The Menlo Roundtable

The Hero With a Thousand Foibles: Quentin and Narrative Circularity

Every story is a circle. The hero sets off from the ordinary world on a quest, sacrifices something to achieve their goal, and returns back to their old life, prize in hand. This is the ur-story, the blueprint from which all other narratives are built: stasis, loss, gain, stasis.

The Sound and The Fury, for all its nonlinear modernist trappings, cannot escape the revolving nature of stories. The chapter of the novel from Quentin’s perspective begins with “I put on my new suit” (81). It finishes with “I put my vest on […] I put my coat on” (178). Despite the madness and excitement of the intervening pages, Quentin ends the chapter exactly as he started, somberly dressing himself in his dorm. Indeed, Quentin’s segment is characterized by a painful circularity. He wanders like Odysseus through Cambridge, retracing traumatic memories over and over in his head. Each encounter he has along the way causes Quentin to relive some moment from his past. However, rather than receiving closure from these encounters, Quentin is foiled each time, always finding himself in the same torturous place where he began. Ultimately, the circularity of the narrative does not just control Quentin, it afflicts him as well.

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