One of the main realities of human existence is the constant, unceasing passage of time. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner explores this reality of time in many new and unexpected ways as he tells the tragic tail of the Compson family. The Compsons are an old Southern aristocratic family to whom time has not been kind. Years of degeneration mainly stemming from slavery have brought them to the brink of destruction. Most of the story focuses on the Compson children who are undergoing the worst of the social and moral decay. Each of the four children perceives time in a much different way but by far the strangest and most bizarre attitude toward time that is given in the text is held by one of the three male children, Quentin. He is totally consumed with his past and at times can think of nothing else. He also becomes determined to stop time itself—a futile effort that will eventually force him to take his own life. Quentin’s obsession with the past and with the passage of time is a central theme of not only the Quentin section but of the entire book, and it is the key to understanding what Faulkner is trying to say about the decay of Southern culture and traditions.
To fully understand the motif of time in the Quenti
The cause of this decay is clearly slavery, but the implications of this decay from slavery are much farther reaching than merely the Southern aristocracy. Just as Quentin idealized the past some Southerners have this picture of the old South as a wonderful and glorious place. The Compson family and particularly the Compson children are all slowly falling apart. In this section time is shown as much closer to what ordinary people perceive it to be. To Jason time is all about the present and he grabs every second as it goes by much as he does with the money that his sister Caddie sends to him in order to provide for her daughter who is under his care. The institution was a terrible cancer that was constantly decaying the moral and ethical base of the South. The Quentin section most poignantly illustrates this point because the result of this decay literally destroys him in the end. In the text the most obvious remnants of slavery were the Compson"tms primitive black servants who were quite obviously the posterity of the black slaves once owned by the family. As Quentin continues to try to stop time from progressing it is obvious that it is an impossible task. The first section is narrated by the mentally retarded brother, Benjy, who has absolutely no concept of time whatsoever. The third section is narrated by the greedy and neurotic brother, Jason. Ironically, he views it as an honorable act of Southern dignity but once again his perceptions are distorted. But to his dismay he can still hear it running even without the hands, a sign that time is inescapable. The only true way for him to stop time so that he does not have to forget and let go of the past is for him to take his own life.