'The Sound and the Fury' Explained
Notoriously difficult to read, understanding The Sound and the Fury is a challenge for even the most competent of readers. There is so much to look at that this post is part one of two.
Here are a number of answers to key questions and a character summary to help guide your reading.
Common Questions About the Novel
Who wrote The Sound and the Fury? American William Faulkner.
When was The Sound and the Fury written? Faulkner began writing the novel in the fall of 1928—just after his 31st birthday. For historical context, this is about a year before the stock market crash that would usher in the Great Depression.
How long is The Sound and the Fury? This will vary between editions, but generally under 300 pages.
The Sound and the Fury title significance? It is taken from Act 5, Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. In this scene Macbeth has just been informed his wife is dead and that an army marches towards his castle. Knowing he won’t be able to hold his throne, he delivers a soliloquy:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! 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.
Where does The Sound and the Fury take place? The novel mostly takes place in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Faulkner based this county off of his familiarity with the real Lafayette and 10 of his novels and many short stories feature the Yoknapatawpha County. The exception is Quentin’s section (June 1910). When in the present, Quentin is in an around Harvard university in Boston.
Why is The Sound and the Fury so hard to read? Faulkner uses a stream of consciousness style to write his novel. This means that there is little punctuation, sentences start and stop abruptly, just as if we’re hearing (or reading) the thoughts inside the mind of others. As readers, we experience ‘time hops’ when thoughts intrude from the past or a sound or action creates a reminder of the past. In addition, Faulkner chooses to throw readers in the deep end by having his opening section enter the mind of Benjy who has a cognitive impairment.
There are three brothers you need to be aware of: Benjamin/Benjy (previously called Maury at birth), Quentin, and Jason. This is the order we 'meet' them as readers.
These brothers also have one sister, Candice, who is commonly called by her nickname Caddy. We never get a section from her perspective, but she looms large in the memory of everyone in the book.
It is important to note that, to add to confusion, Quentin is also the name of Caddy’s daughter (who appears only in the sections during 1928).
While there are generations that go back for the Compson family (we’re constantly told they are a family of importance in the south), here is a look at the birth order for those above: