English Literature » Notes » Symbolism in “The Sound and the Fury”

Symbolism in “The Sound and the Fury”

Complex subjects like the one in “The Sound and the Fury” cannot find their full expression in simple narration. They need illustration and that can be made only through symbolism. The theme of “The Sound and the Fury”, the decadence of Compson family is largely clarified through symbolization of its central characters and their actions.

Faulkner has worked out the whole pattern of the novel symbolically. The very title has symbolical implication. The motif of the novel has been conceived by Faulkner in a conflict between the order and chaos producing forces in symbolic terms. Mr. Compson nihilistic view that victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools, that virginity is myth invented by men and women are not conscious of it, that time is a mausoleum of all hopes and desires, Mrs. Compson’s self-pity and isolation, Benjy’s idiocy, Quentin’s emasculation, Jason’s pragmatic commercialism and Caddy’s promiscuity symbolize it.

The symbolic contrast between the forces of order and disorder has also been shown in the characters of Benjy and Quentin in their monologues. Benjy though a born idiot represents dignity and order. Whenever he sees something wrong being done, he at once protests against it by his moaning and slobbering. When he sees Charlie kissing Caddy, he pulls at her dress and starts crying. Caddy at once sends Charlie away and promises with Benjy that she will never do it again. Again when Luster takes the carriage in the wrong direction, he starts bellowing and calms down when Jason corrects the direction and rebukes Luster. Quentin, on the other hand, entertaining the wish to commit incest with Caddy and killing himself by committing suicide out of despair, his irritation displayed at sunlight and his frantic efforts to get rid of time by damaging his watch represents chaos and amoralism. Thus the vision of life of Benjy and Quentin placed in juxtaposition symbolize the contrast between the forces of order and disorder.

Quentin’s obsession with his shadow which he tries to destroy by trampling it under his feet has also symbolic implications. His shadow represents his alter ego completely different from his mind or intellectual personality. Quentin’s fight with his shadow symbolizes the conflict between man’s physical and mental personality.
Caddy’s muddy drawers has also symbolic significance. Her climbing a tree with muddy drawers visible to the brothers standing under the tree have symbolized Caddy’s advancement towards her future sexual life. Again her taking off her dress to dry it also symbolizes her giving up her innocence associated with her childhood. Her washing her mouth after having been kissed by Charlie symbolizes the cleansing ritual and her commitment she has made with. Balls at various occasions suggest Benjy’s castration to present him from sexually assaulting some young girls that pass by their house’s gate. Even the mention of honey suckle in Quentin’s monologue has sexual implications. Quentin’s hatred of honey suckle’s odour show his disgust with sex. It is also disgusting because it reminds him of Caddy’s promiscuity. Quentin’s rejection of the pistol offered to him by Datton Ames in his fight with Quentin exposes Quentin’s sick concern with virginity and his own importance.

The broken narcissus which Luster gives to Benjy is also symbolic of Quentin’s and Jason’s self-love. Quentin’s obsession with time is also symbolically expressed in his efforts to break his watch to get rid of time. The clock in the Compson house, always losing time symbolizes Compsons lagging behind time and in the race of life.
Dilsey, the black house-keeper of the Compsons, symbolizes the concept of sanity, order and equilibrium. Her care for Compsons irrespective of their right or wrong attitude towards her makes her a symbol of love and order. The change of idiot boy’s name from Maury to Benjy is symbolic of Compson’s superstitious mentality. Dilsey taking Benjy to her Negro church at the end of the novel has also been seen as a symbolic act to have the Compsons from decadence.

Jason’s pursuit of making money through investment in cotton shares and through others pragmatic means symbolizes the emergence of the new commercial south. The decadence of the Compsons or the south also symbolizes the decadence of the morally confused modern World which suffers from lack of discipline, of sanctions, of community values in which self-interest and success provide the standards.

To sum up, as the subject of the novel is complex, Faulkner has provided a complex scheme of symbolism, to illuminate it and in this effort he has been brilliantly successful.

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