Have you read The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner? If you’re still at the beginning and thinking of quitting, my recommendation is to bear with it! I know you’re probably wondering what in the world is going on! All will be clear, in a murky, foggy sort of way, before the novel ends. The true value of the book is in exploring the characters and the situation they’ve been born into. Forget about linear thinking – you won’t find a lot of that within this book.
The main characters are three brothers, their sister, Caddy, their parents and their servants. Faulkner was raised in Mississippi where this tale takes place and gives a clear, honest picture of the complex relationship between a formerly aristocratic family and the black employees who hold their lives together in ways they themselves are not capable of.
The book starts with a stream of consciousness chapter narrated by severely-mentally-retarded Benjy Compson in 1928. Faulkner did an excellent job of taking us inside the confused thinking processes of this character, showing us the world from his demented point of view. However he isn’t the only deranged character in this novel. Clearly, the entire family has been afflicted with a hidden malaise; Benjy’s character is simply the first to show it.
The tragedies of Benjy’s life are numerous. Aside from his inability to talk or think clearly, he is deprived of his name when it is discovered that he’s retarded, his beloved pasture will be sold to fund his older brother’s college education, his beloved sister will become an outcast who he can no longer see, and he is castrated. None of these tribulations are events he’s able to process mentally. Ironically, the new owner of the pasture turns it into a golf course where players call out for their caddies. Caddy is his precious sister’s name, so listening to the golfers next door constantly reminds Benjy of his grief.
The story is non-linear, jumping back and forth between different periods of time, which adds to the confusion. Benjy’s caretaking servant in 1928, when he is 33, is Luster. Versh was his childhood companion, and T.P. took care of him as a teen.
After Benjy’s section of the book, Faulkner cuts to a section in 1910 – also stream of consciousness – from older brother Quentin’s perspective. Quentin was a student at Harvard when he learned his sister, Caddy, had disgraced herself. Whereas Benjy is simply obsessed with her, Quentin is obsessed with her downfall.
In the third section of The Sound and the Fury her younger brother, Jason, is obsessed with taking advantage of her downfall. This of course will lead to his.
The fourth section of the book veers away from stream of consciousness narrative into third person, focusing mainly on the servants, Dilsey and Luster. Here we find Faulkner’s rich capacity for description and dialogue, as well as the outcome of the family’s lack of cohesiveness and love.
I found this to be a fascinating novel, but not an easy read. Faulkner didn’t originate the stream of consciousness novel format but gave us an excellent example of what could be done with it.