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The Sound and the Fury


The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner’s fourth novel, is his first true masterpiece, and many consider it to be his finest work. It was Faulkner’s own favorite novel, primarily, he says, because it is his “most splendid failure.” Depicting the decline of the once-aristocratic Compson  family, the novel is divided into four parts, each told by a different narrator.



The first section is told from the point of view of Benjy Compson, a thirty-three-year-old idiot, and recounts via flashbacks the earliest events in the novel. As an idiot, Benjy is the key to the novel’s title, which alludes to Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. For the most part, his language is simple-sentences are short, vocabulary basic.

The second section recounts the story from Quentin Compson’s perspective. Even though the present-day of this section is almost eighteen years prior to the present-day of Benjy’s section, it nevertheless follows roughly the chronological development of the novel, for while many of Benjy’s recollections are of their early childhood, most of Quentin’s flashbacks record their adolescence, particularly Caddy’s dawning sexuality.  Quentin’s section takes place on the day he commits suicide, and in the present we follow his wanderings around Boston (he is a student at Harvard University) as he fastidiously prepares for death. Like Benjy, he too is obsessed with the past and frequently lapses into flashbacks. Unlike the fairly discrete narratives of Benjy’s multiple memories, however, Quentin’s are much more fragmentary-a repeated (and usually italicized) word or phrase early in his section often recurs later with greater detail and embellishment. Quentin’s flashbacks also are much more intellectual than Benjy’s. Whereas Benjy records mainly sensual impressions, Quentin more often delves into more abstract issues such as character motivation, guilt, honor, and sin.

Section three is told by the third Compson brother, Jason, and is set on Good Friday. Unlike his brothers, Jason is much more focused on the present, offering fewer flashbacks, though he does have a few and he refers frequently to events in the past. The tone of Jason’s section is set instantly by the opening sentence: “Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say.” Jason is a sadist, and his grimly humorous section reveals just how low the Compson  family has sunk-from Quentin’s obsessions over heritage and honor and sin to Jason’s near-constant cruelty, complaints, and scheming.

The fourth and final section is told from an omniscient viewpoint. It is sometimes known as “Dilsey’s Section” because of her prominence in this section, but she is not the sole focus in this section-a long sequence follows Jason  as he pursues his niece, who has stolen about $7,000 from him, to “Mottson.”


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Tags: Sound, novel, Faulkner\'s, divided, family