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[423] The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner

” 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]

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9 Responses

  1. I don’t know why but William Faulkner is one of tose authors I am always too nervous to read because of what people say about how difficult he can be to read. Often with authors like that I am surprised to find them not as challenging as I expect, but something is still holding me back with this one. All the same, your review is wonderful, and I like the idea of a book that largely focusses on one character who isn’t one of the narrators. I can imagine it would be interesting to see everyone else’s perspectives about Caddy

  2. I am currently reading Absalom, Absalom! Initially, the long sentences fatigued me as it demanded rapt attention. Meaning is lost when a thought, not linked to the read, flashes through the mind. I was lost, thought it was a difficult read but I’m persevering.

    I would want to know if Sound and Fury continues from where Absalom, Absalom! ended? For I read of, from your review, Quentin Compson and his suicide, which was hinted upon in the former. And is there any formal, or better, way of reading Faulkner?

  3. This and As I Lay Dying are my two favorite Faulkner books. Sad to say, I’ve encountered quite a bit of difficulty trying to get through his other works, finishing A Fable and stopping halfway through Pylons.

  4. […] [423] The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner […]

  5. […] [423] The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner […]

  6. […] [423] The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner […]

  7. […] the most difficult book ever, The Sound and the Fury, other than Ulysses. Share this:StumbleUponRedditPrintMoreTwitterFacebookEmailDiggLike this:LikeBe […]

  8. After reading your insightful review of this one I can say that it definitely begs to be reread!

  9. To me, Faulkner is a empty. I’ve struggled through three of his novels now, and not enjoyed one of them. The most amusing aspect is the shuffling of time episodes in Sound and Fury. It was fun to try to piece the narrative together. But once pieced, it didn’t tell me anything. His world is dismal. His characters are alienated. His plots are stitched together from sensationalist tabloids. (Magnificent stitching? I think a random selection could yield about as much meaning, to the critic who wanted to see meaning.)

    His characters are emotionless. And where there is no emotion, there is no meaning. Life happens to them, and they react. His characters have no character.

    He has a beautiful sense of metaphor. But it is entombed in interminable sentences or streams of consciousness. The beautiful bits float by and it is hard to catch them. And they don’t express much, because the characters are so repulsive. No, not repulsive. Weak. I don’t hate them. I certainly don’t love them. I just want to go away. Which they have, now that I’ve finished each book. There is nothing here that will affect my life, except that I know that Faulkner has little to offer.

    Nabokov said that singing the praises of such a writer is like “watching one who is hypnotized making love to a chair.” I agree–with a small addendum. Critics who talk about Faulkner’s imagination, his daring, his deep truths about the South and race and humanity–they are hanging sumptuous clothing of their own making on a skeleton.

    Sorry, I think the Nobel Prize Committee made one of their Great Mistakes. Faulkner’s novels–the ones I’ve read–
    are empty shells to me.

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