Posted: Jul 14, 2007 11:35 pm
suggestions on how to get the jest of this book
i know unintentional typo but jest/gist is lovely and appropriate pun
try this and start over: after 100 pages it becomes clear, opium or no opium
the third section becomes real easy: keep asking yourself: what makes jason tick?
Section 1: "April Seventh, 1928."
Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting. They were coming toward where the flag was and I went along the fence. Luster was hunting in the grass by the flower tree. They took the flag out, and they were hitting. Then they put the flag back and they went to the table, and he hit and the other hit. Then they went on, and I went along the fence. Luster came away from the flower tree and we went through the fence and they stopped and we stopped and I looked through the fence while Luster was hunting in the grass.
from The Sound and the Fury
The first section is told from the point of view of Benjy Compson, a thirty-three-year-old idiot, and recounts via flashbacks the earliest events in the novel. As an idiot, Benjy is the key to the novel's title, which alludes to Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth. For the most part, his language is simple—sentences are short, vocabulary basic. Reading this section is profoundly difficult, however, because the idiot has no concept of time or place—sensory stimuli in the present bring him back to another time and place in his past, instantly and without warning (except for a change in typeface from Roman to italic). Most of his memories concern his sister, Caddy, who is in some ways the central character in the novel. Benjy's earliest depicted memory, from 1898 (when Benjy was three years old), establishes the essence of her character—the children are ignorant of the death of their grandmother, "Damuddy," and Caddy is the only Compson child brave enough to climb the pear tree and look through the window at the funeral wake while her brothers stand below, gazing up at her muddy drawers, which were soiled earlier when they were playing in a creek adjoining the Compson estate.
Most of Benjy's other memories also focus on Caddy, who alone among the Compsons genuinely cared for Benjy. Key memories regarding Caddy include a time when she uses perfume (1905), when she loses her virginity (1909), and her wedding (1910). Benjy also recalls his name change (from Maury to Benjamin) in 1900, his brother Quentin's suicide in 1910, and the sequence of events at the gate which lead to his being castrated, also in 1910.
Reading Benjy's section is difficult, but it is not impossible. First, note that there are two characters named "Maury"—Benjy before 1900 and Mrs. Compson's brother, "Uncle Maury" Bascomb—and there are two Quentins—Benjy's suicidal brother and Caddy's illegitimate daughter. Second, you can get some sense of the time by noting who is taking care of Benjy. Three black servants take care of Benjy at different times: Versh when Benjy is a small child, T.P. when Benjy is approximately 15 years old, and Luster in the present, when Benjy is 33.
Section 2: "June Second, 1910."
When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather's and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it's rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father's. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.
from The Sound and the Fury
The second section recounts the story from Quentin Compson's perspective. Even though the present-day of this section is almost eighteen years prior to the present-day of Benjy's section, it nevertheless follows roughly the chronological development of the novel, for while many of Benjy's recollections are of their early childhood, most of Quentin's flashbacks record their adolescence, particularly Caddy's dawning sexuality. Quentin's section takes place on the day he commits suicide, and in the present we follow his wanderings around Boston (he is a student at Harvard University) as he fastidiously prepares for death. Like Benjy, he too is obsessed with the past and frequently lapses into flashbacks. Unlike the fairly discrete narratives of Benjy's multiple memories, however, Quentin's are much more fragmentary—a repeated (and usually italicized) word or phrase early in his section often recurs later with greater detail and embellishment. Quentin's flashbacks also are much more intellectual than Benjy's. Whereas Benjy records mainly sensual impressions, Quentin more often delves into more abstract issues such as character motivation, guilt, honor, and sin.
He begins his section by contemplating time, even breaking the hands off his watch in a futile attempt to "escape" time. Another minor obsession Quentin has throughout his section is with shadows; the word "shadow" is repeated constantly throughout his section (thus recalling Shakespeare's image of a "walking shadow" in the soliloquy alluded to by the novel's title). Alone among the present-day Compsons, Quentin still feels pride in his family's noble and glorious past, but he recognizes that today nothing remains of that past; it is mere shadow, and he is merely a "poor player" strutting and fretting, powerless to achieve anything of serious importance. Part of Quentin's mental perturbation arises from his father's deep and unswerving cynicism and nihilism; much of his section is a sort of inner dialogue with his father, in which Quentin hopes to prove his father wrong. In fact, his suicide may be just that—his escape from time—for Mr. Compson has told Quentin that as time passes, Quentin will forget his horror, which is unacceptable to Quentin because forgetting would render his horror meaningless, and so he escapes time in the only way he can, by drowning himself.
The source of Quentin's horror is Caddy. Hearkening back to antebellum views of honor, Southern womanhood, and virginity, Quentin cannot accept his sister's growing sexuality, just as he cannot accept his father's notion that "virginity" is merely an invention by men. Most of his flashbacks concern directly his involvement in Caddy's sexual maturing, but ironically they depict also just how ineffectual Quentin is. In an attempt to restore "honor" to Caddy and to the Compson family, for example, he confronts Dalton Ames, who may be the man who impregnated Caddy, but Quentin is easily overpowered by Ames—and in the present, when he mistakes a fellow student for the adversary of his flashback, Quentin gets beat up. In another incident, Quentin proposes a suicide pact with Caddy, but ultimately he cannot go through with it.
Section 3: "April Sixth, 1928."
Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say. I says you're lucky if her playing out of school is all that worries you. I says she ought to be down there in that kitchen right now, instead of up there in her room, gobbing paint on her face and waiting for six niggers that cant even stand up out of a chair unless they've got a pan full of bread and meat to balance them, to fix breakfast for her.
from The Sound and the Fury
Section three is told by the third Compson brother, Jason, and is set on Good Friday. Unlike his brothers, Jason is much more focused on the present, offering fewer flashbacks, though he does have a few and he refers frequently to events in the past. The tone of Jason's section is set instantly by the opening sentence: "Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say." Jason is a sadist, and his grimly humorous section reveals just how low the Compson family has sunk—from Quentin's obsessions over heritage and honor and sin to Jason's near-constant cruelty, complaints, and scheming.
As earlier in the novel, this section reflects a rough chronological advancement—the focus now is not on Caddy herself (though she does appear in a few flashbacks and she often is the subject of Jason's pointed remarks) but rather on her daughter, Quentin, who came to live with the Compsons following Caddy's divorce and who is now, like Caddy in Quentin's section, entering into adult sexuality. Much of Jason's section is about his trying to track her down when she skips school to be with a man associated with the circus then in town, but for first-time readers of the novel, Jason's section is also probably when the difficulties of Benjy's and Quentin's sections begin to make sense. Among the "discoveries" here are that Quentin drowned himself (the suicide itself was not depicted in Quentin's section), that Benjy is a "gelding," that Caddy was divorced and that her daughter, also named Quentin, has come to live with the Compsons. Other things, too, are revealed more clearly: Mrs. Compson's hypochondria, Mr. Compson's alcoholism and nihilism, and especially, Jason's meanness and greed. For years, Caddy has been sending money to her daughter, and since Mrs. Compson has forbidden Caddy's name from being mentioned in the house, she has likewise forbidden her money. To overcome this hurdle, Jason gives Mrs. Compson duplicates of Caddy's checks (for Mrs. Compson to ceremoniously burn) while he cashes the actual checks and pockets the money, giving little or none of it to his niece.
Section 4: "April Eighth, 1928."
In the midst of the voices and the hands Ben sat, rapt in his sweet blue gaze. Dilsey sat bolt upright beside, crying rigidly and quietly in the annealment and the blood of the remembered Lamb.
from The Sound and the Fury
The fourth and final section is told from an omniscient viewpoint. It is sometimes known as "Dilsey's Section" because of her prominence in this section, but she is not the sole focus in this section—a long sequence follows Jason as he pursues his niece, who has stolen abo