” Caddy smelled like trees. “ (I, 42 – Benjy)
The Sound and the Fury epitomizes Faulkner’s inexhaustible invention and powerful imagination. The book is apparently difficult reading since he deliberately chooses a style that involves salient obscurity. The reading is more than arduous; but upon completion I am rewarded with more than just satisfaction. Told in four parts of rough equal length, the novel captures the decadence of the Compson family in the 1920s through three brothers’ memories of their sister Caddy and the family cook’s reflections.
I could hear the clock, and I could hear Caddy standing behind me, and I could hear the roof. It’s still raining, Caddy said. I hate rain. I hate everything. And then her head came into my lap and she was crying, holding me, and I began to cry. (I, 55 – Benjy)
The first part is told by a congenital imbecile, Benjy, a man of 33 whose development has not advanced beyond childhood. He has no sense of time and portrays all the events in the present. His entire mentality revolves around Caddy, for whom he harbors fond memories and passionate devotion. Benjy’s narrative, at a first glance, is completely unreadable, owing to his associative thought-process. The whole of his 33 years are present to him in one uninterrupted and streamless flood. Different memories of Caddy subtly mark the time shifts across almost twenty events spanning 30 years. Benjy’s rigmarole actually gives a general picture of the intense passionate family relationships. One will be surprised at the completeness of his account despite its warped nature.
‘Did you ever have a sister? did you?’ and when he said No, you hit him. I noticed you kept on looking at him, but you didn’t seem to be paying any attention to what anybody was saying until you jumped up and asked him if he had any sisters. (II, 165 – Quentin)
Quentin is just as vague. His narrative dates back 18 years, in 1910, when he commits suicide at Harvard. A sensitive bundle of neuroses, he harnesses memories of Caddy after she became pregnant with the child of Dalton Ames, whom he confronted but lost disgracefully in a fight. It’s through Quentin and his turmoil that readers see the family’s estrangement from Caddy. He remembers Benjy and it pains him that his family has sold Benjy’s share of the land in order to send him to Harvard. He grieves over his failure to protect his sister from the paws of a scoundrel. As he mindfully prepares for his suicide, his narrative fades away to confusion due to severe depression and deteriorating state of mind.
Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say. I says you’re lucky if her playing out to be down there in that kitchen right now, instead of up there in her room, gobbing paint on her face and waiting for six niggers that can’t even stand up out of a chair unless they’ve got a panful of bread and meat to balance them, to fix breakfast for her. (III, 179 – Jason)
Jason’s narrative returns to the present and it is here the fogs lifts and the story quickens its pace. The mean kid spurned by his siblings is now the economic support of the family. Under his roof also is Miss Quentin, Caddy’s daughter who is constantly in pursuit of mischief. This is where readers finally see the dynamics of the Compsons. Knowing that the name Quentin covers two people, I pause and go back to re-read Benjy’s tale a second (and later a third) time to understand the big picture. Together with the third-person narrative that focuses on Dilsey, the family cook, the second half of the novel puts Benjy tale into a clear and kaleidoscopic perspective, as if the whole story suddenly becomes actual to one at a single moment. The effect that the obscurity produces is unparalleled and it mandates readers to re-read in order to appreciate the meaning.
All three brothers try, unconsciously, to construct order out of the chaos that are rampant in their family. They all fail as the family’s values become corrupted over time. Caddy seems to be the central character although none of the narratives devote to her. We know Caddy through her brothers who all hold her in fond memories—and gone is the love that binds them all together after she left. Ironically, it’s Dilsey who maintains a strong sense of order and endures the Compsons’ tumultuous downfall. The Sound and they Fury has the essential quality of a book that can be read over and over again, because it will afford a freshness and new meaning. It begs to be re-read.
321 pp. UK Vintage Paperback. [Read/
Skim/ Toss] [Buy/ Borrow]