“Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”
Confused? If not, there’s about a 99 percent chance that you will be upon cracking open the spine of William Faulkner’s classic novel The Sound and the Fury. I read this with my Introduction to Literature class last semester and I have to admit that had I been reading this entirely on my own, without the guidance of my professor and insights from classmates, I would have been completely lost.
I’ve been putting off writing this review because I’ve struggled with how to approach discussing this book. My attitude towards this novel varied so much while I was reading it that it’s taken me quite some time to simply gather my thoughts and come up with a coherent opinion. Even now, months after having flipped the final page, writing about it is still difficult. There’s so much to say, that I could honestly write posts and posts about it (and maybe I will…). For now, however, I’ve decided to structure this review similarly to how the novel itself is structured: with four parts.
Part 1: Benjy’s Narration
The first section is narrated through the mind of Benjy, a thirty-three year old man with a mental disability. His narration is incredibly jarring, confusing, and frustrating, mostly due to its lack of apparent logic and organization. I had no idea who the characters were, how they were all related to each other, or even if we were seeing Benjy’s present or past. But I’m going to tell you a not-so-secret secret: there is an order to all of Benjy’s rambling. (Hint hint: it has something to do with his sister.) Once you realize this (or, as with my experience, your English professor helps you realize this after you’ve already read the section) Benjy’s stream of consciousness narrative style begins to make a bit more sense. Still, while reading this section I was not a happy camper, and had Faulkner been sitting across the room I would have been sending frosty glares his way.
Part 2: Quentin’s Narration
First of all, you have no idea how relieved I was when I realized that the entire book was not narrated by Benjy. I just couldn’t take his rambling any longer! Quentin’s narration still isn’t very conventional or simple, but it is easier to understand than the first section. Secondly, you also have no idea how long it took me to realize that there are actually two Quentins in this story– one is female, the other is male.
It was during this second section that I became more interested in this story, primarily because of the interesting themes and questions that Quentin’s existential crisis allows us to explore. He’s clearly depressed, but the reasons behind his depression make for some fascinating discussions. Not only does it raise questions about family dynamics and sexuality, but it also relates to the state of the South (of the United States) when this story takes place. The South was experiencing a shift in its values, and Quentin struggles to accept this change. Through Quentin’s eyes I became more invested in this story, just in time to realize how his section would ultimately end. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, so it goes.
Part 3: Jason’s Narration
Oh, Jason. How I dislike you. Despite its clearer writing and more organized, logical order, this section was somehow even more frustrating to read than Benjy’s. At least with Benjy I felt sympathy and compassion– with Jason, I only felt a sense of revulsion. Jason treats everyone with cruelty, and it seems as though not a speck of warmth burns in his heart. Still, my interest in the story continued to grow as I understood more and more about the characters and what they were actually dealing with. I just couldn’t get over how horrible Jason was.
Part 4: The Omniscient Narration
This section is the only section with an omniscient narrator (otherwise known as a third-person perspective). It is not entirely without focus, though, due to the fact that it concentrates on Dilsey, the Compson family’s servant. This is by far my favorite section of the novel, mostly because a) I think Dilsey is the sanest of all the characters and b) it is the easiest to understand. In my edition this section is followed by an appendix which offers even more information and clarifies a lot of questions that I had about what actually happened to the characters. Without these two parts of the novel, I would undoubtedly still feel incredibly lost.
So, what message should be taken away from this rambling review? Ultimately, I believe that you’ll only get as much out of The Sound and the Fury as you choose to put into it. If you simply skim or quickly read the novel without doing any additional research or stopping to more closely analyze the text, then you’re bound to walk away from it being just as confused as you were on the very first page. However, if you actually spend time with this novel and make an effort to understand what it has to say, I think you’ll be pleased with the reward.
Overall, I’ve come to appreciate The Sound and the Fury much more since I’ve finished it than I ever did while actually reading it. I admire its cleverness, its intricacy, its impossible yet strangely logical disorder. I will most definitely be revisiting it in the future– whether he likes it or not, Faulkner has not seen the last of me.
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys.
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, with a fair warning regarding its knack for being incredibly confusing and frustrating.
What do you think of this novel? What other works by William Faulkner would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!