The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner

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The Sound and the Fury was first published in 1929 and is considered to be one of the most important novels of the 20th century. The book follows the Comptons, an Aristocratic southern American family, struggling to deal with their poor reputation and the breakdown of their family.

The Sound and the FuryThe Tale of Genji or Ulysses, if I ever manage to finish them!!).

The first section is narrated by a mentally disabled man called Benjy. I finished these 72 pages without having much idea of what had happened. The disorienting world of someone who doesn’t fully understand what is happening was made even more confusing by a stream of consciousness writing style.

I wasn’t crying, but I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t crying, but the ground wasn’t still, and then I was crying. The ground kept sloping up and the cows ran up the hill T.P. tried to get up. He fell down again and the cows ran up the hill. Quentin held my arm and we went toward the barn. Then the barn wasn’t there and we had to wait for it to come back.

I sought out a summary of the chapter on wikipedia and this helped a lot – especially learning that anything written in italics is a flashback. I re-read the chapter, trying to seek out all the points mentioned on wikipedia, but I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have noticed some of the plot points without a guide to help.

The second section, narrated by Benjy’s older brother, was easier to understand, but not much!! Again I had to rely on wikipedia and re-reading to pick up many of the plot points. I continued the rest of the book having read the wikipedia summaries in advance. It was hard work! I also discovered Spark Notes, which gave me an even greater insight into the book.

The problem that I find with books like this is that the effort it takes to simply understand what is happening removes any chance to form an emotional connection to the characters. The plot wasn’t that exciting and so I didn’t feel as though the effort I put in was rewarded.

I’m sure that you can derive a lot of pleasure from studying this book, but I’m afraid that I prefer to read books rather than tease out the meanings from individual paragraphs.

Highly recommended to people who enjoy studying literature.

Have you read The Sound and the Fury?

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  1. violet says:

    the most difficult book you have ever read? wow, I think I will stay away from this, I don’t like to extract meaning from every para either.

    1. Jackie says:

      violet, I prefer to be swept along by the reading experience, not bogged down trying to work out what it all means – it just isn’t fun! Sounds as though we have a similar attitude to books like this.

  2. Verity says:

    I’ve never ever heard of this! Mind you, if you reckon it is the most difficult book you have ever read, I have to say I’m not in a hurry to seek it out.

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I guess it is a US classic, so it might be less common for us to study it in UK schools? At least you’ve heard of it now ;-)

  3. Jessica says:

    I have yet to read anything by Faulkner but have decided to start with ‘As I Lay Dying’. Thank goodness for wikipedia and spark notes eh?

    1. Jackie says:

      Jessica, How did people manage before wikipedia?! I guess that is why those study guide books were so popular – I’d have had to buy one of those!

  4. Dan Holloway says:

    I studied The Sound and the Fury for A-level, back in, ahem, the late 80s, as part of a paper on 20th century literature (also did Eliot’s poems, Joyce’s Dubliners, and O’neill’s Long Day’s journey Into Night) and I absolutely loved it. I think, like you say, though I loved it so much because I was studying it so my head was already in a different gear from when I normally read. I also love the subject matter – the way Faulkner gets right inside the absolute moral decay of a way of life – the character of Jason is one of the great literary monsters, and the personification of everything that had become degenerate about the once shiny ideal of the American South. It’s also so fresh, still – it can still tear strips off most modern urban or gothic fiction.

    Even thinking about it makes me want to goout and read it again – which possibly I oughtn’t to do, because I’m sure coming at it again, and as a read for pleasure, it wouldn’t hold the same magic.

    1. Jackie says:

      Dan, I can see why this book would be fantastic to study, but it does require a very different mind set. I have never really studied literature, so I’m afraid I find it very hard to do. I’m pleased that I have read it though – I can see references to it in many of the books I’ve read.

      1. Dan Holloway says:

        yes, I think you’ve put your finger on something very important (and I totally agree about the mindset – whcih is why I’d be hesitant to read it again) – this is one of those books to which references keep cropping up, so I think it may give the reader a richer experience of other books (and films/TV/theatre – its infleunce is writ large in things like American Gothic, Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)

        1. Jackie says:

          Dan, I do like spotting literary references in more modern books. Luckily? I haven’t seen/read any of the things you mention so I can now watch/read them and try to spot the Faulkner references!!

  5. Kinna says:

    I got into Faulkner after Gabriel Garcia Marquez listed him among his favorite authors. I haven’t read The Sound and The Fury. But I loved Absalom, Absalom!
    He’s influenced quite a number of writers. It’s sometimes a hit and a miss with writers whom other writers adore.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kinna, I can see why writers list Faulkner as a favourite. This is skillfully written, but I’m afraid I read for pleasure and just want to be picked up and swept along by a story, not feel like a student again. If you enjoy that literary detective work then I’m sure you’ll love this one.

  6. Teresa says:

    I read this for a class back in college and didn’t think much of it. It’s one of those books where I could see the immense skill behind it, but the effort involved in understanding it made the reading experience unpleasant. And studying it in class didn’t help, in my case.

    Faulkner is considered one the U.S.’s greatest authors, and I do want to try another of his books before deciding that I just don’t like him at all. I’m hoping to read A Light in August sometime this year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, When I stop to think about it then I realise how skillfull a writer he is, but it was too much hard work for me. I’m sorry to learn that a class didn’t help you.

      I will be interested to see what you make of A Light in August – good luck :-)

  7. Amy says:

    This is one of those books that I’ve been scared of, and for good reason. I don’t think I’ll be attempting it any time soon. Congratulations on getting through it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, Thanks! I sort of feel I deserve a medal for persevering with this one. Perhaps I’ll buy myself a book instead :-)

      1. Amy says:

        Oh I definitely think you deserve a book :D

        1. Jackie says:

          Thanks – I may just do that :-)

  8. Emma says:

    Wow, sounds like a tiring read. And like you I like to be swept along by an author, not dragged along, kicking my heals as I cry ‘help, i don’t understand!’

    1. Jackie says:

      Emma, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! I hope I can find some sweeping reads for you in the near future!

  9. Some books really do benefit from being studied don’t they? I haven’t read this but like you I started Ulysses and floundered. I’m interested to understand it but feel like I need a manual to help me!

    1. Jackie says:

      Novel Insights, The one positive thing about The Sound and the Fury is that it isn’t too long. Ulysses and Genji are both scarily long, at least I felt I could drag my way to the end of the Faulkner. Good luck with Ulysses!

  10. Steph says:

    Oh, Jackie, I feel your pain. I picked this book up a few years ago knowing nothing about it, and when I tried to read it? Disaster! I’m not a fan of stream of consciousness writing on the best of days, and I admit I never made it past page 20. It was just so confusing that I found it really unpleasant to read. I wound up selling it back to a used bookstore and have never looked back!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I’ll be trying to sell my copy asap too!!

      I’m lucky? that I can be quite stubborn sometimes and if I decide that I want to read one of these classics then I will. I get a weird sense of satisfaction to know that I’ve read it and can strike it off the TBR list!!

  11. Stujallen says:

    i read this years ago ,its good i do wonder if faulkner at times was more stylstic than needed some of his other books are more approachable ,I do think people get unduely scared by these books ulyssses is about everyday life just dressed up a bit ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, It is good to know that some of his other books are a bit more approachable. I’m still not convinced that I’d benefit from reading another of his books, but I’ll leave you to try to convince me at some point ;-)

  12. Misfit says:

    I read this for a class many many years ago. I recall having to get a book out from the library about the book to help me understand it. I doubt I could handle reading him now.

    1. Jackie says:

      Misfit, I have no idea how anyone manages to understand this without a giuide book – it should come with one :-)

  13. I read this several years ago before the convenience of the internet and I was LOST! I’m still amazed that I made it to the end without much of a clue of what was going one. I think it would be great to study in a classroom situation.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shelley, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! If I hadn’t have looked the book up then I would have reached the end without understanding what had happened. I’m amazed you made it to the end without a guide :-)

  14. Sandy says:

    The Bumbles gave this book to me as a gift last year, as it was one of their favorites. So I put the book on my TBR Challenge list – I am locked in! And your review scares me just a little. I can be a little bit of a lazy reader. I like to be wowed with minimum effort. I will take your advice to heart and use something to help me understand and appreciate it (Wiki, Cliff Notes). It sounds like it is one of those books that almost needs a classroom and professor to help you through.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, A classroom and a professor would be very useful. I recommend hiring one from the very first page ;-) Good luck – I look forward to hearing all about your experience!

  15. Belle says:

    I must confess, I’ve “read” The Sound and the Fury and wrote an essay for it, for which I vaguely remember doing well – and I can’t really remember any of the novel at all!

    And a funny thing – I DO remember Ulysses, but not with any fondness. I definitely remember several thoughts about how the book would do so well as a doorstop.

    1. Jackie says:

      Belle, I’m not sure I’d like to use Ulysses as a door stop – I’d hate having to look at it all the time :-)

      It is strange that you remember one book, but not the other – perhaps the length of Ulysses means that there is more to remember?

  16. Jeane says:

    My father likes Faulkner a lot, but every time I pick up one of his books I get lost, and never finish. This one was really hard. I think if I ever do try it again, I’ll make use of the wiki page you pointed to!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, I understand why you’d get lost and not finish this book. Sometimes I could read entire pages and not have a clue what had just happened!! I think The Sound and The Fury is a book that will improve with each re-reading. If your father is familiar with the plot I can see why he’d love picking them up again and again. I hope that with the use of a site like wiki you’ll be able to discuss this book with your father one day :-)

  17. Olduvai says:

    I made a very dismal attempt about 5 years ago and never got past the first few pages. I never picked up anything else by Faulkner again, and not sure if I ever will. It’s quite amazing the effort you put in for this book!

    1. Jackie says:

      Olduvai, It did take me a while. It isn’t a book I could skim through – it needs a lot of concentration, so I read it in short bursts over a few weeks. I’m pleased I’ve finished now!

  18. Admittedly, I own several Faulkner novels and have never, ever been able to finish a one of them.

    1. Jackie says:

      Michele, Well owning them is a start!! At least you can admire the covers!! ;-)

  19. JoAnn says:

    The only Faulkner I’ve read is As I Lay Dying – very good book, but I had to check myself by reading the spark notes summaries to make sure I didn’t miss something important. Hope to read Light in August next. It’s my understanding that The Sound and The Fury is one of his most difficult books. I’d really need to be in the mood for a challenge before I attempt it…

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, I’ve not heard of As I Lay Dying before. I hope that you enjoy Light in August – I’ll be keeping an eye out for your review.

  20. Jenny says:

    I haven’t read this but I read Light in August a few years back and HATED it, for a lot of these same reasons. I think Light in August is an easier read, though, from what you say and what I’ve heard about TSatF. It’s still very dense, though, lots of fancy writing and nothing happening and then an occasional BIG PLOT POINT followed by lots of nothing happening.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I know almost nothing about Light in August. I think it might stay that way for a while. From what you say they sound very similar in style LOL!

  21. Andi says:

    I’ve attempted As I Lay Dying when I was much younger, and I didn’t get very far at all. I read Absolom, Absolom! as a graduate student, and I enjoyed reading that one with the opportunity to discuss it in class. I suspect I would feel the same about The Sound and the Fury. I’ll try it sometime when I’m feeling ambitious, but not a moment sooner! :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, I wish I’d had the chance to read books like this in school. I never did anything similar. The closest I got was Shakespeare and I wasn’t a fan of that at all.

  22. mee says:

    The fact that you finished it and gave it 3 stars means something though, doesn’t it? How do you decide which book to give up and which to persist with? Is it the literary value? But you didn’t finish Wolf Hall for example. Just curious.

    The last books I had to wiki my way to understand were The Sandman series and those are just graphic novels. Go figure. I’m sure it’s not as bad as Faulkner’s though.

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, That is a very good point. I guess the three star rating is to reflect the fact that I’m pleased I read it. The Sound and the Fury is a classic that has been used as the basis for many more modern novels. I can see the way it has influenced several things and so it has given me a greater understanding of other books.

      The same may become true for Wolf Hall in the future, but for now WH is a one off with no influence on our culture. I also didn’t have a study guide to help! Finishing WH would have been a chore with no greater benefit. Does that make sense?

  23. Marieke says:

    Faulkner does tend to be one of those ‘English class’ authors… I read Absalom, Absalom in college. I remember the prose somehow working on my brain until it started to make sense, but it took a while. Sounds like Ulysses would be a similar challenge! Congrats on getting through this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Marieke, Definitely an English class author! The Sound and The Fury is very similar to Ulysses in terms of understandability, but Ulysses is far longer – a much bigger challenge that I hope to complete one day :-)

  24. LizF says:

    I haven’t read any Faulkner and if this is anything to go by, I don’t think that I will be remedying that any time soon.
    Well done you for getting through it – I just don’t think I have the right sort of brain to cope with it and I certainly don’t have the patience any more.
    Haven’t read Ulysses either mainly because I had to study Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for A-Level light years ago and hated it with a passion!

    1. Jackie says:

      LizF, I started to read Ulysses last year, but I think I only managed about 70 pages. I do hope to finish it at some point, but have no idea when that will be! Perhaps you’ll find some more patience one day?

  25. I haven’t read any Faulkner, but this novel has been featured prominently in a recent storyline on one of my favorite tv shows, Parenthood, and I’ve been thinking of reading it. Thanks for a timely review reminding me that classics may well be classics, but I like to enjoy my literary fiction and form emotional attachments to it.

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, I don’t think we get Parenthood in the UK, but it is that sort of reference that makes me glad I made it through a book like this. I couldn’t read many in one year though – I’m off to read a book I can develop an emotional attachment to!

  26. JoV says:

    I too use Wikipedia to find out more about books that I don’t understand. And then I come out wondering “hmm how did this people get it and I don’t?” ;)

    These days I think if an author can’t make a wider circle of readers get it, it won’t be up there on the long running bestseller list! exclude those books who are picked by book judges though.

  27. Kathleen says:

    I’m so glad to know I am not the only one who struggled with this one. If you haven’t read any of his other work, I can recommend As I Lay Dying.

  28. I really admire your persistence with these tough books! We all know my recent track record with this. Ahem. I think you’re right that you have to approach these as if you’re studying them…although I feel like I need to get out of the university mindset for now, as that’s what actually got me out of reading for fun for a while (shocking, I know!).

    If there’s one thing ebooks will bring us, maybe it can be instant footnotes and reading guides that make this kind of reading less tedious and more rewarding.

  29. Iris says:

    This sounds like a book I am not ready to try just yet.

  30. I have previously given up on this book because of the much-needed effort. I salute you for finishing it though. I feel like I’ll like it when I’ve finished it. Just couldn’t get through the first part. Maybe I’ll try it again someday, but not in the near future.

  31. Matt says:

    I remember reading this novel in college. It was only through study notes provided by teaching assistant that I barely finished it. Consider the time it was written, the book truly adopts an experimental style which deprives the pleasure of reading for most. I’d love to re-visit, and take my time to dissect the paragraphs. :)

  32. I took a special topics English class in college on William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. Both Southern authors, but very different styles. I remember really enjoying Faulkner’s style and use of language. However, The Sound and The Fury was definitely the most difficult out of the ones I read. We also read Sanctuary (the most ‘straightforward’ of the ones I read), Light in August, and Absalom! Absalom! I think Absalom! Absalom! was my favorite and Quentin from The Sound and The Fury, has a sort of cameo in it, if I recall correctly.


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