Essays and Criticism
Interpreting Caddy Compson
William Faulkner's fourth novel, The Sound and the Fury, is a haunting and sometimes bewildering novel that surprises and absorbs the reader each time it is read. The novel was Faulkner's personal favorite and, along with James Joyce's novel Ulysses and T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, is generally thought to be one of the greatest works of literature in English of the twentieth century. The Sound and the Fury also signalled the beginning of the "major period" of Faulkner's own literary creativity; four of the five novels that followed—As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!—are, along with The Sound and the Fury, often regarded as the best in Faulkner's oeuvre. Not surprisingly, the novel has received an extraordinary amount of critical analysis, much of which has been devoted to explaining Faulkner's technical experimentations. Critics have also widely discussed Faulkner's treatment of issues such as race, suicide, incest, time, history, and religion. Central to any reading of the novel, however, is the character that Faulkner claimed was his source for the novel—Caddy. Richard Gray has described Caddy as the novel's "absent presence" and each of the four sections as "another attempt to know her." But to the reader, Caddy remains an elusive mystery whose enforced silence prevents her from ever being known. To her three brothers, she is a source of obsession and...
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Dilsey's Easter Conversion in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury
The main action of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury occurs during Easter Week, 1928. Because Easter is the holiest event in the Christian calendar, and because the Passion Week serves as the book's main organizing device, many readers have sensed the presence of religious themes in this often opaque work. But over the past five decades, critical interpretations have ranged from Christian spirituality to existential nothingness. While there has been no consensus on the meaning of the novel, Faulkner scholars have agreed over the years that the structure of The Sound and the Fury follows the Modernist "mythical method." Much as the Odyssey gives form and sequence to Joyce's Ulysses, episodes and images from the Christian Holy Week provide an external framework to Faulkner's narrative. Members of the Compson family undergo experiences which rehearse episodes from the last days of Jesus's life. The four sections of the novel form four Compson gospels, which like the biblical originals develop and expand the story they retell. These parallels to the gospel tradition are most insistent during the Sunday church service in the fourth section of The Sound and the Fury. By means of his powerful if unorthodox rendition of the Passion narrative, the Reverend Shegog wakens in Dilsey capacities for spiritual renewal. Her visionary Easter experience then rouses her to secular acts of rejection and affirmation.
(The entire section is 3074 words.)
The Death of a Family
The subject-matter [of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury] is the death of a family and the corresponding decay of a society. More narrowly, the novel is about the various Compsons—parents and children, brothers and sisters—and how they are able or not able to love each other, and how the failure of love destroys them all. The central focus is the beautiful and doomed Candace Compson. We never see her full-face or hear her speak in her own persona. She lives for us only in the tortured and highly subjective recollection of her three brothers: Benjy, the congenital idiot; Quentin, the moral abstractionist and suicide; Jason, the sociopath who lives only for money ("who to me represented pure evil. He's the most vicious character in my opinion I ever thought of.") These recollections form the first three sections of the novel. They are followed by Section Four, describing the events of Easter Sunday, 1928. This part belongs mainly to Dilsey, but is told from an outside, third-person point of view, magnificently distanced and controlled. . . .
If the dominant theme of the novel is love—love between members of the family, and how they are able or not able to give that love freely—then the accidents of time and place [of the setting] fade in importance. The evil that the Compson children experience is conventional enough. Much of it is not evil at all, but simply the heartbreak of loss of innocence and the inevitable corruption that comes...
(The entire section is 2889 words.)