The Sound and the Fury Themes
by William Faulkner

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The Sound and the Fury Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The final scenes of The Sound and the Fury are related by an omniscient narrator. If the whole book had been structured the same way, the novel might be less challenging—and less interesting. Instead, readers must contend with three unreliable narrators in the novel's first three sections: Benjy, an idiot; Quentin, a suicide; and Jason, superficially sane but vicious and heartless. All three narrations feature interior monologues, which, according to literary scholar Robert Humphrey, represent the psychic content and processes of character partly or entirely unuttered, just as these processes exist at various levels of conscious control. Even Jason, who prides himself on dwelling in the "here and now," goes from present to past in his thoughts. He has an extended flashback, or memory of several past scenes, as he opens mail at work. He remembers both his father's funeral and his dealings with his sister, Caddy—whom he blames for his loss of a job in a bank—before a chance comment from his boss, Earl, brings him back to the present, which is Good Friday, April 6,1928.

Benjy, who begins the novel with a narrative describing the events of Saturday, April 7, 1928, his birthday, is an idiot with no sense of cause and effect. Scene shifts from various times in the past occur in Benjy's mind when present-day experiences trigger his memory. If Luster, Benjy's black attendant, unsnags Benjy from a fence in the present, Benjy recalls Caddy freeing him from a fence more than twenty years before. When Benjy follows Luster to a small stream, where children are playing in the water, the scene makes him recall a similar scene with his brothers and sister at the stream thirty years before on the day their grandmother died. Nearly a hundred of these scene shifts, usually indicated by a change in type face, occur in Benjy's narration; they average better than one a page. The juxtaposed story fragments set out themes that help the reader to understand not only Benjy but his family and their situation. William Faulkner seldom juxtaposes more than three or four stories in Benjy's narrative to develop a theme, and with rare exceptions, the broken pieces of narrative are chronological even though they are interwoven with other stories from different times. Before one can discuss thematic development, the broken stories must be briefly described.

In the present, when Luster is Benjy's attendant, Luster looks for a lost quarter that will take buy him a ticket to a circus that is in town. He takes Benjy around the Compson place, goes by the golf course next to the property, plays with other children in the stream, steals a golf ball, and tries to sell it, only to have the ball stolen from him in return—all before he takes Benjy back home. There they blunder into Caddy's daughter Quentin, who is kissing one of the men from the circus. Luster finally gets Benjy inside where Dilsey, not Caroline Compson, has a birthday cake for Benjy on his thirty-third birthday. After Luster teases Benjy, the two eat the cake.

The earliest of Benjy's memories is the Damuddy's death story, where Benjy and his siblings are playing in the stream, unaware that their grandmother has died. Caddy and Quentin fight when Caddy wants to take off her wet dress. In a later story, which takes place in the family living room, Benjy is being told his new name—Benjamin. His mother, upon becoming aware of Benjy's shortcomings, protects her brother at the expense of her son. Shortly afterward, in another story, Benjy and Caddy are used as unwitting go-betweens in an affair that Uncle Maury has with a farmer's wife, Mrs. Patterson. A few years later, in stories that follow steps in Caddy's adolescence, readers see Benjy's reactions to Caddy using perfume, Caddy kissing a boy, and finally, in an action that cannot be undone, Caddy's loss of virginity. In each case (except the latter), Caddy tries to undo whatever has happened in order to pacify Benjy. Caddy's wedding is nightmarish for...

(The entire section is 4,413 words.)