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It's All Up to You, Fair Reader...

  • Nov 30, 2009
...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.

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More The Sound And the Fury reviews
review by . April 05, 2008
Disturbing images and strong characters are reduced to baffling shadows by Faulkner's extreme stream of consciousness writing style. There is no discernible plot here, although one can sense a general downward trend in family fortunes, in every way: materially, spiritually, genetically, historically, and cooperatively.    And plenty of anger, which seems to infuse every character's interaction with the extended family and the surrounding community. This fury produces plenty of …
Quick Tip by . July 22, 2010
Worth the challenge. My favorite Faulkner work, but it takes some work to get through it.
review by . November 30, 2009
It's all up to you whether you find value in this notoriously difficult novel, or whether you hurl it into the fireplace in frustration. You don't have to read it. If you do, 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 …
review by . July 08, 2009
Is it worth your time to read a book that toys with your ability to make any sense of it?    Normally, I'd say no, but "The Sound And The Fury" is a loud exception. You'll have to read it twice to figure out what is going on, but when you do, you'll find yourself riveted by a tale revolving around the glory and sordidness of human existence.    Told in four wildly divergent sections, the novel tells the story of the Compson family, once proud members of Mississippi …
review by . May 15, 2009
This is William Faulkner's fourth book and considered by many to be one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written...and after reading this book and writing this review I share those sentiments. And yet, when you listen to Faulkner describe his depiction into the decline of the aristocratic Compson family, he considered it to be his best failure. The book comes at you in four sections with each being told by a different narrative...so let's explore Faulkner's best failure, shall we? The first …
review by . December 13, 2006
Pros: Interesting narrative style     Cons: This flavor of stream of consciousness is not for a casual reader     The Bottom Line: This is an intellectual exercise rather than a nice, curl up while it is raining read.     The Sound and the Fury isn’t the first of the Yoknapatawpha novels; it is the second. William Faulkner wrote what he called Flags in the Dust which was edited a bit by Ben Wasson because he believed that Flags was …
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The ostensible subject ofThe Sound and the Furyis the dissolution of the Compsons, one of those august old Mississippi families that fell on hard times and wild eccentricity after the Civil War. But in fact what William Faulkner is really after in his legendary novel is the kaleidoscope of consciousness--the overwrought mind caught in the act of thought. His rich, dark, scandal-ridden story of squandered fortune, incest (in thought if not in deed), madness, congenital brain damage, theft, illegitimacy, and stoic endurance is told in the interior voices of three Compson brothers: first Benjy, the "idiot" man-child who blurs together three decades of inchoate sensations as he stalks the fringes of the family's former pasture; next Quentin, torturing himself brilliantly, obsessively over Caddy's lost virginity and his own failure to recover the family's honor as he wanders around the seedy fringes of Boston; and finally Jason, heartless, shrewd, sneaking, nursing a perpetual sense of injury and outrage against his outrageous family.

If Benjy's section is the most daringly experimental, Jason's is the most harrowing. "Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say," he begins, lacing into Caddy's illegitimate daughter, and then proceeds to hurl mud at blacks, Jews, his sacred Compson ancestors, his glamorous, promiscuous sister, his doomed brother Quentin, his ailing mother, and the long-suffering black servant Dilsey who holds the family ...

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ISBN-13: 978-0739325353
Publisher: Random House
Date Published: July 30, 2005

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