Close Reading: The Sound and the Fury
One primary thematic concern that William Faulkner possessed was that of time, which is marked by two extremes: Benjy, who is unaffected by time, and Quentin, who is obsessed with time and who literally lives and dies by the hold that this obsession has over him. A second thematic concern present in this story is that of the inability of the family members to connect with each other, particularly the inability of the self-absorbed parents to connect with their children due to the changes in their society. This particular scene is linked to both of these themes in that Quentin spends the limited time that he has left by remembering his parents and the emotions connected with them.
This passage opens and closes with Quentin’s act of turning off the light. His parents appear in his thoughts once the darkness engulfs him. The darkness is personified and touching his face “like someone breathing asleep” (Faulkner 172) and it is a dreamlike state into which he enters. Rather than being comforted by this memory of his parents, he sees them as if they are on display, almost like wax figures. As he looks in on these figures, some dichotomies emerge: he is surrounded by darkness, while his parents are surrounded by light. Quentin is alone, while his parents are united. There is also the image of “the bellowing hammering away like no place for it in silence” (Faulkner 173). This series of dichotomies could represent Quentin’s cognitive dissonance. He is feeling lost, confused, and alone. He is both the frightened childe and the frightened adult, facing a situation he does not understand.
In this scene, Quentin compares his parents to an illustration in a book that he had as a child. The illustration depicted two faces, illuminated by a weak light that shines on them. He remembers this picture as being “torn out, jagged out” (Faulkner 173). Lost in his personal darkness; however, Quentin remembers his parents as being united in a similar weak light. They present an unmoving tableau, similar to the remembered illustration, his mother in a familiar pose with a handkerchief soaked in camphor and his father passively holding her hand as Quentin observes them. Just as the picture was torn and jagged, removed from the book in which it appeared, Quentin feels disconnected from his parents by a rift that he can’t repair.
However, the united front his parents present is a weak one, just as his parents are weak. His mother’s power comes only from self-created fantasies of times already past or of times that never existed. Quentin states that “she was never a queen or a fairy she was always a king or a giant or a general” (Faulkner 173), desiring masculine power that she will never be able to attain. Weakness and light are also united in this passage. In addition to his mother’s unattainable desires, his parents are bathed in a weak light, which can not reach him as he stares up at them. Despite this weakness, his mother holds him captive in the darkness of his personal dungeon from which Quentin feels that he can not escape.
However, Quentin’s parents are united against more than simply him. This fact becomes apparent when he refers to “us lost somewhere below them without even a ray of light (Faulkner 173). Just who that “us” might be becomes apparent when the smell of honeysuckle enters the room, forcing him to gasp for breath as it overpowers him. This scent is a recurring symbol of the virginal Caddy, with whom Quentin has become obsessed. Despite this association with the virginal Caddy, the scent comes to him in almost orgasmic waves “building and building until [he] would have to pant to get any air at all out of it” (Faulkner 173). It is probable that this passage refers to Quentin’s other obsessive fantasy, of having committed incest with her.
The passage ends as the feeling of powerlessness engulfs him, as he realizes that he has no more control over the situation now than he did as a child. He knows that his only way to escape his hopelessness is through the “unseen” door, which will eventually lead to his suicide.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. City of Publication: Publishing house, DATE.