Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The Sound and the Fury

I'm still not sure what I think about The Sound And The Fury. It helped Faulker win the Nobel Prize, is lauded as one of the greatest American novels, and certainly is a great example of stream-of-consciousness writing. It shows the downfall and disintegration of a Southern family in the 20s, first through the eyes of the developmentally disabled brother Benjy, then through the smart older brother Quentin, then the greedy middle brother Jason, and finally through a third-person omniscient narrator (but mainly through Dilsey, the matriarch of the black family that's served the Compsons for a long time).

I admired some of his wordplay, it was lyrical and sometimes provided good imagery, and I imagine the dialect as written was interesting in the 20s. The stream-of-consciousness writing is often clever, when you can follow it. And it really does show the total fall of this family.

But I had some problems with it that the positive attributes don't totally indemnify. In order to see the fall of a "once-great" family, it's absolutely necessary to have some idea of the greatness they once possessed. You get zero picture of this while reading this book. Most of the family members are awful, annoying people. Benjy and Caddy, the sister, are the only ones with redeemable qualities. He is innocent and child-like, she actually cares about him. The rest (who comprise the main focus of the book) are simply terrible people. He does manage to make you feel a little sorry for the fruitlessness of Jason's life, at the same time making it clear he's a contemptible, abusive miser. Quentin's a whiner walking around in a fog, all the while obsessed with family honor (that the reader is unable to understand). Candice, the mother, is a petty, neglectful, selfish hypochondriac. The father, barely there, exists as a fountain of "father knows best" quotes. Additionally, they're all contemptibly racist. This may be accurate for the time, and that might have been the point Faulkner was trying to make, but it's not very fun to read. It's especially awful to see the way the black serving family is treated - more of an unnoticing neglect than abuse - and then not see any real growth or realization or self-awareness of the way race is treated.

I guess I expected more? Maybe it'll grow on me the way On The Road grew on me after I read it, and realized that my disliking it because of the lack of plot was silly because it wasn't supposed to have a plot. The point was the beautiful, manic writing. Faulkner writes well, but I'm still not sure I'll come back to this book because of it.

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