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Notes on re-reading: Decoding the April 7th section of The Sound and the Fury

The final events of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury take place over Easter weekend of 1928.  The first section, “April Seventh, 1928,” is from Benjy Compson’s point of view and takes place on Saturday, although with Benjy free-associating across time from the 1890s to 1928.  The last two sections, April 6th and April 8th, take place on Good Friday (from Benjy’s brother Jason Compson’s point of view) and Easter Sunday (not tied to a particular character, although roughly from the point of view of Dilsey, a family servant who essentially holds the family together– she saw the first and saw the last).

The first (Benjy) section is all as-if by a camera, but leaping by free association across time.  Names and other cues are used in ways that might at first seem almost a practical joke (in some passages, the character Quentin is Benjy’s brother; in others is his niece) but that quickly become anchors that show time-shifts between different eras of the story.

By the end of undergraduate school, I’d read the book at least three times (and another three or four since), and had written in the first two pages of my copy of the book my decipherment the dates of each passage in the Benjy section.  These dates can be identified with precision with totally internal cues– I am a little surprised on my most recent re-reading that I had any doubt that passage E could have taken at any time other than 1910.  Here are my notes.

tsafwf one



Some name/date clues in the Benjy section for those interested:  Caddie (as in golf caddie) and Caddy (the sister), Quentin (he, Benjy’s brother) and Quentin (she, Benjy’s niece, named after her uncle), and Maury-Benjy-Benjamin (Benjy was named after his uncle, at first, and then his name was changed after Uncle Maury was shot) all provide date-cues.

I’ve skipped here the second section, narrated by Benjy’s brother Quentin at the end of his year at Harvard, and dated June 2, 1910.  Unlike the 1928 Easter dates, I’m not sure what these dates signify, other than that they are a few months after his sister Caddy married.   In my efforts to find some explanation for the selection of that date, I noted that Halley’s Comet was visible both at the time of Caddy’s wedding in April and on June 2nd, but haven’t drawn any significance from that.

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