Last post, I started discussing the ways that William Faulkner, in The Sound and the Fury (1929), explores the ways that language and words construct meaning and social hierarchies. Today, I want to continue that discussion by zeroing in on a couple of more scenes in Quentin’s section, specifically the scene where he talks with the three boys who are going fishing and the scene were Quentin gets arrested for “kidnapping” the Italian girl.
During his walk around Cambridge, Quentin encounters three boys who are going fishing. The boys hope that they will catch the large trout in the water because people have been trying to snag it for twenty-five years and “a store in Boston offers a twenty-five dollar fishing rod to anybody that can catch him.” The promise of the fishing rod gets the boys talking, and one says he would sell the rod and pocket the money.
The boy’s statement that he would sell the rod gets the boys talking and their words overlap with one another, becoming a cacophony of sound. Quentin thinks
They all talked about what they would do with twenty-five dollars. They all talked at once, their voices insistent and contradictory and impatient, making of unreality a possibility, then a probability, then an incontrovertible fact, as people will when their desires become words.
Through their conversation, the boys create the world they want to inhabit. Quentin traces this process from the multitude of voices that move from unreality to possibility to probability to incontrovertible fact. This movement shows the ways that even though the material objects that they plan to buy with the money are not, in reality, theirs, they nevertheless make them theirs through the words that they speak. They speak reality into the void.
One of the boys tells his companions that he would buy a horse and wagon with the money. The boys scoff at him, questioning where he could purchase both for twenty-five dollars. The other boys cause the first to become silent, and he leans over the rail of the bridge. Observing the scene, Quentin considers the ways that words formulate the world we inhabit.
He leaned on the rail, looking down at the trout which he had already spent, and suddenly the acrimony, the conflict, was gone from their voices, as if to them too it was as though he had captured the fish and bought his horse and wagon, they too partaking in the adult trait of being convinced of anything by an assumption of silent superiority. I suppose that people, using themselves and each other so much by words, are at least consistent in attributing wisdom to a still tongue, and for a while I could feel the other two seeking swiftly for some means by which to cope with him, to rob him of his horse and wagon.
Again, the unreality has become reality for the boys, merely through the words they formulate and use. The boys who question the first boy’s ability to buy a horse and wagon for twenty-five dollars now look for ways to “rob him of his horse and wagon” because even though they have not physically caught the trout they have mentally caught it and cashed it in for the reward.
Embedded here, as well, is how the unreal becomes real. Here, I think back to Quentin’s comments about moving East and his self-censoring of himself when referring to the Black residents of Cambridge that he encounters. He has constructed Blacks as inferior and through the use of derogatory terms, and he knows that he cannot have that construction in the East. However, that does not stop him from viewing the Blacks that he encounters negatively.
When he returns home, he encounters the man in Virginia and treats him as an inferior. When he speaks with Deacon and gives him the letter to Shreve, Quentin’s mind conflates the man with Roskus: “His eyes were soft and irisless and brown, and suddenly I saw Roskus watching me from behind all his whitefolks’ claptrap of uniforms and politics and Harvard manner, diffident, secret, inarticulate, and sad.” For Quentin, Deacon and Roskus are one and the same. Quentin is placing the “obverse reflection” of attributes onto Deacon and Roskus. Quentin is constructing their identity to maintain his own superiority.
The ways that words create meaning carries over into the next episode where the Italian girl follows Quentin around the streets of Cambridge. Quentin tries to find the girl’s home, but the language difference hinders his attempts at this. Eventually, Julio, the girl’s brother, sees them and yells, “You steala my seester.” Julio sees Quentin as a kidnapper, not as someone trying to help get the girl home.
Julio’s accusation leads to Quentin’s arrest for kidnapping. At the station, the squire asks Quentin multiple questions, concluding with, “What are you up to, coming out here kidnapping children?” At this point, Shreve, Spoade, and George Bland are there, and Shreve replies, “They’re crazy, Squire. . . Whoever says this boy’s kidnapping–” Julio violently responds by stating he caught Quentin and saw him with his own eyes.
The argument continues and Spoade tells the arresting officers, “He’s just a country boy in school up there. He don’t mean any harm. I think the marshal’ll find it is a mistake. His father’s a congregational minister.” Spoade creates Jason Compson III claiming he is a minster, a lie because Jason is a lawyer. In doing this, Spoade is making unrelaity reality in the same manner that the boys did, but with obviously real consequences.
The authorities start to buy Quentin’s story and Anse concludes by saying that he might be telling the truth before ending with, “Them durn furriners.” This statement causes Julio to reply, “I American. . . I gotta de pape.” Again, the construction of meaning and authority takes place through words. The authorities view Julio as inferior because he is Italian, and they let him know that, even though he states that he has official papers showing he is American.
The fact that Julio accuses Quentin of kidnapping his sister, especially after the scene with the boys, is important because it highlights the ways that language constructs meaning. Equally important, though, is the way that Quentin’s exoneration highlights the power of language to control and create hierarchies. Anse believes Quentin, eventually, over Julio and comments on Julio being a foreigner. This move shows that Quentin’s position, as a white male, at Harvard, provides him opportunities in constructing meaning.
There are other instances where Quentin does this, but I want to end with Quentin’s thoughts as he watches the boys. He thinks about his own family: “Say it to Father will you I will am my fathers Progenitive I invented him created I him Say it to him it will not be for he will say I was not and then you and I since philoprogenitive.”
What are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.
If you enjoy what you read here at Interminable Rambling, think about making a contribution on our Patreon page.
There is only one short story I read by Faulkner. A Rose for Emily which was based on true events. Kind of a macabre work, but told for the truth it represented. That humanity represents a dark and creepy side to its human condition. A tragedy really along the lines of Mary Mann with her short story “Little Brother “.
Pingback: I’m the Victim of America’s Sin. I’m What Sin Is. | Interminable Rambling