Faulkner’s River Of Time Essay

4126 words - 17 pages

William Faulkner envisioned time as something purely subjective, violently turbulent and yet that which could grant hope and redemption. Time became something that above all else (as it was to embody modernism’s study of medium rather than object) was definitive in understanding man’s approach to the world. Such was Faulkner’s idea of time’s consequence that he let it come sweeping down through the Compson siblings’ lives in his novel, The Sound and the Fury, hurtling Caddy, doomed, toward “dishonor and shame,” leaving Benjy, “neuter… eyeless…groping,” wandering lost in the past, unaware of any future, driving Quentin toward “oblivion,” letting Jason seethe in an endless rage, and finally passing Dilsey, untouched, “to stand above the fallen ruins” embodying eternity and hope (Faulkner p. 231). Thus, each of his characters relation to their temporal experience became their defining characteristic, where the obsessive nature of the mind splintered the established conception of chronological time. Moreover, the Compson story is one told in layers of narration, with each shift in perspective attempting to illuminate and render Faulkner’s vision of Caddy’s tragedy and courage. Each of these strains of narrative is a composed fragment of a larger unattainable truth, a distortion of what has happened, brought on by the obsessive quality of the mind such that only through the multiple tellings of Caddy’s submission to Dalton Ames does clarity emerge. This was Faulkner’s – as one of the helmsmen of American modernism – attempt to break away from the “omniscience that denies the reality of time”(Borg p 289). As modernists began to focus on the mechanism of how the story was told, rather than the story itself, straightforward linear temporality became simply “absurd: as the temporal structure” is something “constantly disrupted,” replayed and remade by the mind (Doell p 1). Therefore, by breaking away from realism, modernism with its fascination with subjectivity and formalism began to defy the conventional chronological methods of writing the novel. No longer could a line be drawn from “In the beginning,” through the smooth progression of rising action to “The End.” Instead, novels vividly reflected modern insights into what the world is actually based on: disorder, distortion, shifting perceptions of reality and discontinuity, all of which destabilized the importance of plot and action in preference to of revealing the medium.
The Sound and the Fury is a prime example, as Faulkner’s approach to this new sense of temporality was to present the reader with the obsessive minds of the three Compson brothers and their contrast and balance, Dilsey, who remained unconstrained by time’s functions. Of these narrations, the first section of The Sound and the Fury is the most stylistically experimental in its depiction of a mind, as it lives in the past as if it were the present, with no concept of the future, in which, as explained by the appendix, the Compson...

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