Gender transformed the United States more intensely than

Gender is perceived through the narrative style of stream
of consciousness, employed by both Faulkner and Woolf. By gaining an insight
into various characters thought processes, it allows the reader to fully
understand the problems aroused due to the characters conformation and
rebellion against assigned gender roles in 1920s Britain and Southern
America.  ‘To The Lighthouse’ was
published in 1927 and The Sound and the Fury’ in 1929, although set in two
completely different societies the perceived gender norms in Britain and
Southern America are reflected similarly. Woolf follows the fashion of middle
class Victorian England, the world in which her own parents had grown up,
identifying the domestic sphere with conventionally feminine values and public
world with conventionally masculine values. Both Mr and Mrs Ramsay have no
desire to deal with the new form life of modernism. The females in the novel
respect the cultural dominance of masculine intelligence, but for Virginia
Woolf that structure collapsed amid the carnage of the First World War and she
presents Lily’s Briscoe’s dedication to art as a potential means to bridge the
damaging divide between masculine and feminine values. Faulkner was writing at
the end of a decade that transformed the United States more intensely than any
other period of modern America, throughout the decade the country was
approximating a notion that later came to be defined as sexual liberalism. A
more egalitarian relationship proposing emotional compatibility rather than the
fulfilment of gender roles, as the basis of a successful marriage.

 

 

‘Stream of consciousness’ is the narrative style
employed in both ‘The Sound and the Fury’ and ‘To the Lighthouse’, whilst in
‘To the Lighthouse’ the narrative style allows Woolf to explore the nature of
individual perception in relationship to collective understanding, it can be
seen as a sophisticated development of the free indirect style evolved by
earlier novelists such as Jane Austen. It was an essential element in
Faulkner’s overall conception of the novel that Caddy never be seen directly
but only through the eyes of her three brothers. When asked at Virginia why he
did not give a section to Caddy, Faulkner replied that it seemed more
‘passionate’ to do it through her brothers, and one is reminded of his remarks
at Nagano about the beauty of description by ‘understatement and indirection’1.
‘To me Caddy was the beautiful one, she was my heart’s darling’2,
the character of Caddy
reminded him of his daughter who died at an infant age. In the whole story, her
frequent absence and silence arouse more curiosity of the reader since she was
not given enough chances to voice, which was a reflection of women’s social
status at the time. Feminist critic Liu Xi states that ‘Faulkner never
disregards or disrespects women at all, instead he respects and admires women’3
unbiased in his position as a male writer. Similarly Virginia Woolf
demonstrates sympathy with both genders. As she writes in A Room of One’s Own,
‘it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one
must be woman-manly or man-

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Womanly’4.
For this reason, it is problematic to agree wholly with those who label ‘To the
Lighthouse’ as a novel written in ‘feminine consciousness’5 as says Maracay. Instead,
Miller’s notion that the novel is more likely an ‘equivocal androgynous rhythm
of style, beyond or combining the contradictory penchants of sexual difference’6 is more suitable.  Barbara Ladd has lauded Faulkner for ‘his
inclusion of resistant feminities and marginalized heroes’ and one could wonder
whether or not he is praised for ‘lending such characters the protection of a
white southern man.’7
It may be that Faulkner is not so aware of his gendered voice when writing, as
Woolf is of her own. However as a product of Southern tradition himself,
Faulkner uses masculinity to expose tragedy of Southern values on feminity.
While Caddy does not have an explicit voice of consciousness, this allows the
reader to view her as ‘the strongest most beautiful and ironically purest
character in the novel’8
He uses stream of consciousness specifically to expose the socially constructed
foundations of masculine tradition, revealing the larger tragedy of men’s place
in gender.

 

In
both novels the  ‘entire motivation for
marriage is the fear of isolation’9.
Marriage consolidates the characters roles in society, for women as embodying
conventional domestic virtues, bearing and upbringing a family and for males as
a provider for household income.
It ultimately fails as the concept of uniting two people in love. Wives are
deemed as inferior as males predominate in social and authorial roles, such as
political leadership and social privilege. Quentin in ‘The Fury’ generalizes
that ‘all women are bitches’ and similar derogatory language is used in ‘The Lighthouse’
when Mr. Ramsay says to his wife ‘that she was a fool’ and he ‘liked to think
that she was not clever’. In ‘The Fury’ Mr. Compson also treats Mrs. Compson as
a ‘fool’, stating the only way to ‘manage women’ is by giving them a ‘bust in
the jaw’. Wives are treated as the victims of emotional and physical abuse with
no choice but ‘not interrupt, not say anything, just sit’. To regard men as
intellects whilst women stay at home is a cultural cliché dating back at least
to the Ancient Greek epic the Odyssey. As a book ‘of interrelationships among people’
it can be seen that Virginia Woolf felt that predominance in historical
accounts of men and conventionally masculine values had been taken for granted
for too long. It needed to be called into question as a matter of urgency
following the First World War.

 

 In both societies women are coerced or felt
pressured by marriage, and are viewed as burdens as husbands have to protect
them. The masculine frustration with feminine thinking might be reduced to the
conventional categorization of men as the mind and women as the body as ‘the
folly of women’s minds enraged him (Mr. ramsay)’. This seemingly archaic label
continues with the ever-present beauty standard in women as well as the value
of intellect in men. The same concept of mind vs. body is presented in ‘The
Sound and the Fury’; Mrs. Compson ‘had been a big woman once but now her
skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin’. Whilst Mrs. Ramsay’s beauty is
an important aspect of their marriage, Mrs. Compson beauty has now faded as so
has the happiness in their marriage. In the 1920s a more egalitarian
relationship proposed emotional compatibility, rather than fulfillment of
gender-defined roles, as the basis of a successful marriage, however working class
couples like the Compsons continues to engage in relationships where gender
differences produced unequal perspectives on marriage.

 

 

In both novels, light and dark imagery is used to highlight
the nature of women within their marriage, as victims of inferiority whom the
patriarchal figures utterly rely on whilst looking down upon in order to keep
their egos afloat.  Woolf tells us that
Mrs Ramsay metaphorically wore ‘a torch of beauty: she carried it erect into
any room she entered’; this tells the reader that her beauty is an attribute which
is acknowledged by all. Moreover the beauty acts as a ‘torch’, or a tool, which
enlightened not only a room but also the characters within it. This torch much
like her ability to soothe men with sympathy, is a metaphorical device which
she empowers herself through traditionally feminine means. Though it creates
good feelings in the masculine mind, it essentially disables her mind and
reduces her to body. Therefore ‘she did not like even for a second, to feel
finer than her husband’, upholding conventional female subordination. Comparatively
in ‘The Fury’ Mrs Compson ‘went around in a black dress and veil’, here Mrs
Compson is carrying around her an air of melancholy and hostility, partially
due to her sickness but to represent the stained family reputation which she is
unable to reverse mostly due to the promiscuity of Caddy and her illegitimate
child, the family name is stained as Caddy’s sexual purity seems to be the
redemption of the family’s status ;once it is gone, there is nothing left to
raise them back to the former standing. Therefore Mrs Compson’s marriage and
the family it represents has no ‘light’ as part of it. During their marriage
Mrs Ramsay ‘wore a golden haze’, the word golden giving connotations of love,
wealth and beauty, however when she dies ‘an immense darkness began’, this
similarly portrays that even without Mrs Ramsay the family in no longer able to
function as it once did. Similarly Mrs Compson was once ‘rosy coloured’ but
became ‘the dungeon where she and father upward into weak light holding hands
and us lost somewhere below without a ray of light’, as a ‘dungeon’ she uses
her supposed frailty and illness to impose guilt on those around her, whilst
this like the use of beauty conquers short term battles, her ultimate display
of weakness results in debility towards her gender.  

 

Sexuality and aggression are combined in the knives and scimitars
associated with Mr Ramsay. These penetrative objects may also suggest phallic
symbolism, providing motivation for his overbearing tyrannical behaviour, blade
imagery recurs with ‘the arid scimitar of the male’. In ‘The Sound and the Fury’
blade imagery is used as a phallic symbol in Quentin’s suicide scene, as he
‘held the point of the knife at her throat’, his phallic attempt at dual
suicide and return to the symbology of the soiled drawers evokes the novels
collocation of death and sexuality. Earle Labor suggested that Quentin ‘wanted
to perform a hysterectomy’10
in order to remove ‘the agent of Caddy’s sin’, however other critics argue that
Quentin is suffering from ‘a grievous psychic wound’11
and is driven by his incestuous love for Caddy. Similarly to Caddy, Minta
Doyle’s fear of an intimate sexual relationship in ‘The Lighthouse’ is
illustrated with her fear of bulls, horned animals suggesting her anxiety at
the imminent prospect of a mature sexual relationship. Caddy’s fear of a
relationship is conveyed when there ‘was something terrible in me’ and she
could see ‘it grinning’, her fear is shown through the word ‘it’ dehumanizing
the man and converting him into an object to be feared, the justification for
the men’s tyrannical behaviour is that virginity means’ less to women’. Mr
Compson describes it as being ‘like death, only a state in which others are
left’ thereby denoting importance to men, as virginity can be easily taken from
women as they are ‘serving their only purpose’.

 

 In ‘The Lighthouse’ Jaspers’
gun may be seen as a further example of phallic symbolism, revealing the
destructive potential of masculine desire to dominate and control. Cam feels
threatened by the boar’s skull, with its protruding tusks, on her bedroom wall,
while James derives pleasure from it. This pattern of symbols may seem to
suggest that Virginia Woolf’s characterisation endorses a view that ‘men are
naturally active and aggressive, whilst women are naturally passive and
accommodating’12.
Faulkner uses the idea of castration to symbolise the Compson sons’
masculinity, as the ultimate act of emasculation, the constant threat of
castration plagues both Quentin and Jason but his thoughts on castration ‘morph
into more musings on his own incestuous desire and virgin brand’13 Benjy’s
castration is undeniably connected to Caddy’s muddy drawers, the novels
ultimate focus is the decline of the Compson family name, the notions of
sterility and promiscuity are tied together as an unfortunate result of his
victimization by social convention, it is both southern propriety and gender
structures which place Benjy and Caddy in similar situations. In the years 1880
to 1930 the gradual industrialisation and economic transformation the United
States underwent resulted in strong tensions within the middle class family,
which lost part of its hegemonic status. These tensions were produced by the easy
access of men to a world of commercialised sex, while woman were still
perceived by notions of purity. At the same time, the movement of woman outside
the domestic sphere offered new opportunities for no procreative, non-marital
forms of sexual behaviour.

 

The association of female sexuality and uncleanliness in
both ‘To the Lighthouse’ and ‘The Sound and the Fury’ use the symbol of ‘dirty
water’. In ‘The Sound and the Fury’ Caddy ‘slipped and fell down into the
water’ and ‘was all wet and muddy behind’, this act symbolises her later
promiscuity and sexual acts, the water is an ironic reversal of the traditional
use of water as a symbolic baptism, and cleansing and purifying agent. Here
water offers a baptism that foreshadows a life of sin. In an effort to preserve
her dress, she takes it off before playing in the stream; the entire scene
shows not only Caddy’s defiance to hegemonic authority, but also her
intelligent and autonomous nature. In ‘To the Lighthouse’ the image of dirty
water reveals Mr Ramsays insensitivity towards Mrs Ramsay when his comments
make her ‘bend her head…to let the drench of dirty water, bespatter her body unrebuked’,
this image of drenching her shows he enjoys seeing her in mental anguish,
associating her body with dirty water, similarly sexually objectifying her body
when angry at her.

 

Flower imagery is also used to represent obsession with
female sexuality, this is a problem aroused from conventional gender roles as
the Compson brothers reject
their sisters behaviour as unacceptable from a moral stance, while in fact they
are deeply affected by the female freedom she represents and by her behaviour
in sexual matters, her loss of virginity with a stranger and her casual lovers,
coincide with the new emerging prototype of female. The image of the
honeysuckle is used repeatedly to reflect Quentin’s preoccupation with Caddy’s
sexuality: ‘damn that honeysuckle I wish it would stop’; the image arises in
conjunction with the loss of Caddy’s virginity and Quentin’s anxiety over this
loss.  The particular construction of
this image is unique and important to the work in that Quentin himself
understands that the honeysuckle is a symbol for Caddy’s sexuality.  The stream of consciousness technique, with
its attempt at rendering the complex flow of human consciousness, is used by
Faulkner to realistically show how symbols are imposed upon the mind when
experiences and sense perceptions merge. 
Working with this modernist technique, Faulkner is able to examine the
creation function of symbols in human consciousness.

 Vickery argues
that ‘honeysuckle is only a sensation…it is Quentin who makes it a symbol of
night and unrest’14
however Bockting views that ‘this symbol creation process provides a realistic
look at the way the mind connects with experiences.’ This specific use of the
symbol as a coping mechanism shows the importance of honeysuckle in Quentin’s
consciousness.  It is clear then, that we
are to interpret honeysuckle in the Quentin section as a symbol of his interpersonal
conflict with Caddy’s sexuality. 

 

 

Mrs Ramsay’s sexuality is also described by the use of
flower imagery, exhausted by a combination of motherhood and sexuality, Mrs
Ramsay ‘seemed to fold herself together, one petal closed in another’,
enclosing flowers represent a lack of female sexuality, so this image could be
anther example of mind versus body. Whilst in ‘To the Lighthouse’15
it is the prospect of a sexually intimate relationship that intimidates some of
the characters, in ‘The Sound and the Fury’ it is Caddy’s promiscuity that
intimidates the Compson family whilst ultimately descending into chaos because
of it herself. Cleanth
Brooks states that she is a ‘sexual adventuress adrift in the world’16
however others argue she is a ‘sensitive girl but
given to bitchery in her early teens’. Faulkner’s obsession with
the topic of sexuality in the novel could be stemmed from 1920s America
entering a new sexual era. The erotic was valued positively, the youth were
growing more and more independent, sex was associated with commercialised
entertainment while it also became a means of self-expression, throughout the
decade the country was approximating a notion of the erotic that has later come
to be defined as sexual liberalism.

 

Since the first wave of women liberation movement, females
began to establish a consciousness to rebel against men in order to deprive
themselves of the oppressed and the exploited.  Although she came
from a relatively privileged background, Virginia Woolf was not granted the
university education her brothers received, because she was a woman. The
resistance she experienced to the notion of women creating art is reflected in
Charles Tansley’s bigoted remarks concerning the inability of women to paint or
write. Lily and Caddy grasp their own fate for dignity and freedom and
gradually go into depravity in man-dominated society rebelling against their conventional
gender roles. This has detrimental effects on the rest of their family and
friends, with Quentin’s suicide, and Lily’s inability to let herself love. Liu
Xi views that Falkner presents the heroine Caddy as an example for women ‘who
expect to have a sober mind and pioneering spirit against inequality against
men and women’17.
Lily Briscoe like Caddy Compson is constrained by the obligations of marriage and
parenthood. When Mrs Ramsay argues that an unmarried woman ‘misses out on the
best things in life’, Lily is filled with resentment, resisting the pressure to
fill these traditional gender roles and when she succeeds in such resistant her
defiant pride is undercut by anxiety and doubt. As she looks at her canvas ‘it
was blurred’, she acknowledges that it is not ‘great’ symbolising the
completion of the creation of her. Art is Lily’s means to emulate Mrs Ramsay in
granting coherent form to life’s multiplicity. Importantly for her, as a woman,
the creative affirmation of painting allows her to move out from domestic
confines. Virginia Woolf’s own decision to become a writer enabled her to
experience the world beyond those limits, therefore Lily’s artistry can be seen
as part in parallel to the novelists own activity.

 

 

The problems
of inferiority, sexuality, aggression and rebellion establish the implication
of Woolf’s novel that the interaction of gender and values is pertinent to the
ultimate comprehension of self. Ultimately, the authors use their distinct
stream of consciousness styles to show the inter-generational and intra-gender
impacts of a social construction. Woolf shows the cores while Faulkner chooses
to keep them even further suppressed than his characters’ various shames.

 

 

 

1 Olga Kuminova Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury as a Struggle for Ideal Communication:
literature interpretation Theory: Vol 21, No 1 Published online: October 2015 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10436920903547406

2 Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: First Encounters,
New Haven: Yale UP, 1982. Print.

3 A feminist analysis of Caddy’s thoughts in The Sound
and the Fury US-China foreign language published: August 2015 Vol.13 no8
557-561 Liu Xi, M.A, School of foreign languages, Changchuan university

 

4 Virginia Woolf, A
room of one’s own (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company 2000) 104

5 James J. Maracay,
Regenerating the Novel: Gender and Genre in Woolf, Forster, Sinclair, and
Lawrence (New York: Routledge, 2003}

6 J.Hillis Miller,
‘Mr. Carmichael and Lily Briscoe: the rhythm of creativity in To the
Lighthouse.’ Tropes Parables, Performatives: Essays on Twentieth century
Literature, (Durham: Duke University press, 1991)

7 Barbara Ladd,
Resisting History: Gender, Modernity, and Authorship in William Faulkner, Zora
Neale Hurston, and Eudora Welty, (Balton Rouge: Louisiana and State University
Press 2007)

8 Barbara Ladd,
Resisting History: Gender, Modernity, and Authorship in William Faulkner

Words:593

10 Earle Labor, in
Explicator, 17 (1959) Item 29

11 Howe, Irving (1952).
William Faulkner: A Critical (rev.ed.). New York: Random House, Vintage Books.

12 Brooks, Cleanth.
William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven: Yale University Press,
1963

13 Ladd, Barbara,
Resisting History: Gender, Modernity, and Authorship in William Faulkner, Zora
Neale Hurston, and Eudora Welty, Balton Rouge: Louisiana State University
Press, 2007.

 

14 Vickery, Olga W.
‘The Sound and the Fury: A Study in Perspectives.” Ed. David Minter. New York:
W.W. Norton and Company, 1994.285

15 Bockting, Ineke
Style. ”The impossible world of the ‘schizophrenic’: William Faulkner’s
Quentin Compson 1990:24 484-498

Words:517

16 Brooks, Cleanth.
William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven: Yale University Press,
1963

 

17 A Feminist Analysis of Caddy’s thoughts in The Sound
and the Fury Liu Xi Changchun University, China US-foreign language  August 2015 Vol.13 No8 55-56 2015.08.003