The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:41 Narrative Techniques
  • 1:33 Part 1: April 7, 928
  • 2:35 Part 2: June 2, 1910
  • 3:50 Part 3: April 6, 1928
  • 4:40 Part 4: April 8, 1928
  • 5:25 Themes
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

In this lesson, we'll examine William Faulkner's novel, 'The Sound and the Fury'. In particular, we'll discuss the novel's unusual narrative techniques, plot, and main themes.

Introduction

Written by the well-known Southern writer William Faulkner, the novel, The Sound and the Fury, draws its name from a soliloquy in Shakespeare's Macbeth. The quote is part of Macbeth's response to his wife's suicide, the end of which states, 'Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.'

The Sound and the Fury is William Faulkner's fourth novel. It was published in 1929. The novel tells the story of the Compson family and the loss of their once-respected position in Southern society.

Narrative Techniques

The actual events in The Sound and the Fury are not that complicated, but William Faulkner's writing style can be hard to make sense of sometimes. This is because he used unusual narrative techniques, such as passages of stream of consciousness, lack of punctuation, and sentences that do not follow conventional structures of syntax.

Faulkner used these techniques to show the reader the mental state of his characters, at least two of whom have a mental disability or illness, such as depression. Sixteen years after he published The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner released an appendix that explained the events of the novel and put them in a larger context.

The novel is divided into four sections narrated by each of the three brothers: Quentin, Caddy, Jason, and Benjy. Through these sections, we learn about their significant relationship with their sister, Caddy.

Plot

Part One: April 7, 1928

Benjy, who narrates the first section, is 33 and the youngest Compson sibling; he also has a mental disability. While this section is framed within the context of April 7, 1928, Benjy's mental disability makes it difficult for him to process when events happen, so this section actually covers events that occur as early as 1898, when Benjy was three years old. These leaps in time, in addition to Faulkner's use of portions of stream of consciousness and italics, make this section hard to understand for a lot of readers.

Despite the narrative disorder in Benjy's section, we learn that his name was changed from Maury to Benjy when he was four, the Compsons' grandmother died when they were children. We also found out that the Compsons sold some of their land to pay for Quentin's tuition. In this section, we also learn about Caddy's marriage, pregnancy, and divorce and how the Compson's kicked Caddy out of the house because they are ashamed of her. After Benjy approaches a group of girls because he thinks one of them is his sister, his brother, Jason, has him castrated.

Part Two: June 2, 1910

Quentin, the oldest Compson sibling who narrates the second section, is depressed and mentally unstable, which eventually leads to his suicide. This is the only section of the book that does not take place in 1928. Instead, it takes place 18 years earlier, when Quentin is a student.

Quentin is a complex character. All of the Compson brothers are obsessed with Caddy, but Quentin takes it to new levels. When Caddy gets pregnant through a casual affair, Quentin reacts by telling their father (who does not care about his daughter's sexual behavior) that Quentin himself is the baby's father. He reasons that if the child is a product of incest, then Quentin will be equally culpable and punishable alongside his sister. However, his father does not believe him.

In order to try and cover up her out of wedlock pregnancy, Caddy gets married, but when her husband figures out that the baby is another man's child, he kicks both of them out. Caddy leaves the baby with her family and disappears, sending money back to the family for her daughter's care.

Quentin drowns himself, an action that takes the reader back to the soliloquy from Macbeth, which is delivered in response to the news of a suicide. It is in Quentin's section that Faulkner truly abandons conventional approaches to grammar and syntax, in order to show Quentin's destabilizing mindset.

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