Like the present day stock market, the cotton exchange is an approach to publicly organize and display information on cotton trades between states, particularly between the North and the South. Several cotton exchanges were built in New York, Memphis, and New Orleans. It was used as a commodity to centralize information, condition, price, and payments between buyers and sellers on the current condition of the cotton market ("Cotton Exchange").

Memphis Cotton Exchange

Memphis Cotton Exchange, 1939.

Historical Background in the United States
The popularity of cotton quickly rose as many people discovered various ways to utilize cotton through trade, domestic capital, foreign investment, and industrial growth. Through the invention of the Cotton Gin, by Eli Whitney in 1793, the process to harvest cotton eased and soon cotton became the South’s principle cash crop (Chaplin).

During the 1920’s, many factors contributed to a weakened economic state especially for the South. The end of World War I slowed international trade of cotton as Europeans resumed farming, the migration of Boll Weevil destroying one half of the cotton crop, and the stock market crash in 1929 (Chaplin). These factors all heavily impacted Southerners economically as lack of demand for cotton internationally led to an excess supply domestically.


The Sound and the Fury situated in Yoknapatawapha County, Jefferson holds the Compson family. Jason Compson, second youngest in the Compson family, is extremely cynical of his surroundings and cautious of his future. He uses his past as an empowering incentive to motivate him for future success. Constantly belittling his brother’s, Quentin, Ivy league education, he views himself as more capable to achieve quick financial success through the commodity of the cotton exchange. However, the town Jefferson is situated a far from metropolises, rather it is confounded to means of “curse of land ownership falls upon the people of the South” (William Faulkner and the Land 347). As Faulkner implies the central conflict to the downfall of the once aristocratic and well respected Compson family is from the land they own. Thus, Jason’s belief that the cotton market will help him escape Jefferson becomes a jargon in which “the market becomes a grand correlative of Jason’s muddled, decentered subjectivity” (Wallach 84).

The success or failure of the cotton exchange deliberately correlates with the action of the stock holder. The value of the stock increases or declines through the selling and buying of stocks, but throughout Jason’s narrative he continuously holds onto his stock and against his better judgment rejects attempts to sell his stocks once the market drops. His actions do not correlate with his desire for wealth, “Jason is either rarely around to do, or else he deliberately counteracts; in other words, Jason’s conduct is as skewed towards keeping values abstracted as it is towards deflecting painful realizations about his own ineptitude” (Wallach 84). For Jason Compson’s narrative to centralize around his obsession for wealth and a successful future yet he forgoes attempts to increase wealth becomes problematic. The constant drop in the market also reflects Jason's current situation, his niece Quentin and Caddy becoming a burden on to his life, as well as at the end of the novel when he is robbed by his niece Quentin of his savings.

Problems in regards to the cotton market which arise implicitly throughout Jason’s narrative is the start of his novel, April Sixth, 1928, his attempts to become a speculator to the cotton market, and his hatred towards metropolises. April sixth, 1928, historically marks a year prior to the stock market crash in 1929. The start of Jason’s narrative already foreshadows Jason’s downfall and a weak cotton exchange market thus his prospect in quick financial success would never have occurred. His entire mindset and narrative from the beginning already concluded with loss. Next, Jason’s statements and actions opposes his desires for wealth. His hatred towards New York and “Jews” reflect his jealousy and paranoia as he believes they are robbing him of his wealth. Yet, by Jason repudiating New York and “Jews”, which are the fore point for wealth and success, he furthers hinders himself from his desires.

Overall, the significance of the cotton exchange in Yoknapatawapha County points towards modernity but with the Compson family, their desires, pride, and their past experiences prevents any chance towards a new start.

References in The Sound and The Fury

I went back to the store. Thirteen points. Dam if I believe anybody knows anything about the dam thing except the ones that sit back in those New York offices and watch the country sucks come up and beg them to take their money (TSAF 227).

I don’t see how a city no bigger than New York can hold enough people to take the money away from us country suckers. Work like hell all day ever day, send them your money and get a piece of paper back, Your account closed at 20.62. Teasing you along, letting you pile up a little paper profit, then bang! Your account closed at 20.62. And if that wasn’t enough, paying ten dollars a month to somebody to tell you how to lose it fast, that either don’t know anything about it or is in cahoots with the telegraph company. Well, I’m done with them. They’ve sucked me in for the last time. Any fool except a fellow that hasn’t got any more sense than to take a jew’s word for anything could tell the market was going up all the time, with the whole dam delta about to be flooded again and the cotton washed right out of the ground like it was last year. Let it wash a man’s crop out of the ground year after year, and them up there in Washington spending fifty thousand dollars a day keeping an army in Nicarauga or some place (TSAF 234).

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York. Vintage International 1984

"New Orleans Cotton Exchange." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 Dec. 2013. <>.

Chaplin, Joyce E. "Cotton." A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013. <>.

Breaden G. Dale, William Faulkner and the Lan. American Quarterly. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1958), pp. 344-357

Wallach, Rick. The Compson Family Finances and the Economies of Tragic Farc.South Atlantic Modern Language AssociationSouth Atlantic Review , Vol. 62, No. 1 (Winter, 1997), pp. 79-86