Literature10 Apr 2010 07:43 pm
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5.
When The Modern Library released its definitive list of the “100 Best” novels of the 20th century published in the English language, William Faulkner’s fourth novel, The Sound and the Fury was ranked an impressive #6. (For the curious, Faulkner’s masterpiece was only preceded by Aldous Huxley’s, Brave New World (#5); Vladimir Nabokov’s, Lolita (#4); James Joyce’s, A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man (#3); F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby (#2) and James Joyce’s, Ulysses (#1)).
Despite its vaunted place in the literary pantheon, the groundbreaking novel was initially met with lukewarm sales when it was published in 1929. However, after the publication of Faulkner’s fifth novel, Sanctuary— a sensationalist story which Faulkner later claimed was written only for money — The Sound and the Fury also began to sell briskly, and the long-ignored literary great finally began to receive critical accolades.
The Sound and the Fury is the story of the fall of the Compson family, a bourgeois Jackson, Mississippi family in the early 1900′s. The novel is told in four chapters by four different narrators: Benjy, the youngest Compson son; Quentin, the oldest son; Jason, the middle son; and Faulkner himself, acting as an omniscient, third-person narrator who focuses on Dilsey, the Compsons’ servant. Faulkner employs the use of many narrative styles, including “stream of consciousness” a narrative style that was developed by a group of talented European novelists in the early part of the 20th century, including such luminaries as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
These authors were interested in exploring new ways of conveying the inner lives of their characters. This style aims to create the impression that the reader is eavesdropping on the flow of thoughts in the character’s mind, by closely mirroring the unfiltered and disjointed way that people actually think. Faulkner took the title of the novel from the above passage in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as the novel focuses on the decline and death of a traditional upper-class Southern family, “the way to dusty death”.
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