The Idea of a Conscious Present in The Sound and the Fury, a Novel by William Faulkner

No matter how rich, or how poor one is, there is one thing that no one in the world can afford to lose as there is no way to get it back. Time. No matter how much you dwell on the past or live in the present, the future is always looming, ready to crash upon you when you least expect it. This idea is prevalent in “The Sound and the Fury”. With so much talk of the past and switching memories so often, the reader is left craving for what could come in the future to the characters.

And since our only way into the story is from the viewpoint of the characters, we must see their world the way that their minds see it. Because of this, the “immediate speech” of stream of consciousness reestablishes the possibility of a future.

One person that is nothing but obsessive about time is Quentin. From destroying his grandfather’s watch to visiting jewelry stores to ask about clocks, time always seems to be on his mind.

The watch in particular plays an integral part in the future and rest of life of Quentin. Early into his section, Quentin breaks off the hands of the watch, but the ticking still goes on. The watch breaking means that it is unable to tell time, but the constant ticking still going on is very symbolic of Quentin’s thoughts as his narrative goes on.

The constant ticking of the future with no hold of the present is exactly what is going on in Quentin’s thoughts, because as the narrative progresses, the line between past thoughts and present thoughts blurs, and we are left wondering what is really happening and what is just Quentin exploring his mind for a way to make his time last longer.

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The watch signifying Quentin trying to stop reality from crashing in on him is shown when he finds the thought, “I couldn’t hear it now, above all the others” (Faulkner 85) when referring to his watch comforting. He finds this a comforting thought because as the reality of his declining nature is creeping up on him, in this moment, the time that is eating him from the inside out stops, giving him a rare moment of clarity.

While in the beginning we were assured of a future because of Quentin’s clearer and easier to understand thoughts, his muddled thinking gives us no promises of what is to come. The only thing that we know for sure is that as long as his thoughts keep on being told to us, we know that there is at least a possibility of a future as his mind is still thinking. This idea is further enforced by the ending to his section. “Then I carried the watch into Shreve’s room and put it in his drawer and went to my room and got a fresh handkerchief and went to the door and put my hand on the lightswitch” (Faulkner 179).

Quentin taking off his watch at the end of his narrative is symbolic of his time being up. As we can no longer hear his thoughts and what is happening after he takes off the watch and leaves his dorm, we can no longer establish the possibility of his future, which is concurrent with the story as Quentin drowns himself soon after.

Someone else who has trouble expressing their thoughts is Benjy. Benjy’s thoughts are sporadic from start to finish, with very little straightforward thought going on. As his narrative goes on, one can see that Benjy gets distracted very easily. Whenever he is even somewhat reminded of another event his mind automatically goes to it, to relive it in his head. His constant stream of different thoughts goes back and forth between past and present for the whole of his narrative, making differentiating between different thoughts confusing at times.

But while his thoughts may be jumbled, we do know about possibilities and learn about some important facts based on some of them. Because Benjy seems to go back and forth years at a time in his head, we are able to learn and connect different topics that happened at completely different times, and use this to learn for the future of him. An example of this is, “You Benjy”, Luster said, “Come back here.” “You cant do no good looking through the gate, T.P said. Miss Caddy done gone long ways away” (Faulkner 51).

From the connection that Benjy with the fence, we were able to learn that Caddy has moved away from Benjy and gotten married. Connecting the different parts of the story reestablishes the possibility of the future because by making connections that have not been talked about in Benjy’s jumbled memories, it indicates that there is a future that has not been talked about. The readers will look forward to this possible future as a way to get more information about the tiny references that one can string together from Benjy’s scattered memories.

So while the disorganized thoughts and memories scattered throughout the book may confuse one while they read the book, like most things, these are very significant when examined more closely. From Quentin’s obsession with time to Benjy’s constant time confusions, they both signified the possibility, or lack thereof, of the future.

Benjy’s helped connect ideas from the past and present to create important thoughts useful for the future, and Quentin was able to create a powerful message that went far beyond what just his thoughts were telling us. So while you may be fretting over something that happened in the past or trying to find yourself for the future, remember the message that Benjy and Quentin were able to show; if you have lost where you are going, don’t look to the future to see what will happen. Look at your past and present situations and use that knowledge to help the future you.

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The Idea of a Conscious Present in The Sound and the Fury, a Novel by William Faulkner. (2022, Dec 17). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/the-idea-of-a-conscious-present-in-the-sound-and-the-fury-a-novel-by-william-faulkner/

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