The power of modern America was built on the ruins of institutionalised slavery; the post-bellum generation they called 'Big Money' energised the country, galvanised its desires, and began to glorify the enduring mercenary strains in American life.
Sarah Churchwell, Behold America: The Entangled History of 'America First' and 'The American Dream'
'It was no good just blaming fascists, she concluded. 'I accuse us. I accuse the twentieth century America. I accuse me.'
Dorothy Thompson, American journalist
In William Faulkner's 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury the protagonist, Quentin Compson, has trouble living in time. He believes in a world in which America is great. It was once. In that America everything is as it should be, everyone plays a predetermined role. But the novel's opening sentence shows the protagonist speaking of an ominous awakening. "When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtain it was between seven and eight o'clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch."
His grandfather's chain watch. And he recalls his father handing the watch over to him, after having long experienced the betrayal. Succumbing to the seductiveness of alcohol, he talks to Quentin of "folly and despair."
"[V]ictory is an illusion of philosophers."
In the "shadow of the sash," Quentin tries to forget the watch only to find it around his neck once he steps outside. On this second day of June 1910, he's convinced time, represented in that sun above that denies him the light of day, denies him the right to be Quentin Compson, grandson of General Compson.
Time is one long nightmare, lived in the shadows of what was once great.
There will be the placing of "two six-pound flat-iron weights" under a bridge in shadow. He's seen his reflection in the waters of that river. He's seen himself merge with his own shadow. "The displacement of water is equal to the something of something."
The 22-year-old Quentin is conscious of time passing, of time having passed, of time approaching, as he walks around Boston. The first of his family to attend college, Harvard, no less, will be no more. And he remembers the discussions around the piecemeal selling of the Compson estate for college. For survival. Aristocracy no more.
The northern sun, appearing at a "slant," mocks him as it reveals black people conversing and walking about.
Quentin tries to escape the streets by taking a train ride, but there appears along side the train more black people. He thinks they are looking up at him--how could it be perceived any other way. So the young rebel leans over his window to toss coins down to the blacks who follow the movement of the train to catch the coins. And it feels familiar, satisfying, even if he can't recall ever when he had done this before.
But whatever was conjured into existence briefly dissolved again. The shadows never leave him, even in this moment of familiarity. Black people are no more his to own than is the sun in the sky above them.
As the day progresses, the sun slates until it slides away from him, until, for Quentin, shadows appear on the sun itself. Tracks, bridges, clocks materialize to his left and right, in front of him and behind him. Bells ring from church steeples. By sunset, he and the sun's shadow are one, "and after a while the flat irons would come floating up" from under the bridge where he hid them earlier in the day.
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