The Plot Arrangement of The Sound and The Fury

The plot however, is a different concept than the story, as explained on the previous page. There are different interpretations of why Faulkner arranged the story the way he did, but after reading the book in its entirety, one might come to the same conclusion.

Through the use of multiple narrators, Faulkner tells the story from four different viewpoints, four different perspectives and prejudices.  Faulkner himself said, “And that’s how that book grew. That is, I wrote the same story four times. None of them were right, but I had anguished so much that I could not throw any of it away and start over, so I printed it in the four sections. That was not a deliberate tour de force at all, the book just grew that way.”

 Benjy, whose narrative covers about twenty-five years of Compson family history, is the most honest of the novel’s narrators. Mentally incapable of making critical judgments, Benjy simply narrates events as he saw them. Moaning and weeping, Benjy registers the painful episodes in this family’s tragic history. (Takach)

Opening the novel with Benjy’s narrative was risky for Faulkner. Benjy’s mind is unable to focus on a single event for more than a few pages; he skips arbitrarily from event to event, rendering his tale meaningless unless it is read very carefully. Faulkner’s decision to let Benjy speak first was a brilliant one, for it suggests the themes to which the author would return again and again. For Faulkner, a Southerner with a keen sense of his region’s tragic past, history was not the linear story of humanity’s accomplishments but rather a jumbled tale of pain. The Sound and the Fury’s title comes from lines in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (c. 1606-1607): “Life . . . is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.” Benjy’s rendering of Compson history is, indeed, the anguished tale of an idiot, full of sound and fury. (Takach)

Faulkner relates the distinction between past and present to the arrangement in which he tells the story. The more the characters live in the past, the more jumbled the arrangement. As Takach goes on to describe in his article, in the Quentin section, it gets easier to understand but is still occasionally jumping from event to event because Quentin cannot seem stay living in the present. Though Quentin is a perfectly well-functioning Harvard student, his inability to overcome the past eventually leads to his demise.

He is traumatized and emotionally paralyzed by his sister’s sexual promiscuity; he cannot forget these past events and move on with his life. Tormented by the past, and guilty over his own incestuous desire for Caddy, Quentin finds no escape other than suicide. His tragic end suggests Faulkner’s view that the past is inescapable; it continues to affect and shape the present and future. (Takach)

 Jason’s narrative is mostly chronological, yet he has a hard time overcoming past events as well. He becomes a resentful and bitter man from his family’s support of Quentin’s acceptance to Harvard, to his sister’s failure to get him a job through her husband. Not only, is he angry and bitter, but he is a very greedy man and is obsessed with getting more money. He holds a job and functions normally, but he is a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. (Takach) According to much analysis, Jason’s obsession with money is in a way a symbol for the South’s slow movement toward commercialism as the plantation society dwindled away into the post-Civil War era.

 The fourth chapter is told by an omniscient narrator that depicted Dilsey as a focal point to allow an objective viewpoint to the Compson’s story. This chapter makes Dilsey almost a heroine of the story. Dilsey, the servant of the family, turns out to be the one person who tries to hold the Compson family together.

That her perspective follows those of the Compson brothers and occupies a climactic position in the novel is surely significant. A purely secular interpretation might cast Dilsey as the noble savage, whose race and distance from civilization make her a primitivist moral norm. But if her race and social position are her most obvious characteristics, it is her Christian faith that makes her what she is. Whether she is taking Benjy to church or defending Miss Quentin against Jason’s cruelty, Dilsey is motivated by charity. (Winchell)

Dilsey’s final declaration that there is a beginning and an end suggests that a linear view of history is still possible. We assume that she means the beginning and end of the Compson family, but her words, spoken on Easter Sunday, might have a larger frame of reference as well. To have seen the first and last of anything requires not only vision but endurance. (Winchell)

After reading this novel, one might conclude that the arrangement of the novel conveys the dysfunction of the Compson family. Each one of the characters that narrate a section of this novel let past events and tragedies conquer their present life. This leaves all of them handicapped in one way or another and leads to the complete collapse of the Compson family.

Published on May 3, 2009 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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