Quentin’s Impulsiveness – The Sound and the Fury

Response assignment for my fall Major American Authors: Faulkner (ENGL4460) course. 2017.

If someone is driving and hydroplanes, his or her first impulse is to slam the breaks—which increases the severity of the hydroplane. Quentin Compson’s character would attempt to slam the breaks, or yank the steering wheel, in order to feel in control of the situation.

We see Quentin’s tragic flaw, impulsiveness, through his violent outbreaks often when a woman’s honor is involved. This is displayed this in the second section, when Quentin is telling Dalton to get out of town. Quentin is so anxious and not in control that his hands are trembling and he can barely speak, even when Dalton asks him for his name. The feeling of wanting to sit in the driver’s seat of this uncomfortable situation helped provoke Quentin even further into hitting Dalton for disrespecting women. When Quentin hits Dalton for saying women are all bitches, his fist doesn’t even have time to close before it hits Dalton: “I hit him my open hand beat the impulse to shut it to his face…” (160). Consequently, this impulsive confrontation only leads Quentin to receiving an embarrassing beating from Dalton. The bridge beating confirms Quentin’s morals haven’t changed since he was a child—more specifically, when he fought a boy in his class for threatening to put a frog in a girl’s desk. When explaining the fight to his father, Mr. Compson simply states, “‘Where was he going to get a frog in November,’” meaning if Quentin had taken a moment to think rationally, rather acting impulsively, he would not have gotten into a fight (68).

Faulkner also shows the faults of attempting to live up to southern, gentlemanly ideals through Quentin’s violent impulsive outbreaks, occurring throughout his entire life. Quentin wants to view himself as this southern archetypical hero, yet when he courageously defends women, it ends up being pointless, doing more harm than good. During the altercation on the bridge, Caddy did not want or need Quentin to defend her, and when Quentin gets into a fight for a girl in grade school, it’s about frog that does not exist. Additionally, Quentin cannot be the perfect southern gentleman because that archetype is deeply flawed. Quentin sees Dalton Ames as fitting this archetype because he served in the army and has killed men, and even describes Dalton as if “he was made out of bronze” (158), yet Dalton is not a virtuous person; he does not seem to care for Caddy’s wellbeing whatsoever. Faulkner here exposes the flaws of what was considered the ideal southern man through Quentin’s problematic attempts to reach this unattainable, unrealistic status, and all-American Dalton’s hostile demeanor towards the women of which he is intimate.

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