Dysfunctionally Functional: Virginity and the Compson Curse Essay

Submitted By jmorr13
Words: 1359
Pages: 6

Matthew Orr
Dr. Atkinson
Mississippi Authors
Dysfunctionally Functional: Virginity and the Compson Curse Of all the categories traditionally applied to define the genre of “southern literature,” one of the most dominant is the idea of the close-knit, functional family that instills “values” and a collective sense of identity and “belonging” to its members. In what is often dubbed Mississippi writer William Faulkner’s greatest masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury, the author sharply redefines the traditional idea of the close-knit southern family. Indeed, the Compson family around which Faulkner’s distinctively modernist novel revolves itself could hardly be said to fit neatly into this traditional, southern motif of the tightly-knit family. In fact, in The Sound and the Fury, nearly every Compson in the novel, from Mother to Caddy, Father to Quentin, is depicted as having strikingly dissimilar personas and moral ideologies. Accordingly, Faulkner’s hauntingly memorable Compson family is illustrated as “close-knit” not because of a sense of a mutually-held, traditional moral code or honor system (as is typical in the genre of southern literature), but as a result of the theme of the “Compson Curse,” which is pervasive throughout the novel. Through the dysfunctionality of the Compson family and the so-called Compson Curse, Faulkner alters the traditional definition of the “close-knit” southern family. Though the Compson family is bound together by the Curse, their beliefs about virginity draw the most distinct line of disparity among the members. Regarding the novel’s central theme of virginity, Father and Mother allow the Compson family to be divided into two distinct factions, which greatly complicates the traditional idea of the close-knit, functional family. In the earliest section of The Sound and the Fury, chronologically speaking—the so-called “Quentin Section”—Quentin explicitly recalls Father’s beliefs on the idea of virginity. To Father, the idea of virginity is merely an arbitrary, socially-constructed ideal that does not really mean anything:
In the South you are ashamed of being a virgin. Boys. Men. They lie about it. Because it means less to women, Father said. He said it was men invented virginity not women. Father said it’s like death: only a state in which the others are left and I said, But to believe it doesn’t matter and he said, That’s what’s so sad about anything: not only virginity and I said, Why couldn’t it have been me and not her who is unvirgin and he said, That’s why that’s sad too; nothing is even worth the changing of it (78)
However, Quentin recalls this information because he is, at the moment of recollection, involved in what eventually becomes a violent argument with his fellow Harvard classmate, Spoade, about respecting women; Spoade is portrayed as somewhat of a womanizer. Throughout the argument, Faulkner presents his reader with Quentin’s personal ideology on virginity: it means virtually everything and is the most definitive signifier of one’s honor and worth. Interestingly, the only Compson who aligns herself with Father’s virginity belief system is the only female child (of four siblings) in the story, Caddy. Indeed, in Caddy’s opinion, virginity is also merely a construct of southern society, which is illustrated through her rampant promiscuity during her teenage years while coming of age in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. As a matter of fact, the reader comes to learn of at least three men with whom Caddy has performed extramarital sexual acts: Dalton Ames (79), Gerald Bland (91), and Herbert Head (93). Later on in the Quentin Section, the narrator recalls a conversation he had with Caddy after learning of her pregnancy out of wedlock. In one of Faulkner’s characteristically punctuation-less sections, Quentin, inquiring as to exactly how many men have sexually penetrated his beloved, idolized sister, asks “Have there been very many Caddy” (115); she responds “I