The title of William Faulkner’s masterpiece is taken from a soliloquy from the fifth act of MacBeth:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Now I’m a good enough person to admit that Wikipedia gave me that little piece of information. Nevertheless, the title is as nearly a perfect title as I have ever seen. The Sound and the Fury is split into four sections.
The first section “April 7, 1928” is recounted from the perspective of Benjy, the youngest of the Compson boys. Benjy is either mentally retarded or autistic and this is expressed in the nonlinear, stream of consciousness of the first section. It is especially difficult to read and led me to put down the story multiple times; however, Benjy’s recollection of events in the Compson family (between 1898 and 1928) illustrate a pure sketch of the other characters in the family. It allows the reader to better understand each of the Compson children: Quentin, Caddy, and Jason.
The second section, and my personal favorite, follows Quentin around Harvard and through his recollections of Caddie at home before she becomes pregnant and is exiled from her family. Quentin’s despair for himself, and for his sister’s exile, lead to a nonlinear, cluttered end to the section until his suicide in the Charles River. It’s a complex and layered section.
My favorite part of this section is when Quentin meets an Italian immigrant girl. He spends the day trying to communicate with her to lead her home. He calls her “sister” and fruitlessly leads her around town trying to bring her to a house she recognizes. She follows him until her brother runs up, punches Quentin in the face, and claims that he kidnapped her. It’s beautifully written, and it displays Quentin’s tireless and futile effort to save Caddy from her fate.
The Sound and the Fury expresses the deterioration of southern values through the Compson family (it also expresses about a million other themes, but I’m going to focus on this one. I’m not an English major after all). The alcoholism and death of the Compson father, the mother’s insistence that the family maintains the aires of aristocracy, Caddy’s moral degradation, and when her daughter, Miss Quentin, ran away with a carnival man are all indications of the deterioration of the family. It is through Dilsey, the Compson’s matriarchal servant, that the family is mourned.
The Sound and the Fury is a beautiful work, and a major reason for Faulkner’s Nobel Prize in literature in 1949. This book is widely regarded as one of the best in American literature. It’s beautiful, lyrical, and challenging prose. It must be read more than once.
The Sound and the Fury
Paperback: 336 pages