our bafflement is like Benjy's sense of outrage and disorder.

The Sound and the Fury is open-ended as far as plot is concerned and inconclusive in its meaning. The examination of the last section must therefore be taken further : it is not enough to isolate the broad units of the narrative and to see how their ordering and patterning inflect significance. It is indispensable to scrutinize the finer mesh of the section's texture.

Formal closure should not be confused with semantic closure. The ending refers us back to the text itself (a web of words).

The Cry and the rhetoric (Polar extremes of the novel – a) Benjy's cries b) The metamorphosis of characters into archetypes, allegories.

Benjy appears in a different light. In Quentin's and Jason's monologues, the figure of the idiot had gradually faded from the scene. Now he comes right to the foreground; his presence is predominantly vocal : he is more often heard than seen. His cries and whining ("crying", "wailing", "whimpering", "slobbering", "bellowing") supply the basic soundtrack of the section. Never articulated as speech, scarcely human, they are the pathetic expression of a nameless, unnameable suffering : "the grave helpless sound of all voiceless misery under the sun" – "horror, shock, agony, eyeless, - Tongueless, just sound". These passages are reminders of Benjy's intense and inarticulate suffering. They indicate a double deprivation : absence of happiness and absence of speech. Hence his helpless cries express lack by lack. His state of extreme dispossession is forcibly emphasized by the recurrence of privative suffixes. Benjy's cries fail to say what he failed to preserve. They are the burning language of absence and the blind eloquence of the absurd. They are nothing but "sounds". But in this nothing, there is everything "all time, and injustice and sorrow", "all voiceless misery under the sun".

Now the voicing of the voiceless, the naming of the nameless are the deepest desires of a writer. The Sound and the Fury is an attempt to come as close as possible to that which is both revealed and silenced in the "tongueless" agony of the cry. It refers back to the inarticulateness of the cry. It is an attempt to recapture the immediate pathos of the cry. In the last section, Faulkner makes a final attempt to preserve something of the primal urgency of the cry and reverts to it, making it "vocal" for an instant by a conjunction of words. But, of course, Benjy's whimpering and bellowing , by being named, are absorbed into the mute eloquence of written discourse and become the symbols of its own impotence and vanity (that is of literature).

From the concrete particulars of limited individual experience, the last section moves toward the universality of the Mythic and the Archetypal.

Benjy : the slobbering idiot becomes a symbol of crucified innocence in the context of the Easter Service. The man-child becomes an analogon of Christ.

Dilsey raises to tragic dignity. Her portrait emphasises her deformity and decrepitude and multiplies the signs of impending death. With her fallen breasts and dropsical paunch, this mere skeleton wrapped into a skin-bag appears as a grim Memento Mori. Yet, solemnized by the abstract magnificence of the epithets and expanded by the suggestive power of the similes, the description lends her an aura of majesty. A queen dispossessed but whose indomitable skeleton rises in the grey light of a grim dawn as a challenge to death – a paradoxical symbol of that which transcends mortal flesh and triumphs over time : Endurance.

As Faulkner said, "Dilsey is one of my favorite character, because she is brave, courageous, generous, gentle, honest. She is much more brave and honest and generous than me".

She is meant to counterbalance the Compsons. Her words and actions offer a contrast to the behaviour of her masters. She represents the sole force for order and stability in the Compson household. She replaces the mother, defends Caddy and Quentin II and Ben against Jason. In the face of the whining and heinous egoism of the Compsons, Dilsey embodies the generosity of total selflessness. Without fostering the slightest illusion about her exploiters, expecting no gratitude, she accepts the world as it is, while striving as best she can to make it more habitable.

Unlike the Compsons, she does not abdicate before reality nor does she refuse time which she alone is capable of interpreting correctly. (Dilsey automatically corrects the error of the clock). To her, Time is no matter of obsession. Her attitude toward time proceeds quite logically from the tenets of her extreme faith. Guaranteed in the Past by the Death and Resurrection of Christ, in the Future by the promise of his Return, Time regains meaning and a direction. Dilsey's Christ-centered faith allows her to adhere fully to all of time's dimensions. She endures the present with humility and patience and armed with faith she faces the future without alarm. Time is no longer felt as endless and senseless repetition, nor experienced as an inexorable process of decay. It does have a pattern (God's design). Her concept of time is Theo-logical and not chronological. It is in this orthodox Christian perception that we are asked to read :" I've seed the first and de last"; given the religious context of Easter, she refers to the beginning and the end of Time. But it applies as well to the downfall of the Compsons which she has been witnessing all along. The implication, through the oblique connection between the Passion Week and the Family Tragedy, suggests that, for Dilsey, the drama of the Compsons is above all one of Redemption denied.

Is a Final Interpretation Possible ?

How are we to take the many references to Christianity included in the novel ? How do they relate to this story of decline and death ?

Is Faulkner's use of them ironical ? Do they point derisively to a vanishing myth, exposing its total irrelevance as far as the Compsons are concerned ? Should we interpret them in terms of Paradox ( a statement seemingly self-contradictory, or absurd, though possibly essentially true, a central device in metaphysical poetry and Judeo-Christian thought.

Now, both paradox and irony alike work by way of inversion.

Inversion in the Easter Service episode.

The episode fulfils a contrasting function homologous to that of Delsey in relation to the other characters. The contrast is sharp and unexpected. The episode is surprising in the detail of its composition and the movement of its development, both of which owe their impact from Faulkner's handling of inversion.

The sequence opens with the description of the ominous, bleak setting of Dilsey' walk. Nothing yet heralds the upsurge of Easter joy. No signs of Redemption.

Yet a sense of expectancy is soon created by the gathered congregation awaiting the "big preacher". But when he arrives, he turns out to be a shabby, monkey-faced gnome.

Yet, belying the grotesqueness of his physical appearance, the preacher does display the mesmerizing talents of a brilliant orator and undergoes a real metamorphosis. Then a second metamorphosis occurs when he bursts into the vehemence of "black" eloquence :

" Then a voice said : Brethren ....."

A different voice is heard : this is the moment of a decisive reversal. The voice acquires a will of its own, seizes his body and uses it as its tool. The preacher is no longer the master of his voice. He becomes the mere medium of the Easter message. His voice reaches out toward the congregation and delves into the innermost recesses of the congregation. This speech breaks down the barriers of individual isolation : a language which moves paradoxically towards its own extinction; eventually resolving itself into "chanting measures beyond the need for words". What is achieved is a collective experience, a welding of many into one. Separation and Fragmentation are at last temporarily transcended. Private fantasy and obsession are transcended, consciousness is expanded through the ritual re-enactment of Myth. Human misery is transfigured and "the monkey face lifted and his whole attitude, that of a serene, tortured crucified that transcended its shabbiness and insignificance and made it of no moment".

Once again, Inversion is at play, carrying us along in a seesaw movement of ups and downs, but the dominant mood is at present one of trust and the remaining doubts are swept away by the certainty of Redemption. Jesus becomes the paradigm of persecuted innocence and the relevance of this paradigm to present circumstances is emphasised by the implicit reference to Benjy, the innocent idiot.

The legendary and the actual, the past and the present, are not only contrasted, but significantly linked. Myth infuses reality; projected into an immemorial past, Dilsey and Benjy are transformed into archetypal figures through their identification with Christ and the Madonna. Conversely, the remote events of the Passion are brought back to life again and quiver with pathetic immediacy.

"I sees hit, I hears it..."

With the death of Christ, the sermon reaches its climax. The preacher now witnesses the seemingly absolute triumph of Evil. His vision becomes one of utter chaos and destruction.

" I sees de whelmin flood roll between, I sees de darkness en de death everlasting upon de generations"

Yet this note of despair (cf. Quentin's section) is not sustained and everything is reversed by the miracle of the Resurrection ("The Rickliesheen") Then Shadows disperse, death is conquered.

" I sees the Resurrection en de light; sees de meek Jesus saying dey kilt me dat ye shall live again"

The sermon occupies a few pages. Its impact is greater than a purely structural analysis of the 4th section would lead one to expect.

To assess its impact correctly, it is not enough to see how the sequence is "placed" within the novel; it is also important to measure the amplitude of the differences. The singularity is not only one of subject and theme, nor of a mere tonal switch. Actually, a radical reversal occurs altering the very fibre of the novel's texture.

Another voice takes over : not that of a character, nor of a narrator or author; a voice self generated.

Another language is heard, signalised by the cultural ethnic shift from "white to black", by the emotional shift from rational coldness to spiritual fervor, by the stylistic shift from formal devices of shallow rhetoric to inspired speech. The sermon is the ritual retelling of a mythic story fully known by all the members of the congregation. The story is known. It is the Myth and the musicality of the speech that cooperates to unite the participants in a speechless and timeless communion. What matters is not so much the message conveyed as the collective ceremony of its utterance and its sharing : communal identity is confirmed.

Self-effacement of the author is carried to such lengths that his own voice is no longer heard. Instead we are listening to the anonymous voice of an unwritten tradition grown out of ancient roots and periodically re-enacted by rites.

This is what makes the sermon a unique moment in the novel : it marks the intrusion of the mythical into the fictional, the non literary into the literary, and it signals the author's renunciation of his authorial privileges since it is the preacher who becomes the double of the novelist. In the novel, this voice is a metaphor for religion (religio : to bind). The sermon induces a vision. Dilsey sees beyond time and flesh. This vision brings order and meaning to her life.

Is this to say that it embodies Faulkner's vision and that the episode provides the key to the novel ? Has it the central hermeneutic function ?

Yet, this amounts to arrest Faulkner's novel. It reduces its web of ambiguities to a single and coherent pattern. The Sound and the Fury resists any attempt to dissolve its opaqueness into the reassuring clarity of an ideological statement. Faulkner's quest and questioning remain caught up in Christian modes of thought and expression but his cultural involvement with Christianity entailed no personal commitment to Christian faith.

His ironies do suggest a radically negative vision and his paradoxes bring us close to the spirit of Christianity. However, the point about ironies and paradoxes is that they are his. Irony implies dissembling, feigned ignorance and paradox refers to a hidden truth. With Faulkner both devices are not disguised affirmations but modes of questioning.






Genèse de l’œuvre

Une expérience bouleversante sans répétition. Moment inaugural, que F a commenté : (1267) lire ;

Ecrire, lire (avant, il lisait sans lire, en écrivant, ils deviennent pleinement lisibles. Ecriture, lecture de Flaubert, Dostoievsky, Conrad. Lecture écrivante, ré-écriture ; ensuite devient son propre lecteur.

Connaît la pure aventure d’écrire, hors de tout souci d’œuvre : ‘Quand j’ai commencé, je n’avais aucun plan, je n’écrivais même pas un livre. »(1269), il ne se souciait plus d’être publié, c’est donc une œuvre privée ‘ Un jour, il me sembla que je fermais une porte entre moi et toutes les adresses et catalogues d’éditeurs. Je me dis : maintenant je vais pouvoir écrire’ ( 1269)

Il découvre le pouvoir insoupçonné d’écrire en toute liberté. Pouvoir aussitôt mis au service du désir : ‘ Maintenant, je vais me faire une urne comme celle que cet ancien Romain gardait toujours à son chevet et dont il usa lentement le bord sous ses baisers’

Donc, lecture et écriture s’y échangent dans l’avènement du texte, mais s’y nouent aussi, plus étroitement écriture et désir.

Ce livre (tel qu’il est rêvé) est soustrait à tout échange, de soi à soi. Quant à l’objet de cette intime transaction, sa nature s’avoue sans détour dans l’image de l’urne : objet libidinal, objet-fétiche, valant pour autre chose, marque et masque d’une béance dont la dernière phrase apporte une confirmation éclatante : « ainsi, moi qui n’ai jamais eu de sœur et qui étais voué à perdre ma fille peu après sa naissance, j’entreprit de me faire une belle et tragique petite fille »

Par la fiction, il produit ce qui lui manquait. La force de son désir fut telle que l’écriture aussitôt jaillit, irrépressible, infaillible, dans le vertige d’une profonde jubilation, ‘une extase’

« Cette émotion définie, physique et pourtant vague et difficile à décrire : cette extase, cette foi ardente et joyeuse, cette anticipation de surprise que la feuille encore immaculée sous ma main retenait, inviolée, attendant que je la libère »

+tard il écrivit «  c’est l’ouvrage qui m’a donné le plus d’angoisse, que j’ai le plus travaillé et que je travaillais encore quand je savais que je ne pourrais pas le réussir »

Il est tout aussi révélateur que à chaque fois qu’il fut interrogé sur ce livre, il parla de son échec, son plus bel échec, ‘the most splendid failure to do the impossible’

Cf. Beckett ‘ être un artiste, c’est échouer, comme personne n’ose échouer, l’échec est son monde, et le refuser, c’est déserter » cf. Barthes «  la modernité commence avec la recherche d’une littérature impossible »

Lisons le compte rendu qu’il donne de l’origine et de la genèse du roman comme récit de tentatives manquées ( 1240)

C’est le récit d’un impossible récit, représentation de l’irreprésentable ( «  comme si l’histoire qu’il devait raconter n’était pas racontée » : ce que dit Musil à propos de L’homme sans qualités.) les 4 sections sont des ‘morceaux de désastre’ (R Queneau)

Du désir à l’œuvre

Le roman nous renvoie dans son inachèvement au désir d’écrire, désir d’écrire sur le désir, désir impossible d’écrire sur le désir impossible (inceste).

Le roman s’écrit autour d’un centre vide, un centre excentrique ‘ un centre à l’horizon’ ( à la fois origine et telos, principe générateur et objet fuyant de sa quête : la sœur absente) représenter, convoquer, et faire le deuil. ‘La belle et tragique fille’ qu’il produit est destinée à suppléer un manque, le texte fait référence à l’absence ‘ne pas avoir de sœur’ et au deuil ‘perdre sa fille’

Le deuil est aussi évoqué dans l’image séminale du roman : « J’avais songé qu’il serait intéressant d’imaginer les pensées d’un groupe d’enfants, le jour de l’enterrement de leur grand-mère dont on leur a caché la mort, leur curiosité devant l’agitation de la maison, leurs efforts pour percer le mystère, les suppositions qui leur viennent à l’esprit »

(cf. AILD autour de la mère morte)

Ces romans, romans de la perte, du manque.

Ici ce manque se représente dans la figure pathétique de Caddy, la sœur perdue ; «  le seule chose en littérature qui parviendrait jamais à m’émouvoir profondément : C. grimpant dans le poirier pour regarder par la fenêtre la veillée funèbre de sa grand-mère tandis que Q., J., B., et les noirs lèvent les yeux vers le fond de sa culotte mouillée de boue. »

C’est l’image matricielle, le fantasme, l’image de l’enfance surprise au seuil du savoir interdit : le sexe, la mort, curiosité sexuelle, fascination de la mort. Le sexe, masque de la mort, le sexe castré de la femme ouvre la voie vers la mort. Scène du regard, désir de savoir est désir de voir, équation du sexe à la mort. Motif de la castration, la culotte, masque le sexe castré (cf. Freud sur la naissance du fétichisme : ‘le fait que dans sa curiosité le garçon a épié l’organe génital de la femme d’en bas, à partir des jambes’( la vie sexuelle, PUF., p. 135)

La scène peut s’interpréter as une double révélation : découverte de la castration et de la mort. La Révélation (velum, enlèvement du voile) y est mise en scène, à nu : le jour de cette mort, C. a enlevé sa robe près du ruisseau (giflée par Q.) ( scène qui fait écho au ‘déshabillage’ de la jument par les busards (377)

L’ image mentale est ‘scène originaire’, énigme à déchiffrer, scène où se présente en miroir son propre désir de voir et savoir, les enfants as délégués fictifs de ce voyeur suprême, le romancier.

Tombeau d’une absente

Au cœur du roman : C. castrée, souillée, et sa fille (Quentin) : ‘le destin de deux femmes perdues’ Grande tendresse pour ces femmes. ‘ Pour moi elle était la plus belle, c’était la chérie de mon cœur. C’est ce que j’ai écrit dans ce livre et je me suis servi des instruments qui me paraissaient les plus propres à essayer de le dire, à essayer de faire le portrait de C.’

Il en parle comme d’une femme aimée, sa sœur imaginaire. Sœur perdue des 3 frères. Le roman n’efface pas le manque, pas de fonction réparatrice. Le désir se représente sans cesser d’être désir et c’est sa déroute qui nous est contée. Le roman redouble l’échec. La mise en fiction de C. est machinée de telle sorte qu’elle est figure de l’absence, insaisissable Eurydice de la descente aux enfers.

Elle n’est pas l’héroïne, mais d’image-fantasme elle devient fantasme-souvenir pour les frères, sans jamais prendre corps dans l’espace du livre. Elle est le point focal, point de fuite, image fascinante, et tache aveugle, présence de ce qui n’est pas présent, appel et rappel.

Elle est l’ultime enjeu, et sa présence/absence est ce qui permet de donner du jeu, produire les écarts qui autorisent le jeu du sens. En effet, si en tant que figure substitutive du désir C. nous renvoie au signifié nécessairement inaccessible de l’œuvre, sa fonction dans le roman peut se comparer à celle d’un joker dans un jeu de cartes. ‘ Caddy’, mot magique, fonctionne comme ce que Levi-Straus appelle ‘un signifiant flottant’ ‘ une valeur symbolique zéro : nom ouvert au passage du sens, sans égards aux contradictions, nom sans attaches, chacun des trois frères voudra le fixer dans son discours et l’enfermer dans son imaginaire. Confiscations dérisoires : le nom propre traverse le roman comme un ‘signe’.

Sa valeur de Signifiant s’atteste dès la 1ère page, homophonie ‘caddie’ /Caddy. D’entrée de jeu, comme pour annoncer la règle, s’ouvre l’espace du leurre et de la faille, équivoques et polysémie . En même temps, redoutables pouvoirs de ce signifiant, qui obsède B. Q. J.

Elle demeure jusqu’à la fin un être hors portée, un être de fuite. Les scènes du passé qui assiègent la mémoire de Q. sont des scènes de Retrait où elle apparaît en disparaissant

« … mais elle courait déjà quand je l’ai entendue. Elle courait dans le miroir … sortait en courant du miroir. » Trace vive de sa disparition, le regard n’a saisi qu’un reflet dans un miroir.

Ou encore, autre instantané, autre image de la sœur perdue, offerte à la dérobée.

 : C. immobile dans la soudaineté de sa venue ‘ Juste avant elle était sur le pas de la porte (418)

Vouloir dire (Benjy)

(393) Que leur veut-il ? Vouloir dire d’un interdit de parole, comme tout le roman, où F a essayé de dire et manqué de dire ( utilisera les mêmes termes que B. pour parler de sa ‘Splendid failure’. Dans la scène, une tentative de communication qui tourne à la déroute, prise pour une agression sexuelle, une tentative de viol, châtié par l’émasculation de B.

En fait, le désir sexuel se déguise, se rapporte comme désir de dire, le désir de dire devient la métaphore du désir sexuel. Métaphore qui nous renvoie aux rapports de F. avec son roman, son expérience de l’écriture, la genèse du roman qui est métaphore du désir

Rusant avec la duplicité du langage, l’œuvre se révèle comme désir de parole ‘trying to say’ et se dissimule comme parole de désir, s’approchant sans fin du lieu impossible de sa fascination : lieu du non-dit et de l’inter-dit où guette la folie, où se promet la jouissance, où menace la mort.

(la séduction ratée de B. est suivie par la scène de sa castration.


Q., le désir et la mort. (un suicide incestueux)

Déjà dans la 1er section (prologue) tout tournait autour de la relation frère-sœur. Ce n’est pas la 1ère fois qu’elle apparaît dans l’œuvre de Faulkner, mais dans Le B et La F elle s’inscrit dans la syntaxe même du récit. On peut dire, en effet, que les 3 frères forment le sujet pluriel de la narration et sont les délégués fictifs du romancier, et la sœur en est l’ultime et inaccessible objet. (recherche de l’impossible récit) ( le centre, l’absente) Les frères sont la voix, Caddy est l’invoquée, la figure dont ils déclinent l’absence et qu’ils font comparaître.

Avec Quentin, de nouveau désir et mort échangent leurs signes, et c’est Caddy qui apparaît comme leur point de fuite, le lieu lointain de leur confluence et de leur improbable réconciliation.

Quentin aime C. d’un amour jaloux, il est comme B. inconsolable de sa perte. Son désir est désir-demande qu’aucun objet ne saurait combler, dont l’objet sera à jamais manquant et qui ne pourra s’apaiser qu’à s’engloutir dans la mort.

Ce désir est désir coupable, nous sommes dans l’univers morbide de la faute : il se dit dans l’obsession de l’inceste et du suicide.

Le discours de l’obsession.

Elle n’est pas à entendre dans le dit mais aussi dans le dire, elle implose le langage même de Q. structures logiquement hiérarchisée de la grammaire s’y relâchent, absence de ponctuation, ruptures de la syntaxe, incertitudes de la prédication. Le sens ‘craque’ de son excès. Ces chutes dans l’incohérence ne se produisent qu’en certains lieux du texte, quand surgissent les souvenirs douloureux et ses fantasme. ( + on se rapproche des scènes avec C 479-492) Il parle moins qu’il n’écoute les vois du passé. Il ressasse, répète, butte sur les mêmes scènes (C., eau, ombre, porte, chèvrefeuille, Avez-vous jamais eu une sœur ? Juste avant elle était là, Père, j’ai commis) Rythme incantatoire d’une litanie. Son discours révèle l’affolement d’une conscience captive, condamnée à tourner sans répit dans le cercle de ses souvenirs. Mouvement de ressac, rhétorique de la répétition, son drame est d’abord le drame du retour. Son présent n’est que la répétition du passé, son avenir, une projection du révolu.

Quentin a une histoire, mais est-on fondé à le considérer comme le sujet de cette histoire ? Est-ce à proprement parler un monologue ? En fait, de nombreuses voix se font entendre, dans un ensemble polyphonique. Discours morcelé qui démente le postulat d’un moi singulier toujours identique qui présiderait à son déroulement. Ce monologue n’est pas un discours tenu. Une identité s’y dévide, s’y défait, mot à mot. +tôt le moi du narcissisme, le lieu de l’imaginaire où naissent les reflets, où s’engendrent les doubles, la matrice de toutes les identifications aliénantes.

(Quentin Durward, esprit chevaleresque) c’est le « poor player » de Shakespeare, comédien sans talent qui essaie un rôle l’un après l’autre. Quel rôle ? les grands rôles du répertoire occidental : JC. St François, Galaad, Byron, le gentleman sudiste. Recherche éperdue de modèles à imiter. Petit Don Quichotte qui vit dans un monde de mots et de livres, un musée de légendes, un cimetière de ‘jolis mots’, Q n’est pas une personne, mais un personnage qui joue d’autres personnages, une dérisoire velléité d’être, fourvoyée dans un dédale de fictions.

Ainsi le roman efface sa figure crépusculaire à mesure qu’il la dessine. Q . ne se définit qu’en termes de manque, division, dispersion. Rien en lui ne semble réel. Son discours-dérive nous entraîne dans un espace rongé d’absence, sans repères ni frontières, l’espace du dehors-dedans, tout comme il nous plonge dans un temps hors du temps, qui s’écroule plus qu’il ne s’écoule.

Au demeurant de quel lieu, de quel temps vient-il, ce discours ? N’est-ce pas un monologue posthume ? Q. parle d’outre-tombe. Sartre l’avait vu : ce monologue, c’est son suicide, le non-lieu où s’origine son discours est bien la place du mort. Sujet de l’énoncé : un vivant mourant, sujet de l’énonciation : un mort.

Discours de personne qui offre un riche réseau de pistes et de traces à partir desquelles on peut suivre un désir et l’interdit, jusqu’à son illusoire accomplissement dans le suicide.

La Blessure

Au commencement une enfance blessée, délaissée. La mère a manqué au point de rendre imprononçable son nom ( si au moins j’avais une mère alors je pourrais dire Mère Mère 499, 431) Voir aussi ce souvenir d’enfance (500) Lecture de l’image, projette la scène familiale sur cette scène de captivité et de ténèbres : déréliction des enfants Compson, les parents ont fait défaut, mais c’est la mère qui est identifiée au donjon, les enfants aux oubliettes. La mère tient ses enfants captifs par cet amour qu’elle leur a dénié. Enfants emprisonnés, ‘empoisonnés’ ( 437 fini, fini, et nous fûmes tous empoisonnés)

Poison sans remède et prison sans issue.

A défaut de mère, il y aura eu une sœur. Q. a adressé sa requête d’amour à C. Mais de sa première blessure, il garde ressentiment et soupçon.

Une constante ambivalence marque les rapports de Quentin avec C. Elle se déclare dès la 1ère scène près du ruisseau, dans l’incident de la culotte mouillée où il se comporte en censeur sourcilleux. Il ne cessera d’en vouloir à C. de se disputer avec elle, + son enfance s’éloigne + C. lui échappe. Il mourra de n’avoir pas su mourir à son enfance et pour la retrouver.

Le bain de boue.

Scène révélatrice dans la grange avec Nathalie. Adolescent, il s’y livre à une sorte de simulacre de l’acte sexuel, ‘danser assis’ (467-68) Surpris au milieu de ce jeu érotique par C. il s’interrompt et se retourne vers sa partenaire ‘ Mouille-toi si seulement tu pouvais attraper une pneumonie, rentre chez toi, figure de vache’ puis se jette dans la boue. Sa sœur lui dit ‘Je me fous de ce que tu faisais’, furieux, il la couvre de boue fétide. En fait, l’irruption de la sexualité dans sa vie compromet la relation avec sa sœur.

Boue, se vautrer dans la fange, matière du péché, nausée de la chair. Répétition symbolique de l’acte sexuel simulé, négation, exorcisme et expiation. Rituel de pénitence et de purification .

Le sexe, c’est du chinois.

Le souverain bien se confond avec la virginité intacte de sa sœur, d’où le rêve d’une existence asexuée. Il rêve de l’histoire de cet homme qui s’est volontairement émasculé (450) L’idéal : ne pas avoir eu de sexe

Mais ce n’est pas cela. Ce n’est pas de n’en pas avoir. C’est de n’en avoir jamais eu, je pourrais dire alors Oh Ca c’est du chinois je ne comprends pas le chinois (450)

Le suicide : ‘tu vas à la noce ou à un enterrement ? (419)

Le désir meurtrier se renverse en désir suicidaire. Se suicide d’avoir désiré tuer sa sœur, ses rivaux. Sa mort se vit comme inceste consommé et expié. Symboliquement c’est la réplique qu’il donne au mariage de C.

L’eau de la rivière, c’est la sœur-ondine de son enfance associée aux baignades de l’enfance. Dans ses rêveries anticipatrices, les eaux funèbres ne tardent pas à devenir des eaux maternelles, la rivière se perd dans une mer pleine de grottes et de cavernes (427, 447, 501, ) Retour à la quiétude d’avant la naissance, au repos d’avant la vie, retour à l’anonymat et à l’indifférence, retour à l’un et au zéro, au tout et au rien, au lieu premier où la fin se ressoude à l’origine. Eau-delà, outre-mère.