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Research Papers on Symbols in The Sound and the Fury

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As a quintessential piece of American literature, William Faulkner‘s novel, The Sound and the Fury tells the memories of three brothers and their obsession with their sister. There are many symbols in the story to be considered, some of which have a greater purpose in the piece as a whole than do others. One of the most profound is the inclusion of water throughout the course of the novel. Water has long been a symbol for cleansing and purification, and it is no different in this story.

  1. When Caddy plays in the stream as a young girl, it is a symbol of her own purity and innocence.
  2. When she takes the time to wash off her perfume, it is again a symbol of her taking the time to purify herself.
  3. Caddy realizes that when she loses her virginity, using water to purify herself and cleanse herself of sin is simply not an option.
Symbols in The Sound and the Fury

A more subtle symbol throughout the course of the story is that of Quentin’s watch. Quentin is an individual that is obsessed with his memories, and with the past. He is always checking the clock, obsessed with the passage of time. His father gives him the watch in the hopes that it will reduce his dependency on the clock, allowing him to live his life to the fullest. The ticking of the watch always symbolizes the unending passage of time to Quentin, something he tries to escape by breaking the watch. Unfortunately, it continues to tick even after the hands have been snapped, symbolizing the notion that time is out of the control of man, no matter how hard he might try.

Probably the most challenging contrast in Faulkner’s 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury is the significant shifts that occur in the narrative technique Faulkner uses in each of the four main sections of the novel. The reader shifts from Benjy’s stream-of-consciousness narration, in which arbitrary distinctions between time do not exist, to Quentin’s abstract, time-obsessed narrative, to Jason Compson’s wrathful, self-serving, unreliable narration, to the narration provided by an omniscient narrator who focuses on domestic worker Dilsey, the most seemingly balanced character in the entire narrative.

The reader in The Sound and the Fury is jarred in the transition between these highly contrasting narrative techniques. However, although Faulkner experiments boldly with exposition and narration in the text, he does grant the reader the stability afforded by the fact that his four narrators are describing varying interpretations of the same events. By the time that a reader approaches Dilsey’s exceedingly sensible section, that reader is aware of the general events that transpired over Easter weekend of 1928. In this way, Faulkner allows himself broad freedom in contrasting narrative techniques, which he then counterbalances with the underlying similarities in the events and scenes that are described in turn by each narrator.

This represents just one aspect of the complex system of parallels and contrasts that Faulkner constructs throughout The Sound and the Fury. In addition, there are a number of parallels and contrasts between The Sound and the Fury and Faulkner’s subsequent novels. Most notably, Faulkner later resurrects Quentin Compson as one of the narrators of Absalom, Absalom!, although many critics concur in their assertion that the later incarnation of Quentin differs considerably from his narration in The Sound and the Fury.

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