The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner
Published in 1929
Read for The 1929 Club
So far, I had only read As I Lay Dying, by Faulkner, which I really enjoyed, but never dared to go further. One reason was a person who used to be in our book club and would heavily criticize The Sound and the Fury. But I was curious and finally decided to read it for The 1929 Club .And I am sure glad I did!
Knowing that The Sound and the Fury can be challenging, I decided to use a tool to help me. So I not only checked out the novel at my library, but also the Cliffs Notes volume, written by James L. Roberts, from the University of Nebraska.
Now, each time I mention Cliffs Notes, I hear people sneering. Which is really wrong.
I understand that there are students who decide to skip reading a book, and instead read the Cliffs Notes related to the book. Obviously, they miss the whole point.
BUT if you want to read a challenging novel, and you are looking for a tool to help you along the way, I really don’t see the problem. I think this Cliffs Notes is actually excellent.
It was very helpful for me to understand especially the fist section, narrated by Benjy. If you have no idea how the book works, the novel starts with Benjy, who is a 33 year-old mentally challenged man.
He recounts events that happened in his family, but he has no linear concept of time, and the stream of consciousness narration technique used here by Faulkner is really to the max: one word Benjy hears will trigger a memory, then by another association of sound, idea, or emotion, it will lead to another one, and these events can have happened any time during his life.
Sometimes, Faulkner writes a paragraph in italics, then you know that the preceding and the following lines are not set during that same period, but sometimes he doesn’t even do that.
I really appreciated that Roberts gave the details for each paragraph, or sometimes even line, when this happened, and how Benjy’s mind worked to connect these things.
The next two parts are narrated by Benjy’s brothers, Quentin and Jason, and they also use the stream of consciousness. Once you get into the groove, it’s really neat. It gives a wonderful flow.
I liked how often the dialogs are integrated into the narration with a simple I say (or most often I says!), he says, all on the same line, with hardly any punctuation.
Only the last section is in the third person narrative, narrated by the author, and is more linear.
This is the portrait of a very dysfunctional family, the Compsons.
Even though the daughter Candace (Caddy) is not the narrator of any part here, she’s actually the focus of the book. Benjy is the closest to her, as she seems to be understanding him more than the others. But when she leaves, he is devastated and will never recover. He is also traumatized when he sensed she has changed, in her body. Benjy is hypersensitive, he is even described as able to smell when death is roaming around.
Quentin, the university student, is also upset by Caddy’s promiscuity. He is thinking of some radical solution to take on her shame, but instead makes another extreme move, to basically escape the constraints of time.
Jason is the fox here, or the wolf, trying to make business, stealing money, even from his own family, and feeling but contempt and hate for them all.
Their mother is also a piece of work, focusing on her illnesses, and absolutely not understanding neither her challenged son nor her daughter.
The only person who is really loving and tries to keep everyone together is the old black servant Dilsey. She is the only one who can really comfort Benjy.
I really like how the book can actually be understood as different views of time: are you totally mixed up with it, like Benjy? Are you afraid of the future and try to escape it with Quentin? Or are you so focused on your selfish interests that you are stuck in a narrow present, without considering how you may impact others and their future?
Besides the stream of consciousness, I liked the extremely oral style. In fact, it often helps to read aloud some passages to better understand their meaning, as Faulkner tried to convey the idea of the use of English by a Southern family (the book is set in Mississippi) and their black servants.
The Cliffs Notes has a genealogy, which helps keeps track between the 2 Maurys, and several Quentins – most are men, but there’s also a girl with that name!
I guess after The Sound and the Fury (by the way Roberts also helped me understand the title), I am ready to tackle Virginia Woolf, another master of the stream of consciousness.
I am also planning to read more by Faulkner.
VERDICT: Challenging novels are worth it! Stream of consciousness at its best?