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The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner




The 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


Why 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


"...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


Faulkner'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


"...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


When Faulkner writes a novel,
He crowds the symbols in;
There is a hidden meaning
In every glass of gin.
In every maiden ravished,
In every colt that's foaled,
And specially in characters
That are thirty-three years old.
John C. Sherwood, in Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga Vickery, eds., William Faulkner: Three Decades of Criticism, 1963, p. 35.

[The Sound and the Fury Contents]


We 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
Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York

Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York

Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
State University of New York at Stony Brook

Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series
Fort Morgan, Colorado

Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Tamalpais Union High School District
Mill Valley, California

Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
State University of New York College at Buffalo

Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
State University of New York College at Geneseo

Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
State University of New York at Buffalo

Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Guilderland Central School District, New York

Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois

[The Sound and the Fury Contents]



Bleikasten, Andre. The Most Splendid Failure: Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury." Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.

Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1984. This one-volume edition of the definitive Faulkner biography compresses and updates Blotner's original two-volume version, published by Random House in 1974.

_____, ed. Selected Letters of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1977.

Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963.

Cowan, Michael H., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of "The Sound and the Fury." Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. A useful collection of critical essays. Contains excerpts from Faulkner's remarks about The Sound and the Fury, and essays by Irving Howe, Olga Vickery, Cleanth Brooks, and Carvel Collins.

Cowley, Malcolm. The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944-1962. New York: Viking, 1966. The relationship between Faulkner and Cowley, the literary critic responsible for reviving Faulkner's reputation in the 1940s.

_____. "Introduction" to The Portable Faulkner. New York: Viking, 1946.

Gwynn, Frederick L., and Joseph Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the University. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1959; New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 1965. Faulkner's responses to questions posed by students at the University of Virginia.

Hoffman, Frederick J., and Olga Vickery, eds. William Faulkner: Three Decades of Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1963. A fine collection of critical essays.

Howe, Irving. William Faulkner: A Critical Study. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

Kazin, Alfred. An American Procession: The Major American Writers from 1830 to 1930. New York: Knopf, 1984.

Kinney, Arthur F., ed. Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Compson Family. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982.

Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962. New York: Random House, 1968.

Millgate, Michael. The Achievement of William Faulkner. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

Minter, David. William Faulkner: His Life and Work. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. A lively biography, less complete than Joseph Blotner's but more interpretive.

Peavy, Charles D. Go Slow Now: Faulkner and the Race Question. Eugene: University of Oregon Press, 1971. A collection of Faulkner's comments about the American civil rights movement.

Stein, Jean. "William Faulkner." In Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews. 1st ser., edited by Malcolm Cowley. New York: Penguin Books, 1979. The most revealing interview with Faulkner.

Warren, Robert Penn, ed. Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966.

Wilde, Meta Carpenter. A Loving Gentleman: The Love Story of William Faulkner and Meta Carpenter. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976. The story of Faulkner's affair with the author while he was a Hollywood screenwriter.



    Soldiers' Pay, 1926.
    Mosquitoes, 1927.
    Sartoris, 1929.
    As I Lay Dying, 1930.
    Sanctuary, 1931.
    These Thirteen, 1931.
    Light in August, 1932.
    Doctor Martino and Other Stories, 1934.
    Pylon, 1935.
    Absalom, Absalom!, 1936.
    The Unvanquished, 1938.
    The Wild Palms, 1939.
    The Hamlet, 1940.
    Go Down, Moses and Other Stories, 1942.
    Intruder in the Dust, 1948.
    Knight's Gambit, 1949.
    Collected Stories of William Faulkner, 1950.
    Requiem for a Nun, 1951.
    A Fable, 1955.
    Big Woods, 1955.
    The Town, 1957.
    The Mansion, 1959.
    The Reivers, 1962.
    The Wishing Tree, 1964.
    Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner, 1979.


    The Marble Faun, 1924.
    A Green Bough, 1933.


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