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The Sound and the Fury: Time Motif

Alternate question: Time motif in The Sound and the Fury

One of Faulkner’s chief concerns in his works is time and timelessness. It is often connected with his views of how often and how much past intrudes upon the present. Faulkner’s use of time in this novel is startling, new and effective. Time concepts are used differently in every section.

In Benjy’s narration clock tie is totally disregarded. Benjy is completely oblivious of time. Events of the past are constantly juxtaposed with various events of the present or of some other time in the past. Benjy makes no distinction between an event that happened only hours ago and one that occurred years ago. The memory of the episode at the branch (1898) is as recent and vivid as an episode in 1914 or on the morning of April 7, 1928. Therefore, for Benjy there is no distinction between the past and the present and there is no such thing as future. If he stands at the gate waiting of Caddy to return in 1928 it is because he has waited since 1902. The many years that he has waited in vain are non-existent to him because he remembers only those events which gave him pleasure. Faulkner violates traditional time in order to emphasize Benjy’s rejection of the distinction between various times and to show how actions of the past are important to Benjy because they gave him pleasure. The time motif is highly stimulating when we realize that Faulkner is writing about Benjy in 1928, and the event which Benjy remembers in 1898 foreshadows events which occur in 1906-10. Benjy remember a past event of Caddy getting her drawers muddy which foreshadows a future event about Caddy’s promiscuity in 1906-10.

Quentin expends all his energy trying to understand time. His section opens with his remembering his father’s comments about the futility of trying to keep up with time. He tears off the hands of his watch. By this act, he hopes to escape into a timeless world. But he cannot remove himself from time. He constantly hears his own watch ticking even though it has no hands. He asks the boys at the river if they know where a clock is. And in the midst of all these links with time, Quentin is constantly remembering various cynical comments that his father made about time.

The time motif carries significant implications about Quentin’s character. Whereas Benjy made no distinction between time past and present. Quentin is more concerned with trying to understand how time in the past can influence time in the future. His major problem is that his father has told him that time will make a person forget all sorrow and remorse. But Quentin’s problem is that he does not want to forget. He must remember his present feeling of bereavement because if the forgets them, the feelings will have no meaning and then Quentin feels that his life will have no meaning. Therefore, Quentin tries to stop time from passing. The only way he can do this is by committing suicide which he does at the end of his section.

For Jason, time plays an important role and every second counts. In his section, we have Caddy returning for a five-second glimpse of her child, and we see Jason watching the clock and timing his every act. We have undelivered telegrams, wild chases and various assignations. But Jason sees no importance to the past except that certain events occurred which deprived him of a position in Herbert Head’s bank. Jason’s world is in the immediate present. He has rejected all ties and allegiance to the past and he exists only for his own selfish aims in the present moment.

The final section uses time by emphasizing the clock which Dilsey keeps on the kitchen wall. When the clock strikes five times, Dilsey knows that it is eight o’clock. She is able to bring order out of the confusion and chaos of the Compson world. When she takes Benjy to the church, she hears a sermon about the beginning and the end. She returns feeling that she has been with Compsons since the beginning and now she sees the end coming very soon. Dilsey, therefore, is the only character who functions within the continuum of time. Her present care for loyalty to the Compsons is a result of her past association with them.

The use of time motif is probably one of Faulkland’s main concerns in the novel. Much of the meaning of the novel evolves through an understanding of each character’s reaction to time.

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