The Sound and the Fury Paperback – Jan 30 1991
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The ostensible subject of The Sound and the Fury is the dissolution of the Compsons, one of those august old Mississippi families that fell on hard times and wild eccentricity after the Civil War. But in fact what William Faulkner is really after in his legendary novel is the kaleidoscope of consciousness--the overwrought mind caught in the act of thought. His rich, dark, scandal-ridden story of squandered fortune, incest (in thought if not in deed), madness, congenital brain damage, theft, illegitimacy, and stoic endurance is told in the interior voices of three Compson brothers: first Benjy, the "idiot" man-child who blurs together three decades of inchoate sensations as he stalks the fringes of the family's former pasture; next Quentin, torturing himself brilliantly, obsessively over Caddy's lost virginity and his own failure to recover the family's honor as he wanders around the seedy fringes of Boston; and finally Jason, heartless, shrewd, sneaking, nursing a perpetual sense of injury and outrage against his outrageous family.
If Benjy's section is the most daringly experimental, Jason's is the most harrowing. "Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say," he begins, lacing into Caddy's illegitimate daughter, and then proceeds to hurl mud at blacks, Jews, his sacred Compson ancestors, his glamorous, promiscuous sister, his doomed brother Quentin, his ailing mother, and the long-suffering black servant Dilsey who holds the family together by sheer force of character.
Notoriously "difficult," The Sound and the Fury is actually one of Faulkner's more accessible works once you get past the abrupt, unannounced time shifts--and certainly the most powerful emotionally. Everything is here: the complex equilibrium of pre-civil rights race relations; the conflict between Yankee capitalism and Southern agrarian values; a meditation on time, consciousness, and Western philosophy. And all of it is rendered in prose so gorgeous it can take your breath away. Here, for instance, Quentin recalls an autumnal encounter back home with the old black possum hunter Uncle Louis:
And we'd sit in the dry leaves that whispered a little with the slow respiration of our waiting and with the slow breathing of the earth and the windless October, the rank smell of the lantern fouling the brittle air, listening to the dogs and to the echo of Louis' voice dying away. He never raised it, yet on a still night we have heard it from our front porch. When he called the dogs in he sounded just like the horn he carried slung on his shoulder and never used, but clearer, mellower, as though his voice were a part of darkness and silence, coiling out of it, coiling into it again. WhoOoooo. WhoOoooo. WhoOooooooooooooooo.What Faulkner has created is a modernist epic in which characters assume the stature of gods and the primal family events resonate like myths. It is The Sound and the Fury that secures his place in what Edmund Wilson called "the full-dressed post-Flaubert group of Conrad, Joyce, and Proust." --David Laskin
“I am in awe of Faulkner’s Benjy, James’s Maisie, Flaubert’s Emma, Melville’s Pip, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—each of us can extend the list. . . . I am interested in what prompts and makes possible this process of entering what one is estranged from.” —Toni Morrison
“No man ever put more of his heart and soul into the written word than did William Faulkner. If you want to know all you can about that heart and soul, the fiction where he put it is still right there.” —Eudora Welty
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Top Customer Reviews
As a writer and a student of English literature (by the way, for those who think only the "uneducated" don't like this book, I am proof to the contrary) I believe a writer must give us, as readers, at least some clear indication of what we are supposed to take away from his or her piece of writing, even if he or she asks us to come to our own conclusions about the message or messages. The problem with stream-of-consciousness storytelling is that it does not convey its significant points clearly. Does Faulkner honestly want us to take away that "it is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing"? (The preceding is a quote from Macbeth where Faulkner gets his title.) This is the message I take away from the novel. The story signifies absolutely nothing; the end of the book and the fates of the characters fizzle into nothing. The story is mediocre at best. It is only memorable for the bizarre way in which it is told.
On a positive note, the last two sections of the book are readable. In fact, the book actually gets somewhat interesting with these two chapters. I can identify with the reviewer who wrote that he felt Jason was his hero in the story. Though Jason was a rotten individual, it was a relief to be able to read something understandable. Now that I know 'classics' can be this bad, I am not as excited to read them as I was before encountering this book.
He has unique narrative styles in each chapter, with the first being perhaps one of the most famous in all of literature. Benjy Compson, a 33 year-old, mentally-impaired man, goes about his day on his thirty-third birthday, but reflects on several different points in his past. However, he isn't conscious of this switch - because Benjy is handicapped, he perceives time as one great continuum in the present. When we are shown a time in the past, Benjy believes it is something that happens to him in the present day. I have always been fascinated with the minds of mentally-handicapped individuals, and I think that Faulkner does a great job of suggesting emotion and character, especially when his focalized character cannot do so himself.
The book has three interior monologues that follow: Quentin, Jason, and Dilsey all relate their visions of the Compson family tragedy. This book is many things. I think Faulkner deserves credit for style and insight above all - he has clearly refined Freudian and Joycean psychology into lyrical passages that reflect the twists and turns of the human mind quite well.
That said, 'The Sound and the Fury' is by no means an easy read. Faulkner offers no help to readers. Instead, we treat the characters as though we meet them in everyday experience. This is a difficulty that I can't blame some readers for setting Faulkner down to read something more accessible. But it IS very much WORTH the STRUGGLE.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Before commenting on the content and value of the book, let me warn that this is one of the most difficult to understand and appreciate of all American novels. Read morePublished on Dec 6 2008 by Donald Mitchell
William Faulkner's fourth novel, The Sound and the Fury, is his first true masterpiece, and considered by many to be his finest work. Read morePublished on Dec 25 2007 by Reviewing for dummies
I frequently found myself in awe of Faulkner's immense skill as a writer, that he can create something like this. Read morePublished on Jan. 13 2005 by Bobby-Ray
Not only Faulkner's best, but his most accesible work THE SOUND AND THE FURY is a book that can be read by just about anyone. Read morePublished on July 28 2004
This was my third Faulkner read...following Sancuary and Light in August. I must say that I don't see why this book gets the praise it gets. Read morePublished on June 25 2004 by Agent Cooper
Yes, this book is difficult. Yes, you should read it more than once. But don't let the readers who weren't willing to invest the time in it keep you from reading it. Read morePublished on June 20 2004 by sallyjo
This book is amazingly hard to comprehend but if you stick with it and make sure you understand benjy's and quentin's section by the end you will be glad you did.Published on June 9 2004 by Kyle Williams