A Structure

Faulkner has created an unusual structure in The Sound and the Fury. The story takes place over a period of four days, each of which is seen through the eyes of a different character. The first part of the book is the monologue of Benjy on April 7, 1928, the day before Easter. The second part of the book belongs to Quentin on the day of his suicide on June 2, 1910. Jason, the son, is the focus of the third section, April 6, 1928, which covers Good Friday, the day before Benjy’s monologue. The fourth and final section takes place on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1928. The story is not related by a single individual, but is often referred to as Dilsey’s section. In a fragmented way, the story of the Compson family and their tragedy is gradually pieced together. Each section adds bits and pieces of the history of the Compson family. Benjy’s account covers a period of twenty-five years. Quentin’s story ends earlier than the other two brothers, since he has committed suicide in 1910. In this section the reader learns more about the family’s early relationships. Jason’s section, the third in the book, reveals more of the dark side of the Compson family. This section echoes the religious events of Christ’s betrayal on Good Friday. The betrayal is by young Quentin, who steals money from her Uncle Jason and runs away from home. Dilsey’s section, the fourth and last, reveals Faulkner’s affirmation of her enduring qualities. It is Dilsey who has cared for and tried to keep the family intact for decades. The final section contains an Easter Sunday service in an African American church. The church service affirms Dilsey’s acceptance of Christian love, an event some critics have interpreted as echoing the resurrection of Christ.

B Point of View

By dividing the story into four sections, Faulkner is able to present the Compson story from four separate points of view. As he moves from Benjy’s perspective to Quentin’s to Jason’s and finally to the voice of an omniscient, third-person narrator, the author presents the story as if it were a patchwork quilt. It is only when all the pieces are finally put together that the reader knows the tragic events of the Compson family and the extent of their decline. While this changing point of view adds to the complexity of the book, it also adds a depth of understanding to the individual Characters and their story. Faulkner seemed to understand that if he told the story from only one point of view, he would not be able to delve deeply into the nature and motives for his Characters’ behavior. When one person tells a story, something is always left out. When many tell a story, it is never quite the same story, but the listener or reader then becomes more involved because he or she must think about it from those different perspectives. This is the effect of reading The Sound and the Fury. The first three sections that focus on the Compson brothers also explore their distinct perceptions of their sister Caddy. In this way she also becomes a central character, but only as she is seen by others, never from her point of view. By writing the final section in the third person, Faulkner can present his Overview through Dilsey. Her perception of the Compsons and their decline reflects the author’s tragic vision of the universal human struggle to find meaning in life.

C Interior Monologue

Except in the last section, the narrations of The Sound and the Fury are interior monologues. Interior monologues are narratives in which Characters’ thoughts are revealed in a way that appears to be uncontrolled by the author. The chaotic thoughts of Benjy narrate the first section. He also records what is said around him without understanding it. Quentin’s inner voice relates his experiences in the Compson family and details his thoughts and behavior on the day of his suicide. Jason’s inner voice relates the third part of the book. By this method, Faulkner lets the reader see the nature of all three Characters without describing them. Because we know what these three Characters are thinking, they are clearly focused in the novel. Many of the other Characters, particularly the Compson parents and Caddy, are less clearly drawn, because we always see them through the eyes of Benjy, Quentin, or Jason. Dilsey’s section is not written as an interior monologue and the reader sees her character from her behavior and her dialogue.

D Stream of Consciousness

“Stream of consciousness” writing is designed to give the impression of the everchanging, spontaneous, and seemingly illogical series of thoughts, emotions, images, and memories that make up real-life thought. Faulkner was influenced by the writings of Irish novelist James Joyce, who had developed the use of stream of consciousness in his novel Ulysses. Many writers of the period, including Faulkner, were influenced by Joyce’s use of this technique. Within some of the interior monologues in The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner uses techniques peculiar to stream of consciousness. An absence of punctuation and capitalization characterizes stream of consciousness, as well as the repetition of words and phrases. Changes in type, such as switching to italics, can also be used effectively to portray changes in thought. While the writing of this book came early in his career, Faulkner showed a mastery of this technique. It has been largely abandoned by contemporary novelists, who still frequently use the interior monologue.

E Setting

Although most of the action of The Sound and the Fury is communicated through the Characters’ inner thoughts, their physical situation also plays a significant role in the novel. Faulkner created the fictional Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha in his third novel, Sartoris, and revisited it in many of his subsequent works, including The Sound and the Fury. This Setting of the South in the 1920s figures very prominently into the character of Quentin. He is holding on to an outdated ideal of the Southern gentleman, one who upholds the family’s honor and protects those in his care, especially women. His sister Caddy, who acts according to more liberated standards of behavior, forces him to realize his ideals cannot survive in the modern world. When she becomes pregnant out of wedlock, it is both a stain on the family honor and a sign that Quentin has failed to protect her. Changing ideas of race relations also figure in Quentin’s narrative, which takes place in the Northeast. This contrast in Setting causes Quentin to consider the difference in race relations in the North and South. From this difference he gains the insight that “the best way to take all people, black or white, is to take them for what they think they are, then leave them alone.”

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