Southern Values Within the Novel The Sound and the Fury


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This is an explication about the book The Sound and the Fury written for AP Literature for our Novel Unit in class.   

In the novel The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner portrayed a family that had self-worth, money, and a good reputation over multiple generations. Although the Compson generations have been successful, the Compson family became the complete opposite. From having very little money to arguments that lead to deaths, the family became that one generation that ruined the family reputation and name. With the problems within the family, the South had problems similar to the Compson’s over the years too after the war. With this background, Faulkner created the theme of southern values and corruption inside a family that had it all to want it all over again.

Throughout Quentin’s section of the novel, he was narrating flashbacks and recalling old times that made his future come to an end by suicide. One example that brought the attention of the corruption happened when Quentin talked about how he was accepted into Harvard. He recalled the time when his mother had to send him to Harvard due to keeping the “bright” reputation of the family and they had to sell Benjy’s pasture for the cost. This shows that the family had to send the smartest son out of the family to “show off” the family name and took it into action by selling all they have to achieve that goal. This also shows that money was an issue after the war by selling most of their land for the tuition and the college itself. Quentin also had flashbacks about growing up with Caddy that created these southern corruptions as well. For example, Quentin had a talk with his father about virginity, which is something Quentin valued, and his father stated that women should be ashamed if they lose their virginity while men should value it in a “gentlemen” like way. Although family values have changed over the years, the idea of virginity has been a part of southern corruption throughout centuries. This “Old Southern” idea makes the family corrupt by Caddy losing her virginity to a person that didn’t care for her and ended up having a child that lead her into no longer being inside the family. With the tension of Caddy and the family, Quentin also had a possible love affair with Caddy. Incest was considered a sin in the south and with a sin hanging over Quentin, the corruption leads him to commit suicide. This shows that incest and sexuality played a huge role within the novel to show that after the south failed, money and relationships came hard to find and caused conflict and deaths.

On the other hand, the ending of the novel shows more true value within the south than ever before. At the end of the novel, Dilsey was taking care of the family and was involved in all of their situations. With Dilsey only being a black servant for the family, she became one of the most important characters in the novel that portrayed true southern values. For example, Dilsey has to deal with Jason, the antagonist brother in the novel, and his complaints about Caddy’s daughter Miss Quentin. He would call Miss Quentin a “bitch” as well as being rude to her and vicious comments about her unprecedented mother. This leads to multiple conflicts within the household and for Dilsey, she tried her best to make sure that Miss Quentin was safe as if she was a mother to her. This shows that Dilsey shows the true southern values of kindness and helpfulness to the family, regardless of what segregation situation has been during that time. Another example of Dilsey’s kindness portrayed in Benjy’s life as well. Benjy missed Caddy throughout the entire novel and since he had a disability, he could not communicate like the rest of the characters. He would moan and groan until someone helped him get what he wanted. Dilsey treated him like a son and kept him a calm and happy while the rest of the house created chaos. Dilsey also had portrayed one true value that most of the south during the time of the novel did not have: hope. During the last section of the novel Dilsey, Luster, and Benjy went to church on Easter Sunday to get away from the house. In the church, the reverend talked about God’s resurrection and that moment made Dilsey cry. She cried and reached for Benjy while she listened to the service. This ties with the southern corruption because Dilsey quotes “seen the beginning and now sees the ending,” meaning that after everything the south and the family has gone through, she still sees hope for not only herself but for the family as well.  

In conclusion, The Sound and the Fury had portrayed multiple ways of the southern corruption and southern values inside the Compson family. From Quentin’s flashbacks that lead to suicide to Dilsey’s ways of hope make up the historical value within the south during that time. Corruption can be a bad thing throughout the time but within the time frame, there can always be hope for anything, regardless of the situation.

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