When reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, the reader is inevitably struck by the difference in characters between the two novels. In the former novel, most of Dickens’ characters conform to well-established archetypes: for example, the Marquis/Madame Defarge are the devil archetype, Lucy is the good mother, Carton is the hero/scapegoat, etc. By contrast, in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, few characters conform to archetypes (other than Dilsey as the mother figure). Similarly, these differences are manifest in the novels’ points of view and structures: Dickens, seeking to create a suspenseful novel that would also condemn a similar mid-1800 English revolution, uses the 3rd person omniscient point of view, transitioning from character to character to tell the story from several views of reality; Faulkner, however, chooses to tell the story largely in the first person (aside from the final, April 8th section) in order to delve into his characters’ psyches and prompt the reader to compare the characters’ perspectives and points of view. The characters Jarvis Lorry and Jason Compson (Jr.), both men of business, illustrate the differences in methods of characterization between Dickens’ and Faulkner’s works, though the functions of characters in the two works are quite similar.
Dickens establishes Mr. Lorry as a somewhat round character, using multiple techniques to characterize him and establish his representation of the middle class. Mr. Lorry is extremely dedicated to business; he frequently uses the idea of business to support himself in difficult situations. He thus frequently issues remark such as “Come now, business, business,” or “I am just a dull man of business,”, etc. Lorry resorts to these devices when comforting Lucy or trying to help the Doctor. This devotion to an idea, but not necessarily a form of concrete action, expresses itself similarly in Mr. Lorry’s waffling among several viewpoints: he sometimes doubts his “business eye” when regarding the Doctor, and is rather infirm when speaking with Miss Pross. Nevertheless, Mr. Lorry can be very resolute, such as when he dissuades Mr. Stryver from proposing to Lucy or when suggesting to Dr. Manette that he get rid of his shoemaking tools; by the end of the novel, Mr. Lorry takes charge of the carriage as it bears its inhabitants from Paris back to England. Mr. Lorry thus grows throughout the novel, starting as a member of the incommodious, outmoded Tellson’s bank who wears brown clothing and is rather unconcerned about the well-being of his fellow passengers in the Dover mail (a scene which Dickens somewhat satirizes through hyperbolizing the danger they face) and ending as a stout character who can protect those close to him and perceptively diagnose the psychological state of his friends. Mr. Lorry’s growth may be seen as part of the theme of doubles in a Tale of Two Cities. Dickens not only creates doubles or opposites like Sydney Carton/Charles Darnay, England and France, etc. but also motif doubles such as light v. darkness/shadow and clouds/mist v. clarity, and character growth / divergent aspects of similar personalities such as free Dr. Manette v. imprisoned Dr. Manette, sloth-like Sydney Carton v. noble Sydney Carton, Ernest Defarge as revolutionary leader v. Ernest Defarge as a human, the best of times v. worst of times, etc. Mr. Lorry may be seen as another character in this dynamic of multi-faceted realities. Mr. Lorry’s function is not only to move the plot along, but also represent the middle-class, bourgeois, business-class in England.
The character Jason Compson in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury serves to illustrate the decline of the Compsons (and more generally, of the South) through his hypocrisy and impotence. Though much easier to understand than his brothers Quentin and Ben (and probably, as a man of business, the character the most similar to any in A Tale of Two Cities), Jason is quite ego-centric (saying “I says” and focusing on his own personal philosophy, as opposed to Quentin who repeats “Father says” and focuses on his Father’s philosophy) and a highly unsympathetic character. Jason’s hypocrisy primarily manifests itself in his ideals: he uses the idea of family honor to benefit his own selfish concerns, which are to turn a profit and bash African Americans and women. For example, he criticizes Caddy and Quentin Jr. for promiscuous behavior, yet maintains a relationship with Lorraine (and even posits in one of his soliloquys that Lorraine is a better woman than other, more respectable women [not unlike how Mr. Lorry ranks Miss Pross ahead of women with great sums invested in Tellson’s bank]). Jason criticizes African Americans for wasting money on the show, and not spending the money on local businesses, yet he loses large sums of money playing the cotton market (which is also based on New York). He objects when Quentin lets the air out of his tires on the basis that blood relations shouldn’t hurt each other, but he has no qualms when he steals from Quentin or hurts Caddy. Several times in the novel, Jason reflects about how African Americans should spend more time working, yet the reader never sees Jason working. His hypocritical hate of Caddy for depriving him of the job she gave him turns into a deep seated resentment of the world which he feels is against him. Faulkner thus characterizes Jason through letting opening Jason’s thought-processes to the reader. He views his headache as a man with a hammer pounding his head; a physical ailment suddenly becomes victimization. When searching in the branch, the sun is “just low enough so that it could shine into my eyes”. Jason’s impotence is a source of unconscious consternation to him: he can’t control Quentin, he doesn’t even control the household (Caroline and Dilsey do), he doesn’t own his own business, he doesn’t control his cotton futures, and he can’t get the Sheriff or the old man at the show to do what he wants. By April 8th, the narrator asserts that Jason, in his conversation with the sheriff, loses his sense of urgency so that he can relish his sense of victimization. Jason’s function in the novel is murky: he provides many details important to the story, and symbolically, he represents the final heir to the Compson house (in the Ben section at the branch scene, he is used to “sleeping in Damuddy’s bed”, i.e. representing the old South). He is dysfunctional, focuses mostly on the present (only dwelling on the past as a source of victimization), has the moral code of ethical egoism, and cares little about others.
There are thus marked differences in the methods that Dickens and Faulkner use to characterize their characters. Because Faulkner chooses a stream of consciousness narration, the reader is confined to the present, and thus all characters narrating are flat (as they don’t change within the one day of narration that one observes). The only round character in The Sound and the Fury is Caddy, as she grows from the innocent, bossy girl at the branch scene to a promiscuous adulthood (though her fate is already foreshadowed in that scene). The functions of characters, however, are very similar in Dickens and in Faulkners’ works: they represent aspects of society, though the middle class that Dickens portrays and the agrarian class that Faulkner portrays are quite different.