Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.
The Sound and the Fury perhaps best gains clarity and meaning in its final chapter, which uniquely is narrated in the third person, omniscient narrative style. The final chapter, often referred to as the "Dilsey chapter" maintains a present, linear narrative that begins to shed light on the events of the preceding three chapters.
Although Benjy frames the novel, it is Dilsey who says in this chapter, "'I seed de beginning, en now I sees de endin.'" The Dilsey chapter literally brings with it the "endin'" of the "tale told by an idiot" and the "endin'" of the Compson family as it once was (i.e., an aristocratic Southern family). Prompting students to analyze the Dilsey chapter, this lesson helps students to gain an understanding of The Sound and the Fury's far-reaching place within a socially changing South. The very structure of the Old South has given rise to an emerging New South, in which the Compson family—and all the aristocratic Southern families it symbolizes—are left broken without hope of repair.
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
As preparation for class discussion, or as an in-class activity, ask students to revisit the completed point of view chart from Lesson Three, and complete the columns for the Dilsey chapter.
Then, ask students to compare and contrast the use of first person point of view in either the Benjy, Quentin, and Jason chapters and the use of a third person omniscient narrator in the final chapter (teachers might ask that students write about this in their reading journals, or use this comparison as the opening for a class discussion). Consider asking students some or all of the following questions:
Collect the worksheets at the end of this activity.
In class, students will also discuss their general response to this chapter. The use of the omniscient third person not only helps to shed light on the novel's basic plot, it helps to reveal key themes as well. To bring students closer to understanding the novel's primary themes, ask students to develop one thesis statement detailing a theme of the novel. Their thesis should be supported by three or four quotes from the novel, which they should copy into their reading journal for easy reference during class discussion.
In the final paragraph of the novel proper (not including Faulkner's 1946 Appendix), Faulkner writes:
Ben's voice roared and roared. Queenie moved again, her feet began to clop-clop steadily again, and at once Ben hushed. Luster looked quickly back over his shoulder, then he drove on. The broken flower drooped over Ben's fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.
The novel, therefore, brings us full circle to Benjy, who sees the world in black/white, clear-cut terms based on what object passes his line of vision at any given moment. In this final scene, Jason has ordered Luster and Benjy to "'Get to hell on home'" from the square where the "Confederate soldier gazed with empty eyes."
From Benjy's black/white perspective of the world—a perspective that generates meaning externally as objects literally pass by Benjy's line of vision—each element of the approaching house's façade has an "ordered place." While the Compson house and the other aristocratic houses encountered along the way seem sturdy and stable, inside each one families such as the Compson's are in turmoil. Seeing the ordered house from the outside, readers, at the novel's end, realize that the Compson family has reached it final point of decline. And it is Dilsey who says ""I seed de beginning, en now I sees de endin."
Now that students also can see the end of the novel, ask them to think about the different ways that Faulkner uses time. Ask each student (or group of students) to quickly draw up a timeline of events. If they have been keeping track of a timeline as part of the Assessment activities, they can refer to that assignment instead. As students share their chronologies, they should eventually describe the three ways that Faulkner structures time in The Sound and the Fury:
Share this 2D graph of Chronological and Narrative time, available as part of the supporting materials from the hypertext edition of The Sound and the Fury, available via the EDSITEment reviewed Internet Public Library. This graph shows that Chronological time in the novel puts Benjy's beginning chapter in the middle of Easter weekend (April 7), preceded by Jason (April 6) and followed by the narrator of the fourth chapter (April 8) on Easter Sunday. As the note on the graph indicates, Faulkner then situates the action of the novel in medias res, or "into the middle of things" by beginning with Benjy's chapter.
Next, turn to the 3D graph of Time, also available from the hypertext edition of The Sound and the Fury. Note the blue line, which reveals that amount of time each character spends in reflection on the past through memories and flashbacks. Easter Sunday is when Dilsey declares that now she "sees de endin."
To reconnect this broad overview to the specific chapter discussions, ask students to recall earlier discussions of memory and time and compare how characters spend their time in reflection:
Taking into consideration the following quotes, lead a class discussion to wrap up the novel (guiding questions follow quotes). An instructor can either lead a general class discussion, or pass a quotation out to groups with guiding questions as a small group activity.
'You'd better do as he [Jason] says,' Mrs. Compson said. 'He's head of the house now. It's his right to require us to respect his wishes.'"
"You, Jason!" Mrs Compson said. "He will never find the right one," she said. "You know I never let anyone take my keys, Dilsey," she said. She began to wail.
"Hush," Dilsey said. "He aint gwine do nothin to her. I aint gwine let him."
"But on Sunday morning, in my own house," Mrs Compson said. "When I've tried so hard to raise them christians. Let me find the right key, Jason," she said. She put her hand on his arm. Then she began to struggle with him, but he flung her aside with a motion of his elbow and looked around at her for a moment, his eyes cold and harried, then he turned to the door again and the unwieldy keys.
"Hush," Dilsey said. "You, Jason!"
"Something terrible has happened," Mrs Compson said, wailing again. "I know it has. You, Jason," she said, grasping at him again. "He wont even let me find the key to a room in my own house!"
"Now, now," Dilsey said. "Whut kin happen? I right here. I aint gwine let him hurt her. Quentin," she said, raising her voice, "dont you be skeered, honey, I'se right here."
The door opened, swung inward. He stood in it for a moment, hiding the room, then he stepped aside. "Go in," he said in a thick, light voice. They went in. It was not a girl's room. It was not anybody's room, and the faint scent of cheap cosmetics and the few feminine objects and the other evidences of crude and hopeless efforts to feminise it but added to its anonymity, giving it that dead and stereotyped transience of rooms in assignation houses. The bed had not been disturbed. On the floor lay a soiled undergarment of cheap silk a little too pink, from a half open bureau drawer dangled a single stocking. The window was open. A pear tree grew there, close against the house. It was in bloom and the branches scraped and rasped against the house and the myriad air, driving in the window, brought into the room the forlorn scent of the blossoms.
"Dar now," Dilsey said. "Didn't I told you she all right?"
"All right?" Mrs Compson said. Dilsey followed her into the room and touched her.
"You come on and lay down, now," she said. "I find her in ten minutes."
"The clock tick-tocked, solemn and profound. It might have been the dry pulse of the decaying house itself, after a while it whirred and cleared its throat and struck six times."
"Jason told him, his sense of injury and impotence feeding upon its own sound, so that after a time he forgot his haste in the violent cumulation of his self justification and his outrage."
"Of his niece he did not think at all, nor of the arbitrary valuation of money. Neither of them had had entity or individuality from him for ten years: together they merely symbolised the job in the bank of which he had been deprived before he ever got it."
"He [Jason] sat there for some time. He heard a clock strike the half hour, then people began to pass, in Sunday and easter clothes. Some looked at him as they passed, at the man sitting quietly behind the wheel of a small car, with his invisible life ravelled out about him like a wornout sock, and went on."
Guiding questions for class discussion:
Assessment for the whole curriculum unit:
Assign a formal essay in which students will answer one of the following questions. Each essay should be written as an argument that is supported by key passages from the novel.
Deliberate obscurity, or as Conrad Aiken once said of Faulkner's work, "deliberately withheld meaning," forces the reader to unravel the novel's events over time, rendering plot less essential than character. Benjy's chapter provides hints and glimpses into the life of the family over the years as Benjy remembers them. In later chapters, the narrative for each chapter is more straightforward, allowing the reader to see how certain events occur sequentially. Caddy, however, never speaks for herself throughout the entire novel, even though she is a key character—perhaps the key character of the novel. Caddy is an enigma, to her brothers and to her readers, yet she is perhaps the most (tragically) heroic of the Compsons—certainly more so than the tragic Quentin (Chapter 2) or the rather villainous Jason (Chapter 3). Caddy escapes the South, although readers discover that she ultimately finds herself mixed up in a much more historically Modern problem.
With this context in mind, ask students to write part of a "Caddy Chapter" in the first person (4-5 pages). Students should include an introductory paragraph that explains how and why they are using the first person throughout the chapter, and their "Caddy Chapter" should unfold the same plot as presented throughout the novel via Caddy's imagined perspective.
1-2 class periods