The Sound and The Fury

I’m writing a second review on The Sound and The Fury by American literature author William Faulkner because I’m hearing that some folks have to read this book for school.  I didn’t have to read this for school and for me it’s so disjointed and a struggle to read that I did not find it entertaining. So, if you’re reading for entertainment, as I have said before, I don’t recommend this book.  If you have to read it for school, then get as many helpful guides from the internet as possible to help you understand it. Even Wikipedia gives detailed plot points by chapter that I missed by just reading it.  Here’s a high level overview of the chapters:

  • The first chapter is written from Benjy Compson’s perspective. He and Caddy are my two favorite characters in the book.  Benjy is a 33 year old man who has a mental impairment that he was born with. There are a lot of jumps in Benjy’s memories back and forth in the timeline, including a time when the Compson kids grandmother dies and they were forced to play outside.  There is a lot in this chapter that I didn’t understand until I read some plot points on the internet.
  • The second chapter is mostly about Quentin Compson, Benjy’s older brother and the events that happen before he takes his own life.
  • The third chapter is from another brother’s perspective, Jason Compson, and the events in this chapter happen the day before the first chapter.
  • The fourth chapter is a first person narrative, mainly about Dilsey, who is the mother of the Compson’s family of servants. Dilsey and her family are the complete opposites to the Compson family. You see this from the first chapter when she’s the one singing and full of faith and hope while the Compson’s are mourning their grandmother.
  • Apparently there is a fifth section that is an Appendix and wraps up the ending for the Compson family. I haven’t gotten to read the Appendix because my The Sound and The Fury book that came in the Oprah Book Club Summer of Faulkner set does NOT include it.  Wikipedia says that the last line is, “They endured.” That is, if the reader can endure to the end of reading the book. Not having read this may also lead to my dissatisfaction with this book.

In 2012, a version of The Sound and The Fury was published with paragraphs color-coded so that you can see when perspectives and timelines change in the book.  This was a limited release, so these are probably hard to find.

This book was one of the reasons that Faulkner received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.  And in 1998 it ranked sixth on the list of 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by Modern Library.

If you have to read this book or you want a challenge, and this is notably one of the most challenging pieces of American literature, then find your quiet place and start reading or listening.

Of the three William Faulkner novels that I’ve read, The Sound and The Fury was the most difficult one for me to read. Using Faulkner’s Light in August as a standard for learning how to write multi-dimensional characters with a distinct framework and style puts The Sound and The Fury on the opposite end of the spectrum.  I’m glad I read this after Light in August and As I Lay Dying, otherwise I might have been discouraged to pick up another Faulkner book and would have missed out on the other two.

The Sound and The Fury is divided into four sections. The first section is 75 pages of non-stop dialog of mostly children. The one interesting view point was of Benjy, a mentally challenged man. But other than that, I prefer some prose–I need some down time from all the concentrated effort of trying to keep the dialog straight with the characters. All I could think about is when will it end, and after a while I didn’t care who was talking or what they were talking about.

Flashbacks and timelines are not always linear so it’s tough to keep it straight without diagramming it out and going back to re-read previous chapters or sections. In this case, I recommend reading summaries about this book before you start reading it instead of after. Otherwise, you may find it as frustrating as I did trying to figure out who is talking, who is in which family, who died, who is sick, and what the heck is going on. It’s been a few years since I read this book, but my notes say, “…there are enough difficulties to deal with in life, without adding what we read to the stack.”

So, if you like reading a book several times and want to study and diagram it out to understand it, then this book is for you. If not, you’ve been warned. Put it down and walk away. But if you’re looking for a challenge and this is one of the most challenging, then go to your quiet place and read this one.


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