The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

A few months ago, I wrote about overcoming book-timidation, or the strange fear you get from even thinking about reading certain books. Well, tonight I’ve got a review for you of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and I’ll be honest–it’s a book that still intimidates me, and I’ve already finished it!

I read some of Faulkner’s short stories in high school, but somehow managed to escape college without having to read any of his novels–The Sound and the Fury, A Light in August, and As I Lay Dying being just a few of his most famous works. This might be because most of my English classes in college were British literature, but it’s also largely due to fear. Faulkner’s writing style is often very different from what I would consider mainstream fiction. He writes in an intense stream-of-consciousness style that sometimes is difficult to follow.

The Sound and the Fury is about the Compson family–particularly their daughter Caddy’s decline. Caddy Compson is the main focal point of the novel, but you never get to really meet her or hear her side of the story. Instead, her three brothers tell you in fits and starts about their sister’s fall from grace. I have to admit, the idea to tell a story about someone without ever seeing them for more than a few sentences is genius! I was impressed by how well Faulkner uses indirect characterization to show what type of girl Caddy is.

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Caddy’s brothers, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason, tell her story in their own unique ways. Faulkner changes the point of view four times in the book. The first section is told from Benjy’s point of view. Benjy suffers from an intellectual disability, and his section of the book is the most stream-of-conscious of the three. I finally figured out that when the text changed from regular font to italic font, Benjy was shifting his narration in time or location. Quentin’s section, the middle section, is also very heavily stream-of-consciousness, but it has the added layer of being very intellectual and self-aware. This section was the hardest for me to understand because I couldn’t always tell what was happening. The third section, Jason’s section, is more straightforward, but Jason is the least likable character in the whole book–I did not enjoy his section very much! The final section is the only one told by a third-person narrator, and it follows Dilsey, the matriarchal servant who raised the Compson children and still looks after their somewhat neurotic mother. This is the section where you really get answers about all of these people, and Faulkner uses this section to tie the whole story back together.

I’m glad I finished this book, but I will be honest and say that all of the things I was afraid of actually were a huge part of this book. In other words, my book-timidation was somewhat justified. I really struggled with the stream-of-consciousness style, I didn’t particularly like the characters, and I put the book down with about fifty pages left because I didn’t feel like I could keep going. Ultimately I did finish reading it, and I’m glad. The story was interesting, and I feel more prepared to read Faulkner in the future. All in all, a worthwhile endeavor–even if I don’t really “get” the book.

Have you read any intimidating books recently? Do you “get” Faulkner? Can you help me “get” it? Let me know in the comments below!

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One comment

  1. I think Faulkner is one of the most difficult writers to understand. He follows his own rhythm to the extreme. I love him and wrote my thesis on him, but the amount of time I spent reading and rereading…oof! 😯


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