“The Sound and the Fury” is a fiction novel written by William Faulkner. It was first published in 1929.
If you’ve ever had to learn about classic American literature, then you’ve probably heard of Faulkner and his most widely known work, “The Sound and the Fury.” The novel is considered a great American classic and it also one of the most challenging works you can read, although maybe not quite as challenging as “Finnegan’s Wake.” The novel follows four points of view, all of which are given their own sections.
The first section is told through Benjy. Benjy is the youngest child of the family, and unfortunately befallen by severe mental disabilities. Benjy is incapable of expressing his thoughts in words, so he narrates his section purely in visuals, smells and physical touch. He is able to walk freely, but cannot control his emotions and frequently falls to moaning and slobbering when distressed. His sister Caddy is the only one capable of calming him. The real pitfall though is that Benjy has no comprehension of time, which makes reading his section very difficult. His section is told in non-chronological order across 30 years with no breaks or any obvious marker to let the reader know when scenes or time settings transition, and they transition often. The primary method of combating this is by keeping track of who Benjy’s keeper is. Due to Benjy’s disability, he is constantly accompanied by a keeper who changes several times throughout the novel. In the novel’s present day, his keeper is Luster. In his childhood, it is Versh and T.P. To know exactly what stage of childhood, you have to pay attention to Caddy, such as whether she has married or left home yet. Benjy’s character is highly unique in fiction and while reading through his section is difficult adapt to, it is very doable and one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had reading fiction.
The second section covers Quentin. His section is written almost purely in train of thought. Quentin is the oldest child of the Compson family, but he is fragile and depressed. His section is a massive jumble of memories covering his entire life and his irrational obsession with his younger sister, Caddy. The section revolves mostly around Caddy becoming pregnant with someone’s child and Quentin claiming it as his own. I found Quentin’s section to be infuriating at most points. Unlike Benjy, his section has absolutely no way to ascertain the order of memories or when they switch, which can happen as often as mid sentence, and some sentences run on for several pages. The only way I was able to make sense of this chapter was through outside source material, which may not appeal to most people.
The third section is narrated by Jason, the second youngest child. His section is told almost entirely in the present day and shows how he grew up to be an aggressive and mean spirited man. Jason takes over the Compson household and attempts miserably to rule with an iron fist. I found Jason’s section to be the most enjoyable. Although he is a very twisted man, his dialogue often comes off as so so absurd that it turns into humor. He is also a very unlucky character, who despite his anger and apparent “common sense,” he repeatedly manages to get himself into worse and worse situations.
The final section is narrated by Dilsey, the Compson family’s black cook. Dilsey is by far the most well rounded and sensible character throughout the novel, but by the time we get to her narration she has grown old and cynical. Dilsey has a husband and several children who all grow up in the Compson home and are more or less members of the family. Dilly’s husband always talked about how the family was cursed and befallen, but Dilsey remains stalwart and fully invested in the Compsons throughout her life. Her character, to me, was the one that I could always fall back on as a symbol of truth, structure and efficiency. Faulkner masterfully developed her character this way throughout the other sections, only to show the curse that she denied come back around to her in full swing at the start of her section.
The novel consistently revolves around the character Cadence, Caddy in most scenes, and eventually her daughter. Despite this, neither of those characters have their own point of view. This feels like a very conscious decision, and while I see its merit, I still believe that it would have been worth it to give Caddy her own section, especially in her later years when she becomes a bit of a mystery to the family.
Another big theme of the novel revolves around a “curse” upon the Compson family. However, the novel never explains why it exists or what caused it. It is left ambiguous and fiercely debated upon its existence with no real turn out or final verdict at the end.
Overall, the novel has a lot of pros and cons. It is not by any means a “fun read.” It is difficult and challenging, and you should only read it out of genuine desire. The plot of “The Sound and the Fury” is absolutely excellent and well crafted, which is what initially drew me in. Outside sources are absolutely necessary to piece together the entire story and not every character was interesting to read, especially Quentin. The novel is unlike anything I have ever read before and finishing it did feel like a major accomplishment. For those who occasionally like to read for the challenging aspect of it, this could definitely be a good book for you.
You can buy “The Sound and the Fury” on Amazon, BookDepository.com, Barnes & Noble and most other major booksellers.
3.5 / 5