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The Sound and the Fury: The Corrected Text

The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner There are entire library shelves and careers devoted to interpreting Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and I can now understand why. Rather than do an absurdly amateurish analysis of the novel, I think I'll stick to reviewing it and making some comments for lay readers.

This novel is absurdly frustrating. Imagine trying to read Shakespeare drunk and hanging upside down while other people try to talk to you with random phrases the way people throw out random numbers while you're trying to keep count of something to distract you and you'll pretty much know what to expect - at least for the first and second parts of this book. The book is divided into four sections and scattered through time. Three of the four occur in 1928 within days of each other, but not in order, and one section takes place during a pivotal moment in the Compson's family history in 1910. Each section is narrated by a different male member of the Compson family, a once prestigious white Southern family in the antebellum years that has since fallen into decay and ruin in the early parts of the 20th century. The final section is a bit different. Instead of focusing on the fourth Compson child, the daughter Caddy who's arguably the driving force behind the motivations and action in the novel, Faulkner opts for the third person perspective to give an objective angle to the final stage of familial ruin. For those of you about to pick up the book, it gets progressively easier and easier to read - stick with it and you'll be rewarded.

I reread the first section twice to get the most out of it and get my bearings, but I think I'd advise against that - unless you really intend on making a study out of the book. It compounds the frustrations and really, I think the best way to look at Benjy's narration is as impressionistic. You're not meant to pull solid facts from it about the narrative; it's much more about feeling, odd snippets of realizations about the human condition and, more specifically, the way we perceive time. I have to admit, that I was damn near close to giving this book up by the end of the first section. My opinion at the time was that this was clever and kudos to Faulkner for trying something new and throwing himself to the forefront of the modernist movement, but not worth the aggravation. By the end, I was hanging off of Faulkner's every word. When he narrates like a sane person he has a stark directness semi-reminiscent of McCarthy (at least for me).

I hate to side with literary elites and snobbery, but this book deserves its place as one of the greatest of the 20th century - not in its storytelling. Think of The Sound and the Fury more along the lines of a character study, but individualistically and holistically. Faulkner excels with the characterizations. The members of the Compson family spring pretty vividly to life and what a bleak and depressing picture that turns out to be. You either feel huge amounts of pity or incredibly profound loathing for almost everyone in the family besides their servants, who are depicted as the redeemers of the family legacy. Anyway, the characterization far overshadows the novels storytelling or even symbolic depth or complexity. There are a lot of interesting parallels that indicate very intentional and painstaking work on Faulkner's part, but they're not incredibly difficult to get. It doesn't take you more than a split second to figure out what repeated mentions of Caddy's soiled undergarments might symbolize about her character, for example or why the events narrated occur around Easter. In a way, that's a good thing. While not a book I'd recommend for most casual readers, it does offer some brilliant insights into the human condition for casual readers not making an academic study of the work. There are probably about nine bajillion other things I missed by not being super careful with my reading, but I still feel like I walked away with a lot just from the cursory nature of my read-through.

My advice: be committed before you pick it up. Read it like an assignment. Not in the negative sense. I mean more along the lines of an assignment you have to do for a class you really like. If you want to sit back and just read a good story, go pick up something else. You'll save yourself a headache and disappointment. It has earned its place among the greats, but not for storytelling in my opinion. If you stick to it, you'll be rewarded, but your level of commitment must be equal to the task Faulkner places before you.