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The Sound and the Fury


Binker
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I wrote much of this post yesterday on my tablet, but kept getting interrupted and finally lost the connection, which was frustrating.

 

In our discussion of Top 10 books, Mr. Hobgoblin mentioned As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, which sparked a discussion of The Sound and the Fury.  Several people indicated a desire to read the book as part of a discussion and I offered to start us off.  I think it would be useful to conduct this discussion like Dan and I did Angle of Repose, so that people can check in and give their thoughts and ask questions while they are reading.  I think if we take that approach that we need to be careful about spoilers, although frankly I think this book can do with a little spoiling to make it easier to follow. 

 

William Faulkner is a great American author and the great Southern author.  He was born in 1897, a little over 30 years after the end of the American Civil War, in Mississippi, which is part of the deepest of the deep South.  His Grandfather had fought in the Civil War and he was raised on stories about it.  But Mississippi was then, and still is, the poorest State in the Union, finishing last in virtually all measures of education and health, a strong contrast to the former glory that he heard about.  Faulkner often explores how a culture that prided itself on the most noble of human virtues could have abased itself into embracing and sacrificing itself for an institution as inhuman as slavery. 

 

He sets many of his books and stories in Yoknapatawpha County, which is based very closely on Lafayette County, Mississippi, where he spent most of his life.  The Sound and the Fury is set there, too, and tells the story of the Compson family, formerly Southern aristocrats, now badly fallen in just about every way.  From now on, I am going to use spoilers in case some of you wish to read it without any background at all, although, as I say above, I don't really recommend it.

 

Added 09/09/14:  After reading some of the comments from those who tried to read it spoiler-free, I am going to strongly recommend that you read the spoilers, including the ones I added after this post.  You can figure out what's going on without them, but you have to work really hard and it will probably affect your enjoyment of the book. 

 

"The Portable Faulkner" which some of you may have in your version of the book gives a 4-page history of the Compson family. Faulkner published it much later, but said he wished he'd published it with the book itself.  That might give you a LOT of information, so I could see saving it for the end.

 

For information about the structure of the book, which I think you can read risk-free:

 

 

  The book is told in 4 parts.  The first 3 parts are told by 3 of the 4 Compson siblings, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason, and the fourth part is told in the third person.

 

 

For information about the first part of the book, which I recommend that you read:

 

 

Benjy narrates the first part of the book as a 33-year old man on April 7, 1928.  Benjy is profoundly retarded and so he tells what he sees and feels without much in the way of interpretation.  His thoughts range over time and so it is important to pay attention to who is minding him when he's telling you information.  Luster is in the present.  TP took care of Benjy when he was a teenager.  And Versh during his infancy and childhood.  Italics indicate that Benjy has changed to a different time period, but that visual clue is missing for some of the time jumps.  Benjy loves his sister Caddy and is very sensitive to everything about her.  He loves golf (because the golfers use his sister's name all the time) and fire.  He also processes a lot of information through his sense of smell, so you should watch for that.

 

 

For information about the second part of the book, which I also recommend that you read:

 

 

Quentin, who is the oldest brother, narrates the second section on June 2, 1910, when he is at Harvard.  Quentin is descending into madness and so this section is also a very challenging read.  Very stream-of-consciousness.  If Benjy loves Caddy, Quentin is obsessed with her.  I remember from 40 years ago that I found Quentin sympathetic and maddening.  It is important to know that Caddy named her daughter Quentin after her brother.  Otherwise, it's unbelievably confusing.

 

 

For information about the third part of the book:

 

 

Jason, who is a younger brother (not sure if he's older or younger than Benjy) narrates the third portion on April 6, 1928.  I do not remember much about him, but everything I read says that he is a despicable person.  Jason is his mother's favorite and is named after her husband.  His mother is not a great person, so it doesn't say much for him that he is his mother's favorite.  Jason also has strong feelings about Caddy.

 

 

For information about the fourth part of the book:

 

 

Much of this part of the book revolves around Dilsey, who is the black servant matriarch of the household.  Benjy's various minders are her sons and grandsons.  This part of the book sort of ties things together.  Again, I don't remember it as much from 40 years ago.

 

 

For some interpretations and symbols to watch for:

 

 

Many people have interpreted this family as an allegory for the South, although that's probably a bit simplistic.  Quentin is the old South, obsessed with his sister's virtue and insane.  Jason is the new South, obsessed with making money.  I'm not sure of any of the other characters.  It is typical of Faulkner that his strongest and best character is a black woman.  For those of you not from the United States, it is possible that you have always thought of Southerners as very one-dimensional on the issue of race, but this book may help explain why a black newspaper editor said (in the late 60s or 70s, I think) that he would "rather deal with an enlightened Southerner than any Northerner" (the actual term used is probably "Yankee," but that's a U.S. term that might have been confusing).  I did see that one symbol to watch for is the golf ball, but I have no memory of that.  And as you can tell, even though Caddy doesn't speak for herself, she is the central concern of her brothers.]

 

 

I've started the Benjy section, but haven't gotten very far.

Edited by Binker
To add the suggestion to go ahead and read the spoilers.
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Here are the people who expressed interest, besides those who have already posted here, but they are in no way obligated to do this read:  Kerry, Clavain, MisterHobgoblin (delayed), and possibly Minxminnie.  No one should feel obligated, obviously.

 

I'm well into the first section and I do recommend reading my "spoiler" about that section.  It is much easier to keep up if you know what's in that spoiler.

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I read this book as part of my American Literature module when I did my degree about 15 years ago.  A demanding but rewarding read is my recollection.  I have to say your introduction Binker has been a joy to read; I only wish I had seen that when I was studying it because I don't think the lecturer made it that clear to me then.  I am certainly going to re-read this and think that I will probably get a lot more out of it this time around.  Many thanks Binker. 

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I guess that's two of us for the read Kerry and I think maybe Clavain wanted to be in too?  Kerry I got it on Amazon on my Kindle for 99 cents.

 

The Kindle version here is $9.12. I don't know where they get these weird amounts.

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Kerry, I probably got mine from Amazon.ca and there seem to be quite a number of word errors apart from the really unusual prose, Binker's post is helpful in that the first section is quite a bit of a jumble to read. Some of the terms are ones I'm not familiar with which cropped up early on, one being 'branch' which I took to be a river, stream or waterhole because they are jumping in and getting soaked.

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You are all welcome.  I did notice some terms that were going to be unfamiliar to you, like branch, but I thought you could figure it out from the context, which is exactly what Momac did.  So far, I have found that if you pay close attention, you can figure out what's going on, but Faulkner certainly makes you work for it.  

 

Here's another piece of information that I had forgotten to include and that I think you should read, but I'm spoilering it in case you want to come at it completely fresh:  

Benjy was originally named Maury, after his mother's (apparently completely useless) brother.  His mother insisted on changing his name when it became clear that he was retarded.  So I think when he's called Maury in the first section, you are meant to know that he is very young.  The servants talk about the name change at one point and it's clear that they think it was wrong to do it.

 

 

I read this my senior year in high school, when I had the best literature teacher I have ever had (most people say that about college--I just was very lucky).  We would be assigned pages to read and then come into the classroom and talk and talk about  what we had read.  I don't think I could have managed to get through it otherwise.  We had had another Faulkner book the year before (Intruder in the Dust, I think), so his style wasn't completely unfamiliar to me.  Thank goodness.

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I am well into the Benjy part of the book and have noticed that certain things he sees or smells trigger memories and off you go into a time jump.  If you are confused about a jump, it's helpful to go back and find that because it makes his thought process a bit easier to see.  

I think there's a jump that's caused by seeing fire, which reminds him of another fire and a different jump caused by seeing a couple in a swing that reminds him of another couple in a swing.  And I think he's drunk in one scene, too.

 

 

Also:  "ricklick" is "recollect" and "nome" is "no ma'am."  Not sure that would be clear to non-U.S. readers.

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According to my kindle I have read 6% , a physical book I may be able to tell you how far I am through part 1 ^^

Not sure how I'm feeling about the book. The language and the stream of conciousness is very over powering . Having to read a lot slower than normal. 

Saw the Caddy Caddie connection early but the quarter lost near the branch part was really special for me, frantic similar to the coach ride.

Enjoying but hoping for more :)

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You really have to work in this section.  The next section is a bit of an effort, too, although maybe a bit more coherent.  Funnily enough, I haven't found Benjy's part to be too hard to follow and it's interesting that I remember the first 2 sections from 40 years ago much more than I remember the last, more typically-told, sections of the book.  

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I seem to be wrapped up in the US Open tennis, so that not much reading has been done for the past couple of days.  Come the weekend though, the Open will finish up so that I can concentrate on getting more reading done.  I found the first part of The Sound that I read had kind of a rhythm to it even thought it dodged around a bit.  

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I finished the first section last night.  I found that I was generally able to follow Benjy's time jumps by finding the trigger for his thoughts, but it was still an effort.

 

Here is what I think we know or can intuit from his section.  I've spoilered the whole thing, but I don't think there's anything too unexpected in it:

 

 

Caddy and Dilsey are the only people who are always kind to him.  I think that Versh, his first minder, was pretty nice to him, but T.P. and Luster are more of a mixed bag.  But Caddy is gone and her loss is one of the central events of Benjy's life.  I think she married (it was her wedding where Benjy was drunk), but something has happened that has resulted in her daughter, Quentin, living with the family, but no one in the family even mentioning her name. Based on Caddy's strong reaction to the make-out scene in the swing, I think that Caddy is very sexual and it may have gotten her in trouble.   I think that they have had 3 deaths in the family--the grandmother, Quentin (the brother--I think it's his casket that T.P. takes Benjy to see driving by), and Jason (the father). We've also gotten the measure of almost everyone in that family:  Father is affectionate and understanding, but not particularly effective.  Mother is weak and demanding.  Quentin is a romantic who gets into fist fights over a girl or girls.  Caddy is bossy, independent, and sexual.  Jason is a mean liar .  Uncle Maury is a useless piece of dirt who is having an affair with Mrs. Patterson and using Caddy and Benjy as his go-betweens.  Dilsey is caring and hard-working and her family generally has strong opinions about the worst of the Compson behavior, but are not quite the heroes that she is.  I think the neighbors are disturbed by and afraid of Benjy and I'm worried about what happened when he got out of the gate trying to talk to the girls who were going by.

 

 

I'm not very good with symbolism, so I'll just say that I haven't decided if the golf ball and shadows are symbols, but they sure seem to be, as much as they are mentioned.  And I think that it's probably significant that the idiot who is telling the tale is 33 years old.   

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I'm 11% into the book and find it best to just read it and not try to put it into any sequence as location and events seem to occur in a haphazard fashion - I just have to get it fixed in my mind the cast of characters.

I did have trouble figuring out about the ball and I guess the talk is about a golf ball.

Edited by momac
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Don't have my instructions with me at the moment but this probably isn't a spoiler. I notice they talk about playing with jimson weed and that particular plant in recent years was being used by some kids as an hallucinogenic - do you suppose its properties were known in Faulkner's time to get a buzz?

Edited by momac
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Some observations/questions with regard to the first part:

 

 

 

It seems to me that Benjy who is severely retarded would not have the language to describe what he is seeing, for instance, he knows 'shadows' and what they are although obviously he doesn't connect them with sunshine and shade.  Every so often I come across a word which to me seems out of place for someone with his intellectual abilities?  

 

I mentioned jimson weed which also seems to be dogfennel and it must have some kind of flower as Benjy has it in a bottle and plays with it until it is worn out - there doesn't seem to be any mention of ingesting it although I wonder if someone with a childlike mentality might be tempted to put it in his mouth?

 

Luster threatens Benjy with 'Jackson' which I assume is the local mental asylum.  Luster also is wanting to find his lost quarter so that he can go to the movie and tries to sell a golf ball he found for a quarter to a man, presumably a golfer as the golf course is near, but the man just pockets the ball and walks off.

 

I find the book so far a bit heavy going, jumping around and containing a lot of nonsensical prose, but I would imagine a person with severe retardation might not have a sense of sequence or maybe that's how Faulkner imagined it?

 

 

Edited by momac
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Just another little wrinkle in my Kindle edition, some of the words are in error and like some texting flower places become Hower places which threw me until I realized it was just another error in converting the text to e-book format. It adds quite a mix to some already strange language. :)

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