The breakdown of the Compson family is a central theme and related to this is a parallel disintegration of the power of the South since Reconstruction. This old and formerly influential family is past its heyday and this is reflected when Benjy’s land is sold to fund Quentin’s studies at Harvard and in the empty barn that was once full of animals.
It is only through Dilsey, the African-American servant that the family is held together in any recognizable way and as she points out, she has raised all of the children including Caddy’s daughter, Quentin. It is telling that in this area of lingering racism, and where the central white family used to own slaves, it is an African-American woman, who is lowest in the hierarchy, who shows compassion and a care for moral justice. This demonstrates that the disintegration of most aspects of this past are welcome, although the effects are still displayed in abuses of power.
Racism is rife and even casually invoked by the many of the white characters throughout the narrative. It is possible to argue this is shocking, which it is, but it is also necessary in a depiction of such a white family in such a time and place. Without the racism, Jason, for example, would appear to be only half drawn as a character supposedly embittered, spoiled and full of hate. His racism and misogyny are convincingly linked as he stands in judgement of everyone but himself. Through his characterization in particular, racism is challenged and undermined.
In all of the chapters, the passing of time is made significant in various ways. In the first one, for example, the use of Benjy’s stream of consciousness to shape the narrative means that linearity is overridden and the readers are left to puzzle out how far back in time each new thought has travelled. Time is seen to be irrelevant, therefore, as one memory ignites another and they connect synchronically rather than diachronically. It is typical of a work that draws on high modernism to use the theme of time in such a way.
It is in Chapter Two, however, that the centrality of time is signposted most clearly. It begins with the reference to the watch given to Quentin by his father, and which was passed down from his father too. He is told to not watch the movement, or be restricted by it, and his decision to break it seems to be at least partly inspired by this (as though this will give him an element of freedom). It should also be remembered that Quentin is preparing to commit suicide, though, and this is also inevitably tied to the concept of being able to stop time.