1 minute read

Sound and the Fury, The

The Sound and the Fury

a novel by William Faulkner, published in 1929. Many critics consider it Faulkner's finest novel and it is generally thought to be among the greatest works of twentieth-century American literature. The story of the decaying Compson family in the early years of the twentieth century is told in the interior monologues of three Compson brothers, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason; only the fourth section of the novel adopts an authorial point of view, though even here much of what is reported is seen through the black servant, Dilsey, who, in effect, represents compassion, order, and moral integrity. The decline of the Compsons is the decline of a once great Mississippi plantation family, and while Faulkner's delineation of the social background is not detailed the novel is regarded as one of his most profound commentaries on the conflict between traditional values and a modern society. The structure of recollected memories, particularly those of Benjy, the idiot son, and Quentin, who commits suicide while at Harvard University, a structure which makes up the body of the novel, is deliberately fragmented and achronological, a consequence of the combined influences of Joseph Conrad and James Joyce, and the placing of ‘present’ events around the Easter weekend of 1928 has tempted some critics to see Faulkner's novel as an elaborate Christian allegory. Much of the drama concerns the character of the brothers' sister Caddy, a ‘fallen’ woman, though it is one of the striking aspects of the novel that she is presented only through the observations and recollections of her immediate family. The Sound and the Fury is also seen as Faulkner's testimony to the transforming and ennobling power of art and its concluding images, at once naturalistic and aesthetic, offer some respite from the degeneration and disorder the novel so powerfully enacts. The title is taken from Macbeth's famous soliloquy (‘She should have died hereafter’) in Act 5 of Shakespeare's play. The novel has been the subject of a great deal of critical discussion; The Most Splendid Failure: Faulkner's ‘The Sound and the Fury’ (1976), by André Bleikasten, is an invaluable full-length study. See also stream of consciousness.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Lemn Sissay Biography to Southwold Suffolk