Satpathy Essay


Location and Loss in The Sound and the Fury

By Ankita Satpathy
University of Virginia

Question: Much of the Compson family's tragic tale in The Sound and the Fury seems to center around the idea of home and who leaves home when. For instance, Benjy mourns his sister's departure from home, whereas Quentin's departure eventually leads to his suicide at Harvard. Many pivotal events during the Compson children's childhoods also occur at the Compson Place. Broadly speaking, I was curious about what each Compson's connection to home was and what specific locations at the Compson Place hold the most emotion for each character. Are there certain locations, such as perhaps the pasture, which resonate deeply with the entire family? Or does the loss of this space only truly impact Benjy? What can Digital Yoknapatawpha tell us about the emotional resonance of certain locations in the novel, and how can we connect this to the story's overall theme of loss?

What I did in DY: First, I wanted to confirm my understanding that the Compson Place was indeed the spatial center of the novel, despite the fact that Quentin's section largely occurs at Harvard, so I went to the heatmaps homepage and clicked on the novel sequence to view the heatmap for The Sound and the Fury. The map is included below.

As the heatmap would suggest, the Compson House is the location that most of the novel's characters and events converge on. Although it's subtle, a close look also reveals some darker pink areas on the Compson property ¬ the kitchen, backyard, and branch stand out a bit more than other areas on the Compson property. (I consulted the map on the novel homepage in order to identify these specific locations.) I was initially surprised that the swing and the pear tree weren't darker on the map, given each location's strong connection with Caddy as she loses some innocence climbing the tree to witness her grandmother's funeral, and as she matures sexually with various suitors on the swing. Given that Faulkner called the novel the picture of Caddy, I assumed locations closely connected with Caddy would feature more prominently on the heat map.

However, when I considered Caddy's relative absence in the second half of the novel, and the fact that the algorithm producing the heat map simply tallies up which events occur at each location, without considering the relative importance of each event, I realized it made sense that the Compson house and the kitchen were the ‘warmest' locations on the map. In order to truly get a sense of which locations were the most important to each character, I needed a tool which connected characters to locations, like the BiPartite graphs. Because my goal was to consider each character's connection to each location, and not simply which characters spent the most time where, I generated the BiPartite Graph (see below) of major characters in the Compson family who are either present or mentioned at any location on the Compson property.

Though I was primarily interested in the four Compson children for this question, I couldn't quite figure out how to generate the graph for just those four characters, so I ended up looking at all the major Compson characters and was glad that I did. I noticed that the only location besides the house itself which all major Compson characters were connected to was the branch, perhaps because the children spend so much time there when they are young. In most other locations, either Mrs. Caroline Compson or Mr. Jason Compson or both were missing. Of all the many losses the Compson children face in the novel, I hadn't considered that the loss of present, active parenting might be one of them. A quick glance at the character force directed graph for the major Compson characters, included below, confirmed that Quentin's relationship with Mr. Jason Compson is the strongest, but the other children do not develop much of a relationship with him. This mirrors Mr. Compson's absence from other key locations for the Compson children, such as the swing, barn, hole in fence, gate, and Benjy's garden.

Interpretative Conclusions: Though some of my initial conclusions are suggested above, I was most interested in Benjy's pasture and the swing, because they both represent major losses in the story. Though Benjy and Caddy were both connected to the swing, I was surprised to see that Quentin wasn't, given his obsession with Caddy losing her innocence. I wasn't quite sure what to make of this, other than perhaps that Benjy thinks so simplistically that he can only associate Caddy's promiscuity with the location where he sees her, whereas Quentin associates this loss with the men who caused it. Benjy responds to sensory triggers but Quentin's mind operates at a higher level and his obsession is with Caddy herself, not a particular spatial trigger.

The second major conclusion I drew from the BiPartite graph was that the loss of Benji's pasture was not necessarily a major loss for the entire family. The only three characters associated with the pasture are Benjy, Caddy, and Quentin. Though it was obviously a material loss and represents a huge loss in Benjy's life, it doesn't seem to have been a particularly emotional one for Jason and Mr. and Mrs. Compson. For them, it isn't an emotional place – they are far more concerned with the opportunity to send a guilt-ridden Quentin to Harvard than they are with the sale's potential impact on Benjy's emotional state. This reinforces the idea that Caddy is the only Compson who truly cares for Benjy in a loving and patient way.

I originally set out to discover what each character's emotional connection to home and specific locations on the Compson estate was. Although answering this question requires more human interpretation than DY can provide, the location graphs do provide a starting point for considering which locations feature prominently in which characters' arcs. The graphs also highlighted the notable absence of Mr. and Mrs. Compson, and sometimes Jason, from many locations where the children have transformative experiences, leading me to conclude that the strongest family ties in this novel are between Benjy and Caddy and Quentin and Caddy. Even though Caddy is virtually absent from half the novel, she is truly the center of the story.

    Citing this source:
"Location and Loss in The Sound and the Fury," by Ankita Satpathy. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, (Date added to project: 2020)