The Sound and the Fury Essay

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THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner

THE AUTHOR William Faulkner (1897-1962) was born in New Albany, Mississippi, and later moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he lived for most of his life. The town and the surrounding countryside became the model for his fictitious Yoknapatawpha County, the setting for most of his fiction. Faulkner never finished high school, but with the outbreak of World War I sought to enlist in the Air Force. He was rejected because of his height (5'6"), but succeeded in joining the Royal Air Force of Canada by lying about much of his background. The war ended before his training was completed, however, though this did not stop him from purchasing a lieutenant’s uniform and telling a variety of tales about his wartime adventures after he returned home to Oxford. After the war, he enrolled at the University of Mississippi, where he began writing for the campus newspaper. He dropped out during his sophomore year, and began writing on his own while working odd jobs to support himself. In 1925, he moved to New Orleans to write for a literary magazine, and published his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, the following year. After the failure of his second novel, he took the advice of playwright Sherwood Anderson and turned to writing about the country he knew best. This third novel, Sartoris, was finally published in 1929, but only after being rejected by several publishers and drastically edited by the one who finally accepted it. Fed up with the publishing business, Faulkner decided to write a novel purely for his own enjoyment. The result was The Sound and the Fury, a novel written in an unorthodox, even revolutionary, style, which, contrary to his expectations, his publisher loved. When it came out in 1929, the public agreed, and it is still considered by many to be his finest novel. Between the publication of The Sound and the Fury in 1929 and Go Down, Moses in 1942, Faulkner went through a period of amazing creative productivity, publishing such novels as As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom, along with a number of short stories and Hollywood screenplays. Later, he wrote his famous Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957), and The Mansion (1959), which deal with the rising middle class in the South rather than the old aristocracy that was the subject of the earlier works.

As far as his personal life was concerned, Faulkner married his childhood sweetheart, Estelle Oldham, in 1929, after her divorce from her first husband. She brought two children into the marriage, and they had two daughters together, one of whom died in infancy. Despite several affairs throughout his life, he and Estelle remained together. Faulkner won two Pulitzer Prizes, for A Fable (1955) and The Reivers (1962), both of which are considered among his lesser works, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1959. Many of his novels deal with issues of race and class, and he became an outspoken opponent of segregation later in his career. PLOT SUMMARY William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is a very difficult novel to read, largely because of the extensive use of flashback and stream-of-consciousness techniques. The novel itself is an account of the decline of the aristocratic Compson family, and consists of four parts, each narrated by a different person. The first part of the novel is narrated by Benjy Compson, a thirty-three year old man with the mind of a three year old, and takes place in 1928. Benjy has no sense of time or place, and understands little more than sensory impressions. When these occur, they send him suddenly into often random flashbacks. Events alluded to in this section include the funeral of his grandmother (1898), his sister Caddy’s use of perfume (1905), loss of her virginity (1909), and wedding (1910), his brother Quentin’s suicide (1910), and his own name change (from Maury to Benjy 1900) and castration (1910). The second part is narrated by Quentin Compson, and takes place on the…