Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 4: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: Narration, Voice, and the Compson Family's New System

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

The third chapter of The Sound and the Fury is told from the perspective of Jason Compson, now the patriarchal head of the family, after his father's death, Quentin's suicide, and Caddy's abandonment of her own daughter (also named Quentin). Jason's new familial system is set against the backdrop of rapid and noticeable change throughout the South in the early 20th century: economic transitions (stock market vs. aristocratic wealth via land and slave holdings), technological shifts (fast cars vs. slow horse/buggies), and social changes (new roles for women and African Americans in the South). Alongside this modernization of society, Jason criticizes what he considers as Mrs. Compson's antiquated "system" of "flesh and blood" family obligations. As the head of the family, Jason is violent, mean, and greedy. His leadership does not bode well for keeping intact the remaining remnants of the Compson family, ultimately indicating the passing of both the Old South at large and its one-time aristocratic families such as the Compsons.

Guiding Questions

  • In what ways does Jason successfully and/or unsuccessfully try to create a 'new system' for the Compson family, of which he is now the symbolic head?
  • In what ways is the Compson family representative of the Old South?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast narrative speakers in The Sound and the Fury
  • Discuss Jason as a representation of the Compson's changing family structure
  • To describe Faulkner's "South" in the context of the historical South and understand how the South was changing socially and economically in the early 20th century

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the curriculum unit overview and the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out any documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • This lesson will cover only chapter three, although students will be expected to read the entire novel closely. If you are using this lesson as a stand-alone lesson, be sure to review with students Activity 1: Introduction to Faulkner's South from the first lesson of this curriculum unit Faulkner's The Sound the Fury: Introduction.
  • Students can access the novel and some of the activity materials via the EDSITEment LaunchPad.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. First-person Point of View: Compare and Contrast

Ask students to compare and contrast the use of first person point of view in the Benjy, Quentin, and Jason chapters. Teachers might consider assigning a one-page reader response paper due the first day of this lesson, so that students are prepared to discuss preliminary ideas in class. In class, students should begin by discussing their general response to this chapter. They most likely will begin to feel more grounded and comfortable discussing the novel's plot. Teachers can use the beginning of class discussion to ensure that students are on the same page in terms of the novel's basic plot. Drawing from students' initial reactions to the chapter and its narrative point of view, teachers might consider using some or all of the following questions to guide discussion:

  • All three chapters so far use the first-person point of view. How is the use of the first person different in each chapter?
  • Does Benjy's first-person narration reveal more about his own character or more about the Compson family?
  • Does Quentin's first-person narrative reveal more about his own character or more about the Compson family (or both)?
  • What about Jason's first-person narration?

As students begin discussing how each narrator differs, as well as the similarities they share, ask students to help complete the chart (available here as a PDF) on a black/whiteboard (save the completed chart for use in Lesson Four, where students will complete the chart by filling in the "Dilsey" section). Note: this chart can serve as an effective substitute for the reaction essay suggested above as an at-home exercise.

Activity 2. Narrative Structure and Characterization

Students will review several key passages from this chapter that help to describe Jason as a character in relation to the Compson family and its "new system." The focus of this activity is the relationship between narrative structure (form) and characterization (content).

Key passages include the following:

  • I saw red. When I recognised that red tie, after all I had told her, I forgot about everything. I never thought about my head even until I came to the first forks and had to stop. Yet we spend money and spend money on roads and dam if it isn't like trying to drive over a sheet of corrugated iron roofing. I'd like to know how a man could be expected to keep up with even a wheelbarrow. I think too much of my car; I'm not going to hammer it to pieces like it was a ford. Chances were they had stolen it, anyway, so why should they give a dam. Like I say blood always tells. If you've got blood like that in you, you'll do anything. I says whatever claim you believe she has on you has already been discharged; I says from now on you have only yourself to blame because you know what any sensible person would do. I says if I've got to spend half my time being a dam detective, at least I'll go where I can get paid for it.

    Note to Teacher: This passage illustrates how Faulkner's noticeably shorter and direct sentences quicken the pace of the novel, reflecting Jason's own hot-headedness and fast-paced actions (symbolized by his car, and his obsession with it, and his seeing "red"). First ask students to think about the pacing and tone of the sentences - how does that shape Jason's character in their mind? Ask students to consider the symbolism of the color red itself (Jason's literal and figurative "I saw red," as well as the red family blood, etc).
  • I'll be damned if they dont dress like they were trying to make every man they passed on the street want to reach out and clap his hand on it. And so I was thinking what kind of a dam man would wear a red tie when all of a sudden I knew he was one of those show folks well as if she'd told me. Well, I can stand a lot; if I couldn't dam if I wouldn't be in a hell of a fix, so when they turned the corner I jumped down and followed. Me, without any hat, in the middle of the afternoon, having to chase up and down back alleys because of my mother's good name. Like I say you cant do anything with a woman like that, if she's got it in her. If it's in her blood, you cant do anything with her. The only thing you can do is to get rid of her, let her go on and live with her own sort.

    I went on to the street, but they were out of sight. And there I was, without any hat, looking like I was crazy too. Like a man would naturally think, one of them is crazy and another one drowned himself and the other one was turned out into the street by her husband, what's the reason the rest of them are not crazy too. All the time I could see them watching me like a hawk, waiting for a chance to say Well I'm not surprised I expected it all the time the whole family's crazy. Selling land to send him to Harvard and paying taxes to support a state University all the time that I never saw except twice at a baseball game and not letting her daughter's name be spoken on the place until after a while Father wouldn't even come down town anymore but just sat there all day with the decanter I could see the bottom of his nightshirt and his bare legs and hear the decanter clinking until finally T.P. had to pour it for him and she says You have no respect for your Father's memory and I says I dont know why not it sure is preserved well enough to last only if I'm crazy too

    Note to Teacher: This passage reveals Jason's temper. His concern about not having on a hat is tied to his attempt at upholding the family's image and once good name. His reference to Quentin's (Caddy's daughter's) blood indicates his belief that Quentin inherited her mother's disrespect for the Compson name and social standing (albeit a declining standing). Jason's violence and meanness toward Quentin throughout this chapter suggests that he symbolically regards her as the embodiment of the decaying Compson family. Not only does she represent Caddy; she represents Quentin as well. The second paragraph suggests that Jason believes that he is the only hope for the family. This paragraph provides a clear summary of the novel's course of events, which most likely have been unclear until the Jason chapter, especially until this passage.

As you review these sample passages (and other key passages of your own selection), ask students the following questions about each passage:

  • What 2-3 adjectives best describe Jason in this passage?
  • What effect does Jason have at this point in the novel on the unfolding plot?
  • What effect does Jason have at this point in the novel on the other characters?

Then lead a general discussion about this chapter, using the following guiding questions:

  • What kind of new system does Jason envision for the Compson family?
  • How does this system differ from the Compson family as presented by Benjy and Quentin?
  • Does Jason succeed in creating this new Compson family system? Why or why not?
Activity 3. The Changing South

Not only does the Jason chapter reveal the final stages of the Compson's family's decline, but it also portrays the changing South-economically (stock market vs. aristocratic wealth via land and slave holdings); technologically (fast cars vs. slow horse/buggies); and socially (new roles for women and African-Americans in the South). Divide students into small groups to explore these topics (assigning two groups for each topic if necessary). Each group will conduct online research related to one of the following topics. Mention to students that each group will present to the class at large a 5-to-10-minute overview of the topic and its relevance to the Jason chapter and the novel in general. Students can access the novel and some of the activity materials via the EDSITEment LaunchPad.

  • Blood/The Old South: The significance of flesh and blood and the importance of Southern family heritage. First ask students to review the Compson family tree from the EDSITEment-reviewed University of Mississippi "William Faulkner on the Web." Then ask this group to read pages 20 through 34 of "The Old South" from the EDSITEment-reviewed University of North Carolina's "Documenting the American South." After reviewing this editorial, students should answer the following questions.

    This Old South aristocracy was of threefold structure - it was an aristocracy of wealth, of blood, and of honor. It was not the wealth of the shoddy aristocracy that here and there, even in the New South, has forced itself into notice and vulgarly flaunts its acquisitions. It came by inheritance of generations chiefly, as with the nobility of England and France. Only in the aristocracy of the Old World could there be found a counterpart to the luxury, the ease and grace of inherited wealth, which characterized the ruling class of the Old South. There were no gigantic fortunes as now, and wealth was not increased or diminished by our latter-day methods of speculation or prodigal and nauseating display. The ownership of a broad plantation, stately country and city homes, of hundreds of slaves, of accumulations of money and bonds, passed from father to children for successive generations. (20-21)

    […]

    His aristocracy of wealth was as nothing compared to his aristocracy of blood. An old family name that had held its place in the social and political annals of his State for generations was a heritage vastly dearer to him than wealth. Back to the gentle-blooded Cavaliers who came to found this Western world, he delighted to trace his ancestry. There could be no higher honor to him than to link his name with the men who had planted the tree of liberty and made possible a great republic. (24)

    • What is the significance of "blood" in this editorial?
    • What five adjectives describe aristocratic individuals of the Old South?
    • How did many southern aristocrats accumulate wealth? How does this differ from the wealth of the New South?
    • What issues were important to them?
    • How does this writer describe the African-American servants for families of the Old South?
    • Can you compare and contrast this editorial's description of African-American servants to Dilsey and the other members of the Gibson family?
    • How did many southern aristocrats accumulate wealth?
    • How is the Compson family's sale of Benjy's pasture symbolic?
    • What effect(s) did this sale have on the Compson family and Jason's place within that family?

    Read from page 30, beginning:
    "SIDE by side with the aristocrat, waiting deferentially to do his bidding, with a grace and courtliness hardly surpassed by his master, I place the negro servant of the Old South"

    to this concluding paragraph on page 33:
    "Whenever you find a negro whose education comes not from books and college only, but from the example and home teaching and training of his white master and mistress, you will generally find one who speaks the truth, is honest, self-respecting and self-restraining, docile and reverent, and always the friend of the Southern white gentleman and lady. Here and there in the homes of the New South these graduates from the school of slavery are to be found in the service of old families and their descendants, and the relationship is one of peculiar confidence and affection

    • How does this writer describe the African-American servants for families of the Old South?
    • What is your impression of this writer’s view of African-Americans and what he thinks of their role in society?
    • Can you compare and contrast this editorial’s description of African-American servants to Dilsey and the other members of the Gibson family?
  • Jason's Greed: Not only was Jason stealing the money Caddy sent for Quentin by cashing the checks for himself; he was "speculating" (i.e., gambling) at the Western Union on the cotton stock market. Ask students to review the following passage:

    "Keep still," I says. "I'll get it." I went up stairs and got the bank book out of her desk and went back to town. I went to the bank and deposited the check and the money order and the other ten, and stopped at the telegraph office. It was one point above the opening. I had already lost thirteen points, all because she had to come helling in there at twelve, worrying me about that letter.
    "What time did that report come in?" I says. "About an hour ago," he says.
    "An hour ago?" I says. "What are we paying you for?" I says. "Weekly reports? How do you expect a man to do anything? The whole dam top could blow off and we'd not know it."
    "I dont expect you to do anything," he says. "They changed that law making folks play the cotton market."
    "They have?" I says. "I hadn't heard. They must have sent the news out over the Western Union."
    I went back to the store. Thirteen points. Dam if I believe anybody knows anything about the dam thing except the ones that sit back in those New York offices and watch the country suckers come up and beg them to take their money. Well, a man that just calls shows he has no faith in himself, and like I say if you aren't going to take the advice, what's the use in paying money for it. Besides, these people are right up there on the ground; they know everything that's going on. I could feel the telegram in my pocket. I'd just have to prove that they were using the telegraph company to defraud. That would constitute a bucket shop. And I wouldn't hesitate that long, either. Only be damned if it doesn't look like a company as big and rich as the Western Union could get a market report out on time. Half as quick as they'll get a wire to you saying Your account closed out. But what the hell do they care about the people. They're hand in glove with that New York crowd. Anybody could see that

Next ask students to explore the following links related to the New York Stock Exchange, From the EDSITEment-reviewed America's Library:

Students should consider the following questions:

  • How does an investor make money in the stock market?
  • How was Jason trying to make money?
  • What risks are involved in investing in the stock market?
  • What is the difference between wealth gained via the stock market and wealth via land ownership?
  • What is Jason's job?
  • Jason's Symbolic Car: Turn to the EDSITEment-reviewed Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History's virtual exhibition "America on the Move." Explore in particular the following chapters of the exhibition:
    • "Americans Adopt the Automobile"
    • The "Road Improvements" paragraph
    • Images of 1920s automobiles

      Students should consider the following questions:
    • How would you describe Jason's relationship with his car?
    • What is the relationship between the car and Jason's sense of his own manliness?
    • What is significant about the fact that Jason's car (the gasoline) gives him headaches (consider that Jason is the new "head" of the family)? What about the fact that he cannot drive his own car back after chasing Quentin and the circus performer?
    • How would you compare Jason's car to the car driving by Gerald's mother in the Quentin chapter (1910)? Describe Gerald's background.
  • African-Americans in the Old and New South: The Sound and the Fury is set during the time of Jim Crow laws, which legally maintained segregation and generated racism and Southern white hatred toward African Americans. This group will explore the following resources as they consider the transition from the Old South to the New South.
  • Have each student group present each topic to the full class. Wrap up this activity with a general class discussion, guided by the following questions:

    • How would you compare Jason's obsession with money and his car to Southern aristocratic wealth?
    • How would you describe the pace of the 1910 Quentin chapter in contrast to the pace of the 1928 Jason chapter? What is significant about these differences in relation to the changing South at large?
    • How does the setting differ between the present 1928 Jason chapter and all recollections (in the Benjy and Quentin chapters) of the Compson children's childhoods?

    Assessment

    • Ask students to create a reading journal, noting details such as Faulkner's use of narrative structure/time, narrative voice/point of view, form, and character. In this journal, students should cite passages and raise questions for class discussion. Collect the journal at the end of the curriculum unit.
    • Ask students to note the major events detailed throughout the Jason chapter and arrange them chronologically. Students can update the timeline as they continue the novel.
    • Students may write a brief essay or reading journal entry on one of the following questions, citing at least three examples from the text:
      • How does Jason's pace and sense of time differ from that of Benjy and Quentin?
      • What are some major differences between 1928 (the time of Jason's chapter) and 1910 (the time of Quentin's chapter)? What do those differences reflect about the Compsons and their home in the South?

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Time Required

    1-2 class periods

    Subject Areas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
    Skills
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Literary analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Online research
    • Using primary sources
    Authors
    • Kellie Tabor-Hann (AL)

    Resources

    Activity Worksheets
    Student Resources
    Media