The Sound and the Fury is the tragedy of the Compson family, featuring some of the most memorable characters in literature: beautiful, rebellious Caddy; the manchild Benjy; haunted, neurotic Quentin; Jason, the brutal cynic; and Dilsey, their black servant. Their lives fragmented and harrowed by history and legacy, the character's voices and actions mesh to create what is arguably Faulkner's masterpiece and one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. "I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire. . . . I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools." --from The Sound and the Fury
So why does this novel seem tantalisingly beyond comprehension on a first reading? It is not the vocabulary that is the problem, the reader understands the words well enough, (although they are more difficult for readers not familiar with language used in the Southern States of America). One feels that the way they are used within the sentences is obscuring the meaning, sometimes the reader feels he is on the verge of getting a grip on events, but like much of real life it just seems to slip through ones fingers. This is most evident in the the first section which takes the point of view of a 33 year old member of the Compson family, however Benji is mentally sub normal to the extent that he has not been able to learn to talk and has to be constantly supervised. He feels, sees, senses and for the most part hears things but they are scrambled in his mind, he has no sense of time and so his narrative is disjointed. Faulkner flits between a first person narrative as though Benji could reiterate his thoughts and accurate recordings of other characters speech and actions. Having no narrative to hold on to, the reader is left scratching for clues as to what is happening. It is a tour de force of of the stream of consciousness method, but can only be really appreciated when the narrative begins to make sense.
The second part is told in the first person by Quentin: one of Benjamin’s brothers, and while he is intelligent, (a student at university) he is going through his own personal crisis on a day that will end in his suicide. His thoughts are sometimes irrational, often jumbled and hopelessly obsessive.
While there are narrative events in this section of the book for example Quentins meeting with the young boys fishing from the bridge and his sojourn with the little girl who refuses to speak, his obsessive behaviour and his social ineptness in dealing with adult people make his section of the book almost as difficult as the first part. Faulkner adds to the confusion by writing some of this section without any punctuation. There are more clues in Quentin’s section and there are bits that are recognisably a narrative, but the reader is periodically thrown off the scent of the real story and is left once again with a visceral effect of being inside the head of a man suffering from an obsessive disorder.
The third part of the book is told from the perspective of the third brother Jason and he is totally self obsessed. He sees the dissolution of the once great Compson family firsthand and feels cheated by their failings; his inheritance is to work in a store (land was sold to fund Quentin’s education, but there is none left for Jason). He is mean spirited and unforgiving and resorts to cheating his niece out of her inheritance with no sense of shame or guilt. Parts of the story now come together, but there is much that is unexplained and while the narrative drive of this section can be followed easily enough, it only sheds a partial light on what has gone before.
The final section describes a day in the life of the family when Jason’s story reaches its conclusion and features the negro servant Dilsey who is the only recognisable “good” person in the novel. She works hard at keeping the family together despite suffering the racial abuse that is a matter of course for people in her position. There is no light-bulb moment at the conclusion to the novel, but there is enough to make this reader want to read parts of it again. Many readers will feel that they have missed much and the only way to piece it together is to backtrack; it becomes easier the second time around.
What stood out for me this time around was the obsessive nature of so many of the characters. Benjy is obsessive in a way simulate to people suffering from an extreme compulsive obsessive disorder. Two of the female characters are obsessed by sex and promiscuity and Quentin’s and Jason’s obsessions have already been noted. It is though Faulkner is using the family to point out the dangers of a closed society and the inbreeding that can be the result; The Confederate South of America maybe?
I would have thought that many American readers would have studied The Sound and the Fury at school or college and so would have formed their opinions of it’s readability and been familiar with it’s themes. For new readers, take it from me, you need spoilers, as many spoilers as you can find.
I enjoyed my re-read of this classic five star novel, but I am wondering how many of my fellow book club members got through the first section.
Needless to say, however, considering my former youth and relative lack of familiarity with modernist literature, I remembered almost nothing about the novel before picking it up again this time. In fact, I remembered SO little about it that I actually made a list before I started re-reading. This is literally every single thing I could bring to mind about the novel, besides my assumption that, being Faulkner, it would be set in Mississippi:
- Four sections told from different perspectives;
- Siblings/family saga
- First section is from the perspective of the mentally retarded brother;
- Brother/sister incest (?);
- A scene where a young girl climbs a tree and a boy (her brother?) can see her underwear.
As you can see, my grasp of the finer plot points was incomplete. Although my question mark in "Brother/sister incest (?)" turned out to be surprisingly accurate, I think the last item actually conflates three different scenes, two in this book and one in Vladimir Nabokov's Ada (in which the girl in question is actually not wearing any underwear! Salacious!). And while the first three items are true as far as they go, they don't exactly add up to the most memorable reading experience.
This time around, though, I thoroughly appreciated The Sound and the Fury. Having read other Faulkner since (most recently Absalom! Absalom!), I was prepared for consistently ponderous, florid-seeming prose, but Faulkner really carries off four distinct narrative voices in his four different sections. We get Benjy's jumpy, grief-stricken stream of consciousness, in which past, present and future are compressed into a single pane of existence; Quentin's obsessive, impotent gallantry and inability to reconcile his past with his present; Jason's flinty-cold, self-justifying righteousness; and the final section, the only one told in what I think of as "Faulknerian" prose, which is told in the third person and focuses on the inexplicably faithful servants in the Compson house. In each section, the same basic story is refracted through a different sensibility, revealing a new set of separate but overlapping facets, until the reader gradually pieces together what happened to the Compson family: how they loved each other, hated each other, and tore themselves to pieces.
If we could have just done something so dreadful and Father said That's sad too, people cannot do anything that dreadful they cannot do anything very dreadful at all they cannot even remember tomorrow what seemed dreadful today and I said, You can shirk all things and he said, Ah can you. And I will look down and see my murmuring bones and the deep water like wind, like a roof of wind, and after a long time they cannot distinguish even bones upon the lonely and inviolate sand.
This is one of those books, so many of them modernist, which are sometimes charged with "ruining the literary scene" and "turning literature into an exclusionary, unreadable mess." Forget that I think such claims are a big pile of poop; I'd still like to talk about why I think Faulkner's decisions here are so effective. Because basically, my opinion is this: while the style of the novel is indeed challenging at times, it's all in the service of something that's the OPPOSITE of exclusionary. To me, The Sound and the Fury operates on the same set of audience-baiting techniques that fuel the public's perpetual interest in crime novels. As a reader, Faulkner feeds me just enough information to whet my appetite about what's happened in the Compson house, yet denies me complete understanding until the very end. This doesn't seem to me obnoxiously elitist; it seems like good, solid storytelling technique.
The Sound and the Fury takes, no doubt, more effort on the reader's part than a more standard, whodunit-style story. But there are also many more levels on which the mysteries unfold, and all of those levels are interrelated, making it also much more interesting, at least to me. A reader beginning Faulkner's novel must first ascertain what's going on with the narrating voice: being thrown into Benjy's world, which isn't separated into past, present, and future, is disconcerting, a melange of jerky transitions, italics and effects without causes. As I began to get my bearings, I realized that italicized text signaled that Benjy was beginning to experience something, a scene from the past that had been triggered in his mind by the thoughts or events just preceding in the narrative (often themselves things that happened in the past). He relives these scenes with such vivid feeling that they're indistinguishable from the present, and, as his story progresses, the implied "triggers" that cause him to transition from one scene to another provide intriguing clues about the family's past and present. Why does Benjy cry when he looks at himself in a mirror? Why does Quentin seem sometimes to be male and at other times female? Why are certain places - the basement, the tree by the window - so packed with triggers for Benjy? How did the family decide that saying a certain name is taboo? Moving from one's first impressions to the point of asking questions like these is a bit like emerging from an atmospheric fog bank, and watching the landscape take its gradual shape.
With the transitions from one section to the next, Faulkner even creates cliffhangers: at the end of Benjy's section we share Benjy's priorities, and want to learn the answers to the questions he raises. Instead, we're spirited eighteen years back in time to Quentin's narrative, which introduces us to a whole new set of obsessions and motivations. By the time we're done meandering with the morose Harvard student around the Italian slums of Boston, we feel tenderly frustrated with him, and invested in his ominous trajectory - but we're suddenly yanked back to the day before Benjy's section, where we encounter the thoroughly unpleasant Jason. Every section helps to fit more pieces into place regarding plot, causes, and effects, but the author entices his audience masterfully in the meantime, and lets us swim in the stream of each character's thoughts and associations. It's not only a beautiful example of the old writing-class chestnut "Show, don't tell," but it allows the gaps and jumps in each narrative to reveal as much as the words that surround them. The prose takes on the texture of a canyon landscape, whose real substance is contained in yawning chasms not immediately visible from the ground.
(As a side-note, the sections in the Italian slums around Boston in 1910 were particularly intriguing to me because my partner David's paternal family are Italian-Americans from the greater Boston area. His grandmother was born in 1916, but the area in which she lived would have been very similar to that around which Quentin leads the little girl he meets in the bread shop.)
My point is that Faulkner's difficult prose serves a concrete function in terms of the narrative, and I think it performs that function extremely well. The Sound and the Fury felt more taut and well-controlled to me than Absalom, Absalom!. I think the structural challenges Faulkner set himself in this novel really brought out the best in him, and made for a gorgeous and suspenseful reading experience for me.
"short, simplistic sentence." Blah said.
"Short simple reply" Blah said.
"A decent length sentence, but without any words that would increase brain capacity" Blah said.
-Moderately lengthed observation or description that fails to invoke the reader to think-
^This is the entire damn book.
Faulkner starts the book with Benjy narrating the first chapter in what has to be one of the most unreadable, frustrating, incomprehensible chapters ever written. Benjy is an autistic, mentally retarded son of an old southern family that has slowly faded from the grand old days of the south to near collapse. But you won't actually know that after the first chapter, in fact you won't know a whole lot about anything. As you begin the second chapter, which is wrritten by Quentin, there is still a disorganized, discombobulated structure to the narration. But as I read it, I felt a sublte difference in the second voice of Quentin and the original voice of Benjy. The second chapter is confusing also but in the first chapter, Faulkner is attacking the reader.
All readers come to a book with simple, straight forward, linear ways of percieving the novel that they are reading. Faulkner could have chosen his own voice to start the book, one that explains and gets the reader hooked into the story before introducing the narration of Benjy. But Faulkner does not do this, instead he chooses Benjy to begin the narration and as he does this he attacks the reader's perceptions and stability; he does not ask us to understand or empathize with the characters, he forces us to feel what they feel. Faulkner wants us to feel the Sound and the Fury.
Benjy does not attack the reader, Benjy just is. He has little or no logic, no real ability to think in a linear or even in an elliptical fashion for that matter, Benjy just percieves the world viscerally. He hears, he tastes, he smells, he touches, he sees and in his narration he swirls all that together and narrates it for us. But what Faulkner does is take that swirl and disorients the reader, frustrates the readers perceptions so that the reader begins to understand the Sound and the Fury that all the characters feel as they live in the midst of Sound and the Fury. We get the ability to understand, not the events that have occured to the characters in the past 33 years (or more to the point, in the past 100 years), but the result of what has happened to them for the past 33 years in a very visceral way. We end up being angry, frustrated, disoriented and dazed from reading the onslaught that is Benjy's narration. As he describes his own consternation and rage at the life he is in, we feel the Sound and the Fury ourselves because our perceptions are being attacked by the writer. As the moaning, and the wailing, and the "bellering" occurs page after page, the reader feels the overwhelming Sound of that narration. You may not understand what he is saying, but page after page you are attacked with the sound and the fury of his narration. As Benjy experiences his life, there is precious little happiness or comfort, there is only an ongoing expression of outrage and of Fury. The first time you read Benjy's chapter, there is a feeling of having been attacked, not by Benjy, but by Faulkner. He leaves you feeling the Sound and the Fury.
As the second chapter begins, Quentin's voice is also disorganized and unreadable, except that there is a subtle difference. This time reader is not being attacked, but rather we are reading the narrative of someone who has lived so long inside the Sound and the Fury that his thinking has been compromised. Quentin is not autistic, he is in fact bright and capable. And through his narrative we begin to see that the Sound and Fury is not just a crazy family, but that this crazy family is inseparable from it's legacy and history as a part of the genteel Southern ruling class of the old plantation days when their family owned slaves and ruled with impunity. That the loss of this structure has made it impossible for them to move froward but rather to slowly sink into alcoholism (the father), chronic hypochondria (the mother) and sexual addiction (the sister). The first two are not important to Quentin but his sister is his lifeline and without her he will sink. He does everything he knows to do to stop her but in the end he fails. He offers to kill her and she agrees but he can not cut her throat. He offers to committ incest (or does commit incest) with her to break the spell other men have on her, but in the end she continues on with the other men. In an effort to save his son, the father sells some of the land and sends him North to Harvard to give him a chance to escape. But without his sister he can not go on. The North and his friends and Harvard mean nothing to him. He is more foreign in that land than the immigrant Italians that he meets. When he is accused of child molestation, his friends are horrified and come to his rescue. But Quentin thinks it is funny. Everyone is acting as if the accusation that he would molest a child is a terrrible thing, but Quentin knows what terrible is. It is the Sound and the Fury that his father tried to give him a chance to escape from, but he knows he will not escape it. And as the reader we know it to. I know 7 people who have tried to read this book. Three of them have never finished it and three more of us had to try a second time in order to be able to finish it. We experienced the Sound and the Fury and quit reading the book before finishing the first chapter. Quentin did not have to just read a chapter of the Sound and the Fury, he lived it all his life and like many of us that start the book, he just did not care how it ended. He just wanted to quit also; and so he does.
The third chapter is the voice of Jason, the youngest son. The ambiguity and disorganization are gone. This is one cold hearted bastard. There is no sign of compromised thinking or morality. He is amoral, ruthless and oppurtunistic. He wants what he wants and is willing to do what it takes to get it. His hatred of Jews and Blacks is unrelenting. He is attached to his mother but this does not keep him from being repeatedly cruel to her or from hating women. But he is not just angry, he hates everyone else. Not just for what they have done to him personally either, but for what has happened to his class, the ones that owned eveything and controlled everything. He hates everything that has happened to them and to himself. His voice is the loudest and the clearest. It is also the most frightening and chilling. Jason is the embodiment of the Sound and the Fury.
The fourth chapter is the voice of Faulkner. When you read about Faulkner and his "genuis" you expect to read his book and it be a thing of beauty. And so is the fourth Chapter. He ends the story of the Compson family and then brings front and center Dilsey the Mammy that has been with the family since birth. She has done everyting she can to keep the family together and tries to keep finding a way to help the family heal from the Sound and the Fury. But she has her heart broken in the end by Jason who's cruelly runs the last of the family (Miss Quentin) away to a fate that will be the same as the other family members, "I have seen the beginning and the end". But then Faulkner ends the book with hope and seems to predict that what will bring about a new South is not the North, or government, or whitemen or women, but the new South will arise and be resurrected by Blacks that were born and raised in the South. It is Dilsey and her family that go to a "new" Easter service at the end of the book. One where the only white person there is the emasculated Benjy. Faulkner wrote this book in 1929, long before a lady by the name of Rosa Parks said, "No I won't sit in the back of the bus no more", and a black man from Georgia gave a speech that said "I have been to the Mountain Top, and I have seen the Promised Land". And the "Sound and the Fury" did not go down easily even in the 60's. But just like Faulkner said, it was a black woman named Rosa Parks and a black man named Martin Luther King Jr that brought it to it's knees and helped all of us to reach the new South where the Sound and the Fury no longer strangles us all.
The book is divided into four parts, the first three of which are told in first-person, stream of conscious narrative from the perspective of three Compson brothers: Benjy, Quentin, and Jason. Benjy’s section is particularly difficult to follow because he is mentally retarded and does not talk, but only narrates what he hears, in no particular chronological order. Quentin’s and Jason’s sections are progressively more comprehensible as pieces of the story develop. The final section is told by an omniscient third-person narrator, ties the loose ends together, and brings the story to its exciting close.
The first-person accounts are made even more confusing by the multiplicity of names. Because this is the story of a large Southern family, many family members share first names. There are two Moreys, although the younger of the two is renamed Benjamin, the first narrator. The two Jasons, father and son, can usually be told apart, but the two Quentins, uncle and niece, are particularly confusing when introduced in Benjy’s section because the absence of chronological consistency brings both Quentins into the story at the same time, although the niece was born after the uncle’s death.
Reading The Sound and the Fury is like watching a masterpiece being painted. Each brushstroke brings out more of the picture until the whole, beautiful composition is revealed.
I am not going to consider whether this book is well written or not here. Many have already thought this one of the best books ever. I don't doubt that, not at all, as I could identify, myself, a lot of elements in the book that would qualify it a substantial and significant work.
My comment is just this: this book requires a lot of patience and concentration to read and understand. It's appropriate, I suppose, as a piece studied by a literature course. For pleasure, leisure reading, this seemingly thin book is going to surprise a lot of people with its heaviness and thick passages that are near impossible to wade through. I only made sense out of what's going on with the aid of study guides.
It's unfortunate that I lost interests as I got deeper into the book and only skimmed through the last bit. I am also not too entirely sure with what actually happened in the book. It's interesting that the rivalry between Hemingway and Faulkner was so well documented that, upon discovering that Hemingway didn't exactly entertain me as much as it did others, when I first picked up this book I thought I was going to join the Faulkner camp. But now I find myself preferring Hemingway. Ultimately, I have to say that I think this book is out dated in this modern world, for me at least, and I prefer contemporary British writers.
To be fair, however, even though as a whole the book failed to grab my attention, there were some very touching pages in there: Quentin and the little Italian girl, Jason and Miss Quentin's exchanges... It's just a difficult book, that's all.
And speaking of who gets to control the narrative, I'd like to believe that the fact that Dilsey is the only one who doesn't get her section in first person is really significant comment--agency, heroes of our own stories, race, etc.--but it strikes me more as Significant Comment; hand it over to Jason and pretend you're saying something weighty. And Jason, there and in his own section, is a good shot of unpleasant, proving Faulkner can write when he writes relatively straight; but then we don't start out with Jason, we start out with Benjy, who is just disjointed in this spoony and verisimilitude-free way--I don't know exactly what's supposed to be going wrong in that brain of his, and I don't suspect that Faulkner does either, except that he's supposed to be an idiot, and there are certain conventionalized ways idiots are supposed to think and talk. And I'm not holding him to current levels of differentializability on that--like, I just spent the morning with a bunch of kids with Down Syndrome, and I could tell you they ways they communicate differently from, say, autistic kids, or kids with severe ADD--I'm just asking for it to seem real instead of tired and cliche, OR at least to get the point across.
Because this doesn't really seem to me to have the magnificence it's so convinced it does. There's this hysterical thing that happens, and especially with American writers, and especially with certain Modernist American writers, and ESPECIALLY with Faulkner--where every reference to him is like "William Faulkner, one of the greatest writers of all time" and "The Sound and the Fury, the greatest masterpiece of the twentieth century" and like, we don't always say that about Shakespeare, say; why is there so much nervy self-defensiveness where Faulkner is concerned? I think it has to do with geopolitics and the building of a canon, but we'll let that rest. The thing is, the book's failure is ultimately so simple and unavoidable: it's in technique. There's a tight modernist novel in the Hemingway mould here on the decline of a Southern family, with lots of clenched fists and moonshine-fuelled ragin'; there might even have been a realist-modernist novel on the same subject, in like the Proust vein, with many impressionist flourishes. There could also be some stream-of-consciousmess parabolism, perhaps, but I don't see Faulkner using stream of consciousness in that way--in the Joyce way, to splash in words and evoke haunts in vapor rainbows. I see him dithering, and thinking he's capturing something cognitive and human and real. It's so arrogant, and so Twenties. People don't hink that way; people don't talk that way; people impose narratives. And so if it's not verisimilitude you're achieving, is it narrative thrust, or social realism? Clearly it's the opposite of those. And is it wild excessive beauty? Well, sometimes:
Because women so delicate so mysterious Father said. Delicate equilibrium of periodical filth between two moons balanced. Moons he said full and yellow as harvest moons her hips thighs. Outside outside of them always but. Yellow. Feet soles with walking like. Then know that some man that all those mysterious and imperious concealed. With all that inside of them shapes an outward suavity waiting for a touch to. Liquid putrefaction like drowned things floating like pale rubber filled getting the odor of honeysuckle all mixed up.
And while that's good, it's hardly Joycean, nor do passages of its ilk come along that frequently.More often it's this kind of mess:
What did you let him for kiss kiss
I didn't let him I made him watching me getting mad What do you think of that? Red print of my hand coming up through her face like turning a light on under your hand her eyes going bright
More Joycean, but in comparison to him, in my mind, pedestrian, non-phantasmagoric, unpracticed in the dance. I mean, I'm not the least sophisticated reader. I'm not making the high-school linearity argument or the "want something that looks like something" anti-nonrepresentative art argument here. I like noh, Harry Partch, Picasso, Beautiful Losers, scotch. (I don't like Beckett, John Cage, Jackson Pollock, snakemeat, or, um ... The Sound and the Fury, apparently.) I'm perfectly willing to consider that this kind of plain, "loadbearing" stream of consciousness, as opposed to e.g. Ulysses's more ornamented, "rococo" type, might be a seriously acquired taste, and that the reason so many more people seem to have acquired it in this particular case is the presence of this book on US high-school curricula. (And let me for sure for sure note that Canadian high-school curricula are terrible too; no snotty Nuckism intended.) Empire needs a cultural backstop--we know this--and what represents American empire better than this combination of high modernism and dusty smalltown yokel shit? This refusal to engage with the progressive political, to say nothing of the prismatic psychological at the same time as the literary avant. Imagine a world where US high-school students were given Gravity's Rainbow instead, and the only question on the final was "How did this make you feeeeeel?"
Now, this was a difficult book. Rewarding, but such hard work that I worried from time to time that I was missing some important part of the structure or plot – as it turns out, I needn’t have worried, because Faulkner has complete mastery of his story… no matter how lost you feel in the sea of narration, all the salient points and atmosphere are communicated superbly.
Caddy Compson’s brothers – Benjy, Quentin and Jason – are all fixated on their sister (the only compassionate female family that they know, given the emotional absence of their mother) and it’s their relationship with her that moves and drives each of them. The first part of the book is narrated by Benjy, the ‘idiot’ undeveloped man-child whose lack of understanding of time make the first third of the story a sea of stream-of-consciousness, both with and without meaning, as he flits from the day he is currently narrating, to memories of the past. The loss of Caddy – who has been driven from the family home - leaves him bellowing and moaning, to be only briefly distracted and consoled.*
The next part is told by Quentin, whose love and need for his sister led him to lie about the child she conceived – rather than have the family believe her promiscuous and drive her out, he attempts to make them believe that he committed incest. Their father brushes this aside, and sends him to Harvard early. At the end of his narrated day, he commits suicide. This is the part of the book that flagged for me, because his preparations and challenges of the day obscured some of the most important points of reminiscence, and I found it tough going to seek them all out.
Just when one is tired of Quentin’s dragging, Jason Compson’s narration takes over. What a piece of work! Faulkner creates a truly horrid man; his own obsession with Caddy centres around her ex-fiance who had promised Jason a job in a bank, until Caddy’s pregnancy by another man was revealed. At this point in time, Caddy’s daughter – confusingly named Miss Quentin (some of Benjy’s early narration leaves the reader quite confused on this point until later) – is living in the Compson home, ostensibly being ‘kept’ by her uncle Jason, who is actually socking away the money her mother is sending her, for himself. This piece of fraud is, at least, satisfyingly resolved for the reader, but not before I had worked up such a head of hatred for this character, despite the neglect within the family that helped form these disparate but tied personalities.
A wonderful book; tough, heartbreaking, some of the fiercest writing I’ve ever read and I found there was an ongoing sense of accomplishment, whenever another small fragment of timeline was winnowed out of the various characters’ retelling. I didn’t like the characters enough to love the book, but I’m glad I stuck with it and am amazed at how Faulkner hid a complete and tight plot inside such wilfully undisciplined narration.
*I can’t remember at what point I realised that it was the vicinity of the golf-course that was causing Benjy distress, with the golfers calling ‘caddy’ every few minutes, but that’s the image that stays with me from this book – giant, lost Benjy running up and down the fence with the often spiteful Luster behind him, being tormented with his sister’s name.
I wanted to like this book, because the writing is great and there were certainly sections of it that I enjoyed. I listened to it on audio book, which probably was a big reason why I was able to get all the way through it, because the narrator's acting helped me to determine when time periods were being switched at random (which happened a lot, especially in Quentin's section). Even with the excellent audio reading, there were still parts that were very confusing, and in the end there is no real resolution in this book. Normally this is not a problem for me, however, as a whole the book is so bleak that I can't really say it's enjoyable. Though I can see why others might like it on a purely style and literary level.
I periodically like to reread it and this time it was a beautiful edition that Folio Society recently printed that has the color coded type for the first section. The first section is Benjy's version of events. He is a 33 year old man with a mental disability who can't talk. His section moves frequently back and forth in time and this book uses 14 different colored inks to delineate the 14 different memories/time periods he comes in and out of. The colored ink is effective (and beautiful), but I'd definitely recommend reading in natural, bright light or some are hard to differentiate.
Every time I read this, I read it a little differently. This time I was particularly struck by the way Faulkner silences Caddy and her daughter Quentin, giving the male brothers their say and not giving her a chance to tell her side of the story. This is effective because it reflects her life, but it still makes me mad. I also noticed, probably because of the colored ink, that though all three brothers spend a lot of time mentally in the past, Benjy can completely immerse himself in each incident. Quentin, on the other hand, mingles past and present and various past events simultaneously, creating an even harder reading experience than Benjy's chapter. And Jason . . . oh Jason. Such a jerk, but actually a little funny too, in a brutal sort of way. "Once a bitch, always a bitch, I say".
In addition to the colored ink, this book has excellent end notes that help describe the plot and themes. Highly recommended!
The very end of the book contains a clash that is symbolic of the future conflict to come as the Old South changes into the New South. Luster, the black grandson of Dilsey, is driving a horse and wagon into the town square where a marble statue of a Confederate soldier stands. Luster decides to turn toward the left. Suddenly, the youngest son, Jason, jumps up into the wagon and forces the horse to turn right instead. This disagreement between whether to turn left or right appears symbolic of disagreements over directions for the future.
Readers are likely to feel a bit lost while navigating through the interior monologs, tricks with time, jumbled narrative, play of memory, and also saga of decay and decline of a southern family. Appreciation of the book begins after the reader has finished reading the book. The fun comes from trying to put the pieces together and to begin marveling at the abundance of meanings that can be gleaned from the book. Perhaps it is a 20th Century version of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Is Benjy a Christ figure? Is there a message of resurrection and renewal? Is it only about corruption of Southern aristocratic values? Is it about false and true visions? Why does the time motif keep showing up? Is it a contrast of order and chaos? What is the meaning of the frequent references to shadows. What is the symbolic meaning of Quentin's watch? How about the role of water in the story? Or is the book a prime example of the failure of language and narrative by being itself a failure to communicate?
How do you rate the number of stars for a book that is torture to read, but a pleasure to interpret? Well, for me it's three stars.
The Sound and the Fury is often described as difficult to read, because of the stream-of-consciousness format of two chapters, one being the consciousness of a character who is mentally ill (autistic?). I don't find it difficult to read; after all, isn't stream-of-consciousness meant to mirror our interior monologues? Benjy's chapter puts you in sensory touch with the landscape and characters far more powerfully than a remote third-party description. And since he ranges all over time and space (as do we all) you have some history to start with as well.
I also don't think Faulkner would have described the story as one of the decline of an aristocratic family and of the South in general. The last chapter, a recitation of the Compson family history, makes it clear that any success they enjoyed was merely temporary, and through no fault of their own.
Dilsey is an enigmatic character, if only because her chapter gives our lots of information about the other characters, but not much about herself (it's told in third-person). There is the resurrection theme (surely not about the Compsons, but there is even less evidence that it relates to the black south), and there is her palpable disinterest in her employers (Caroline she rightly treats as a child, Jason she clearly dislikes, and her treatment of Benjy and Quentin II is really only human decency, although it can seem motherly in comparison to the behavior of the actual mothers). Does she not take interest in Caddy's situation because of what she feels is the fate of the family, or because she's not about to board a boat to France, or because it's not that realistic to care about a former employer without a decent pension plan?
Faulkner tells the story of the Compson family from the point of view of three of four siblings: Benjy, who is mentally impaired; Quentin, who has started his freshman at Harvard; and Justin, who is the bitter youngest son.
The story begins in the mind of Benjy with a first chapter that is one of the greatest virtuoso performances in the English language. It's also one of the most difficult to read. If you can make it through that, the narrative becomes increasingly easy to follow and you start to understand the dynamics of the Compson family.
If you have the patience to go back and re-read Benjy's chapter after completing The Sound and the Fury, the seemingly impenetrable shifts in time make sense and you get a much more nuanced picture of all the events detailed in the novel. Not an easy read by any measure, but a rich one if you stick with it.
The scope of the book is so broad that, like a Shakespearean play, it can sustain any number of specialized interpretations. One may consider the idea of time:
“Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”(The Sound and the Fury)
While I like the idea expressed by Sartre that it is a metaphysical novel concerned with time, there is a lot more to it than just that. Most interpretations touch upon the notion that the novel dramatizes a deterioration from the past to the present. The impact of the past on the present is another theme that is recurrent in the novels of Faulkner. The complexity and multiplicity of themes and potential interpretations is part of what made this one of the novels I have read and reread over the years. It is a powerful and amazing novel--one that I will never forget.