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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

Broken Home

The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

I am just realizing now that the Faulkner set I own (Oprah's Book Club Edition) is not chronologically arranged, so though I first read As I Lay Dying it evidently came out a year after The Sound and the Fury, which I just finished.


Though I tend toward the more straightforward organization, I can understand why this order was chosen. The themes and style present in As I Lay Dying seem to be deepened and even more present in The Sound and the Fury. Stream of consciousness is common through much of the book and brings us suddenly backwards in time to different scenes talking around the action, bringing description and emotion to paint a picture where a less bold writer might have spelled out the action for us. Difficulty comes along with this structure as, moreso than the previous read, it can drag during the early pages of a new section while you try to acclimate to a new voice.


Early in each of the four sections, but especially the first three, we get the bones the different scenes to which we will return over the next 100 pages or so, but they are fungible and tend to change meaning as we come back and more of the scene emerges. In this way, the information of the plot is insufficient to understanding the story, you have to go through the work of trying to understand the characters, of being pulled this way or that based on what we understand of different events, often to be dropped somewhere else entirely, years down the line with the knowledge of a new character in the next section.


I was more cognizant of symbolism and patterns in this story, though I can think back to some very rich images in As I Lay Dying now that I've caught that line. Most glaringly the narcissus, a broken one at that, Benjy is holding at the end, seeming to represent his house and line in its evocation of narcissism and the way it seems Dilsey and the servants are the ones holding the family together like the twig Luster ties the flower to despite its destructive tendencies.  I return to the sense of rhythm in his writing as well, such as that set in the title, The Sound and the Fury, which finds a response in scenes like that at the Easter service with repetitions of  "the power and the glory" and "the recollection and the blood."


The Compsons, like the Bundrens seem trapped in their own self-interest. Within the family everyone assumes the others are acting directly in response to him- or herself. Jason constantly rails against his niece's behavior as the cause of his woes and a mark on his reputation even as he steals from her, his mother speaks almost exclusively in complaints and speaks of the woes of her children as curses visited upon herself.


Faulkner also appears to be having fun with the Shakespeare quote from which he took the title:

... It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(Macbeth V.5.6-8)

We can start with the fact that the first section is from the perspective of a man with a mental disability. Faulkner is no more simply giving us an idiot to tell the tale than he is setting out to tell a tale signifying nothing, he is brings the passage into the story but plays with it, turns it around, ponders what it means in the context of this family. 


Book Three, the final of the set,  is Light in August. Let me know what I missed about The Sound and the Fury below.