The Sound and the Fury: Noblesse Oblige
William Faulkner wrote The Sound and the Fury with many underlying themes. The most prominent theme in my opinion is noblesse oblige. Faulkner expresses The Compson’s noblesse oblige as they respond to a tragedy that affects each character in a unique way. Catherine, Jason, Quentin, and even Benjy executes a “responsibility to protect” their daughter and sister Caddy throughout the entire novel, protecting the noblesse oblige held by this family.
Noblesse oblige is defined as “the moral obligation of the rich or highborn to display honorable and generous conduct”. (The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language) John D. Rockefeller, Jr. describes noblesse oblige in the quote, “We must instill a sense of duty in our children. Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; every possession a duty.” (The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language) A single member of a family or the entire family may feel some need to display honorable and generous conduct based on their last name. In this case, there are three main defenders of noblesse oblige in the Compson family. According to the appendix of The Sound and the Fury, the Compson family held a place of high status in Jefferson Mississippi. They owned a plot of land that encompassed one square mile which included a grand house known as the Governor’s Mansion. Over time, the Compson name no longer held such a status. As this status slipped away from the family, the family continued to live with a sense of noblesse oblige. This responsibility, opportunity, and duty was magnified when the family is faced with a tragedy that affects the whole family
There are several occasions the Compson’s are challenged by circumstance to “keep the family name polished”. Benjy’s mere existence was such an occasion for the family. He was born “an idiot”, but remained at home instead of being institutionalized. His name was changed from Maury to Benjamin after his Uncle Maury was no longer considered a “lucky” man. Benjy was castrated so he would not pose a threat to anyone after the incident at the gate was misinterpreted. Another such circumstance the reader could interpret as a need for noblesse oblige is Mr. Compson’s declining social status and eventual death by alcoholism; none of these circumstance would be the apex of the family’s tragedies. The family found the promiscuity of Caddy to be the largest blow to the noblesse oblige of the Compson family.
Three family members reacted to this tragedy with a “responsibility to protect” the family name. The term “responsibility to protect” has been used most recently by the United Nations in 2005 in a parallel manner to this novel. The states of the UN have a responsibility to protect their population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleaning and crimes against humanity. If a state cannot protect the population, the other UN member states will step in to reform the...