The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Critical reaction to The Sound and the Fury was by no means universally favorable when it first appeared in print in 1929. While finding the novel powerful and sincere, Frances Lamont Robbins, writing in Outlook and Independent commented that "the theme, dramatic and potentially moving, loses much of its force and clarity by being presented, almost wholly, through subjective analysis. It takes a stronger hand than William Faulkner's to divert the stream of consciousness into channels of perfect usefulness and beauty." In the 1929 book On William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury," however, Evelyn Scott congratulated the publishers for "presenting a little known writer with the dignity of recognition which his talent deserves." The critic called Faulkner's book "an important contribution to the permanent literature of fiction." "Hardly Worth While" was the title Clifton Fadiman used in his 1930 review in the Nation. The main problem with Faulkner's book, Fadiman felt, was that "the intelligent reader can grasp the newer literary anarchies only by an effort of analytical attention so strained that it fatigues and dulls his emotional perception." He did praise Faulkner for his portrayal of Benjy, but ridiculed it as too much of a good thing to listen to "one hundred pages of an imbecile's simplified sense perceptions and monosyllabic gibberings." Fadiman also thought Quentin and Jason were not interesting enough "to follow the ramifications of their minds and memories."

Since its publication, The Sound and the Fury has come to be recognized as one of Faulkner's masterpieces. As I Lay Dying, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, and Go Down, Moses are his other heralded novels. Faulkner has long been considered a major American writer and many critics regard him as the most important American novelist of the twentieth century. Terry Heller, in a 1991 essay in the Critical Survey of Long Fiction, wrote that Faulkner "dramatizes in most of his novels some version of the central problem of modern man in the West," which he feels is an uncertainty about the meaning of human history. Linda W. Wagner compared Faulkner to Shakespeare, Dostoevski, Dickens, Milton, and Dante for his moral point of view. Her 1981 essay in the Dictionary of Literary Biography commends the author for his inventiveness and vigor. "Faulkner faces the problematic existence of the modern world, and he insists that human beings can surmount those problems," she remarks.

The strongest praise for The Sound and the Fury centers around its moral message. In "Worlds in Counterpoint," Olga W. Vickery's 1964 essay, the critic praises Faulkner for his structure, themes, and characterizations. "Out of...

(The entire section is 641 words.)