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Sarah Smethurst’s Class Summary for October 15

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Deciphering Faulkner: Class Summary Essay

The Sound and the Fury: June 2, 1910

Class began with that ever-treasured opportunity—extra credit. After discussing the opportunity and the details of the hypertext edition specific to this section, we jumped right in. After a discussion of Benjy’s use as a narrative prosthesis, we discussed Quentin’s section, finding several points we could agree on. Faulkner lets us into Quentin’s head and uses the pioneering (and frustrating) stream of consciousness style to give us insight into a mentally disabled brain that we lack in the more obviously disabled Benjy’s narrative. We see his failed life, his confused sexuality, and his complicated and possibly fictionalized relationships in much sharper focus than the well-meaning but unreadable Benjy’s reading of events.

Because Benjy’s beginning narrative is so crucial to the rest of The Sound and the Fury, we spent the first part of class (re)iterating our small group discussion of the previous class. Dr. Foss (re)presented the question of whether Faulkner cares about Benjy as more than a narrative device, and whether he is a sympathetic character or simply a perpetuation of a derogatory stereotype. Despite protestations that devoting much space, especially prime opening chapter space, to a disabled character was an act of service, we were forced to consider that the time was spent (re)inforcing a stereotype. The fact remains that Benjy does little to make himself a sympathetic character—we get a lot of characterization and events through him, but little emotional language or an experiential lens at all. He doesn’t have much of his own voice, and instead speaks through others’ dialogue, despite the section being technically grounded in his consciousness. Besides all that, there are major doubts as to the accuracy of Benjy’s disability, which can be infantilizing and extremely limiting.

Finally, we reached the topical portion of the class—small group discussion on the next section of the book, as narrated by Quentin. Dr. Foss presented to us several questions about how we read Quentin’s character and possible disability (and how that comments on Benjy’s disability), how to explain the narrative (switches in style of stream of consciousness), and the roles of other characters in his life. As usual, my group didn’t manage to get to most of the questions, but we covered what we could.

First, we deviated long enough to discuss the parentage of Ms. Quentin (is she Quentin’s child? is that possible?). This theme of possible incest would show up in later classes, and appears to be an unusual textual fixation of my group. We then discussed whether or not Quentin was disabled himself, conjecturing that though he may “pass” in society as sane, he had many mental and emotional disabilities of his own. We pointed to the past issues and traumas in his life, and also to the imagery and symbolism in the section (the use of clocks and fixations on time). Quentin has obsessions and fixations that are debilitating, not to mention the clear anxiety, depression, and (planned) suicide.

Despite the common disability (though in different forms), we found many differences between Quentin and Benjy. Their perceptions of the world are different—Benjy’s is neutral or even removed, and Quentin has an overwhelmingly negative perspective. The stream of consciousness style gets ever stranger when Quentin is the narrator, and we covered the differences and similarities in style., especially the mid-sentence time and scene changes present in Quentin’s text. We also discussed how Benjy merely observes the outside world around him, placing no filters or biases on the action, while Quentin takes it all in and combines it with his own emotion. Thus, he is susceptible to what others think about him and is sensitive to teasing, especially about his sexual orientation.

We could draw little conclusions about Quentin’s sexuality from the text. It was unclear whether certain comments meant that Quentin was really gay, or whether he was simply representing or internalizing the teasing of classmates and others around him. We also questioned the reliability of Quentin as a narrator, proposing that it was possible and even probable for him to lie in his section, whether intentionally or not. It made us doubt the crucial section regarding Caddy as we looked for meaning in Quentin’s obsession with her. We divined that whether they really had sex or not did not matter as much as the fact that Quentin believes that they did. Most of his interactions with Caddy could conceivably be a figment of his altered imagination, but so long as he believes they occurred, they have a huge impact on his life and mental health. We would have delved much deeper into this topic but Dr. Foss ended class at this point. Perhaps we should have saved the incest discussion and devoted more time to the loaded relationship between Caddy and Quentin.

Benjy may or may not be a sympathetic figure, but the mind that we really get into in The Sound and the Fury is Quentin’s. Although Quentin is a supposed to be a more normal narrator, he suffers from a disability that rivals Benjy’s, which affects his interpersonal relationships, his sexuality, and the unique voice in the section entitled “June 2, 1910.” The last comment of class was a question highly relevant to this issue and posed by Dr. Foss—who, in this text, is the Sound, and who is the Fury? He suggests that it is Benjy who provides the Sound, and Quentin who fully supplies all the Fury the text needs.

919 words

Written by sarahsmile

October 20th, 2010 at 3:24 am

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