The Sound and the Fury Questions and Answers
by William Faulkner

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Discuss the importance of the Benjy section in The Sound and the Fury.

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Benjy's section sets the tone for the rest of the book. As with most modernist works of literature, The Sound and the Fury, a highly complex, experimental novel, is concerned with the impossibility of ideal communication. That explains why Faulkner chooses to begin the novel with Benjy, a seriously disabled invalid without the ability to articulate his experiences in speech. The difficulty of this first section is exacerbated by the fact that Benjy has no concept of time; all the events he recalls take place on one day: Easter Saturday, 1928.

Inevitably, Benjy's narrative is confusing and disjointed. But this serves a very useful purpose in relation to the book's overall structure. The puzzling prose that Faulkner employs creates a sense of mystery and suspense, foreshadowing the events to come, making us want to find out what's really going on. Trying to figure out the reasons for the Compson family's decline will take some doing, and Benjy's section, the first in The Sound and the Fury, gives us fair warning.

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isawyer | Student

Benjy's section in The Sound and the Fury is one of the most famous chapters in all of 20th-century American literature, and there is really nothing else like it. It is a work of "high modernism," a phrase often used to describe the dense and complicated novels of the early 20th century which were concerned with mimetically expressing human consciousness.

Benjy, the youngest of the Compson children, has a severe mental disability and, as such, he is unable to talk. As one would expect, this severely limits his ability to communicate effectively and often his only outward expressions are fits of crying.

However, even though Benjy cannot talk, Faulkner wants to express what it is like to be Benjy, and therefore he narrates the chapter using free-indirect discourse to give us Benjy's point of view. In doing so, Faulkner quickly shows us that Benjy is more complicated than he initially seems. Even though he cannot communicate verbally, Benjy has a rich internal life that, while confusing, allows the reader to access and understand the world of the novel in a unique way.

There are many notable qualities of Benjy's narrative, but what readers often find most disorienting are the constant temporal shifts. Often, Benjy will have an experience in the present which reminds him of something that happened in the past, and then suddenly the reader is sucked into the past with Benjy even though the novel continues to be narrated in the present tense. Usually, Faulkner warns us when such transitions are coming by utilizing italics, such as in the following passage:

"Wait a minute." Luster said. "You snagged on that nail again. Cant you never crawl through here without snagging on that nail."

Caddy uncaught me and we crawled through. Uncle Maury said to not let anybody see us, so we better stoop over, Caddy said (Benjy's section, page 4 in Vintage International edition).

These transitions are frequent and it takes awhile to piece together the various temporalities through which Benjy's mind drifts. Such confusion can make the chapter frustrating, but it is ultimately rewarding once you are able to fit the puzzle pieces together.