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On ‘The Sound and the Fury’ – Jason Compson

While Jason is certainly the least sympathetic of the compson siblings, I find find it difficult to truly hate him. By his section of the novel, April 6 1928, he’s grown into a misogynist, a racist, an anti-semite. A hateful, bitter man who has no love for his family and is only interested in money. But it’s important to note the circumstances which led Jason to become this character.

He was the only Compson child that recieved anything resembling affection from their mother, but that is perhaps more a curse than a blessing. Caroling was both smothering and neglectful to Jason. Her professed love for him was littler more than overbearing and sometimes tiflinf verbal affection. She failed to truly behave affectionately toward him, and as for raising him, she treated him no differently than her other children. They were all mostly left to Dilsey to raise.

Jason, the youngest Compson child, other than Benjy, his idiot brother, was also not given the opportunities that were given to his older siblings. Their father sold Benjy’s pasture to pay for a year of Harvard for Quentin and to pay for Caddy’s wedding to Herbert Head. No such arrangements were even attempted for Jason’s future. And what’s more, his siblings, in his eyes, wasted these opportunities that were given to them. Quentin killed himself after his year at Harvard, wasting both the money and the education, and Caddy’s promiscuity destroyed her marriage, in turn ruining the only advantage Jason was ever given, the job at the bank which Herbert offered to him. When Herbert realized that Caddy’s daughter had come to early and could not be his, he cast off his wife and her family, and Jason’s chance at a job at the bank was gone. Jason resents the fact that his siblingers wasted the opportunities that he was never even given, and he especially resents Caddy, believing that her actions directly destroyed the only opportunity he had ever been given (though he fails to realize he never would have had the opportunity in the first place had it not been for Caddy).

This contempt for his dead and estranged siblings is the cause of his hostility toward his niece, Miss Quentin. The fact that she bears his brother’s name is a constant reminder of the wasted money spent on Quentin’s college career. And the simple fact that she came from Caddy makes her a constant reminder of his sister’s faults and mistakes. The very existance of Miss Quentin infuriates Jason. If she had never existed, if she hadn’t been born illegitimately, ruining Caddy’s marriage, Jason never would have lost his promised job (though, again, he fails to realize that Caddy probably never would have married Herbert in the first place had she not been pregnant.) Jason is also of the mindset “like mother, like daughter”. He believe Quentin is just like her mother even before she’s an adult. He assumes the worst of her for the beginning, from the time he started raising her, so in a a way, he made her the way she is through his expectations.

Jason has such a rage against Caddy. In his mind, her promiscuity is the cause of all his problems. Each Compson brother is preoccupied with Caddy’s promiscuity and virtue, but Jason’s obsession with it is much more selfish than Quentin’s and Benjy’s. And, as Miss Quentin is the product of that promiscuity, and since he merely sees him as a stand in for Caddy, she is the outlet for all of Jason’s rage, the rage he’s been building up for 17 years.

Jason’s life is based entirely on the disappointment of his family. He, the youngest, other than a mentally retarded brother, is left as head of the family, since his older brother has killed himself and his older sister has been cast off by her husband. His father drank himself to death, leaving the family in Jason’s hands. The family that had already been ruined by the time Jason claimed the title of head of the family. He, who was more or less forgotten among the mistakes and failures of his older siblings, who lost all opportunities to those who wasted them, was suddenly left with the burden of taking care of the fallen family, of raising his sister’s bastard child. He was isolated from the world before he even began. He was left in that house with his overbearing, suffocating, self-pitying mother, his sister’s illigitimate child, and constant reminder of his lost opportunity, and a mentally incompetant brother, to provide for and care for.

Though, his cruelty is noticable in their childhood scenes. Like both of his brothers, Jason is preoccupied with Caddy, but where Benjy’s and Quentin’s preoccupations are affectionate, Jason’s is almost purely malicious, based entirely on getting her into trouble and generally disapproving of her behavior. He also maliciously cuts up Benjy and Caddy’s paper dolls just to be mean. It’s often said that Caddy is the outsider of the family, but really Jason is. He fails to form a bond, which all his siblings share with each other, and even his father seems to care for him less than he does for Caddy, Quentin, and Benjy. Even at a young age, he victimizes himself, despite his cruelty, believing that it’s the others who re being cruel to him. While we never get an account of Jason’s childhood behavior from Caddy, we know what she thinks of him, and what she thought of them when they were children, when he asks her is she trusts him, and she says, “No, I know you, I grew up with you.”

The only thing Jason seems to show any feeling for is money. It’s easy to see that the comfort he lacks from his family he finds in money. Perhaps he’s so obsessed with is because he came so close to having it and then was denied it. It’s his only love, and he’s definitely comforted by it. Just looking at it assuages his guilt. After Caddy’s paid him to see her daughter and Jason pulls a dirty trick by just letting her glance at Quentin as they ride by in a carriage, he counts the money and decides he “didn’t feel so bad”. He figures Caddy owes him money anyway, for ruining his chance at a job in the bank. This leads him to steal the money that she sends for Quentin for 17 years.

Basically, 17 years of raising his sister’s bastard child – the living, breathing symbol of the lost opportunities of Jason’s life – has left him to turn into a bitter and hateful man, who is obsessed with seeing the past in the present. Like Quentin, he’s obsessed with time, but in a different way. While Quentin was obsessed with stopping time completely, Jason can’t let go of time. His obsession lies in reliving the past through the present. All of his thoughts, his rages against Miss Quentin, of his discontent with his , always have twinges of the past in them, whether it be of Caddy, their father, or their family’s history.

Jason may be the least likable and and sympathetic Compson child, he’s that way for a reason. A forgotten son, given chances or opportunities, left as the last one to care for the mess of the Compson family. He’s left alone to shoulder the mistakes of his siblings, his parents, and his family.

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Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: THE Great American Novel

What exactly is the great American novel? It’s definitely a popular (and sometimes heated) point of discussion in literary circles. What even makes a novel “the great american novel”?

I think, overall, it’s pretty simple. The concept of the great American novel is one that captures the feeling and spirit of America. Generally by perfectly capturing a moment in time and how that moment has effected the country over the years.

There are a lot of titles thrown around for the title. Moby Dick. The Scarlett Letter. Catcher In the Rye. The Grapes of Wrath. On the Road. To Kill a Mockingbird. Slaughterhouse Five.

So what do I think is the Great American Novel. Well, read the title of the post.

It’s Faulkner’s compelling masterpiece The Sound and the Fury.

Faulkner captured the south like no writer ever captured any location. Southern United Stated, post Civil war, is treated with a certain feeling of nostalgia, which blends and binds together with the heartache of a declining set of values and sophistication. In The Sound and the Fury, the Compson family represents all that. With its heavy use of time and memory, it captures the nostalgia perfectly. But with its mentally and emotionally destroyed characters, it portrays the traditional south’s downfall.

It’s certainly not an easy novel to get into. The first section introduces us to Benjy, the youngest Compson child. The story is narrated by him, and is fractured, sometimes frustrating and difficult to follow, with disorienting shifts in time and strange word associations that might take a while to really understand. But this is what Faulkner perfected. This isn’t just a character telling a story. We are truly and completely inside Benjy’s head. He’s mentally disabled, and Faulkner’s writing captures that beautifully. It’s interesting that Faulkner opens the book with Benjy’s POV. He is mentally disabled, by because of that he’s probably the most pure of the narrators. The way he sees the other characters, mainly his siblings, is probably the most accurate view of them we get. In this section, we get our first glances of Caddy, who is the true hero of the story, despite the fact that she doesn’t narrate any of the story herself. She is the protagonist of the story, but we see her constantly through the eyes of her brothers, the way they see her. Perhaps that’s why Faulkner opened with Benjy’s side of things. We need to see the truest and purest look at Caddy so we can truly believe and see her as the hero. Benjy witnesses Caddy’s faults and her promiscuity, which becomes the focus for much of the book, but most importantly, he witnesses her compassion. She is the only one who truly cares for her youngest brother. We see the conflict of Caddy’s behavior, which is further developed in the next section.

The second section takes place nearly 20 years before all the other sections, and is narrated by Quinten, the first born Compson child. The focus of this section is almost entirely on Quinten’s obsession with his sister and her promiscuity.  His relationship with Caddy is extremely complicated. The two are best friends, but his fixation on her virginity drives him mad. He’s obsessed with keeping her pure, in line with his idea of the perfect Southern woman, even though his own father discourages the idea and seems unconcerned by his only daughter’s promiscuous ways. Caddy’s sexual activity leads to a pregnancy. Quinten fights the man who impregnated his sister, almost as though he believes fighting for her honor will make the shame and the unborn child go away. Then, in some idea of wiping away the shame of all the men Caddy’s had sex with, he tries to convince their father that it was he who took his sister’s virginity, that they’ve been involved in an incestuous relationship, but his father doesn’t believe him. This leads to a whole new layer in Quinten’s obsession with his sister’s virtue. He tells his father he wishes he was the one who took Caddy’s virginity, and it seems that it’s more than just a desire to remove her shame. He has the idea that if they confessed to a (false) incestuous relationship that they could leave town (with Benjy) and live alone together. Even years before Caddy’s pregnancy, we see a scene when Quinten is fooling around with his girlfriend. Caddy interrupts, and all of Quinten’s attention is on her. The siblings use their lovers to make each other jealous. There’s definitely a sexual tenstion between the two, which comes through clearly on two points: when they fight in the mud after Caddy has interrupted Quinten and his girlfirend, and when he suggest the kill themselves when he finds out she’s had sex with Dalton Ames. The two lie on the ground, with Quinten holding a knife to Caddy’s neck, saying he’ll kill her then himself, and Caddy numbly agrees.  Their position on the ground, with Quinten laying on top of her, leading to him sobbing into her chest, makes the scene filled with sexual tension and frustration between the two. Even when Caddy finds a way to possibly remove the shame, by marrying a man and having him believe he’s the father of the baby, Quinten can’t accept it. He doesn’t approve of Caddy’s choice, despite her insistance that she has to marry somebody, because he wishes to be the one to remove her shame, just as he wished he had been the one to take her virginity. Eventually, Caddy’s husband discovers the child is not his, divorces her, and Caddy becomes estranged from the family. The entire ordeal of struggling over Caddy’s promiscuity, his incestuous feelings for her, and his heartbreaks of her being estranged from the family, drives him out of his mind and he eventually kills himself.

To Be Continued….

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