Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Water symbolizes cleansing and purity throughout the novel, especially in relation to Caddy. Playing in the stream as a child, Caddy seems to epitomize purity and innocence. However, she muddies her underclothes, which foreshadows Caddy’s later promiscuity. Benjy gets upset when he first smells Caddy wearing perfume. Still a virgin at this point, Caddy washes the perfume off, symbolically washing away her sin. Likewise, she washes her mouth out with soap after Benjy catches her on the swing with Charlie. Once Caddy loses her virginity, she knows that no amount of water or washing can cleanse her.
Quentin’s watch is a gift from his father, who hopes that it will alleviate Quentin’s feeling that he must devote so much attention to watching time himself. Quentin is unable to escape his preoccupation with time, with or without the watch. Because the watch once belonged to Mr. Compson, it constantly reminds Quentin of the glorious heritage his family considers so important. The watch’s incessant ticking symbolizes the constant inexorable passage of time. Quentin futilely attempts to escape time by breaking the watch, but it continues to tick even without its hands, haunting him even after he leaves the watch behind in his room.