Third Faulkner Lecture

I started by going back to what WF said about The Sound & the Fury as "a portrait of Caddy" that began with the image of a girl with muddy underpants climbing a tree, I spent most of the class talking about the novel's largest structural & thematic designs, about the way he is using Caddy, & the various ways her brothers see her, to dramatize the modern condition as a futile attempt to find something that "signifies something" -- vs. of course the "sound and fury" that signifies "nothing," & about his use of Easter (much like the use Eliot makes of the Grail legend in The Waste Land) ironically to give order to his story about chaos.

In the novel's first 3 sections, set in 3 individual, isolated, driven consciousnesses -- Benjy's, Quentin's & Jason's, WF uses the modern stream-of-consciousness technique he probably learned from James Joyce. In the 4th section, WF uses the most traditional narrative technique: third-person omniscient. When you write "she opened the door," "she toiled painfully," & so on, you syntactically posit the existence of consciousnesses outside your own, of a reality that's external to the self. That's appropriate in the novel's 4th section, because of the way WF can use the Easter service in a black church that Dilsey attends ironically to establish her faith, & the external and eternal meaning it provides her with, to set off the Compsons, & the way they're trapped in their own consciousnesses & in time.

We looked closely at the service, & the sermon delivered by Rev. Shegog (pp. 293-295). What I emphasized were the way Christ's crucifixion (for Dilsey as a believer) exists outside time & change & decay, the way she can "see" Jesus with the eye of her faith, the way that ability to attain a redemptive & eternal transcendence "anneals" her of her sufferings, & the way it leads to the stillest moment in this novel which the rest of the time is making us feel the Compson kids' frantic, restless movement, the continuous searching for something that's been lost. In church Dilsey & the rest of the congregation become "nothing" in the sense that they lose their sense of self in the communion and continuity of faith -- as opposed again to the Compsons, who can't escape their sense of (estranged, alienated) self or the sense that life is "nothing."

Because she believes, Dilsey in church finds what the brothers are so desperately searching for. In a sense, the Easter service occupies the same place in this novel that Romero's bull-fighting offers in The Sun Also Rises, but unlike Hemingway, I don't think WF offers the service as exemplary. To me there's no suggestion that "we" (meaning the moderns for whom he's writing the book) can believe as Dilsey does. Instead, "we" (& the novel) are in the position of the lost generation Compson kids. Quentin sums up the godlessness of their world on pp. 175-76. Thus where Dilsey has "the recollection and the blood of the Lamb" to save her, in their various ways they seek to use the figure of Caddy to give their lives external meaning. When Benjy is "trying to say" to the Burgess girl, for example, he's looking for someone to take Caddy's place, to "eternally" come home from school & love him, to be Caddy exempt from time & loss. As Q thinks about his obsession with Caddy's virginity: "It's because there is nothing else I can believe."

In the 4th section, though, WF mainly sets Dilsey's faith off against Jason, & the way he spends Easter. His "empty tomb" on Easter morning is both girl Quentin's room & the cash box in his closet, where he's been hoarding money for all the years since he lost the job in the bank. That money (vs. Dilsey's God) was what he looked to to "save" his life from loss -- you can do a lot in terms of our whole reading list, the whole American experience, with the idea that as God died money came to take His place. Dilsey goes to church to be "filled up" with faith; Jason goes to a filling station to get gas & air for his car before frantically chasing after the symbol that gave his life some meaning to himself (see p. 306). She finds God again. He loses "his job in the bank" again. As Luster says about the money he's looking for when the novel begins, there are plenty more quarters where that came from -- "only I got to find that one" (p. 14). The attempt to find a substitute for the dead God leads only to further loss.

So I ended with the contrast the novel gives us, between Christ on the cross, bleeding to save the world, and Caddy in the tree, with those muddy underpants that suggest her humanity, especially of course her lost virginity (the loss of losses in the novel). Caddy's not a "Christ figure." The point of the novel is that she's not, that she has to be human, must grow & change. She's extraordinarily generous, even willing to die for Quentin. But despite her willingness to sacrifice for her brothers, she cannot redeem them from the sound and the fury.

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