The word "bitch" is a pretty well recognized misogynist epithet. One needs only to place the word in a character's mouth and suddenly the reader knows (without any excess exposition) that the character hates women. It's a quick and easy shortcut that requires no thought on the part of the reader and no detailed description of violence or actual hate on the part of the author (though those two things will generally follow the word bitch pretty closely eventually). In light of this knowledge it's pretty clear exactly what Faulkner intends to do when he almost immediately places "bitch" directly onto the tongue of Jason Compson Junior. When Jason first speaks in his chapter of narration and his first words are, "Once a bitch always a bitch" it's pretty clear that we're in for a world full of woman hating and crude sexist jokes (Faulkner 180). However, Faulkner is doing something much more with that single epithet than simply taking a shortcut to misogyny. Though "bitch" pops up several more times throughout the rest of his novels, it seems to have a special use and meaning within the text of The Sound and the Fury.

Even more than simply belonging exclusively to one text the word almost seems to belong exclusively to one character. Jason almost seems to own the word, integrating bitch seamlessly into his regular vocabulary and imbuing it with its very own, Jason-specific, meanings. Looking merely at his opening statement of, "Once a bitch, always a bitch," one can already tell that he is not bandying about the standard definition of the word (Faulkner 180). Certainly he means to be insulting and degrading to some woman. However, it doesn't seem he entirely means to call his niece "a lewd or sensual woman" or "a malicious or treacherous woman" which is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ("bitch"). In fact, it barely seems like he means to call his niece a bitch at all. After all, Quentin (the second, female Quentin) is too young to really have an always during which she has been a bitch. For Jason it is as though bitch is an inheritable quality. It is not a term dependent upon your behavior or attitude but a trait that is passed from mother to daughter in the same way one might grow up with red hair or brown eyes. But it is a trait that is only passable from mother to daughter. According to Sally R. Page in her chapter "The Ideal of Motherhood: The Sound and the Fury" the entire failure of the Compson family rests upon the shoulders of Caroline who "is incapable of loving or caring for her children" forcing Caddy to take on "the false role of playing 'mother' to her brothers" (47). This has larger implications for Caroline, who Jason never calls a bitch but who he certainly lumps in with his sister and niece. If Quentin is a bitch because her mother is (and all signs seem to point to Jason treating his niece badly simply because she was birthed by his sister) then it stands to reason that Caroline is also a bitch. But Jason can't possibly think that he is also a bitch because he is not a woman and therefore not subject to the same biological inheritances as them. Perhaps his fear that he might be a bitch as well is what prevents him from referring to his mother as such. After all, according to Page Mrs. Compson is one of "the driving forces behind every thought and action of the Compson brothers" (47). Though it is interesting to note that Page identifies Caddy as a second force. This may be part of the reason Jason is so desperate to reject the de facto mother his sister offers him; he knows if he accepts too many bitches as mother figures he may have to reconsider his personal theory of "bitch"-dom. So though Jason treats "bitch" as a genetic inevitability it is one that is strictly matrilineal.

But this idea is once again troubled by the fact that Jason does not treat "woman" and "bitch" to be synonymous terms. All women are not bitches and, interestingly, it seems as though bitch is not merely a sub category of women for Jason but is actually an entirely different species altogether. Though he has larger problems with women, claiming that he is certain "never to keep a scrap of paper bearing a woman's hand, and [he] never writes them at all", Jason does not seem to despise "women" nearly as much as he does "bitches" (Faulkner 193). One might assume that this is because certain behaviors make one a bitch, like promiscuity. Certainly Caddy has been promiscuous, that is what got her with child and without a husband after all, and there is some indication that Miss Quentin has also been a bit free with her sexual favors and both of these women are definitely bitches in Jason's eyes. However, Jason's girlfriend Lorraine might also be a bit promiscuous. Jason certainly treats her more like a prostitute than a woman he is interested in a future with. He gives Lorraine forty dollars so that if she "ever [gets] drunk and [takes] a notion to call [him] on the phone" she will remember he paid her and change her mind. That certainly isn't how someone would treat a girlfriend. Yet, Jason doesn't call Lorraine a bitch nor does he seem to dislike her. Bitch is a word reserved entirely for the women of Jason's immediate family. It is almost as if "Compson woman" and "bitch" are synonyms for him. After all, he doesn't simply refer to Miss Quentin as a bitch or a girl when he is pursuing her after she steals his money. He calls her a "bitch of a girl" as though he must clarify that she is both a member of the class "girl" as well as the entirely separate class "bitch" (Faulkner 307).

Jason completely redefines "bitch" so that it can no longer belong to a woman who is not of the Compson variety. For him bitch is a word that can only run in his family. It is as though the word bitch takes on a life entirely of its own. Jason has laid claim to the word making it difficult for anyone else to use it to mean anyone other than Caddy, Caroline, or Miss Quentin.

–Adrie Rappa

Works Cited:
"bitch, n.1". OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. December 2013
Page, Sally R. "The Ideal of Motherhood: The Sound and the Fury." Faulkner's Women: Characterization and Meaning. DeLand, Florida: Everett/Edwards, Inc., 1972. 45-70. Print.