The South's Failure to Adjust to Modernity

William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" and "A Rose for Emily"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The Struggle with mModernity inThe Sound and the Fury
2.1 About the novel
2.2 Depiction of Characters
2.3. Role Reversal
2.4 Fixation on Southern values: Quentin
2.5 Rebellion Against the Present: Caddy and Miss Quentin
2.6 Feelings of Loss

III. The Struggle with Modernity in “A Rose for Emily”
3.1 About the short story
3.2 Depiction of characters
3.3 Tradition vs. Change - an Allegory of the South

IV. Conclusion

V. Works Cited

I. Introduction

The South, particularly the rural South, was a central aspect in Faulkner’s writings, for he belonged to the South himself. He even constructed a fictitious country, commonly known as Yoknapatawpha, which provides the setting of numerous of his stories. It served as a lens through which he could examine the traditions, practices and attitudes that had divided and united the people of the South. Faulkner was mostly interested in exploring the moral allusions of history. As the South emerged from the Civil War and Reconstruction period, the people were often torn between a new and an older, more established world order. Most of the time, the culture of the South was “inward-turning”, “backward-looking” and “frozen in its virtues” (Warren 244). This offered an image of massive immobility, while people were fixed on moral values and gentility at the same time. Faulkner wrote about this unchangeableness and ideas of Southern gentility, in a sometimes sarcastic way. He literally attacked the way of thinking by introducing a modern writing style, which included complex and heavily loaded sentences, as well as the “stream-of-consciousness” technique that disregards chronology of events. Thus, why did the South fail to adjust to modernity?

The Sound and the Furyis considered to be an absolute classic of modernity. In this paper, Faulkner’s novelThe Sound and the Furyand the short story “A Rose for Emily” will be analysed, searching for reasons to the problem of adjusting to modernity. Therefore, I will look at the depiction of the main characters and indications of role reversal with regard to the ideal Southern family. Furthermore, Quentin’s fixation on the past, as well as Caddy’s and Miss Quentin’s rebellion against the present will be examined. Finally, a closer look at the main characters’ experiences of loss inThe Sound and the Furywill take place. The novel, in its struggle with modernity is similar to the short story “A Rose for Emily” and will be set in contrast to it. Apart from the depiction of the main characters, the theme of tradition versus change as an allegory of the South plays an important role.

This study, however, is only a small glimpse into a very wide subject, which could be investigated so much longer.

II. The Struggle with mModernity in The Sound and the Fury

2.1 About the novel

The novel was published in 1929 and is set in Yoknapatawpha Country in 1928 and Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1910. The novel speaks of the deconstruction of the Old South, as symbolized by the decline of the aristocratic family Compson. It is divided into four parts, told by four different authors: the three Compson brothers (Benjy, Quentin and Jason) reflecting on significant events, as for example the promiscuity of their sister Caddy, and a third-person narrator, which focuses on Dilsey Gibson, the Compsons’ Negro cook. The Compsons are forced “to cope one way or another with declining family fortunes, increasing family dysfunction, and outmoded family values challenged by their own experiences” (Peek 361).

Especially Benjy’s section is marked by a highly disjointed style and the stream-of-consciousness technique, disregarding chronology of events or continuity of story line. Therefore, it is hard to distinguish between past and present events. In the “Introduction” of the bookNew Essays on The Sound and the Fury,it is argued that “each brother’s first-person narration is a parody of twentieth-century literary styles and techniques – Benjy is the Imagist voice, Quentin the voice of High Modernism, Jason that of Postmodernism” […] (18). The fourth section on the other hand, offers a rather traditional fictional technique. Faulkner combined his new narrative style with the subject and problematic of the South and with this highlighted the literary movement of the “Southern Renaissance”. This included the attempt to come to terms with values of Southern tradition, but also with a certain way of perceiving and dealing with the past (King 248).

As illustrated in the following paragraphs, the social and economic stability of the family Compson is more and more disappearing, which can be seen through the reversal of roles, the fixation on the past and rebellion against the present or, moreover, the decline of a family (Faulkner ix).

2.2 Depiction of Characters

In Faulkner’sThe Sound and the Furytwo family structures are displayed: the white family Compson and their black servants, family Gibson. The father Jason Compson III is an alcohol addict and his comments are often filled with cynicism and fatalism. His alcoholism kills him later on. The mother Caroline Bascomb Compson, a neurotic, egocentric and manipulative woman is sick, because of her constant destructive self-accusation seemingly, as a result of rigid social and moral codes of conduct. Quentin, the eldest son commits suicide, while Caddy (Candace) is neglected from her family after receiving an illegitimate child and being abandoned by her husband. Jason IV, the isolated, mean and materialistic second son, does not care about others. He leaves out his frustration on Benjy (Benjamin), the youngest son who is retarded and unable to speak. Benjy suffers from the loss of his sister Caddy who was the only person that really knew his needs and mothered him (Müller 56). There is no indication about a possible endurance of the family Compson.

The Gibsons on the other hand consist of the father Roskus, who has rheumatism, but does not complain about it. He often summarizes and comments on certain events or happenings, such as Benjy’s name change or Caddy’s abandonment. The mother Dilsey embraces such qualities as love, wisdom, sacrifice, honour and faith. She is the only selfless and pious individual and takes the role of a mother for the Compson children. Her two sons, Versh and T.P. are the first caretakers of Benjy, while her daughter’s son Luster is the caretaker in present time. As stated in the appendix, the hope of continued existence lies in African American hands: “They endured” (Faulkner 215).

2.3. Role Reversal

In analogy to the endurance of the black family, Faulkner’s strong character traits in the novel are more or less held by the blacks, while the white family is portrayed as rather weak. The characteristics that the Southerners usually dreamed of were unlike these represented. During the post-bellum, the fathers were displayed as gracious, courteous and heroic, because they had led the struggle against the Yankees. In comparison to this ideal and measured against the heroic generation of their grandfathers, the fathers did not seem much heroic and rather ordinary to their sons. As in the case of the father Jason Compson inThe Sound and the Fury, who is not a good role model for his children and dies because of his alcohol problem. The mother was seen as strong, but subordinate to the powerful and heroic father. She took the role of “a quasi-Virgin Mary”, for her sexuality or erotic appeal was denied to her. Furthermore, she was supposed to be caring for the wants and needs of her family. Caroline Compson seems to be superior to her husband, for she has the say most of the time. Her inability to give the children authentic and real love seems to be, among other reasons a result of her egocentric and neurotic behaviour. Most of the time she does not display any energy and wants to be left alone: “Cant I even be sick in peace.” (Faulkner 38) or she pities herself: “It’s all my fault. I’ll be gone soon, and you and Jason will both get along better.” (Faulkner 39), which makes her a very fragile figure (King 249 f.).

In contrast to a white father and mother in an ideally dominant position, blacks were seen as not legitimized and in a rather weak situation. Their depiction as childlike would make them permanent members of the family. In the case of Faulkner the black servants do not comprise these features, for Dilsey is the wisest person and in view of morality and humanity the strongest character. Usually, the South’s dream was that of a loving foster mother, which can also be assigned to Dilsey, for she cared for the Compson children as if they were her own and did not make distinctions between the needs of the family members. Yet looking at the sexual aspect the black woman was regarded as animal-like in passion, which cannot be proved on the basis ofThe Sound and the Fury, because there is no mentioning of it (King 254 f.). Disregarding all these contradictions and ambiguities, decline can be seen as an integral part of the southern families and southern family values.

2.4 Fixation on Southern values: Quentin

The South in which Faulkner grew up was a culture “frozen in its virtues and vices” and “offered an image of massive immobility” and “unchangeableness of the human condition” (Warren 244). Especially Quentin represented these characteristics, for he is unable to cope with the things that have happened in the past, circling around his sister’s loss of virginity.

Various critics state that Faulkner started to write his novel, with a simple image in mind. It all began with the mental picture of a young innocent girl up a tree with muddy drawers. Her brothers, under the tree, witness the picture: “We watched the muddy bottom of her drawers. Then we couldn’t see her.” (Faulkner 25). This incident foreshadows Caddy’s fall after her pregnancy and become a symbol for her sexual impurity. Each of the brothers has difficulties dealing with the loss of their sister’s “honour”. The most evident presentation of loss, however, can be found in Quentin’s behaviour.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


The South's Failure to Adjust to Modernity
William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" and "A Rose for Emily"
Martin Luther University
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ISBN (Book)
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Kommentar des Dozenten: "Good observations, but individual sections need to be tied more closely to the main thesis."
The Sound and the Fury and "A Rose for Emily", William Faulkner
Quote paper
Margarete Schattschneider (Author), 2011, The South's Failure to Adjust to Modernity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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