Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (9 down, 91 to go)

I love the title, not sure why. It might have something to do with what the Bard had to say about life:
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

This is the first time I’ve read The Sound and the Fury or William Faulkner. The book is a southern-Gothic, modernist novel, told mostly in stream of consciousness, telling the tale of the Compson family, Jefferson Mississippi, early to mid-20th century.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title is the only thing I loved. I’m not a fan of stream of consciousness, though I enjoyed this more than Ulysses.

Like the previous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, The Sound and the Fury is about the disintegration of an American family, in this case the once proud and genteel Compson family. Set in Jefferson, Mississippi it covers nearly three decades of the Compson family.

The first chapter, there are only four, is told from “the idiot’s” perspective. I apologize for the term; it is how Faulkner and his characters describe Benjy Compson who is severely mentally handicapped. Benjy’s account is very hard to follow as it jumps around, one moment describing the present, the next recalling events years or decades earlier, and then switching back to the present, or some other time. I suspect this was Faulkner’s intent, to confuse the reader, and thus let them view the world through Benjy’s confused eyes. You get the sense that the only person who Loves Benjy, and the only person he loves, is his sister Candace (Caddy). Caddy is headstrong and impetuous and the only likeable character in the story. She is also the only main character not given voice to recount her perspective.

The second chapter is told by Quentin, the family's shining hope. They sell a portion of the estate to send Quentin to Harvard, but he fails to restore the family to its former station.

In the third chapter, hope for the family is now placed upon the youngest, Jason; it is poorly placed. Jason is selfish, conniving, bitter, and cruel. He must provide for his hypochondriac mother, dependent brother Benjy, and Caddy’s illegitimate daughter, Quentin (not to be confused with her Uncle Quentin). There is no parcel of land to purchase a Harvard education for Jason, so he works in the local hardware store, does the best he can, and holds everyone in contempt.

The final chapter is told mostly by the African-American servant, Dilsey, as she recounts the further decline of the Compson family.

Overall, the novel is about as cheery as Macbeth, from whence it takes its title. Again, I am not a fan of stream of consciousness, but this story grew on me once I realized my confusion was probably the author’s intent.

I only noted one quotation worth mentioning. Quentin reflects on his father’s words about time and a gold watch his father gave him:
I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.

Film Rendition: The 1959 film with Yul Brynner as Jason only covers chapter three and that not very faithfully. The film has a happy, hopeful ending that is not true to the book, and utterly unbelievable in the film. There is a new version under development directed by James Franco. That is interesting since Franco directed and starred in a rendition of another Faulkner classic, As I Lay Dying. Financially it was a disaster, but it was a very faithful rendering. Franco is also producing, Blood Meridian. He seems to have a passion for turning classic American literature into film. Bravo Mr. Franco, and thank you.


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