On Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury

“Dese funny folks.  Glad I aint none of em”(Faulkner 276).  This quote by Luster efficiently sums up my sentiments toward the characters in this novel.  A brutally claustrophobic work, I’ve emerged after being trapped in the Compson home with all the insanity and darkness of a tradition of deep bitterness.  This novel is not what I expected after reading As I Lay Dying, which presents the inherent universal problems of language in the saga of a family coping with death.  After that novel, I was anticipating some of the larger questions of humanity to be posed as openly as they are in Addie Bundren’s posthumous narration.  The big ideas in The Sound and the Fury are not so easy to find.

The first section of this novel was very challenging, as a reader accustomed to clear characterization and a flowing plot movement.  As befits a paragon of modernism, Faulkner dragged me along an undulating stream of consciousness narration of decades of the character Benjy’s life.  I had to resign all sense of control or knowledge of my location in the fiction, and simply allow the rhythm of the words to draw me in and around the mind of a mentally disabled man living in the death and disease that is the Compson family.

The second section opens up and Faulkner’s voice, which I find to be both eerily biblical and poetic was able to reach its full heights, being narrated by the poet figure Quentin Compson.  Still had almost no idea what was happening with the plot, but again, modernist texts are all about language and character, not necessarily plot.  This section deals quite a bit with the arbitrary nature of time.  Quentin recalls several quotes from his father, which I will not repeat in the interest of avoiding spoilers.  This was easily my favorite part of the novel.

Jason Compson, who is deeply bitter at having to shoulder the family yoke, narrates the third section of the novel.  He strikes me, like his mother, as an intentional martyr figure.  Which perhaps sheds light on the tendency of Caroline Compson to favor him over her other children.

In the fourth and final section of the novel, Faulkner transitions from close first-person narration to an omniscient third-person narration.  This opens the reader up to the bigger picture of the events transpiring in the final day of the story.  Some critics assert that Dilsey is revealed as a stabilizing force for the Compson family in this section, but I think that there is not much here that can be stabilized.

Overall, I must assert that the primary strength of this novel is in the language, which transmits a sensation of physical motion in and out of minds, over and under the darkness of a Southern aristocracy resistant to abdicate its throne.   My only complaint against this novel is my sense of incompleteness.  Faulkner gives questions in one section that I hope to be resolved in the next, only to find that he’s shifted his focus entirely.  Enjoyable read, but if I could only recommend one Faulkner book I would say As I Lay Dying is the way to go.

 

Works Cited:

Faulkner, William. The sound and the fury: the corrected text. New York: Vintage Books, 1990. Print.

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