Impressions of The Sound and the Fury

So, I didn’t flunk out of any classes on the first day, but I did encounter another unprecedented situation.

In my American Modernism class, my professor told us that if we have the time we ought to read The Sound and the Fury now, even though it’s not due until later, so that we will have time to re-read it. Figuring that Faulkner’s novel must be quite the beast to warrant such advice, I took the time to read it once through.

After finishing my first read-through, overall I liked it. However, each of the four sections of the novel (each with a different narrator) generally improved as the novel continued. The last two were excellent. The first, however, I could not make heads or tails of.

Now, I don’t mind if a novel is difficult, but the first section is narrated by a retard (literally, not pejoratively). In Faulkner’s own words from a question-and-answer session with an undergraduate class, he is “incapable of relevancy.” Now, that’s a good way to start a novel, isn’t it? Set the theme with the character who can barely string two coherent thoughts together, much less relate an extended narrative. The second section, and to a much lesser extent the third, also wander around more than the typical novel, but are at least coherent. In fact, my greatest frustration of the novel is that, when Faulkner isn’t being deliberately obscure and just gives a (mostly) straight narrative, the book is compelling.

Interestingly, though, Faulkner himself may have had a similar opinion. In the same interview mentioned above (included in my Norton Critical Edition of the novel), Faulkner refers to the disjointed narrative of the first section as “part of the failure[…] that’s a bad way to do it.” He explains that, at the time he wrote the novel, he thought beginning with the idiot was the best way to lay the groundwork for the rest of the novel, but given the previous quote it seems he regretted the decision.

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