The Sound and the Fury is genuinely groundbreaking. Presenting the dissolution of the Compson family and their collective loss of honor and dignity, it was the first of Faulkner's novels to fully explore the singular style that eventually won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. Part stream-of-consciousness, part grammatical experiment, part literary pastiche, the novel follows none of the typical literary conventions,jettisoning a chronological narrative in favor of a disjointed evocation of moods and characterizations. Difficult to read, even more difficult to understand, this nevertheless stands as one of the milestones in world literature.
While the three Compson sons each narrate a portion of the novel, with a fourth section told in the third person, a better term to describe the narrative techniquewould be "omnipersonal narrative," since each perspective is complimentary and yet essentially chaotic within itself. Each section ostensibly takes place during four distinct days, yet the narrators wander among events past and present with no clear chronological delineation, often describing the same events in different ways. In this way Faulkner gives us a full understanding of each character, seen through so many eyes and in so many circumstances.
A dominant theme throughout Faulkner's work is the idea of Southern honor and its irretrievable loss (if it ever, in fact, existed). The three brothers' tales center around their sister Caddy, divorced by her husband and estranged from her family for having an illegitamite daughter. Their responses to that event and its aftermath, as well as their interpretation of memories of their sister and each other, centers chiefly around the decay of the family structure and the family's consequent gradual social irrelevance. This irrelevance becomes a metaphor for the South itself, and its lack of singular importance following the Civil War. The despair of the sons and their generally bleak (and selfish) understandings of their sister's fall is also indicative of a disillusionment and pettiness assumed by Southerners in the wake of loss and social chaos.
This is at once the least accessible and the most important to read of all Faulkner's works. It heralded a new age in American letters, in which rigorous adherence to established forms gave way to experimentation and revitalization of the language. Joyce may have invented aspects of the style, but Faulkner perfected them, turning stream-of-consciousness from a primarily inward focus to a form of observation and interpretation of the external world at once more personal and more universal than more standard narrative forms. Brilliantly conceived and executed, The Sound and the Fury is simultaneously chilling and beautiful and disturbing, a masterwork of art by any standard.
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