Racial Temporality: Revealing the Collapse of the White Authority in The Sound and the Fury

Min Hyun Oh


Time in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is out of joint. The white characters spiral into a temporal chaos that inevitably leads the Compsons to destruction. The focus of time, however, can be expanded to the black characters by merging racial alterity and time into a theory of racial temporality. Racial temporality is a fluid concept that develops from the constant interaction between the alternate temporalities of the white and black characters. This flexible concept challenges racism and reveals the black characters as the actual controllers of time against the fragmented, inflexible, and arbitrary temporality of the whites. The black servants—Versh, T. P., Luster, and Dilsey—maintain the flow of time, while the Compsons lose themselves in their stagnant white temporality. Black temporality and white temporality engage with and deviate from each other, constantly modifying the overarching racial temporality that interconnects the four sections in the novel. In Benjy’s section, racial temporality conveys superiority to the black servants—Versh, T. P., and Luster. The three black servants maintain the flow of time within Benjy’s chaotic temporality, thereby holding an unconventional superiority over a white character. In Quentin’s section, racial temporality exposes Quentin’s static white temporality through his interaction with Deacon, eroding the validity of white supremacy. Later in Jason’s section, racial temporality proves white supremacy to be an arbitrary construct of race. As the faults emerge, Jason appears threatened as Job’s behavior challenges his racial beliefs. The arbitrary impositions further highlight his hypocritical attitude towards white supremacy. In the last section, racial temporality further explores the whites’ apprehension towards the declining white-centered social structure through Dilsey’s interaction with Miss Quentin. Racial temporality can thus signal social changes, such as the deteriorating black-white division and the blacks’ rise to equality. Approaching The Sound and the Fury with racial temporality allows further exploration of Faulkner’s approach to time, change, and race.


Faulkner; Race; Time

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