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In this lesson, we’ll examine William Faulkner’s novel, ‘The Sound and the Fury’. In particular, we’ll discuss the novel’s unusual narrative techniques, plot, and main themes.

Introduction

Written by the well-known Southern writer William Faulkner, the novel, The Sound and the Fury, draws its name from a soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The quote is part of Macbeth’s response to his wife’s suicide, the end of which states, ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.

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The Sound and the Fury is William Faulkner’s fourth novel. It was published in 1929. The novel tells the story of the Compson family and the loss of their once-respected position in Southern society.

Narrative Techniques

The actual events in The Sound and the Fury are not that complicated, but William Faulkner’s writing style can be hard to make sense of sometimes. This is because he used unusual narrative techniques, such as passages of stream of consciousness, lack of punctuation, and sentences that do not follow conventional structures of syntax.

Faulkner used these techniques to show the reader the mental state of his characters, at least two of whom have a mental disability or illness, such as depression. Sixteen years after he published The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner released an appendix that explained the events of the novel and put them in a larger context.The novel is divided into four sections narrated by each of the three brothers: Quentin, Caddy, Jason, and Benjy. Through these sections, we learn about their significant relationship with their sister, Caddy.

Plot

Part One: April 7, 1928

Benjy, who narrates the first section, is 33 and the youngest Compson sibling; he also has a mental disability. While this section is framed within the context of April 7, 1928, Benjy’s mental disability makes it difficult for him to process when events happen, so this section actually covers events that occur as early as 1898, when Benjy was three years old. These leaps in time, in addition to Faulkner’s use of portions of stream of consciousness and italics, make this section hard to understand for a lot of readers.

Despite the narrative disorder in Benjy’s section, we learn that his name was changed from Maury to Benjy when he was four, the Compsons’ grandmother died when they were children. We also found out that the Compsons sold some of their land to pay for Quentin’s tuition. In this section, we also learn about Caddy’s marriage, pregnancy, and divorce and how the Compson’s kicked Caddy out of the house because they are ashamed of her.

After Benjy approaches a group of girls because he thinks one of them is his sister, his brother, Jason, has him castrated.

Part Two: June 2, 1910

Quentin, the oldest Compson sibling who narrates the second section, is depressed and mentally unstable, which eventually leads to his suicide. This is the only section of the book that does not take place in 1928. Instead, it takes place 18 years earlier, when Quentin is a student.Quentin is a complex character. All of the Compson brothers are obsessed with Caddy, but Quentin takes it to new levels. When Caddy gets pregnant through a casual affair, Quentin reacts by telling their father (who does not care about his daughter’s sexual behavior) that Quentin himself is the baby’s father.

He reasons that if the child is a product of incest, then Quentin will be equally culpable and punishable alongside his sister. However, his father does not believe him.In order to try and cover up her out of wedlock pregnancy, Caddy gets married, but when her husband figures out that the baby is another man’s child, he kicks both of them out. Caddy leaves the baby with her family and disappears, sending money back to the family for her daughter’s care.Quentin drowns himself, an action that takes the reader back to the soliloquy from Macbeth, which is delivered in response to the news of a suicide. It is in Quentin’s section that Faulkner truly abandons conventional approaches to grammar and syntax, in order to show Quentin’s destabilizing mindset.

Part Three: April 6, 1928

Jason, is the third Compson sibling and his section is written more conventionally.

While he is well liked by his mother, Jason is not exactly a likeable character. He is greedy and bitter about how the family has fallen in class. After Quentin’s suicide, Jason becomes the oldest son, and as such, in charge of the dependent family members, including his mother, Benjy, and his niece, Caddy’s illegitimate daughter.

He uses his position to manipulate and take advantage of his family members.Jason gets his comeuppance, however, when his niece runs away with a lot of money. Since Jason has been stealing money Caddy intended for her daughter, Miss Quentin, the theft is partially justified. Jason spends April 6, Good Friday, the day his passage takes place, looking for his niece, but he is not successful.

Part Four: April 8, 1928

The final section of the book takes place on April 8, 1928, Easter Sunday. It is written in the third person and focuses on Jason and Dilsey, the Compson’s black servant, although the narrator dips into various characters’ thoughts. Dilsey raised the Compson siblings, as well as Caddy’s daughter.

Unlike the Compsons, Dilsey is a strong character, due in part to her religious faith. In this passage, Dilsey attends church with her family and Benjy. She is loyal to the Compsons but she pities them.Instead of going to church, Jason continues searching unsuccessfully for his niece. In spite of his failings, he’s the only one who can placate a hysterical Benjy in a carriage, driven by Dilsey’s grandson, which he does by turning the horse around.

Themes

Demise

In The Sound and the Fury, we witness the demise of the existingsocial structures of the South, especially for the wealthier families, and the personal demise of the Compson family. In addition, the family also experiences a general moral demise. Quentin kills himself and Jason takes advantage of his family members.

Religion

Another major theme in the novel is religion. Jason’s section occurs on Good Friday and the last section occurs on Easter Sunday, which commemorates Christ’s resurrection.

By framing the novel in this context, Faulkner is asking the reader: is there hope for rebirth in the Compson family?Benjy is also a symbolically rich character when it comes to the religious theme. He is 33 in the novel, which is the approximate age Christ was when he was executed. Benjy’s castration, which is the result of his perceived sexual misbehavior, may be a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. In a way, Benjy is forced to take on the punishment that most of the Compsons believe Caddy deserves for her sexual behavior.

Lesson Summary

The title of William Faulkner’s novel, The Sound and the Fury, is rooted in a soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In his 1929 novel, William Faulkner uses a variety of experimental narrative techniques to tell the story, including stream of consciousness and unconventional grammar and syntax. To clear up some of the confusion caused by his narrative techniques, Faulkner released an appendix to clear up some of the confusion 16 years after the novel was published.The Sound and the Fury tells the story of the Compson family including Quentin, Jason, Benjy and Caddy, and addresses themes related to moral, personal, and social demise and religion, especially in its depiction of the castrated, mentally challenged Benjy.

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