Review Of The Sound And The Fury — 5 years ago
When I began reading The Sound and the Fury I feared that I would hate the entire experience, because the text was written much like the Joyce novel I had eventually given up on a year ago. Indeed, I found the first section of the book to be nearly illegible and thus both tedious and frustrating. There are several reasons for this difficulty.
First, much of the book is written as a stream of consciousness without regard to conventions of grammar or rational thought. Second, there are significant differences between English as spoken in suburban Pennsylvania circa 2008 and English as spoken in the rural South circa 1928. Third, the text shifts wildly through time and place, often within the same paragraph, as the characters’ memories merge with present experiences. At times these shifts are accompanied by italics, but in most cases they are not. Fourth, there are a multiplicity of characters, none of which are introduced or described, but who simply appear. Within the first few pages the reader has met nearly all of the members of the Compson family (Damuddy, Uncle Maury, (Father) Jason, (Mother) Caroline, Benjamin (also known as Maury), Quentin, Jason, Candace, and Quentin the younger) and their various servants (Dilsey, T.P., Versh, and Luster). Fifth, the careful reader will have noted two Jasons, two Maurys, and two Quentins in the above list. In the case of the Jasons and Maurys this is not a significant problem because the elder Jason is usually called Father and the younger Maury is usually referred to by his new name Benjamin. The Quentins, however, are exceptionally confusing. From the beginning the reader will notice that Quentin is sometimes referred to using a masculine pronoun and other times a feminine one, but the narrative is so fractured that he is likely to explain this as either a typographical error or his own failure to parse the text. It does not become clear until the third section of the book, and is never explicitly stated, that there are two persons named Quentin. This source of misunderstanding is so extreme, and could be rectified so easily, that I must assume it is a deliberate attempt by the author to confuse the reader, presumably to highlight the turmoil in Benjamin’s mind.
Thankfully, the second section is much clearer than the first, and the last two are quite lucid in comparison to either of their predecessors. Based on these sections, I found the novel quite enjoyable. It lacks an over-arching plot, but describes the slow downfall of a once-proud family in a compelling way.
The entirety of the portions of the text that I understood points to a theme of futility – most obviously in Benjamin’s severe mental retardation, but also in the meaningless trysts of Candace and the younger Quentin, the pride and avarice of the younger Jason, the elder Quentin’s struggle to find meaning in his Harvard education, Caroline’s resignation to remain in bed until her ever-expected near death, Dilsey’s devotion to her never-ending tasks, and even Luster’s malice toward Benjamin. I did not recall the title’s prior use in Macbeth until searching for it now, but it seemed to me an echo of Ecclesiastes.
I would like to read the book again with the knowledge I now have, because while I slogged through the most difficult parts, I really understood very little of the first quarter. Perhaps I will do so someday, but for now the task seems too great.