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Dilsey's Easter Conversion In Faulkner's The Sound And The Fury

3052 words - 12 pages

The main action of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury occurs during Easter Week, 1928. Because Easter is the holiest event in the Christian calendar, and because the Passion Week serves as the book's main organizing device, many readers have sensed the presence of religious themes in this often opaque work. But over the past five decades, critical interpretations have ranged from Christian spirituality to existential nothingness. While there has been no consensus on the meaning of the novel, Faulkner scholars have agreed over the years that the structure of The Sound and the Fury follows the Modernist "mythical method." Much as the Odyssey gives form and sequence to Joyce's Ulysses, episodes and images from the Christian Holy Week provide an external framework to Faulkner's narrative. Members of the Compson family undergo experiences which rehearse episodes from the last days of Jesus's life. The four sections of the novel form four Compson gospels, which like the biblical originals develop and expand the story they retell. These parallels to the gospel tradition are most insistent during the Sunday church service in the fourth section of The Sound and the Fury. By means of his powerful if unorthodox rendition of the Passion narrative, the Reverend Shegog wakens in Dilsey capacities for spiritual renewal. Her visionary Easter experience then rouses her to secular acts of rejection and affirmation.Dilsey Gibson, the kindly and long-suffering domestic worker at the Compson place, is the major non-Compson character in The Sound and the Fury. A long-standing scholarly interpretation is that Dilsey represents a moral norm in the decadent Compson world and her actions set a standard of humane behavior. Opposing such a "religious" reading of the novel is the nihilistic view, in which Dilsey's Christianity is meaningless or irrelevant. Both approaches tend to regard Dilsey, whether noble or absurd, as static. Few critics of The Sound and the Fury see her as a developing character, although some describe her at the end of the novel as more devoted to the Compsons. My view is that the novel's fourth section, as well as the "Appendix: Compson," suggests the opposite--that she turns away from the Compsons after the Easter Sunday service. Her conversion is religious in that the Reverend Shegog's sermon revitalizes her faith in the Christian God. Yet her Easter experience also has practical consequences. Her life changes as she begins to distance herself from the Compsons and to reaffirm her membership in her African-American family.Although she appears in the novel's first three sections, Dilsey figures most importantly in the fourth chapter--so much so that it is frequently called "Dilsey's section." She wakes to a cold, gray dawn on Sunday and works to warm the tomblike Compson house. It is worth noting that Easter means nothing to the Compsons (although Dilsey leads the retardate Benjy Compson uncomprehending to Sunday service). Her morning chores...

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