Harvard University (Location Key)


In The Sound and the Fury Quentin Compson's wanderings on the last day of his life take him to 13 different places in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts; each of these Locations has its own entry in this index. Quentin is in Cambridge to attend Harvard College, the oldest and among the most prestigious American colleges. At the beginning and end of his section in the novel he's in his dorm room somewhere on the campus, and that room is actually the setting for about half of Absalom, Absalom! as he and his roommate Shreve try to reconstruct the story of Thomas Sutpen. In both novels Quentin is too preoccupied with his own and the Southern past to interact much as a student with college life, but the academic setting is characterized in Absalom! in several Faulknernian phrases: "this strange room, across this strange iron New England snow" (141); a "warm and rosy orifice above the iron quad" (176); "this dreamy and heatless alcove of what we call the best of thought" (208) and "dedicated to the best of ratiocination" (225). Readers have to decide for themselves how much irony might lurk in those assertions, but as Mr. Compson reminds Quentin in The Sound and the Fury: "for you to go to harvard has been your mothers dream since you were born" (178). Other sons of the upper class in Yoknapatawpha who also go to Harvard are Gavin Stevens and his nephew Charles Mallison. The credential of Gavin's Harvard B.A. is mentioned almost every time his character is introduced in the various texts. The final mention adds a perplexing twist to the role Harvard plays in the fictions. When Charles is there in The Mansion, he becomes friends with a young man named Spoade, whose "father had been at Harvard back in 1909 with Uncle Gavin" (229). Spoade is a character in The Sound and the Fury; 1909 is when Quentin enrolls at Harvard. The Mansion mentions Quentin as the Compson who "committed suicide at the end of his freshman year" at Harvard (354); it does not explain how Gavin and Quentin could have been there at the same time and yet never met. One other Faulkner character who attends Harvard is the enigmatic Paul de Montigny in "Elly." According to Elly's racist grandmother, Paul is black - in the Jim Crow definition of that term, by which any Negro ancestor makes one a Negro. The story suggests she's right, but Elly tells her that Paul "went to" Harvard (and Virginia) in an attempt to refute what she considers an accusation. The grandmother rejects the possibility of his having been to the University of Virginia (which was strictly segregated until the 1950s), but says she "can understand Harvard" (218). She may simply mean it's a 'Yankee' school, but in fact historically Harvard began admitting black students, in small numbers at first, shortly after the Civil War.

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