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AMST 246: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
- Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Part IV
Professor Wai Chee Dimock closes her reading of The Sound and the Fury by reading section four–the section related by an omniscient narrator–through Luster and Dilsey, the two black characters whose personal and racial histories are woven into the history of the Compson family. Luster and Dilsey’s centrality to the final section of the novel, particularly their interactions with the Reverent Shegog on Easter Sunday, transform The Sound and the Fury into a story of redemption; they reconstitute a sense of community whose loss is mourned in Jason’s section. Professor Dimock concludes by reading the final scene of section four–Jason’s taking over of the horse Queenie from Luster’s control–as Jason’s brief and heroic redemption, the only respite that Faulkner grants Jason in the course of the novel.
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Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
AMST 246 - Lecture 9 - Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Part IV
Chapter 1. Why Not Caddy? [00:00:00]
Professor Wai Chee Dimock: We’re coming to the final section of The Sound and the Fury. I think a question that would have to arise for everyone is why isn’t Caddy the person to be telling the story in section four? It would seem logical. Each of her three brothers gets to tell the story in one section, so it would seem logical that Caddy should be the narrator in section four. This is not a choice that Faulkner makes, so we have to think about why he decides against using Caddy as the narrator. I can just say that to us, it might seem as if it would be good to have a woman’s voice in that last section. If the missing point of view has been missing so far, how it feels to be Caddy, it certainly would have restored a more balanced gender dynamics to The Sound and the Fury. I think that those are the reasons that one would argue for having Caddy as the narrator. And I would encourage you to think about that in your section, to have a discussion on this point, whether you would prefer to have Caddy as a narrator.
But in today’s lecture, I’d like to explore Faulkner’s reasons for deciding against having Caddy as a narrator and the choice that he does make, which is to have not a first-person singular, not an “I” telling the story in section four, but instead to have omniscient narration told from an outside point of view. And I would argue that this narrative choice on Faulkner’s part is also mapped onto a thematic emphasis on a collectivity, on a communal voice. So it’s not one person’s point of view, but instead a group of people, their interrelations and what emerges from that collectivity.
Chapter 2. The Appendix to The Sound and the Fury [00:02:11]
In thinking about these questions, I think it’s useful to go back a little bit to the publication history of The Sound and the Fury. As you guys know, the first edition came out in 1929, the same year as the crash, as we saw last time. And in 1946, Random House decided to bring out The Portable Faulkner, edited by an influential author and critic, Malcolm Cowley, who was also a big fan of Faulkner.
So Malcolm Cowley was just editing this Portable Faulkner, which turned out to be a very successful edition. It was used a lot. And this is the 1946 edition of The Portable Faulkner. It really announces the importance of Faulkner. He’s the kind of author about whom you would have a portable something edition. It was a great thing for Faulkner.
And in preparation for The Portable Faulkner, he decided to write an appendix to The Sound and the Fury to be included in The Portable Faulkner. And this is what he said to Malcolm Cowley before it came out, October 1945, about the appendix.
m”I should have done this when I wrote the book. Then the whole thing would have fallen into pattern like a jigsaw puzzle when the magician’s wand touched it.”
That’s the degree of importance that he would attach to the appendix, although it seems– he was writing in 1945, almost 20 years after the original The Sound and the Fury– he had a somewhat changed idea about the novel. His recollection of the novel seemed a bit skewed, even to Malcolm Cowley. So Cowley wrote back to him, even made Xeroxes of the original The Sound and the Fury just to remind him what was in the original novel and asked if he would consider revising the appendix a little bit in light of what he’d actually written in The Sound and the Fury. But Faulkner wouldn’t have any of that. He would stick to his appendix.
And not only that, the same year, Random House decided to bring out a dual edition of The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. We’ll be reading As I Lay Dying a little bit later on. In 1946, those two were brought out in a single dual edition under the Modern Library imprint, which is a cheaper paperback edition of Random House Books. So it came out in the Modern Library edition. And in preparation for that, Faulkner was also very emphatic that the appendix should be in there.
This is what he wrote to Robert Linscott, senior editor at Random House, the beginning of 1946.
“When you read it, the appendix, you will see how it is the key to the whole book. And after reading it, the four sections as they stand now fall into clarity and place. When you issue the book, print this appendix first and title it, ‘Appendix.’ Then continue with the sections as they now are. Be sure and print the appendix first.”
Faulkner really has very strange ideas about the importance of the appendix that seem a little dubious even to his devoted fan, Malcolm Cowley. And the appendix was in fact included in the 1946 Modern Library edition. And it was included in many editions of The Sound and the Fury all through the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s. In the ’80s, editors started taking it out. And so in our edition, as you can see, there’s no appendix in our edition, the Vintage edition, which is also published by Random House.
But just for your reference, I will post the appendix onto our website so you will see for yourself whether Faulkner has a point, whether it is, in fact, the key to The Sound and the Fury. But once again, remember that lots of people actually had reservations about the appendix, so don’t think that it is, in fact, the key to the novel.
Chapter 3. Caddy in the Appendix [00:06:47]
But the appendix does tell us quite a bit about how Faulkner thinks about Caddy and how he thinks about the rest of the novel. So this is his very, very long entry on Caddy.
“Candace (Caddy). Doomed and knew it, accepted the doom without either seeking or fleeing it. Loved her brother despite him … loved him not only in spite of but because of the fact that he must value above all not her but the virginity of which she was custodian and on which she placed no value whatever …. Knew the brother loved death best of all and was not jealous …. Vanished in Paris with the German occupation, 1940.”
For a good part of that entry on Caddy, it is a very, very good summary of her place in The Sound and the Fury. And you can see why Faulkner would not want her to tell the story on her own, that her importance in the novel is her importance to her brothers, and the way in which she is really not important. She’s an ideal of virginity. She’s the repository of virginity that is so important both to Benjy and to Quentin. And so she’s really a cipher for her brothers. And that’s why she is what she is, always existing in the minds of her brothers, but never having an independent existence of her own.
But there’s one other weird thing that comes out of the appendix, which comes out in this little detail. And Faulkner would go on to elaborate on that. Faulkner creates a whole other story about Caddy, that she went to Paris, that she was there, apparently, when the Germans occupied Paris. And then there was this other detail about a picture of her falling into the hands of a librarian in Jefferson, a woman who looked like Caddy who was hanging out with a German Nazi officer. And the librarian wasn’t sure that that was Caddy, but she showed the picture to Jason, she showed the picture to Dilsey, and nobody knew whether or not that woman who was hanging out with a Nazi officer, whether that was Caddy.
So a whole new mystery unfolds in the course of the appendix, and Faulkner maybe was even thinking of another novel based on Caddy. It’s his way of writing a new novel back into– you can see that she would not be the appropriate person to be telling the story in section four. So we’ll see what Faulkner actually ends up with, what he chooses as his representative in section four, the most authoritative way of telling the story, which is actually through a third party, through this omniscient narration. And that is linked to some degree with his understanding of what section four is about. And that is the two people that he mentions at the end of the appendix.
“And that was all. The others were not Compsons. They were black. Luster. A man, aged 14, who was not only capable of the complete care and security of an idiot twice his age and three times his size, but could keep him entertained. Dilsey. They endured.”
These are the two people that he would like to talk about, and those are the centers in section four. And I actually agree with Faulkner that that makes a lot of sense. They have been so important all through the novel, and finally section four is devoted to Luster and Dilsey and the world that revolves around them and the future that emerges from this focus on Luster and Dilsey.
We already have seen something about Luster, that he is very young, but he’s capable of replacing Caddy in taking good care of Benjy. What is odd about these three words used to describe Dilsey is “Dilsey. They endured.” So Faulkner is super-conscious of pronouns, and he has a very odd use of what appears to be a non-matching pronoun. It should have been “Dilsey. She endures.” And so he introduces the third-person plural. And I would argue that section four is in fact a section dominated by that pronoun that is invoked in this very peculiar fashion. It is the section devoted to the third-person plural by way of someone like Dilsey.
Chapter 4. Omniscient Narration, Exterior and Interior [00:12:08]
In the rest of the lecture, I’ll be thinking about section four along those lines. This is the first thing that we notice, this omniscient narration. And these are the other points that I would like to make about Dilsey. Through her, we see the legacy of slavery. We see a shift between outside and inside. Omniscient narration is an external point of view, but quite often, there’s a shift back to the interior of Dilsey, and along with that shift, a tension between sight and sound, between the visual and the auditory registers.
It’s a question of endurance. “They endure.” Faulkner is thinking about the future of the United States by way of race, the tomorrow of race. And we’ll test a concept that we used last time, that we took from Raymond Williams, the knowable community. We’ll ask whether or not that could be resurrected in section four.
And the question of resurrection comes up because section four is Easter Sunday, is the day on which some resurrection takes place. So Faulkner is using that as the frame for the idea of resurrecting something else. And obviously, we think because Benjy is in there still, everyone else– Jason is still there– there’s a possibility of a cross-racial “we” emerging from “They endured.”
And as promised last time, the horse, Queenie, actually makes an appearance as well in section four of The Sound and the Fury. In fact, she’s very, very important. So we’re not quite at a place where we can talk about a community made up of humans and non-humans, but it is interesting that it is not the automobile but the horse that comes back in a big way at the very end of The Sound and the Fury.
Let’s start out with omniscient narration. And I think that there’s a temptation on our part to think that omniscient narration is going to be benign, that, OK, section one is told by Benjy, who’s mentally retarded. Section two is told by Quentin, who is going to kill himself. Section three is told by Jason, totally obnoxious, but very sad, very pathetic character. Section four is told by an omniscient narrator, so we might assume that this is going to be benign, that this is going to be full of goodwill. That is not necessarily the case.
And in fact, the omniscient narration actually begins with a fairly off-putting, external, and objectifying view of Dilsey, in the sense that she’s turned into an inert object to be observed. So it’s a very striking and to some extent puzzling narrative choice on Faulkner’s part. This is the morning of Easter Sunday.
“Dilsey opened the door of the cabin and emerged, needled laterally into her flesh, precipitating not so much a moisture as a substance partaking of the quality of thin, not quite congealed oil. She wore a stiff velvet cape with a border of mangy and anonymous fur about a dress of purple silk, and she stood in the door for a while with her myriad and sunken face lifted to the weather, and one gaunt hand flac-soled as the belly of a fish.”
That’s a repulsive picture of Dilsey. And it is first of all observing her at very, very close range. This is really Dilsey captured on not even a micro-register, but almost like a nano-register, in the sense that we’re not even seeing her eyes, we’re not seeing her hair or the possible smile or non-smile on her face. We’re looking at something that maybe is sweat coming out of her, but it is not moisture. It is a thin layer of congealed oil that’s sticking to her skin.
A completely physical, mechanical description of Dilsey at very close range. It’s almost Faulkner telling us that when it comes to omniscient narration, he’s as good as the next guy. He can give us the most minute details, the most minute impersonal and non-benign level of detail attached to Dilsey.
From that very minute and non-benign–in the sense that it’s impersonal , it’s completely neutral–description of Dilsey, we move on to a slightly larger scale. And now we notice the clothes that she’s wearing. And she’s wearing fancy clothes. She’s wearing clothes too good for her station. She’s wearing a velvet cape and a silk dress. So we know that those are not really her clothes. Those are the hand-me-downs discarded by her mistress, Mrs. Compson, and she’s wearing them.
So right there, we have the legacy of slavery encoded into the articles of clothing that are to be found on Dilsey. And I would emphasize that they are to be found on Dilsey, in the sense that there’s not a whole lot of agency in Dilsey choosing to wear those clothes. They are just hand-me-downs given to her. So slavery is also something that was historically a given and quite possibly is still a given in the twentieth century. The African-American characters in section four are not slaves anymore. This is the twentieth century, slavery was a thing in the past. But there is still the legacy of slavery, the shadow of slavery, hanging over everyone’s heads as Dilsey is still wearing the old clothes of her mistress.
So in that sense, in thinking about the legacy of slavery, The Sound and the Fury could be seen in the company of other narratives– not novels, but narratives– that were emerging or being produced in the 1930s, just a little later. And this was the project sponsored by the Federal Writers’ Projects during the Great Depression, when lots of unemployed authors were going around the country under the sponsorship of the federal government to talk to ex-slaves and to get the life stories and to make sure that those are on record and archived.
So there’s that desire in the ’30s to capture something that would otherwise vanish forever. And those are really interesting archives to look at. If you ever decide to go to graduate school in literature and decide to do something on Faulkner, it would be very interesting to look at those in conjunction with what Faulkner says about the slaves in The Sound and the Fury. But that’s just a reference point that– what else is happening.
Within The Sound and the Fury, we see that the legacy of slavery is basically a hostility, a visual hostility, directed against Dilsey. She’s an enormously, enormously sympathetic character, but she’s not completely immune from the hostile gaze that is part of the omniscient narration. Omniscient narration is completely neutral. It doesn’t side with anyone. It can be both for someone or against someone. And initially used by Faulkner, it actually is used against Dilsey.
But as is the custom with Faulkner, quite often, we see that he is giving us both sides to the picture. That neutral, maybe even hostile view of Dilsey is quickly modified. And it’s modified when sound enters the picture. So we’re getting pretty much the same dynamics that we’ve seen in Fitzgerald. The interplay of sight and sound, the auditory and the visual registers, almost always produces a change in the visual field. And this is what happens to Dilsey. And it happens in one significant setting, the kitchen. Dilsey is preparing breakfast.
“Dilsey prepared to make biscuit. As she ground the sifter steadily above the bread board, she sang, to herself at first, something without particular tune or words, repetitive, mournful and plaintive, austere, as she ground a faint, steady snowing of flour onto the bread board. The stove had begun to heat the room and to fill it with murmurous minors of the fire, and presently she was singing louder, as if her voice too had been thawed out by the growing warmth.”
As voice takes over, the pronoun also changes a little bit. We’re still sticking with a third-person singular pronoun, but already there’s a degree of interiority emerging in this portrait. It is not just an external view of Dilsey, but the quality of sound that is coming out of her. And as the quality of sound is coming out of her, we see what she’s like when she’s working, when she’s in a place that she’s familiar with, that she’s at home in. That really is her domain. The kitchen is her domain.
And when Dilsey is in her domain, she turns into a different kind of person. The sound that she makes is still attached to the work that she has to do. So there’s no cessation of work as she sings, but the very rhythm of work enables Dilsey to turn into a different kind of character. She’s very, very different when she’s singing than when she’s seen as an inert object outside her cabin.
Chapter 5. Dilsey’s Relation to Time [00:22:52]
And one thing that happens, one other thing that emerges about Dilsey in the kitchen is that she has a relation to time. And here, I just want to say that in section four, there’s actually both something that emerges about Dilsey but that is also a backward reference to a very emblematic moment in each of the three preceding sections. So what we’ll see in section four, I think this is the structure that Faulkner is working, a really very intricate and very well-crafted structure, is to give us one moment that is emblematic of Dilsey that is a response, a rejoinder, or an amendment to an earlier moment that was problematic in one of the preceding sections.
So let’s look at this very interesting moment, very memorable and graphic moment, although with sounds thrown in about Dilsey, also in the kitchen.
“… On the wall above a cupboard, invisible save at night, by lamp light and even then evincing an enigmatic profundity because it had but one hand, a cabinet clock ticked, then with a preliminary sound as if it had cleared its throat, struck five times. ‘Eight oclock,’ Dilsey said.”
So the clock is striking five o’clock. Dilsey knows it’s eight o’clock. She’s not up at five. Even though she’s hard-working, she’s not up at five AM. She’s up at eight AM. She knows that this is eight o’clock. She knows the clock very well. So we are back to the notion of a knowable community. And in this case, it is a community between Dilsey and the clock.
And significantly, it emerges in the course of working, hard labor– well, hard enough– but it’s in the course of working. And it’s in a very familiar setting. This is the most important thing, that the kitchen is a familiar setting to Dilsey, and the clock is also her familiar. It is a mechanical contrivance, but in this case, it is a mechanical contrivance that isn’t quite working.
First of all, the clock is really not doing a number of things. It is invisible in broad daylight. You can only see it at night by lamp light, and even then, you can barely see it, because it only has one hand. So it’s not functioning properly. It’s also not functioning properly because it’s not telling the right time. But all that only makes the kitchen a more important knowable community. It’s only when you have a defective instrument and you can make use of it all the same that you can prove that you actually know this domain very well. So Dilsey’s knowledge of this place is proven without– it’s beyond doubt that she knows this place very well.
And this emblematic moment about Dilsey obviously brings back an equally emblematic moment about Quentin and his relation to his watch. This is the first thing that we know about Quentin. So let’s look at this opening of his section and his relation to time, as we have seen, and especially his relation to his own watch, his grandfather’s watch.
“When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains, it was between seven and eight o’clock and then I was in time again … I went to the dresser and took up the watch with the face still down. I tapped the crystal on the corner of the dresser and caught the fragments of glass in my hand and put them in the ashtray and twisted the hands off and put them in the tray. The watch ticked on.”
So two points of context between the Dilsey section and this section. Eight o’clock, same time, except that they have a completely different relation to eight o’clock, to the time that is eight o’clock. For Dilsey, it’s another day. And we know that there’ll be many more eight o’clocks for her. For Quentin, this is the last eight o’clock he would ever experience. It is the very end of the line for him. So right then and there, that tells us fully who has a future and who doesn’t.
But the other thing is that Dilsey is able to make do with a broken clock. Quentin is the one who has a well-functioning watch that he smashes, twists off the hands of that watch. And of course, he hurts his hand in the course of smashing that watch. So right there, it is a capsule summary of his futile battle with time and the way Quentin gets bloodied on this day. This is finally the day when he loses some kind of virginity, loses the virginity about time, maybe. He is bloodied in his struggle with time.
So it’s a very eloquent rejoinder to that earlier moment, but also a rewriting of that earlier moment. It is a dead end for Quentin. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no way Faulkner can keep on– although, I should say, in terms of Faulkner’s own novels, he actually wrote another novel, Absalom, Absalom!, resurrecting Quentin in that novel. So he manages to find another way to bring Quentin back as well by writing another novel about him. But within The Sound and the Fury, there’s no way he can bring Quentin back alive.
And instead the only way he can resurrect Quentin in some fashion is to resurrect him by way of Dilsey and her ability to make do with time, to come to terms with time – to come to terms both with a defective present, and in coming to terms with a defective present, to live on to the future. By way of Dilsey, we can start thinking about the all-important concept of tomorrow. And it has to do with the tomorrow of race. So we know, first of all, the importance of the kitchen and what takes place in the kitchen. We also know in the rest of the section that there’s another place that is as important as the kitchen, and that is the black church. So these are the two emblematic locales where there could be a tomorrow and where there could be an interesting development to that pronoun, third-person plural.
Chapter 6. The Reverend Shegog [00:30:16]
And we’ll see that in the church. the central figure in that church is the preacher, the Reverend Shegog, and we’ll see what he does. And we know that this is Easter Sunday, so this is the resurrection of something. And we’ll finally talk about the possibility of that utopian ideal, a cross-racial “we.”
But first of all, this is the church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal church in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s a historic church. And I want to bring to your attention a figure who’s written eloquently about the black church, and that is someone you might have read in another class, W. E. B. Du Bois. He was a very important author, but he also actually studied sociology.
So he wrote a 1903 book called The Negro Church, basically a sociological report based on lots of field work about black churches in the South. Most of us probably haven’t read The Negro Church– probably only specialists would be reading that book– but there’s another book by Du Bois that I bet a lot of you have read or heard of, The Souls of Black Folk, also coming out in 1903.
And because he was doing this sociological field work at the same time as he was writing this book, not surprisingly, he had a lot to say about the black church. He has a whole chapter called “The Faith of Our Fathers” in which he talks at length about the black church. And this is what he says. And he links the black church back to the religion of the slaves, so this is another way in which there’s the legacy of slavery in the centrality of the black church.
“Three things characterized the religion of the slave– the Preacher, the Music, and the Frenzy. The preacher is the most unique personality developed by the Negro on the American soil. A leader, a politician, an orator, a ‘boss,’ an intriguer, an idealist– all these he is and ever too the center of a group of men now twenty, now a thousand in number.”
Du Bois’ account of the preacher is really interesting. Because this preacher is both someone who is a conveyor of a form of Christianity, a form of spirituality, but Du Bois also sees that he’s more than that. He’s a politician. He’s an orator. He has to be very good at what he’s doing. He’s a boss to some extent. So there are all these other non-spiritual dimensions attached to the preacher.
And that is indeed the case, because the black church, even though a church like this seems very local, because it’s part of the Methodist church. The local Methodist church actually belongs to a national denomination. The Methodist church is a national denomination. And quite often, preachers would actually go from one city to another. The preacher is not always stationed at one place.
And that turns out to be the case with the Reverend Shegog in The Sound and the Fury. This is the background to why this preacher is actually brought all the way from St. Louis. He’s not the local preacher. He’s brought in for the Easter Sunday service especially from St. Louis. And so there’s something both very special but potentially alien about him.
And Faulkner gives us once again a two-part portrait of the Reverend Shegog, a two-part portrait that is based on a reversal. As with Dilsey, we see an external view of the Reverend Shegog, and then we see a much more interior view of the Reverend Shegog. But this is the external view, looking at him strictly from the standpoint of a small-town black church, looking at this supposedly very important visitor coming from St. Louis.
“The visitor was undersized, in a shabby alpaca coat. He had a wizened black face like a small, aged monkey … When the visitor rose to speak he sounded like a white man. His voice was level and cold. It sounded too big to have come from him and they listened at first through curiosity, as they would have to a monkey talking. They began to watch him as they would a man on a tight rope.”
This is very much an external view of the Reverend Shegog, and it’s not a sympathetic view. He’s someone that the congregation for the black local church was highly suspicious of. And in fact, they were very disappointed in him, that he had come all the way from St. Louis– he’s been brought in at some expense from St. Louis– and it turns out that he’s much, much less impressive-looking than their own preacher whom they would see every week. So it was a terrible disappointment for them to look at this monkey-like, tiny, clownish figure.
And even when he starts speaking, he’s still off-putting. They’re not warming up to him right away, because he sounds like a white man. This is a very peculiar detail on Faulkner’s part, and there’s no other way of accounting for it other than that he was really thinking of the preacher as Du Bois would, that he’s not just a representative of some kind of spirituality, but that he’s also an operator and a politician. And speaking like a black man is possibly a sign that he operates in that mode.
But we get a reversal. We get a switch to a totally different view of the Reverend Shegog. And I should say that this external view of the Reverend Shegog really has to do with looking at him as an inert object, this impersonal, objective gaze directed at him. And he indeed looks like a monkey if you just look at him as a single individual.
From that alienating perspective, we now turn to another look at him, which is not as a single individual, but as a communal voice. These are the two poles that Faulkner tries to negotiate by way of the Reverend Shegog, that he could be looked at just as a single individual, this big-shot preacher from St. Louis, or he could be fused with a community as a voice speaking for them. And he takes on a completely different set of qualities when he’s seen in that light, fused with the community.
“And the congregation seemed to watch with its own eyes while the voice consumed him, until he was nothing and they were nothing and there was not even a voice but instead their hearts were speaking to one another in chanting measures beyond the need for words, so that when he came to rest against the reading desk, his monkey face lifted and his whole attitude, that of a serene, tortured crucifix that transcended its shabbiness and insignificance and made it of no moment, a long moaning expulsion of breath rose from them, and a woman’s single soprano– ‘Yes, Jesus!’”
We’re beginning to figure out why the external, objectifying view of the black characters is so deliberately demeaning, is so deliberately hostile to them. Because Faulkner in fact wants to suggest that most people, if you just look at them, they’re really nothing to write home about. They are very sad-looking specimens of humanity.
But the most important thing is that these sad-looking specimens of humanity can be transformed under the proper circumstances. And listening to the voice– in this case, listening to the voice of the Reverend Shegog– in conjunction with the voice of the black congregation, that is one circumstance when we completely forget the insignificant physical appearance of this man. He becomes nothing, the congregation becomes nothing, and that’s a good thing. When they become nothing, then what really does register is that voice and what that voice is able to do for the congregation.
So this is without question the moment of epiphany in The Sound and the Fury, and it’s by way of this initially dubious-looking preacher, who then actually transcends that and is able, in fact, to do what is supposed to be done on Easter Sunday, which is to bring about some kind of resurrection.
Chapter 7. Luster’s Resurrection of Knowledge and Community [00:40:10]
So this is what we’re already beginning to see happen. We’ve already seen a little bit of it in Dilsey’s relation to the clock in her kitchen, and now we see something else that also happens in the kitchen. And it is the other black character, Luster, and Benjy in the kitchen. Section four, Benjy comes back in a big way. So in many ways, this is Benjy almost incorporated into the black community. We’ve mentioned earlier that the way in which he and Luster constitute a unit, and Luster being his significant other. And here, we once again see Benjy as Luster’s significant other and the other way around as well.
“Luster fed him with skill and detachment. Now and then, his attention would return long enough to enable him to feint the spoon and cause Ben to close his mouth upon the empty air, but it was apparent that Luster’s mind was elsewhere. His other hand lay on the back of the chair and upon that dead surface, it moved tentatively, delicately, as if he were picking an inaudible tune out of the dead void. And once he even forgot to tease Ben with the spoon while his fingers teased out of the slain wood a soundless and involved arpeggio until Ben recalled him by whimpering again.”
Very odd detail about Luster. Luster doesn’t play any musical instrument at all. Faulkner is counter-factually representing him as picking an inaudible tune. And not only is it an inaudible tune, not only has Luster become a musician in this moment, but he’s playing a special kind of music, an arpeggio.
What is an arpeggio? It is a special musical technique, the chord not being played in unison, but played in sequence. Usually, the chord would be played together, but the arpeggio is one in which you play the chord in sequence, one at a time. The exact English translation for the Italian word “arpeggio” is “a broken chord.” We could say that this is a kind of music that Luster plays, since slavery and the legacy of slavery are a kind of broken chord. It is not the most harmonious kind of music. But, as we know, Schubert actually has a great piece of music called the “Arpeggione Sonata.” It’s a wonderful piece of music, and it’s one of the signature pieces by Schubert. Luster isn’t quite playing that. But his arpeggio is interesting in that Faulkner is turning this not very well schooled black character into a trained musician. This is the reconstitution of a knowable community – based on a special kind of knowledge.
And we know that Luster actually does have that kind of knowledge. He does know something. That’s why he’s absent-minded. His mind is fixated on something else, something that only he knows. So let’s go back to what it is that Luster knows that makes him so absent-minded at this moment.
This is the second reference back to an earlier moment in an earlier section, which is the ending of the Benjy section. That episode is resurrected as well in the absent-mindedness of Luster. Same configuration, Luster and Benjy. “He put my gown on. I hushed, and then Luster stopped, his head toward the window. Then he went to the window and looked out. He came back and took my arm. Here she come, he said. Be quiet now. We went to the window and looked out. It came out of Quentin’s window and climbed across into the tree. We watched the tree shaking. The shaking went down the tree. Then it came out, and we watched it go across the grass. Then we couldn’t see it.”
Benjy is totally clueless at this moment. Luster is already knowledgeable about what exactly is coming out of Quentin’s window, so that when we do find out in section four that Quentin has run away, that she’s taken all of Jason’s money with her when she runs away, that is old news to Luster. He’s known all through the novel, starting from section one. That bit of knowledge is in his possession.
This is the reconstitution of a knowable community for Luster: he knows Quentin. She is his familiar. He knows her well enough to know that this is something that she might do. And it is that reconstitution of a knowable community that once again resurrects this previous moment from Benjy and allows it to take on a new life.
Chapter 8. Jason’s Redemption [00:46:04]
So since we’re already looking at the structure of two resurrected earlier moments in section four of The Sound and the Fury, let’s look at the resurrection of one other moment. And not surprisingly, it is the third brother who would get resurrected in that moment. And it literally revolved around a landmark in Oxford, in the Courthouse Square. We know that Luster and Benjy are in a habit of going out there for a ride, with Queenie, the horse.
But on this occasion, at the very end of The Sound and the Fury, something seems to be going wrong. Luster and Benjy go on a ride probably every day, and nothing especially happens. It’s just a peaceful ride. But on this one occasion, something seems to be going wrong. And Benjy is bellowing without stopping on this ride. Something seems to be going wrong.
Luster, for all his knowledge of what Quentin does, is actually incapable of controlling this situation. He’s unable to stop Benjy from bellowing. It actually takes Jason’s intervention to stop the bellowing of Benjy. So let’s look at what it is that Jason is able to do.
“With a backhanded blow he hurled Luster aside and caught the reins and sawed Queenie about and doubled the reins back and slashed her across the hips. He cut her again and again, into a plunging gallop, while Ben’s hoarse agony roared about them, and swung her about to the right of the monument. Then he struck Luster over the head with his fist. ‘Don’t you know better than to take him to the left?” he said. He reached back and struck Ben, breaking the flower stalk again … 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.”
What went wrong initially with the ride is that Luster, for some reason, had forgotten that they’re supposed to go to the right of the monument. He makes Queenie go to the left, and so everything is going past Benjy in the wrong order. And because Benjy cannot stand anything happening in the wrong order, nothing will stop him from bellowing. So this is a very interesting reversal on Faulkner’s part. He has granted to Luster a lot of knowledge – he knows Quentin very well – but for some reason, he doesn’t know Benjy as well as he should on this one occasion. It takes Jason to demonstrate his knowledge of his own brother, Benjy. He doesn’t love Benjy, but he knows Benjy very well. He knows that it would have to be to the right of the monument, and he’s able to correct that mistake.
So after all we’ve seen – Jason’s terrible problems with the automobile – at the very end of The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner is able to resurrect Jason into a much happier fate. The automobile is gone. It’s back to the world of horses and carriages, a 19th-century world still lingering on and to some extent accommodating Jason even in the 20th century.
It’s not a pretty sight. It’s not a non-violent world. Jason is still hitting Luster. He’s breaking Ben’s flower. So none of the obnoxious things about Jason have gone away. He hasn’t turned into a sweet person. He’s still a monster. But while he remains a monster, Faulkner has made his world one that he can live in and that he can be a hero of sorts in this very one brief moment. He can be the person who comes to the rescue and set everything back onto the right track, literally.
So this is a way in which the very ending of The Sound and the Fury is in fact an Easter Sunday story about resurrection. And we’ll move on to Hemingway again next week.
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