Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quentin Compson's issue with time

I read "The Language of Chaos: Quentin Compson in The Sound and the Fury," by May Cameron Brown. It was published by Duke University Press in American Literature.

What was most interesting to me was that the author makes a direct connection between Quentin's breaking his grandfather's watch and his suicide. The watch represents the past, and "the breaking of the watch as the first action of the last day of his life represents his suicide"(546). The watch represent the old traditions of the Compson family, and ultimately, the old South. I had thought that Quentin's breaking the watch only represented his frustration with time in general, but Brown's interpretation is that Quentin is more frustrated with the present, since he "lives in the past," (545) and he expects to "continue the Compson line and preserve the tradition which is central to the Southern experience" (544).

Quentin's frustration also comes from his failures as a brother and as the eldest son of the Compson family. His old southern views are no longer relevant in the present, and his “inability to find and express a meaning in his experience—all reflect the decaying world which is at the heart of the novel,” (544) drives his depression and ultimate suicide. Brown views Quentin’s experience with the Italian child as a parallel to his relationship with Caddy, just as he “fails the Italian girl as surrogate brother in the present, so Quentin has failed Caddy as a real brother in the past” (546).

In class, we had discussed the significance of the word temporary during Quentin and Father’s conversation in the final days of Quentin’s life. We had concluded that the word temporary drove Quentin to suicide, as he felt guilty and upset his feelings were not important enough to last longer. Brown mostly agrees with this theory, adding that his anger with his temporary feelings also comes from the realization of the end of the old Southern values that had defined him for so long.


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