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The Most Confusing Book You’ll Ever Read: Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”

By Crossstitchyourheart @TMNienaber

The most confusing book you’ll ever read: Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”Alright, “the most confusing book you’ll ever read” is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  If you’re familiar with Faulkner’s works, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.  If not, lucky you.  But if you’re up for a literary challenge, feel free to give this book a try. This is actually a re-read of this book, but I still don’t think I’ve gotten a full grasp of everything the novel is trying to do.  I will try to give you the clearest and most accurate “review” I can, although it’ll really be more of a how-to-read guide.  The book is the story of the Compson family’s fall from grace in Southern society through their daughter Caddy.  This is about as simplistic a plot as I can give you…most of what Faulkner really wants you to get out of it is symbolic.

The novel is divided into four sections.  So that’s where I’ll start.

Section 1: Benjy’s section.  Don’t give up after the first couple of pages.  Things make more sense eventually, just not here.  Important things to remember, Benjy is what would now be labeled “developmentally  delayed/disabled” which accounts for a lot of this sections strange narrative.  It is stream of consciousness, one of Faulkner’s favorite narration techniques it seems, and takes a lot of getting used to.  There is almost no punctuation in this section, so good luck figuring out what’s a sentence or complete thought.  Important things to pick up on, Benjy is very sense oriented, so pay attention to how he describes smell, touch, etc… A lot of these turn out to be pretty strong symbols throughout the book.  Also watch out for the italics.  These signal a memory, which usually signals a shift in time.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, not only is there no punctuation, but the narration jumps around in time too, so if things don’t seem like they make sense happening together…they aren’t.  Keep an eye out for male Quentin (the past) and female Quentin (the present), this is a big clue as to what time Benjy is talking about.

Section 2: Quentin’s Section.  This one is confusing too.  It does get easier…but not quite yet.  This section is also written in stream-of-consciousness but Quentin is a little easier to understand than Benjy.  However Quentin is

The most confusing book you’ll ever read: Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”
also seriously depressed and he likes to talk about what a horrible person he is a lot.  Important things to pick up on: Quentin is obsessed with time and watches, this is another one of those pesky symbols that goes throughout the book.  Also look at Quentin’s discussion of his father and the differences between his father’s amorality and Quentin’s morality.  It’s an interesting contrast.

Section 3: Jason’s Section.  Here’s where things get a lot easier to understand (finally!).  Jason is kind of a hot-head and my least favorite character in the book.  He does explain in an easier to understand narrative a lot of what the other two sections only hint at.  Don’t just skip the other two sections to get here though.  The book’s only 200 pages, might as well get the whole effect, otherwise you can’t really say you’ve read it.  This is also the first section where the female Quentin comes into the picture.  Make sure you remember Quentin’s a girl now…otherwise you’ll be confused.

Section 4: The third person section.  This is the only section not narrated by a single person, but a lot of people argue it’s Dilsey (the black servant who runs the house) ‘s section.  I agree with this to some extent, but it’s also just an easy way to show us all the characters without any bias (other than author bias that is).  This section is where the story comes to an end.  Note that it all takes place on Easter.  That’s important.

Now, I would like to say that I don’t like this book because I really didn’t enjoy reading it, but that really wouldn’t be fair.  This is a fantastic book about the changes in post-civil war southern society and if that’s something you’re interested in than I strongly suggest not only this book, but all of Faulkner’s work.  Some would probably argue that Faulkner is the voice of the South at the time, and he creates outstanding descriptions and details other authors may leave out.  However, he’s style is complex, confusing, modernism at its best.  Don’t pick up this book and expect an easy read.  It’s a challenge, and if you want to take it on I’d suggest getting a friend to read it with you (or maybe a sparknotes-style guide). So if you think you’re up for the challenge…Good Luck!  (and as you can obviously tell I have still not finished 1Q84…which is turning out to be the longest book I’ve ever read…)

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