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Not the best one to start with but still good

  • Dec 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 a story with a thousand loose ends that went nowhere. He created Sartoris. Sales were dismal. The two novels prior to Sartoris were actually mainstream fiction. Flags was the first piece that showed Faulkner’s burgeoning voice. He concluded after Sartoris failed, that he would essentially write for himself as if he were the only audience—there may be a ring of the apocryphal to this, but there is still a measure of truth.

The Sound and the Fury is a novel told in four parts with four different narrators. Benjy Compson is the first. He is a 33 year old suffering from severe retardation, so his mind works on the level of a 3 year old. His mind wanders from topic to topic that can be many years apart in reality but exist side by side in Benjy’s brain. The second narrator is Quentin Compson who is the scion of a diminishing Southern family of means. His narrative is that of a scatterbrain soon-to-be suicide. The focus of his addled brain is his feelings of lust towards his sister, Caddy. This isn’t the cause, exactly, of his suicide, but it plays a huge part of his final thought before jumping into, then drowning in. the Charles River near Harvard where he attends college. Narrator number three is Jason Compson, namesake of his father, but second son. This son, the spare if the Compsons were royal, believes he is treated as the spare son. He controls the slowly disintegrating house with rapidly diminishing money. His narrative is angry with hatred and anger in nearly every line. He despises Quentin, Benjy, and Caddy because he believes they were all pampered while he is (forgive the crass southernism) forced to suck the hind tit. The final narrative comes from the black maid, Dilsey, who, in all reality, takes care of the house and those in it. Her narrative is straight forward and lacks the sometimes confusing stream of consciousness that pervades each of the narratives before. It is through this narrative that the reader can get a clearer picture of the overall story.

The main focus is on how Caddy Compson had to leave because she was pregnant with an illegitimate child. How each of her brothers react to this is the impetus and armature of their narratives, though each narrative goes beyond thoughts only of this bit of shame.

Because there are 4 stories generally about the same thing, many like to point to it as if it were structured on the Gospels. Apart from the number of narrators, there is no reason to believe this. Originally, The Sound and the Fury was going to stop with Jason’s narrative, meaning there would only be 3 of them. Faulkner decided, with help from some folks he pitched the idea to, that a last chapter was needed to clear up some of the confusion caused by the earlier chapters.

The novel starts with the most difficult narrative and ends with the easiest. Because of this, a reader less familiar with this style is told to read the novel in reverse order. I’m of two minds about this. How I determine whether to advise this direction is to ask what might sound like a silly question. I ask the reader if they like the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles. If they say yes, I tell them just to relax into the narratives; they will all coalesce together before you get to the Dilsey chapter at the end. If the reader doesn’t like these crossword puzzles, I advise them to read the novel backwards. The problem with reading it backwards is two fold. First you lost the ability to see the master working out his style that would become more fluid and graceful as he continued to write. Second it is cheating. The idea of reading the difficult chapters first is that your mind is then shaped in such a way that when you get to Dilsey’s chapter, you are pretty much aware of all that has gone on and hers is just a relatively quick denouement. The funny thing to me is that readers who start with the beginning often complain about the last chapter and consider it a type of training wheels; those who read it backwards rarely make it through all of Benjy’s chapter because it seems to be without structure.

The Sound and the Fury is more an intellectual exercise than not. Later novels would balance the information delivery and emotion in a far better manner. Novels like Sanctuary, Absalom, Absalom, and The Hamlet have more difficult narratives because the design isn’t as segmented as it is in The Sound and the Fury and the Naturalistic As I Lay Dying.

I wouldn’t recommend this one as the first Faulkner novel to read, nor the second. I think it is so unbalanced toward the cerebral and away from the heart and gut that it would do far more to turn one off rather than make them want to continue reading.


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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 . November 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. …
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 …
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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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