Being a busy mom and reading The Sound and the Fury is a nearly impossible combination! I did my best, however, to read and understand this difficult, but interesting book. First published in 1929, The Sound and the Fury is Faulkner’s fourth novel. It’s the story of the Compson family and it takes place in Jefferson, Mississippi between 1898 and 1928.
Reconstruction after the Civil War has left the Compsons in a daze. They no longer enjoy their prominence as southern aristocrats and they are clinging to a legacy that has lost importance in the post-war world. The father is an alcoholic, the mother a hypochondriac and the four children have their own serious issues.
The best way to make sense of The Sound and the Fury is to understand how it’s structured. The book is divided into four parts, told from different points of view. The first three parts are told by the three Compson brothers and their stories are presented in an unusual and wildly jumping stream of consciousness format, with limited punctuation and many difficult setting and storyline jumps.
Benjy’s story comes first. Benjy is an idiot manchild and he can only communicate in the most basic of animal ways. In this section, you get a vague and confusing idea of where he fits in the family and how his parents, the family servants, and his brothers and sister, Caddy, feel about him. Major things are happening in the Compson family, but it’s hard to make sense of what they are.
The second section is told by Quentin Compson, the oldest sibling. He’s a freshman at Harvard and his life is unraveling. He has an intense and confusing relationship with Caddy and he’s struggling with serious internal conflicts.
Jason’s story comes next. He’s a selfish, sarcastic and bitter man, the only sibling to stay at home, but he’s not to be trusted and easy to hate. It’s a relief to get to this part, however, because his narration is much easier to understand. The missing pieces start falling into place and you start to feel better about understanding what’s happening.
The fourth section is written in a third-person omniscient format and if you reach this part, you can congratulate yourself! This section focuses on Dilsey, the Compson family’s black cook who is the Compsons’ anchor. She’s the only one who seems at peace with her place in this dysfunctional family.
I first read The Sound and the Fury in college and remember loving the book. But I had a wildly enthusiastic professor who explained everything to our class. I can’t imagine I would have understood any of this book if I had read it on my own. Today there are lots of guides to help you through this challenging book. The two I found the most helpful are SparkNotes and Wikipedia so check those out for some reading support!
I can’t say that this is one of my favorites, but I do feel good that I read it. It’s kind of like being on the other side of doing a workout. You’re glad you did it, but there was some pain along the way!
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