I picked up my copy of The Sound and the Fury during a book haul I did back in April. It’s worth noting that this is my first time reading a William Faulkner book so I’d no real indication of what to expect from his writing.
Published in 1929, The Sound and the Fury is Faulkner’s fourth book and didn’t become popular until 1931, when it coincided with the release of his sixth publication, Sanctuary. It was at this point that Faulkner began to receive critic’s attention.
The book consists of four parts, each relating to similar events; with a different viewpoint and therefore a varied opinion on what’s happening. Because the structure is so intertwined the book is difficult to review, but I’ll give it my best. Add to this, the narrators themselves are all skewed towards their own personal wellbeing, making them untrustworthy, this book quickly becomes muddled.
The Sound and the Fury Analysis
By the time I opened The Sound and the Fury I’d a basic understanding of what to expect but that didn’t really help. The first chapter (or episode may be more fitting) is told from the perspective of Benjy, who for all intents and purposes, is ‘simple’. This means his narration is crammed together, jumping back and forth between past and present day, offering little punctuation in between.
It’s this narration that makes it tough to determine one character from another. Who’s Male or Female (There are two Quentins in this story; the eldest son and Miss Quentin – Caddy’s daughter). Race is another major theme throughout and determining who’s black and who’s white is also problematic, at least in the opening narratives.
This does begin to clear in the latter stages of the book, though a lot of The Sound and the Fury can feel like a slog, so it’s no surprise that my interest had begun to dwindle.
Time Warps and Backtracking
Faulkner uses italics throughout to symbolize past events and flashbacks, however, these are not always marked and often the italics don’t cover the entire event, making it difficult to find which timeline you’re in.
Often jarring and confusing, Faulkner’s use of time is downright disorientating. I often had to look back over the previous pages to gather which tense the current character was talking about. It felt as if I was constantly dipping in and out of a time-warp.
The past takes on a sort of super-reality; its contours are hard and clear, unchangeable. The present, nameless and fleeting, is helpless before it. It is full of gaps, and, through these gaps, things of the past, fixed, motionless and silent as judges or glances, come to invade it. Faulkner’s monologues remind one of aeroplane trips full of air-pockets. At each pocket, the hero’s consciousness “sinks back into the past” and rises only to sink back again.
Dilsey, the housemaid, is the only character who doesn’t confuse time. The Compson family often manipulate their timelines as if trying to escape the events. This makes reading her chapter by far the easiest and most comprehensible.
The title ‘The Sound and the Fury’ is taken from a speech given by Macbeth (in Macbeth) in which its words portray a great example of how literature is always ‘borrowing’ from itself and others. Click To Tweet
‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more’
This part of Macbeth’s speech would be one way of describing Quentin, whose own shadow plagues him, and whose suicide grants no sounds.
Closing Thoughts on The Sound and the Fury
‘I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin.’
Unlike Dilsey, I do have a preoccupation with time. The majority of this book seemed to drag along at such a slow pace. This was due to its fractured narrative and its clunky movements, making it difficult to find a level-footing. To say that I was disappointed is an understatement.
The best advice I can give, without spoilers, is;
The first chapter is not to be understood as it’s written from the perspective of a disabled adult who has no grasp or concept of time. This means he’ll stop mid-sentence and jump to something more interesting, sometimes 15 years into the past. This is the experience of a vicarious life through the eyes of somebody who knows no different. The following chapters are there to add clarity to the opening and to (hopefully) help further your understanding.
I think Macbeth himself best summarises my feelings for this book; ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’
(A story of noise and pain but devoid of any meaning.)
Did you enjoy The Sound and the Fury? Or were you like me in your distaste for this ‘slow-paced’ classic? Leave your thoughts below.
Stoicheff, R.P. “Faulkner’s Foreign Levy: Macbeth, The Sound and the Fury, and Writerhood.” The Sound and the Fury: a Hypertext Edition. Ed. Stoicheff, Muri, Deshaye, et al. Updated Mar. 2003. U of Saskatchewan. Accessed 18 Mar. 2003
Skirry, Justin. (2001). Sartre on William Faulkner’s Metaphysics of Time in The Sound and the Fury. Sartre Studies International. 7. 15-43. 10.3167/135715501780886555.