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FAULKNER ON THE SOUND AND THE FURYThe Sound and the Fury... [is] a tragedy of two lost women: Caddy and her daughter. Dilsey is one of my own favorite characters, because she is brave, courageous, gentle, and honest. She's much more brave and honest and generous than me...
I had already begun to tell the story through the eyes of the idiot child, since I felt that it would be more effective as told by someone capable only of knowing what happened, but not why. I saw that I had not told the story that time. I tried to tell it again, the same story through another brother. That was still not it. I tried to gather the pieces together and fill in the gaps by making myself the spokesman. It was still not complete, not until fifteen years after the book was published, when I wrote as an Appendix to another book the final effort to get the story told and off my mind, so that I myself could have some peace from it.
William Faulkner, quoted in Writers at Work, 1979, pp. 130-31
THE TECHNIQUE OF THE SOUND AND THE FURYWhy has Faulkner broken up the time of his story and scrambled the pieces? Why is the first window that opens out on this fictional world the consciousness of an idiot? The reader is tempted to look for guidemarks and to re-establish the chronology for himself:
Jason and Caroline Compson have had three sons and a daughter. The daughter, Caddy, has given herself to Dalton Ames and become pregnant by him. Forced to get hold of a husband quickly...
Here the reader stops, for he realizes he is telling another story. Faulkner did not first conceive this orderly plot so as to shuffle it afterward like a pack of cards; he could not tell it any other way.... As soon as we begin to look at any episode, it opens up to reveal behind it other episodes, all the other episodes. Nothing happens; the story does not unfold; we discover it under each word.
Jean-Paul Sartre, "On 'The Sound and the Fury': Time in the Work of Faulkner," in Robert Penn Warren, ed., Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1966, p. 87
CHRISTIAN SYMBOLS"...the Compson sons are in parallel with Christ, but significantly, by inversion. For example, Christ pleaded to be released from the next day's torture if such release would not interfere with His Father's plans, but Quentin pleads with his father for punishment- which is refused him. When Benjamin is submerged like Christ on Holy Saturday, he does not, like Christ, dominate Hell; on the contrary he is a victim of it. And whereas Holy Saturday is a time of christening, of name giving, an important fact about Benjy which is presented in his monologue on Holy Saturday is that his name has been taken away. In short, God's Son passed through the events of the Passion and rose as a redeemer; the Compson sons pass through parallel events but go down in failure. And they do so because love, which Christ preached as an eleventh commandment, is lacking or frustrated or distorted in their family.
Carvel Collins, "Christian and Freudian Structures," in Michael H. Cowan, ed., Twentieth Century Interpretations of "The Sound and the Fury," 1968, p. 73
LIFE AS A BREAKDOWNFaulkner's fundamental image [is] life as a perpetual breaking down. In Benjy's mind, the bottom-most layer and residue of Compson family history with which the novel opens, the world is all phenomenon, things-are-just happening....
Only as we ascend from Benjy's mind to Quentin's monologue on the day of his death,... from Quentin to Jason, the maddened survivor spewing out all his bitterness; from Jason to Faulkner himself, taking over the last section, are we put in the light.... But the last word and the last cry out of the book belong not only to Benjy,... but to Faulkner's wonderfully sustaining style. The whole book recounts in the most passionate detail life as phenomenon, a descent into breakdown. In the end we are saved and exhilarated by Faulkner's reconstituting all this in the speed and heat of his art.
Alfred Kazin, An American Procession, 1984
SIGNIFYING NOTHING"...the theme and the characters are trivial, unworthy of the enormous and complex craftsmanship expended on them.... I admit that the idiocy of the thirty-three-year-old Benjy is admirably grasped by Mr. Faulkner, but one hundred pages of an imbecile's simplified sense perceptions and monosyllabic gibberings, no matter how accurately recorded, are too much of a good thing....
...After one has penetrated the mad, echoing labyrinth of Mr. Faulkner's style one finds a rather banal Poe-esque plot, a set of degenerate whites whose disintegration is irritating rather than appalling, and two or three Negro characters who, if they were reproduced in straight prose, would appear as fairly conventional types. Sound and fury indeed. Signifying (the witticism is cheap, but inevitable) almost nothing.
Clifton P. Fadiman's review of "The Sound and the Fury," in Arthur F. Kinney, ed., Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Compson Family, 1982, pp. 92-93
A LAST WORD
When Faulkner writes a novel,John C. Sherwood, in Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga Vickery, eds., William Faulkner: Three Decades of Criticism, 1963, p. 35.
ADVISORY BOARDWe wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Bleikasten, Andre. The Most Splendid Failure: Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury."
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.