The Sound and the Fury (Text Key 218)


Faulkner's second Yoknapatawpha novel, The Sound the the Fury, was published on October 7, 1929. Its composition marked a turning point in his career: after publishers had initially blocked Flags in the Dust and demanded extreme cuts in the manuscript, Faulkner took the setback as an opportunity. As he later said about this period, "I said to myself, now I can write." While his friend Ben Wasson made the changes the publishers demanded in the first novel, published in 1929 as well, Faulkner himself furiously penned a series of short stories about a fictional family named Compson. One of them, "That Evening Sun," was separately published in 1931. Another of these stories, titled "Twilight," depicted the family from within the consciousness of a 33-year-old severely retarded and childlike man. Of his choice to begin with Benjy Compson, Faulkner said that "the idea struck me to see how much more I could [get] out of the idea of the blind, selfcenteredness of innocence, typified by children, if one of those children had been truly innocent, that is, an idiot.” The technique Faulkner uses is called "stream-of-consciousness" or "interior monologue," and his use of it draws from such influences as Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and especially James Joyce. Revised, Benjy's narrative became the first section of the novel. It is followed by two sections that also use this technique from the perspective of Benjy's brothers Quentin and Jason, and a fourth section written in the third-person omniscient style. As a whole, according to Faulkner himself, the novel is his attempt "to draw the picture of Caddy," the sister of these three males. She herself, however, appears only indirectly, as remembered by each of her brothers. In the fourth section, set on Easter Sunday, only the sound of her name appears. Her absence is the center around which narrative revolves. Technically the novel is among Faulkner's most experimental and structurally complex, but at the same time, once the interpretive difficulties of the book are overcome, the story is also among the most moving he ever wrote. Over time it has come to be considered as one of the masterpieces of Modernist fiction.

Dating the Story: Since they are given at the start of each section, the dates of the four days that constitute the novel's narrative "present" are as unambiguous as anything in Faulkner's fiction. The dates of the myriad events that Benjy, Quentin and Jason remember, however, are often extremely difficult and at times impossible to define with precision. That's one of Faulkner's points about consciousness, of course: that in the mind, memory can mean that pieces of the past are "timelessly" present. But our re-presentation of the novel requires us to assign dates to each event, even if, as is often the case, the best we can offer is a date range. The choices we made were derived as directly as possible from the evidence of the text itself, but at the same time we consulted, gratefully, the extant scholarship on The Sound and the Fury. In particular we found Edmund Volpe's chronologies of Benjy's and Quentin's sections extremely useful. See Edmund L. Volpe, A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner: The Novels (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2003).

Mapping the Story. For help determining the physical layout of the Compson Place, we consulted a number of scholars as well as the article "'Each in its Ordered Place': Structure and Narrative in 'Benjy's Section' of The Sound and the Fury," by George R. Stewart and Joseph M. Backus (American Literature 29: 4 [1958]: 440-456). "June 2, 1910," the novel's second section set within the consciousness of Caddy's older brother Quentin, takes place physically in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our inset map is taken from Map of the City of Boston and Vicinity (Boston: Geo. H. Walker & Co., 1900). But unlike most of the major settings in the Yoknapatawpha fictions (Mississippi, of course, but also Memphis and New Orleans), Faulkner probably had no first-hand knowledge of the Boston area, and it should be noted that the world Quentin moves through on the last day of his life seems largely invented to serve the needs of the story.

First Publisher: 
Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith
First Publisher Location: 
New York
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Napolin, Julie, Johannes H. Burgers, Taylor Hagood, Robert Coleman, Sarah Perkins and Ren Denton. "Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury." Added to the project: 2014. Addional editing 2020: John Corrigan, John Padgett.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia,

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