In The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (Great American Things, September 30, 2010) returns to his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, where he shows the final destruction of the Old South through the dissolution of the once-prominent Compson family.
It’s a challenging book to read, told as it is in four sections and four points of view. The first section is narrated by the mentally handicapped Benjy Compson, and uses stream of consciousness that’s difficult to follow. The next section is told by Quentin Compson, a depressed Harvard student who’s tormented by his sister’s promiscuity and ends up committing suicide. The third section is also narrated by a Compson brother, this time Jason. It’s mostly linear and is therefore more easily understood. The last section employs a third-person, universal point of view.
The Sound and the Fury wasn’t a commercial success when published in 1929, but as Faulkner became better known, readers found this book. It’s a significant reason he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Modern Library ranked it as the sixth best novel of the twentieth century. As for the title, it’s derived from a soliloquy by Macbeth: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”