The Compson family
The disintegration of the Compson family is central to the novel and may also be interpreted as a wider metaphor for the disintegration of the South. The supposedly great past of the family and the region, which was applicable in terms of wealth but not in terms of owning slaves of course, is seen to be disappearing in this first quarter of the twenty century after the failure of Reconstruction.
The family are a microcosm for the South as this is where they live, in Jefferson, but also because of the disappearance of values both are supposed to uphold but fail to in a mire of hypocrisy and self-concern.
Caroline Simpson’s claims of sickness permeate the novel and although ineffectual she is has a determining (yet manipulative) influence on the way her family disintegrates. The love for self that lies beneath this self-obsession is also mixed up with self-loathing and this is a figurative realization of why the family – and perhaps the South – falls to pieces. It is not just her self-obsession but it is also that of most of the main characters that means this is a novel that examines what happens when love for others is not shown.
Early in Chapter Two, the history of Quentin’s watch and his father’s philosophy about time is given. The watch comes to signify the past of the family and their place in South society as well as the importance of the passing of time.
As a high modernist novel, it is of no surprise that linearity is for the most part forsaken in Chapters One and Two most notably and the attempted destruction of the watch may be interpreted as a metaphor for the modernist project as well as highlighting Quentin’s desire to stop time.