The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner has been hailed by numerous critics and readers alike as “ a deliberately conceived and superlatively executed work (Millgate). ” Not only was it an outstanding example of the “ stream of consciousness” method of narration, it was in keeping with the modernist trends of implied themes and fragmentation. Faulkner also seems to have had an understanding of the Freudian theory of personality which shows in his writing.
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The four Compson children are examples of the different personality components and of how their inability to function together as a whole destroys the last of the Compson family. Quentin and Jason IV, the two male children who aren’t mentally deficient, both have imbalanced personalities, but their respective deficiencies causes them to be diametrically opposed. Exploration and application of Freud’s personality structure will illustrate the areas of their psyche that are underdeveloped or lacking and the ramifications of these deficiencies in their lives. Sigmund Freud’s conception of personality consists of three entities; the id, ego, and superego. The id is the most fundamental of the three. It is characterized as “ the reservoir of instinctual psychic energy, or libido (Psychology Today 408). ” It is the depository of the innate instinctual drives and always seeks immediate gratification while avoiding pain, known as the “ pleasure principle. “(Hilgard 478) It is divided into two instincts, Thanatos (death) and Eros (life).
The ego is responsible for controlling the impulsive id. It consists of the psychic apparatuses i. e. perception, memory, motility, and time, which allow the individual to perceive, to think, and to act upon his environment. It also governs and controls the id’s encounters with reality. (Deutsch 138) It mediates between the id and the superego and the id and reality. It also directs the Eros, or life instincts.
The superego consists of the conscience and the ego ideal, which are negative and positive facets of morality. It is the servant of Thanatos, or death functions. Its functions are to inhibit the impulses of the id, to influence the ego to substitute moral goals for immoral or amoral ones (reaction-formation), and to strive for perfection. The superego is a censor that evaluates the actions of the ego and the impulses of the id, and either rewards with pride or punishes with guilt. (Psychology 286) The Sound and the Fury is concerned with the breakdown and demise of the Compsons, a once prolific and respected southern family victim to self-ruination. In a home shaped by their whining hypochondriac mother and their cynical and nihilistic father, the psyches of the four children are irreparably damaged, causing them to have dysfunctional personalities and as a result live tragic lives. Quentin, the first-born son, who loved his sister, but “ loved death above all.
.. loved and lived in a deliberate and almost perverse anticipation of death (Appendix 411),” committed suicide; Caddy, the only daughter, who was “ doomed and knew it, accepted the doom without either seeking or fleeing it (Appendix 412),” who disappeared in Europe, “ and was not heard of again;” Jason IV, “ a man who delights in perverseness for its own sake (Cliff 62);” and Benjy, the severely retarded youngest son, who, according to his black caretaker, is lucky to have been spared the Compson’s reality. Quentin’s personality is very imbalanced.
His whole life is filled with guilt and sorrow, which suggests that his superego is dominant. The superego strives for order and perfection, and Quentin lives in pursuit of the lost honor and order that was once present in the Compson family. Caddy will agree to either incest or suicide because it would be an utter rejection of her parents, but Quentin is unable to do either because either act would destroy the order he has tried to create by violating accepted behavior. Freud states that the opposition imposed by society to the death forces, which are prevalent in Quentin’s personality, is a major source of personality conflict (Bloom 167). Quentin’s problem is that the impulses from his id and the concepts from the superego are too powerful for his weak ego to act upon, rendering his actions impotent.
He suggests an incestuous relationship between Caddy and himself, as he has boasted to his father, but can’t bring himself to violate her like that, even though she agreed. He then suggests a double suicide, to hich Caddy is also compliant, but once again he unable to complete the act, “ its my knife I dropped it..
. Im going to let it go (S&F 153). ” He is so enraged at Dalton Ames for getting Caddy pregnant that he attacks Dalton, but he passes out. Dalton tells Quentin that he hit him but “ I [Quentin] knew that he hadn’t hit me that he had lied about that… and that I had just passed out like a girl (S&F 162). ” His unsuccessful brawl with Gerald Bland results in his being soundly beaten, and is compounded by his other failures.
Gerald’s beating is the final indignity of the day. Now Quentin is ready for his final act of suicide (Cliff 46). ” All his attempts at establishing order have been thwarted, so all he can do is die. Ironically, he spends his last day on earth packing and shipping his belongings, writing letters, and basically putting the little things in his life in order, because those are the only things he can control. Jason IV, “ the last sane Compson since before Culloden and (a childless bachelor) hence the last (Appendix 420),” is cruel, aggressive, and opinionated.
His personality seems to favor the id and ego, while the superego, and its sense of conscience and ego ideal, is mostly ignored. The ego is concerned with time and reality, and no one is more realistic and rational as Jason. He uses time to calculate (Traschen 809). Not a moment is wasted, especially in reflection or memories. “ Jason completely denies the past; he functions only in the present (Cliff 48). ” His ego also performs a very important function for the id; it postpones the id’s impulses until it can find a way to achieve gratification.
Jason’s id seems to be working overtime, because practically his every thought and action functions to fulfil a need he has. His ego is responsible for finding a way to accomplish this. When he has had a hard day, his id seeks release but his ego makes it wait until he can hurt someone else. This gives him extra pleasure, so he delights in doing cruel things; like verbally and physically abusing his niece, Miss Quentin, or tormenting Luster, Benjy’s caretaker, by burning tickets to the carnival rather than give them to him for free. His id has a desire for money, so his ego devises plan by which he can steal thousands of dollars from Caddy, Miss Quentin, and his own mother, all of whom he hates. His ego also rationalizes all blame away from him onto someone else, for example, he blames Caddy for his not getting a position at her ex-husband’s bank because of her loose ways, but he fails to realize that the only reason he was promised a job was because of Caddy (Cliff 47).
He blames his mother, Benjy, and the whole family, servants included, for his not being free and successful because he has to work and take care of all of them. He is trying to avoid pain, and by blaming others, he has more of a reason to hate them, and therefore more motivation to do cruel things to them, resulting in more satisfaction for him, which will cancel out the pain he would feel. Jason’s superego has little effect on his actions.
He seems to be completely lacking of a conscience and, in fact, revels in his perverse cruelty. He also exhibits no signs of an ego ideal, or positive goals. His ego almost never had to shield the id’s impulses from the superego because he had no internalized ideals to pursue, only sadistic and materialistic goals. In the cases of Quentin and Jason Compson, their psychic imbalances were their downfalls. Quentin was unable to cope with the impulses put out by his id and the ideals internalized in his superego, and therefore committed suicide and destroyed himself. Jason’s overactive id and underdeveloped superego led to a lack of ideals and compulsive greed and avarice, and his “ destruction” in the novel came when the niece he had been stealing from for years and years finally takes every penny from the locked box in Jason; s room and runs away.
Jason’s own greed kept him from disclosing just how much Miss Quentin took because telling how much would be like admitting that he had been cheating her out of her money. Their inability to overcome their personality deficiencies ultimately contributed to their being “ destroyed. ” They, and everyone else in the Compson family, symbolize the fate of the modern world. Unless the inadequacies of today’s society can be overcome, modern man is destined for doom.