A Tentative Study on The Sound and the Fury

2017-12-18赵静 房丽艳

魅力中国 2017年47期

赵静 房丽艳

Ranked sixth on the list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, The Sound and the Fury helped American William Faulkner, the writer, win Nobel Prize for literature in 1949. Being the most imposing body of fiction, Faulkner regards it as his favorite. Its a tragic account of a disintegrating southern “aristocratic” family, with its vestiges of starved and warped affection kept perilously intact by its charade of family honor and the ministration of loyal negro servants. This essay tries to analyze the novel by means of its structure, its writing technique as well as its characters in the following sections.

I Structure

The whole novel consists of 4 chapters, namely, Part 1: April 7, 1928; Part 2: June 2, 1910; Part 3: April 6, 1928; Part 4: April 8, 1928. Of its 4 chapters the first part is narrated through the mind of a 33-year-old idiot, and the second through the mind of his brother at Harvard who is on the verge of suicide. The third section is narrated by Jason, the third child and his mother Caroline's favorite. The last section is the only one without a single first-person narrator. Its worth noticing that the sequence of sections does not follow the chronology of the events. This literary form is distinctly appropriate to the sense of desperate urgency with which Faulkner confronts the world he envisions. The contortion into which he twists his materials and the sensationalism of his themes and formal effects defines Faulkners world. It is a world in which “despair” and “doom” are recurring motifs. Nevertheless, at the same time, we see the employment of italicized passages, which helps us recognize time shifts.

II Writing techniques

Its the employment of stream-of-consciou-

sness that makes the novel hard to read. Faulkner adopts the skill of inner drama to create his characters. The readers find it extremely difficult reading the first two chapters so much so that Faulkner himself once said during an interview that to understand them requires seven or eight times of careful reading. Throughout the novel, Faulkner makes good uses of symbols and abstractions. For example, mirror reflects the past; the endurance of plants through winter symbolizes the pure power of Nature; water implies both the purity of love and the challenge towards life; Caddys loss of virginity symbolizes the loss of family honor, etc.

III Characters

The main characters are the Compson family: Jason Compson III – father of the Compson family; Caroline Bascomb Compson – wife of Jason Compson III; Quentin Compson III – the oldest Compson child: passionate and neurotic, who commits suicide as the tragic culmination of the damaging influence of his father's nihilistic philosophy and his inability to cope with his sister's sexual promiscuity;

Candace "Caddy" Compson – the second Compson child, strong-willed yet caring, Benjy's only real caregiver and Quentin's best friend; Jason Compson IV – the bitter, racist third child who is troubled by monetary debt and sexual frustration; Benjamin (nicknamed Benjy, born Maury) Compson – the mentally disabled fourth child, who is a constant source of shame and grief for his family. According to Faulkner, the true hero of the novel is Caddy who never develops a voice, but rather allows her brothers' emotions towards her to develop her character. The novel is not complete without the characters such as the Gibsons, who represent a picture of the negro in the early years of the southern transition to modernity. The portrait of Luster Gibson, the grandson of Dilsey Gibson, suggests the psychological emancipation of the coming generation of blacks from white dominance or at the very least the uneasy relationship of the younger generation of blacks to the racial patterns governing southern life and thought. Representing the white man as idiot-child and the black child as guardian-man is a bold innovation both literally and symbolically in fictional black-white relationships. The white man-idiot and the black child-guardian reiterate the theme of the disintegration of an aristocratic southern family in the modern world.

Due to its complexity and multi-layered meanings, the novel presents a challenge to its readers. However, with some insight into its structure, its writing techniques as well as its characters as provided in this essay, the readers will find the novel more comprehensible and enjoyable.


Wan Peide, An Anthology of 20th-CenturyAmerican Fiction Vol.2, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China.

The Sound and the Fury From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.