What’s in a name? What’s in a family? What is history? What is time?
I may or may not have just finished reading a certain author from the south and everything is up for grabs.
There are those books on the Mad Men reading list I’m curious to read (The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Last Picture Show) those I may not have wanted to read at all (Atlas Shrugged), and those I’m completely stoked to read.
Woman of Rome, Crying of Lot 49, and (even though I’ve read it before) the Sound and the Fury are among the latter.
Let’s set the scene and find out how one of the 20th century’s finest novels wound up in one of the 21st century’s finest shows.
(Full disclosure: I’m a Faulkner fan boy)
Don Draper is on a business trip in California in S2E11 (The Jet Set) and blows off work (and Pete Campbell) to go to Palm Springs with Joy (Laura Ramsey) to meet her perfectly named friend Viscount Monteforte d’Alsace (Philippe Brenninkmeyer) and pack of eurotrash, old money loafers hanging out at a friend’s mansion that is “in Sardinia.”
“We’re nomads together,” Joy says.
Don collapses and passes out right away suggesting a) he’s out of place and b) he is unwell.
Joy and Don sleep together later. They wake up and she’s reading The Sound and the Fury.
Whatever Joy. The book is amazing. I’ll leave your thoughts on sex to you.
As in most Mad Men reading list tomes, the book’s themes, characters and even plot lines run throughout the series.
Faulkner’s novel is about the Compson family, the south, a dying aristocracy, time, suicide, family honour, race and status. There’s a bunch of other things too, but we’ll leave it there.
The title comes from Shakespeare (naturally):
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”MacBeth V,v.
I have never regretted reading a Faulkner book and often read them twice.
Faulkner is the perfect scribe to run alongside Don Draper/Dick Whitman’s character arc. and the themes of Mad Men. Dick and Don would slide right into the Compson family with little difficulty.
Let’s see how it works.
The Sound and the Fury is about time. Characters are constantly living in the past and present at the same time much like Don. Benjy (the mute, disabled Compson son with the mind of a child) shifts between past and present with no prompting or warning, Quentin is forever grappling with the past, as is Jason in the first three parts.
The Compsons are forever stuck in the past and unable to deal with the present. They are broken, battered, cruel, cowardly, and obsessed with the family’s image and standing.
As we’ve seen and will continue to see, Don is constantly battling his past. He has run from Dick Whitman, the farm, the irrelevancy of poverty and any type of youth or family.
However, he never escapes it.
Much like the characters in Faulkner’s story, he is constantly returning to the past and either dreading their lessons, learning from them or using them.
“The Jet Set” ends with Don calling Anna Draper (the real wife of the real Don Draper) and referring to himself as Dick Whitman for the first time. This is huge, and it’s unsurprising that it’s in the same episode that The Sound and the Fury is introduced.
When Don visits Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton) in the next episode (S2E12, The Mountain King) and we flashback to the story of Don admitting that he took the real Don Draper’s name and identity, met Anna and the two became true friends, the only person Don can be true with to that point.
Don’s relationship with Anna is not soiled by sex or manipulation or lies. There are no such relationships in Faulkner. Caddy and Quentin may seem like one, but it’s soiled by Quentin’s obsession with honour and stature, and Caddy’s promiscuity.
Those with honour in The Sound and The Fury (Dilsey, Luster) are barred from having a relationship with those that need it because of the south’s obsession with race, status, history, rage, humiliation, take your pick. There is a lot messed up in Faulkner’s stories.
Don knows what he’s done, and admits it to Anna. He would never do that with anyone else.
“The Mountain King” is a very Faulknerian episode with its multi-layered timeline, rape, racism and family toxicity. The timelines go between past and present with little prompting and Don and Dick exist at the same time in the same person.
It is the same with Benjy and Maury or Quentin and Quentin and Faulkner’s confusing but brilliant switching between names with no prompting and forcing the reader to figure out what is going on.
When Dick admits he’s met Betty in a flashback, she knows Dick will not be coming back, as Don Draper has now taken over.
The Compson family mirrors Don and Dick’s in many ways. They are both broken and ending. The Whitman line will end with Don (even if he doesn’t use the name) after Adam’s suicide. Don’s kids will be Drapers.
The Compsons with Quentin’s suicide, Benjamin’s forced sterilization and Jason’s rage and misogyny causing an inability to forge any kind of adult relationship let alone family, mean that name will die as well. A “heroic” southern aristocracy left in the dirt and a farm-supply store never addressing its fault in lieu of blaming
We need to talk about suicide. Thus far, Adam has hung himself and he won’t be the last in the show to take his life. Quentin drowns himself in The Sound and the Fury, and S2E12 ends with Don walking into the ocean.
A question throughout the series is always: will Don kill himself in the end? The opening sequence shows a silhouetted mad man falling from a skyscraper window suggesting a downfall of some kind that could be a suicide.
It’s not time to talk about the ending, as what is an ending in Faulkner or Mad Men. The two stories are about forward and backward at the same time not adhering to a linear timeline.
I’ll leave it to Dick to sum it up.