Book: The Sound and the Fury

Author: William Faulkner


The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner

For the Compson boys, Quentin, Jason and Benjy, their sister Caddy is the source of love in the absence of a mother’s care. The three boys grow up with strange fixations on the affectionate and sympathetic Caddy. When Caddy dishonours the family by getting pregnant out of wedlock her brothers suffer from violent emotional reactions. Quentin claims paternity of the child by making up stories about an incestuous relationship with his sister. Benjy, who is mentally retarded, can express his pain only through moaning. Later, Jason, who is full of bitterness and hatred, devises a method of stealing Caddy’s money.

Social/Historical context:

The southern states were ravaged by the American Civil War. Faulkner belonged to a prominent family in Mississippi and saw around himself how the illustrious families had spiralled into steep downfalls. The antagonism between the whites and the blacks and the economic crises had a huge impact on the lifestyle of the southern people. The Sound and the Fury is about the Compsons, who live in the memories of the past days of grandeur and are haunted by a sense of degradation. The novel also explores white-black relationships. The fourth and last part of the novel is about Dilsey, the black cook of the Compsons, who has single-handedly raised the four children.

Writing Style:

The novel (published in 1929) was written during the height of literary modernism. The style is extremely innovative and experimental. The sentences are often long and complex and ask for immense patience on the part of the reader. Also, the novel treats the concept of time in a unique way – the narration is in the stream of consciousness technique and deals with the present, the past and the future as the human mind would treat them. That is, the three narrators’ (Benjy, Quentin and Jason) voices are representations of the flow of their thoughts – memories of the past, observations on the present and thoughts about the future seamlessly merge into one another.

My Thoughts:

I started reading this novel because I was attracted by the title. “Sound and fury” is a quote from Macbeth’s soliloquy just after his wife’s death - “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I must confess that I persevered at reading the novel only because I wanted to know why Faulkner had quoted Macbeth. This novel is not a favourite of mine but I would still recommend it to everyone as a must-read. The sheer power of the author’s art will awe every new reader. Faulkner tries to give voice to unformed thoughts and to do this he has to recreate the English language. The transformation of the orthodox and unyielding language of the Victorian age into the flexible, non-conformist language of the post-modern period was facilitated by writers like Faulkner, who moulded English in new ways and made it what it is today. This novel, which advertises itself as a tale that signifies nothing, establishes it significance by remaining in the reader’s thoughts long after he or she has finished reading.

Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta

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