Review: The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury
The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner
New York: Vintage International, 1990

Review Copyright © 2000 Garret Wilson — February 13, 2000 11:10 a.m.

William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury will simply have be read again. Faulkner follows several characters in a southern family over a period of some 18 years, with several excursions to even earlier days. The events are explored through the thoughts and viewpoints of each of the characters; this means that, by the end of the story when things are starting to fall into place, nothing but a second read (or third or fourth) will allow the final pieces to be spliced together.

Perhaps Faulkner's book should be renamed, There's Something about Caddy. She seems to play some central role, around which all the other characters revolve. What is it about Caddy? And Benjamin, Jason, and Quentin — and Quentin? What is it about the Compsons? If you haven't read the book, yet, you probably won't want to read further, because giving an overview of the plot gives away the book — for the first reading, that is. From another view, even a first reading doesn't give away the book.

Here's how I understand events after the first read: Mr. and Mrs. Compson live in the south in the early 1900s, and have four children: Caddy, Quentin, Jason, and Benjy. Benjy is the oldest, and is mentally retarded. He was first named Maury, after his mother's brother, but his name was changed to Benjamin because his condition somehow violated the family's sense of pride.

Caddy is the daughter who sleeps around, gets pregnant, gets married, and goes away. Quentin is her obsessively protective brother who claims to have had sex with Caddy, perhaps even tried to at one point, to try to somehow ease the trauma in his own mind. (As his father says, he tried to, "sublimate a piece of human folly into a horror and then exorcise it with truth" (177)). If truth were told, Quentin apparently never had any sexual relationships (151).

Quentin finally commits suicide by drowning. (This is foreshadowed in a very long, drawn-out way by Faulkner in a complete one-day chapter through the eyes of Quentin). Caddy names her daughter "Quentin" after him, and this second Quentin comes back to live with the Compsons when some problems develop with Caddy's marriage.

Jason is the other sibling who always mistreats Benjy, hates Caddy, and constantly dupes his ailing mother. Jason was apparently named after his father, who dies somewhere in the story.

The brilliance of the entire story is how Faulkner uses stream-of-consciousness and prose interlinked to get into the minds of each characters. This "through their eyes" storytelling is not used to embellish the story — it is the story. Consequently, many things become clear only at the end, and other questions still remain that can only be resolved through other readings:

Why is Jason so different, and why does Mrs. Compson refer to her maiden name at times, and say that Jason isn't a Compson, while the others are? Yet isn't he named after his father? How does this tie in with the fact that Benjamin (the oldest) was apparently originally named after Mrs. Compson's brother, Maury?

Some questions are perhaps meant to be left unanswered: Where is Quentin at the end of the story? Is she in the cellar, or is Luster going there simply for some more booze? But doesn't Luster claim to know where she is? One gets the feeling that Faulkner has provided the answers to all these questions, if only one were to read close enough. And enough times.

There are many parallels throughout the story. Smells seem to have large influences on Benjy, and the smell of honeysuckle almost drives Quentin mad.

As the story opens, Caddy is trying to get Benjy to keep his hands in his pockets so they won't freeze (5). Jason, on the other hand, used to keep his hands in his pockets, making him fall down when he ran (101). Does this say something about their respective personalities, their propensities of giving? And what is meant by Quentin's hands being able to "see" (173), mirroring an early passage in the first chapter in which Benjy thinks about his hands seeing as well? There's more here than meets the eye.

Faulkner deals with a huge span of time in just a few snapshots in time; the entire story therefore takes place in a less than temporal fashion. It's more as if the story takes place in a geometrical focusing, as the reader slowly begins to piece together a scene by using repeated snippets of views from each narrator. In doing this, Faulkner definitely provides details, a few of which come clear only later but are almost obvious in hindsight.

It appears that Benjy, missing Caddy after she left, created some sort of disturbance when he was able to open the gate and follow a group of girls going to school. Because of this event, it is later revealed that Benjy was apparently castrated (263).

Quentin obsessed over Caddy. Jason hated Caddy. Caddy brought reproach to the Compson family, to whom pride seemed the only way to measure the value of life. Through Caddy was the only way Benjy could find love truly and freely given, and it follows that Caddy's shoe that she left behind became his only comfort.

And it's only at the end of the book ("'Here, caddie. Bring the bag'" (315)) that one realizes that living next door to a golf course must have tortured Benjy to no end; he constantly believed he was hearing Caddy's name. The book ends in practically the same scene as it started, but it's at the end of the book that one realizes the true significance of at least some of the events with which it began. And it's here that one realizes that, to truly appreciate the book, a second reading is in order.