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Take It For Granted

Faulkner intimidates me. I dreaded reading him in college. That said, I have made an effort to rediscover him. Reading Faulkner often reminds me how often I take an author and the book for granted, in the way how the story is told. But Faulkner is about defying such conventional story-telling. In The Sound and the Fury, the past frequently intrudes upon the present in the minds of three central characters who each narrate part of the novel. This intrusion is not unusual; it happens to every man and woman from time to time. For example, when you listen to a sermon in a church or a lecture in a classroom–or when you are jogging or making a bed–a memory from yesterday, a year ago, or 20 years ago may suddenly seize your attention. A sound, a sight, a taste, or a smell may have triggered that memory. Or the memory may simply have sprung up, unbidden.

Excerpt from Part I (p.2-4)

We went along the fence and came to the garden fence, where our shadows were. My shadow was higher than Luster’s on the fence. We came to the broken place and went through it.
“Wait a minute.” Luster said. “You snagged on that nail again. Cant you never crawl through here without snagging on that nail.”
Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through. Uncle Maury said to not let anybody see us, so we better stoop over, Caddy said. Stoop over, Benjy. Like this, see. We stooped over and crossed the garden, where the flowers rasped and rattled against us. The ground was hard. We climbed the fence, where the pigs were grunting and snuffing. I expect they’re sorry because one of them got killed today, Caddy said. The ground was hard, churned and knotted. Keep your hands in your pockets, Caddy said. Or they’ll get froze. You dont want your hands froze on Christmas, do you.
“It’s too cold out there.” Versh said. “You dont want to go outdoors.”
“What is it now.” Mother said.
“He want to go out doors.” Versh said.
“Let him go.” Uncle Maury said.
“It’s too cold.” Mother said. “He’d better stay in. Benjamin. Stop that, now.”
“It wont hurt him.” Uncle Maury said.
“You, Benjamin.” Mother said. “If vou dont be good, you’ll have to go to the kitchen.”
“Mammy say keep him out the kitchen today.” Versh said. “She say she got all that cooking to get done.”
“Let him go, Caroline.” Uncle Maury said. “You’ll worry yourself sick over him.”
“I know it.” Mother said. “It’s a judgment on me. I sometimes wonder.”
“I know, I know.” Uncle Maury said. “You must keep your strength up. I’ll make you a toddy.”
“It just upsets me that much more.” Mother said. “Dont you know it does.”
“You’ll feel better. ” Uncle Maury said. “Wrap him up good, boy, and take him out for a while.”
Uncle Maury went away. Versh went away.
“Please hush.” Mother said. “We’re trying to get you out as fast as we can. I dont want you to get sick.”
Versh put my overshoes and overcoat on and we took my cap and went out. Uncle Maury was putting the bottle away in the sideboard in the diningroom.
“Keep him out about half an hour, boy.” Uncle Maury said. “Keep him in the yard, now.”
“Yes, sir.” Versh said. “We dont never let him get off the place.”
We went out doors. The sun was cold and bright.
“Where you heading for.” Versh said. “You dont think you going to town, does you.” We went through the rattling leaves. The gate was cold. “You better keep them hands in your pockets.” Versh said. “You get them froze onto that gate, then what you do. Whyn’t you wait for them in the house.” He put my hands into my pockets. I could hear him rattling in the leaves. I could smell the cold. The gate was cold.
“Here some hickeynuts. Whooey. Git up that tree. Look here at this squirl, Benjy.” I couldn’t feel the gate at all, but I could smell the bright cold. “You better put them hands back in your pockets.”
Caddy was walking. Then she was running, her booksatchel swinging and jouncing behind her.
“Hello, Benjy.” Caddy said. She opened the gate and came in and stooped down. Caddy smelled like leaves. “Did you come to meet me.” she said. “Did you come to meet Caddy. What did you let him get his hands so cold for, Versh.” “I told him to keep them in his pockets.” Versh said. “Holding on to that ahun gate.”
“Did you come to meet Caddy.” she said, rubbing my hands. “What is it. What are you trying to tell Caddy.” Caddy smelled like trees and like when she says we were asleep.

Part I takes place on Saturday, April 7, 1928, the day before Easter, but flashes back frequently to previous years. The narrator of this chapter is Benjy Compson, who was born in 1895. He is feeble-minded. He cannot speak, read, or write. His retardation is so severe that he even confuses the past with the present. A memory from long ago may occur to him as a present experience. From the excerpt, the first part of the narrative denotes the present, in which Benjy, now 33 years old, is in the company of a friend Luster, who is looking for a lost quarter at the golf course. The italic part goes back in time, telling us about Caddy’s delivery of letter to Mrs. Patterson back in 1904. The next narrative tells us about Uncle Maury’s intent to arrange for Caddy to deliver letter to Mrs. Patterson, his secret lover. Why all the time shifts? Because Benjy has no sense of time, his only thought-process is associative: the event of the day, then, and what it reminds him of in the past are all one to him. That is why when in the present, snagged on a nail when crossing over the fence, he remembers the time when Caddy and he were to deliver the love letter to their neighbor.

Faulkner for sure challenges his readers to disentangle the characters and the time in which he tells the fragments of story. The joy to me is to not take things for granted, but to appreciate the unconventional manner of story-telling.

2 Responses

  1. Did you hear HBO is thinking about bringing some of Faulkner’s works to TV? I can’t wait to see how that translates…

  2. The only Faulkner I’ve read is As I Lay Dying, but I’m hoping to get to Soldier’s Pay in the next few weeks. I’ve yet to read The Sound and the Fury, but I’m intrigued by the passage you shared. I enjoyed As I Lay Dying – Faulkner plays with time in that novel, too.

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