American Literature 1900-1945

Survey Course Instructor: Mihai Mîndra

Lecture 11
Modernist Fiction II: William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, 1929; John Dos Passos’s U.S.A., 1938 (collected).

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Born in New Albany, Mississippi  his work reflects the history & the culture of the South as a whole:

Oxford, town in Lafayette County, state of Mississippi -- the model for the fictional town of “Jefferson” Lafayette County – the model for his “Yoknapatawpha County”

A map of Yoknapatawpha County drawn by Faulkner, who claimed to be its "sole owner and proprietor“ (Absalom, Absalom!) •Role of the modernist writer and his relation with the actual geographies, politics and official history •Art replacing & subverting all official discourses

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

World War I: rejected by the U.S. Army because of his height

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1949: the Nobel Prize for Literature 2 Pulitzer Prizes:
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Joined the Canadian and then the Royal Air Force, but did not take part in much wartime actions

2 National Book Awards:
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1955: A Fable 1963: The Reivers

1951: Collected Stories 1955: A Fable.

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Excerpt from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:  “I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound; that of his puny inexhaustible voice still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit cabaple of compassion and sacrifice and endurance”.

the humanist side of American modernism

The Sound and the Fury, 1929

Three types of inadequate relation to EXPERIENCE (Benjy, Quentin, Jason & other Compsons) in stream of consciousness technique + an adequate one (Dilsey) in classical omniscient narrative technique

The Sound and the Fury, 1929

"I aint done nothing to him." Luster said. "He was playing there, and all of a sudden he started bellering.“ What you want to get her started for, Dilsey said, Whyn't you keep him out of there. He was just looking at the fire, Caddy said. Mother was telling him his new name. We didn't mean to get her started. I knows you didn't, Dilsey said. Him at one end of the house and her at the other. You let my things alone, now. Dont you touch nothing till I get back. "Aint you shamed of yourself." Dilsey said. "Teasing him." She set the cake on the table. "I aint been teasing him." Luster said. "He was playing with that bottle full of dogfennel and all of a sudden he started up bellering. You heard him." "You aint done nothing to his flowers." Dilsey said. "I aint touched his graveyard." Luster said.
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What section of the novel does this fragment belong to? Explain stream of consciousness What is / are the referent(s) for the personal pronouns written in green? What is their role?

The Sound and the Fury, 1929

“WHEN THE SHADOW OF THE SASH APPEARED ON THE curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather's and when Father gave it to me he said, Quentin, I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it's rather excrutiatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father's. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”
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What section of the novel does this fragment belong to? Explain stream of consciousness Discuss / explain the bits in green

The Sound and the Fury, 1929

“When I finished my cigar and went up, the light was still on. I could see the empty keyhole, but I couldn't hear a sound. She studied quiet. Maybe she learned that in school. I told Mother goodnight and went on to my room and got the box out and counted it again. I could hear the Great American Gelding snoring away like a planing mill. I read somewhere they'd fix men that way to give them women's voices. But maybe he didn't know what they'd done to him. I dont reckon he even knew what he had been trying to do, or why Mr Burgess knocked him out with the fence picket. And if they'd just sent him on to Jackson while he was under the ether, he'd never have known the difference. (…) Well, like I say they never started soon enough with their cutting, and they quit too quick. I know at least two more that needed something like that, and one of them not over a mile away, either.”
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What section of the novel does this fragment belong to? Explain stream of consciousness Explain the phrases written in green.

The Sound and the Fury, 1929

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“ ‘Eight oclock,’ Dilsey said. She ceased and tilted her head upward, listening. But there was no sound save the clock and the fire. She opened the oven and looked at the pan of bread, then stooping she paused while someone descended the stairs. She heard the feet cross the diningroom, then the swing door opened and Luster entered, followed by a big man who appeared to have been shaped of some substance whose particles would not or did not cohere to one another or to the frame which supported it. His skin was dead looking and hairless; dropsical too, he moved with a shambling gait like a trained bear. His hair was pale and fine. It had been brushed smoothly down upon his brow like that of children in daguerrotypes. His eyes were clear, of the pale sweet blue of cornflowers, his thick mouth hung open, drooling a little.” What section of the novel does this fragment belong to? What kind of narrative is there in this excerpt? Who is “the big man”? Comment on the phrases / sentences written in green.

The Sound and the Fury, 1929

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“Doomed and knew it, accepted the doom without either seeking or fleeing it. Loved her brother despite him, loved not only him but loved in him that bitter prophet and inflexible corruptless judge of what he considered the family's honor and its doom, as he thought he loved but really hated in her what he considered the frail doomed vessel of its pride and the foul instrument of its disgrace; not only this, she loved him not only in spite of but because of the fact that he himself was incapable of love, accepting the fact that he must value above all not her but the virginity of which she was custodian and on which she placed no value whatever: the frail physical stricture which to her was no more than a hangnail would have been. Knew the brother loved death best of all and was not jealous, would (and perhaps in the calculation and deliberation of her marriage did) have handed him the hypothetical hemlock. Was two months pregnant with another man's child which regardless of what its sex would be she had already named Quentin after the brother whom they both (she and the brother) knew was already the same as dead, when she married (1910).” What section of the novel does this fragment belong to? What kind of narrative is there in this excerpt? What are the referents for “he”, “she” and “Quentin”?

The Sound and the Fury, 1929

Source of dramatic tension and focal point of various perspectives: Caddy’s surrender to Dalton Ames The sequence of events is not caused by her acts but by the significance which each of her brothers attributes to it As a result: the four sections appear quite unrelated even though they repeat certain incidents and are concerned with the same problem: Caddy’s loss of virginity.

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

Each of the sections is static, but through their reading the plot reveals progressively. There is no development of either character or plot in the traditional manner. The consciousness of a character is the agent illuminating and being illuminated by the central situation

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

fixing the structure while leaving the central situation ambiguous  forcing the reader to reconstruct the story and to apprehend its significance for himself

The reader recovers the story while he is grasping the relation of Benjy, Quentin, and Jason to it. with respect to the plot the 4 sections are inextricably connected, but with respect to the central situation they are quite distinct and self-sufficient. As related to the central focus, each of the 1st 3 sections presents a version of the same facts which is at once the truth and a complete distortion of the truth; e.g:

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

“I went along the fence, to the gate, where the girls passed with their booksatchels. "You, Benjy." Luster said. "Come back here." You cant do no good looking through the gate, T. P. said. Miss Caddy done gone long ways away. Done got married and left you. You cant do no good, holding to the gate and crying. She cant hear you. What is it he wants, T. P. Mother said. Cant you play with him and keep him quiet. He want to go down yonder and look through the gate, T. P. said. Well, he cannot do it, Mother said. It's raining. You will just have to play with him and keep him quiet. You, Benjamin. Aint nothing going to quiet him, T. P. said. He think if he down to the gate, Miss Caddy come back. Nonsense, Mother said. I could hear them talking. I went out the door and I couldn't hear them, and I went down to the gate, where the girls passed with their booksatchels. They looked at me, walking fast, with their heads turned. I tried to say, but they went on, and I went along the fence, trying to say, and they went faster. Then they were running and I came to the corner of the fence and I couldn't go any further, and I held to the fence, looking after them and trying to say. Benjy’s voice – silenced in terms of plot; his missing Caddy will lead to his running after one of the girls; the daughter’s family & his own family would misinterpret his intentions  taken to Jackson (see slide 11 & Jason’s perception and interpretation of the event).

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

“The month of brides, the voice that breathed She ran right out of the mirror, out of the banked scent. Roses. Roses. Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson announce the marriage of. Roses. Not virgins like dogwood, milkweed. I said I have committed incest, Father I said. Roses. Cunning and serene. If you attend Harvard one year, but dont see the boatrace, there should be a refund. Let Jason have it. Give Jason a year at Harvard.”

Quentin’s version of Caddy’s story

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

“ONCE A BITCH ALWAYS A BITCH, WHAT I SAY. I SAYS you're lucky if her playing out of school is all that worries you. I says she ought to be down there in that kitchen right now, instead of up there in her room, gobbing paint on her face and waiting for six niggers that cant even stand up out of a chair unless they've got a pan full of bread and meat to balance them, to fix breakfast for her. And Mother says, "But to have the school authorities think that I have no control over her, that I cant--" "Well," I says, "You cant, can you? You never have tried to do anything with her," I says, "How do you expect to begin this late, when she's seventeen years old?" (…) "Sure," I says, "I never had time to be. I never had time to go to Harvard like Quentin or drink myself into the ground like Father. I had to work. But of course if you want me to follow her around and see what she does, I can quit the store and get a job where I can work at night. Then I can watch her during the day and you can use Ben for the night shift."

Jason’s version of Caddy’s story via Quentin’s (Caddy’s daughter)

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

"They deliberately shut me out of their lives," she says, "It was always her and Quentin. They were always conspiring against me. Against you too, though you were too young to realise it. They always looked on you and me as outsiders, like they did your Uncle Maury. I always told your father that they were allowed too much freedom, to be together too much. When Quentin started to school we had to let her go the next year, so she could be with him. She couldn't bear for any of you to do anything she couldn't. It was vanity in her, vanity and false pride. And then when her troubles began I knew that Quentin would feel that he had to do something just as bad. But I didn't believe that he would have been so selfish as to--I didn't dream that he--" "Maybe he knew it was going to be a girl," I says, "And that one more of them would be more than he could stand.“

Their mother’s version via Jason’s; what is it that Quentin (Caddy’s brother) did and proved to be “selfish”?

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

each of the 1st 3 sections presents a version of the same facts which is at once the truth and a complete distortion of the truth

the theme of the novel, as revealed by its structure, is: the relation between the act and man’s apprehension of the act, between the event and the interpretation. It is a matter of shifting perspective: for each man creates his own truth. This does not mean that there is no truth, or that truth is unknowable. It only means that truth is a matter of the heart’s response and the mind’s logic  MODERNISM Dilsey’s responses seem to be nearest to it, as humanly round and really moral.

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

 each of the 1st 3 sections presents a well demarcated and isolated world built around one of these splinters of truth communication is difficult, if not impossible:

Caddy (with everything entailed by this character and its doings), who is central to all three, means something different to each.  For Benjy: smell of trees (Benjy’s perception is sensorial)  innocence & maternal protection.  For Quentin: honor ( an abstract and emotional perceiver of morality)  For Jason: money (or the means to obtain it: logic and social communication are his antennae)

John Dos Passos (1896-1970)

John Dos Passos as a Sunday Painter. (He was a good amateur painter.) Oil on Canvas.

John Dos Passos (1896-1970)

three volume sequence of novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), The Big Money (1936) published together in 1937 as U.S.A

New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1936.

The Big Money (1936)

Experimented with:
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Juxtaposition rapid cutting fragmentation, owing a good deal to the cinema techniques of Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein and D. W. Griffith. Simultaneity pluralized narration intersection of documentary material with personal stories

Other devices:
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The Big Money (1936)

tracing the growth of the history of the United States from its optimistic and progressive hopes at the turn into the 20th century, through the crisis year 1919, when Woodrow Wilson’s hopes began to fail, and so to the crass materialism of the 1920s background material is divided into : “Camera Eye”, “Biography”, “Newsreel”

The Big Money (1936)
“NEWSREEL LXVIII WALL STREET STUNNED This is not Thirty-eight but it's old Ninety-seven You must put her in Center on time MARKET SURE TO RECOVER FROM SLUMP Decline in Contracts
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POLICE TURN MACHINE GUNS ON COLORADO MINE STRIKERS KILL 5 WOUND 40 sympathizers appeared on the scene just as thousands of office workers were pouring out of the buildings at the lunch hour. As they raised their placard high and started an indefinite march from one side to the other, they were jeered and hooted not only by the office workers but also by workmen on a building under construction”

The Big Money (1936)

“THE CAMERA EYE (51) at the head of the valley in the dark of the hills on the broken floor of a lurched over cabin a man halfsits halflies propped up by an old woman two wrinkled girls that might be young chunks of coal flare in the hearth flicker in his face white and sagging as dough blacken the caved-in mouth the taut throat the belly swelled enormous with the wound he got working on the minetipple the barefoot girl brings him a tincup of water the woman wipes sweat off his streaming face with a dirty denim sleeve the firelight flares in his eyes stretched big with fever in the women's scared eyes and in the blanched faces of the foreigners without help in the valley hemmed by dark strikesilent hills the man will die (my father died, we know what it is like to see a man die) the women will lay him out on the rickety cot the miners will bury him (…)”

The Big Money (1936)
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covers 1920-29 chronicle of America’s failure in the post-war period failure is presented through the unabashed pursuit of wealth, prestige and power at the expense of political freedom, equality of economic opportunity and human dignity Dos Passos did not see the novel as a linear structure, moving by progression of character and incident, but as a montage of people and activities: e.g. Mary French

The Big Money (1936)

“MARY FRENCH Mary French had to stay late at the office and couldn't get to the hall until the meeting was almost over. There were no seats left so she stood in the back. So many people were standing in front of her that she couldn't see Don, she could only hear his ringing harsh voice and feel the tense attention in the silence during his pauses. When a roar of applause answered his last words and the hall filled suddenly with voices and the scrape and shuffle of feet she ran out ahead of the crowd and up the alley to the back door. Don was just coming out of the black sheetiron door talking over his shoulder as he came to two of the miners' delegates. He stopped a second to hold the door open for them with a long arm. His face had the flushed smile, there was the shine in his eye he often had after speaking, the look, Mary used to tell herself, of a man who had just come from a date with his best girl. It was some time before Don saw her in the group that gathered round him in the alley. Without looking at her he swept her along with the men he was talking to and walked them fast towards the corner of the street”.

The Big Money (1936)

His comparison between the new novel structure and a tableau clarifies his intention:  “I have paid a good deal of attention to painting. The period of art I was very much interested in at that time was the 13th and the 14th centuries. Its tableaux with large figures of saints surrounded by a lot of little people just fascinated me. I tried to capture the same effect in words.” the narrative method and authorial choice in the trilogy must be seen in light of Dos Passos’ aim of creating a new kind of fiction to couple history with fiction, to “keep up a contemporary commentary on history’s changes, always as seen by some individual’s ears, felt through some individual’s nerves and tissues.”

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