|"Before commenting on the content and value of the book, let me warn that this is one of the most difficult to understand and appreciate of all American novels. Several factors combine to create that difficulty. First, one of the narrators is a person with mental deficiencies. Second, the first section uses an unusual flashback technique that cannot be understood very clearly until you have read the whole book (perhaps more than once). Third, Faulkner is sparing in his clues of how the stories weave together. You have to watch carefully for them. Fourth, the sensibilities of the day meant that much is implied rather than stated overtly. But you have to understand what those hints are about, or you miss the story. Finally, there is much dense Southern black dialect here that requires slow reading to capture the sense of. Fifth, the interior dialogues are interspaced with external dialogues . . . which can create confusion. Sixth, there is a lot of crude stream of consciousness material here, but it will not enchant you as Joyce's or Proust's will. Seventh, the book is heavy with unusual symbolism that is easy to miss. Eighth, the center of the story is often drawn in by looking at the edges rather than looking directly at the center.
So if you like a challenge (like extremely complex puzzles), you will love The Sound and The Fury. If you like your fiction more straightforward, you are going to wonder where you are at times. If you like new experiences in your reading, you will find the book very rewarding.
You will meet three generations of Compsons in this novel, along with their servants, friends, and coworkers. Each Compson is experiencing perceptual disconnections that make them ineffectively connected to reality. But each is different in their dysfunction. You will move inside the minds of three of them to experience those perceptions for yourself. It will not be pleasant. All of this occurs against the backdrop of a precipitous drop in economic and social status in a small community where status is very important.
If you are like me, you will find the beauty of this story in its structure, symbolism, and the character of Dilsey, the family's servant.
The structure allows the reader to discern the book's reality from a subjective perspective, like good art does. There's lots of raw material for judgment here, and your opinions will slowly build. There are obvious connections among the characters and the story, but these connections leave you with basic questions about what causes what. Those questions of causation are one of the strengths of the novel. Because you can start with any circumstance and move off to look for connections, and you will rejoin yourself at the same circumstance eventually. Even in our disconnectedness, we are powerfully connected is the message. I think of this book as a five dimensional puzzle: with time, space, self-interest, subjective perception, and family being the five dimensions. Pulling it all into a coherent image is a worthy task that should delight your mind.
I normally would not dwell on one symbol in a book as complex as this one, but I was very impressed by how well Faulkner boiled down his message into one tiny golf ball. I also mention this symbol here because it will also save you rereading the book at least once if you pay attention to that symbol the first time you read it, and realize that it is important. The roundness of the golf ball also gives you a hint of the book's structure at a time when that structure is totally opaque. You will be returning to variations on this symbol through several circles in the rest of the novel. I will not say any more about this ball's symbolism, because that could ruin the story for you.
Finally, Dilsey is as fine a human being as you can hope to meet in person or in any novel. She reminds me of a good family friend of ours, Cecile Antaya. Her heart is full of practical Christian charity and patience. Her support is critical to the family and to the story. A good question to ask yourself at the end is whether or not this book is really focused on Dilsey rather than on the Compsons.
The title also deserves mention. This book is far more aural than almost any other novel. Sounds reverbrate at key moments to provide critical meaning. The book often speaks without sounds, but there is much fury when the words are internal. Some of the sounds, especially Benjy's sounds, help cause the fury. You will enjoy the interplay of the story with the title.
Difficult books make us better readers. I hope you will find these challenges rewarding! After you have finished making The Sound and The Fury part of yourself, I suggest that you conduct a little experiment. Take a mealtime conversation that you participated in. Write down what you remember and what you thought was going on. Then ask each of the other people to do so as well without any checking with one another. When everyone is done, compare the results and discuss those results. I think what you will find is that you have created a minor version of the communication issues in this novel. I think you will understand much more about what Faulkner was saying about perception as a result.
Build understanding by being more forgiving! "
"I wanted to read the novel for two reasons: first, it was ranked No.6 in the "100 Best Books" list recently published by Random House; and second because, like Faulkner who was raised in Mississippi in the first quarter of this century, I was raised there in the second quarter, and was anxious to know how Faulkner treated with the condition of the rural South, specifically Mississippi and its people.
I found the book rewarding. The troubles of Faulkner's central characters could have applied to people anywhere , which lends to the novel the universality of a true literary work. And his treatment of the black heroine Dilsey, who remained faithful both to her own beliefs and to her decadent white employers should conjure up real nostalgia for many natives of the Old South.
Faulkner's text of The Sound and the Fury occupies less than half the pages in the book. The remainder includes Backgrounds, Appendices, Cultural and Historical Contexts, and Criticism of both Faulkner and the novel. The novel as it was originally published in 1929, without benefit of these addendum, would no doubt have lost most readers because of the disjointed and incoherent technique Faulkner used in writing the first two of the four sections of the novel.
Faulkner's Appendix, published sixteen years after the original novel, and included in this edition, sheds a great deal of light on an otherwise dark text, and if read first would enable a reader to understand at least something the first time around. Faulkner himself noted that "I should have done this(the Appendix) when I wrote the book", and recommended that it appear first in the 1946 edition. I hope it did.
Without the explanatory addendum in this edition, I wouldn't have known what Faulkner was talking about most of the time. Thanks to editor David Minter for making Faulkner's work more understandable; but I disagree with Minter when he suggests that "...the place to begin is with the novel itself..."; I recommend beginning with Faulkner's Appendix. That way you may not have to read the novel two or three times to grasp some of its meaning. "
"All right, I'm not going to lie and say I understood this one.
It's a tough read -- the downfall of a Depression-era family in the American South, as told through three brothers: Benjy, Quentin and Jason. What makes the read tough (and absolutely fascinating) is that Faulkner flips POVs often within the novel, and writes sometimes without any punctuation.
** (SPOILER follows) **
What I find remarkably fascinating about this author's writing is the way he plays with the devices. The novel begins in 1928 in the POV of the mentally handicapped brother Benjy. I was confused and blown away (in a good way!) by the technique within the first quarter of the book. Benjy doesn't view the world or his own memories in a way that is easily translatable in writing. He can't say "I like looking at the pretty jewelry box with all the pretty sparkles. It calms me down." He can only refer to the sparkles without knowing what they are, and we the reader are left to infer what's happening based on the few hints Benjy is able to provide.
Fascinating!! And pretty ballsy, since he opens the book like this.
The writing hops all over, sometimes mid sentence/mid-paragraph, into another memory. Often the memory is instigated by something in the present scene. For example, Benjy likes watching a golf game that's played near his house because the players call out Caddy -- his beloved older sister's name. Hearing the game takes him crackling along childhood, though in his main story, he's a full-grown man.
In contrast to the rough writing within the first quarter of the book, Brother #2's section is written beautifully. Quentin's tale happens in 1910, a couple decades before the first quarter of the book, and it unfolds the day Quentin kills himself. (Though you don't find out he died until the third brother takes over the tale.)
Quentin's passages are philosophical in contrast to Benjy's patchwork sections, but mid-way through, as insanity and suicide take over, punctuation is lost altogether. Paragraphs go on for pages with no break, and stream-of-thought takes over. Confusing? Absolutely! But I just can't get over the technique. Brilliant, I think -- the contrasts.
Section Three is told in the same time frame as the first section, 1928, by Jason, the pragmatic and monstrous brother whose been left to work laboriously supporting his sister Caddy's illegitimate daughter, his mother, Benjy, and a handful of house servants. He is miserly, bitter and prone to malicious tempers. He hates Caddy as well as her daughter but is considered by his mother to be "the only good one of the batch."
Jason should have gone to Harvard, but he gave it up (under duress) so Quentin could go. When Quentin killed himself, the chance was lost. Now Jason works a dead end job, stealing money from Caddy’s daughter into a private savings. Jason's passages are far more clear. (No lost punctuation!) But he's so mean and negative, by the time you finish with him, you're itching for some good news. Again, smart on Faulkner's part. I FEEl the tightness of the man; I experience it.
The final segment is told in third person in 1928 and hops viewpoints between Jason and Dilsey. The writing is beautiful again, the passages easy to follow.
What I think is remarkable about this work, beyond the symphonic quality of the "snapshot" of a fallen Southern family not long after the American Civil War -- is the writing itself. Faulkner circles his prey (the climax). He begins at the outermost point and slowly revolves (making the reader dizzy!) until he reaches the final line. And what irony in that final line. (I won't spoil it by sharing.)
Absolutely worth the read. But don't read it if you're looking for "escapism." This isn't for entertainment; it's art. "
"...whether you find value in this notoriously difficult novel, or whether you hurl it into the fireplace in frustration. You needn't feel ashamed of either response... assuming you're free from the bonds of high school English classes. You'll need all your resources of unflagging attention, tenacious memory, and orthographic competence with dialect just to grasp the central events of the story, but even then you may be frustrated by the realization that the story isn't the centerpiece of the book. I could give you ten reasons not to bother for every one assertion that you must sometime in your life read The Sound and the Fury... and read it intently, in a few concentrated reading sessions with absolutely no competing distractions. But as I said, it's up to you.
The title comes from Shakespeare, from Macbeth: Life "is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Really, the narrative of the novel is told by three idiots, the three Compson brothers, although only the first narrator, Benjy, is a certified 'loony' by the definitions of his community. The second narrator, brother Quentin, is usually identified as 'neurotic' but that diagnosis falls short of recognizing how desperately ill his mind is, right to the point of his suicide. The third brother, Jason, might be regarded as sane in some societies, but he too is deranged and dysfunctional. The father of these three boys is a lifelong case of clinical depression, self-medicated with booze. The mother is a monster of borderline psychotic hypochondria. Sister Caddy is described in the Clif Notes as 'beautifula and tragic, but her basic tragedy is a personality disorder. Her illegitimate daughter, from whom she is separated, may have some sparks of sanity, enough at least to escape, but she's hardly a person you'd seek out for a daughter-in-law. The Compsons are surrounded by -- kept alive by -- the descendants of their ancestors' slaves. Sorting out the generations of the black folk that share life with the Compsons is one of the ways to keep the narrative somewhat chronological; the idiot Benjy is portrayed in the care/custody of three distinct black teenagers, that is, Benjy as a child, Benjy as an adolescent, Benjy as a 33-year-old helpless bellowing hulk. I suppose the true centerpiece of the novel is Faulkner's indictment of the stagnant post-Civil War South for creating the conditions in which a family, and by implication a whole society, could degenerate into such moral and mental idiocy. All the passion and pride of the tale told by the Compson does indeed "signify nothing." They're done. Finished. Defunct, and deservedly so.
All three Compson narrators are represented by stream-of-consciousness fragments of memory, occasionally cogent but often lapsing into babble. Does any person's "consciousness" really resemble what Faulkner sets down in words? I tend to think not; what Faulkner offers is a literary convention. He brings powerful verbal energy to his fragmenting depiction of "consciousness", and that's wherein his greatness as a writer lies.
The fourth 'chapter' of narration is largely third-person, centered around the enduring ancient cook/servant Dilsey, the nurse of all the white Compsons and the mother of most of their un-slaves. Is Dilsey, with her sons, the sole anchor of order and decncy in the Compson world, or the will-less willing co-dependent of such stagnation? Dilsey says she "seen the beginning and the end." I reckon she thought so sincerely, but in retrospect she was wrong, and Faulkner was wrong with her; the worst was not over in 1928, when this book was published, and fortunately the future didn't belong to the Compsons, or the Snopeses, or to any of the baleful stock of Faulkner's vision. Amen and hallelujah.
Faulkner's portrayal of human nature, based on 'blood' (i.e. race) and inheritance of sins unto the seventh generation troubles me a lot. I've already been hammered, in other reviews, for expressing my discomfort with that perception. The Sound and the Fury is hardly free from what I dislike about Faulkner, but it's such a stark, fierce, sustained tragedy that intellectual reservations fall aside and only the shared agony remains. "