Have you ever been to Yoknapatawpha County? Probably not – since it’s a place which only existed in the mind of William Faulkner.
And that’s the place where “The Sound and the Fury” comes from – one of the best and most haunting novels ever written in the history of literature.
Who Should Read “The Sound and the Fury”? And Why?
Let us warn you straight away: “The Sound and the Fury” is not an easy read.
In fact, few books require as much mental energy and dedication as this little gem of a book.
However – and how many things there are in life for which you can say this? – it’s totally worth it!
So, people interested in reading difficult books and writing a lot of stuff on their margins – this is your Disneyland. As for the rest – it’s probably better that you prepare a bit before embarking on the journey that is “The Sound and the Fury.”
And this summary is certainly a great first step of your preparatory process.
William Faulkner Biography
William Faulkner was an American writer, possibly the greatest and the most celebrated in the history of the literature of the American South.
In fact, he’s the only Mississippi-born author to have ever won the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he did in 1949.
Five years later, his novel “A Fable” won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and in 1962 “The Reivers” made him one of only three writers to win two Pulitzer Prizes in that category (after Booth Tarkington and before John Updike).
However, neither of these novels can compare in both fame and critical acclaim to his earlier works, such as “The Sound and the Fury,” “As I Lay Dying,” “Light in August” and “Absalom, Absalom!” – all set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County and all considered masterpieces of the highest order.
His short story “A Rose for Emily” enjoys similar status.
Attempting to summarize “The Sound and the Fury” is much the same as attempting to glue together a broken vase.
It will take you a lot of time and effort, and you’ll probably end up with nothing even remotely similar to the original.
No matter how hard you try.
James Franco found out this the hard way when he attempted to adapt this book for the screen:
No one thinks he did a good job – possibly because everybody knew that “The Sound and the Fury” is practically unadaptable from the start.
At least when they tried adapting the book the first time in 1959, they didn’t even care about what William Faulkner actually wrote.
And what is that?
And why is it so difficult to present it in the form of a movie?
Well, on the surface, “The Sound and the Fury” should be a fairly simple book.
It’s set in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi and it centers on the Compson family – both fictional when first designed by Faulkner, but now more real than the real town you’re living in and the real family you belong to.
Just like Maycomb, Alabama and the Finches.
The South is filled with fictional towns and people, it seems!
Anyway, just like many of the books we’ve summarized till now – and many others written so far – “The Sound and the Fury” is about few men fixated with on
But didn’t we say above that it’s about the Compson family?
Then, who are these three men?
They are the three Compson brothers, Benjamin, Quentin and Jason, telling it all about how often they think about their sister Caddy in three different sections set on April 7, 1928, June 2, 1910, and April 6, 1928.
And there’s a fourth section, set a day after the first one (April 8, 1928), where an unnamed omniscient narrator tells the rest of the story, mainly focusing on Dilsey Gibson, the matriarch servant of the Compson family.
So, you already know two things: the Compsons are rich, and Dilsey is black.
Make it three things:
We forgot that we kind of already implied that the Compson family is a seriously messed up bunch.
Part 1: April 7, 1928
This section is narrated by Benjamin “Benjy” Compson, the youngest son of the Compson family.
Also: a source of shame for the Compsons, since he is mentally-handicapped and acts as if he’s three years old even though he’s 33.
And you know how three-year-old children are: they aren’t exactly great with telling stories chronologically or familiar with concepts such as linearity.
So, basically, you’ll need about half a month to understand what’s happening in this first section.
Also: you’ll never forget how artfully and skillfully it is related by Faulkner – but you’ll certainly understand why Faulkner wanted to publish this book in different-colored fonts!
Which reminds us – if you’re reading the book for the first time, use this wonderful hypertext edition.
You’ll thank us later.
Anyway, the most important things you’ll get from this section is that, for Benjy, time doesn’t work the way it works for the rest of the world.
For him, it has stopped back when he and his siblings played together during their grandmothers funeral and when the Compson brothers noticed that their sister Caddy’s underwear was muddy.
It’s, of course, symbolic: you’ll understand better once we get to section 2.
Benjy cares only about few things in life, most noticeably about golf and Caddy – the only one (besides Dilsey) who truly cared for him before being banished from the family.
Because his husband divorced her once he found out that her child is not his.
Because golfers have caddies, and Benjy likes the sound of it.
But, the Comptons don’t even have a golf field anymore, since it had to sell Benjy’s favorite pasture to earn some money for Quentin’s Harvard education.
Which brings us to –
Part 2: June 2, 1910
Quentin is the total opposite of Benjy – in that he’s the most intelligent of the Compson children and… well, that’s about it!
Because, other than that, he’s no different than Benjy whatsoever: he has one obsession in life, and that obsession is his sister, Caddy.
The reason why his story is dated 18 years before the rest of the stories is because if it was told any day later, Faulkner would have had to invent a style for a dead man!
Yup – June 2, 1910, is the last day of Quentin’s life!
It happens during his freshman year at Harvard, and we follow him wandering through the streets of Cambridge thinking about Caddy and the meaninglessness of his life.
We’ve all been there Quentin.
It all passes.
You know what they say – time heals all.
The good news is that that’s exactly what his father tells him at the very beginning of this section:
When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.
The bad news is twofold:
First of all, time has helped Quentin not a bit.
And secondly, it helps readers even less, since if the first section is a half-a-month read, the second is at least twice as long.
It’s fairly difficult to discern what is past and what is present in the case of Quentin, and Faulkner makes it even more difficult by using hardly any interpunction and writing sentences the grammar of which would have surely gotten us an F – in kindergarten!
Anyway, Quentin believes in innocence and chivalry, so we’re off to a replication of 1898 and Caddy’s muddy underwear.
If that stopped time for Benjy, the real-life counterpart of this symbolic event destroyed time and life and everything altogether for Quentin.
He just can’t bear the fact that Caddy lost her virginity – and to a man she’s not even sure the identity of.
It’s probably a college friend of his called Dalton Ames.
Plan A (or C – depends on who you ask):
Fight Dalton Ames.
Quentin loses disgracefully.
Plan B (or A – according to most):
Claim the child!
What we just wrote.
Because to Quentin, claiming that he had an incestuous relationship with her sister – which he actually does, but his father doesn’t believe him – is better than knowing that Caddy slept with some random guy.
You know what happens in the end:
Quentin is too fragile to endure the burden of having a promiscuous sister. And loving her much more than the allowed amount.
So – on to plan C:
Unlike the first two, this one works.
Part 3: April 6, 1928
Benjy and Quentin may be mad, but you can’t help but feel some sympathy for them.
You’ll probably feel none of it for Jason, the third Compton brother and his mother Caroline’s favorite child.
We can’t really discern why, because all he cares about is money.
And during April 6, 1928 (Good Friday) he does about a hundred deeds you’ll have trouble following, let alone understanding.
Fear not: we mean this strictly metaphorically.
For a change, you’ll have no problems understanding this part, since, unlike his brothers, Jason is sane and the part is told in linear fashion.
Anyway, after his father’s death, Jason should be the economic foundation of the Comptons which explains why the Compton family is financially falling apart.
During the course of this day only, Jason forges a check from Caddy since he’s the guardian of her daughter Quentin – yup, that’s right: named after her brother! – scams Quentin out of fifty dollars and loses a lot of money at the stock exchange.
Also – he treats Dilsey as you’d probably never even treat an animal.
The Sound and the Fury Epilogue
Part 4: April 8, 1928
It’s Easter Sunday, and Faulkner has finally decided to show up for work, telling a story the good old way, from a third person omniscient point of view.
And, suddenly, all that action from before goes all but mute.
We hear a lot about Dilsey’s regular day work with Benjy, and her loyalty to a family which berates her on a daily basis and, mostly, that’s about it.
We also learn that the Jason/Quentin dynamics has escalated in previously unforeseen directions.
Namely, Miss Quentin has discovered Jason’s money, stole it and run away with some guy from the circus.
An apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, doesn’t it?
“Jason’s money” is not actually the right formulation, since part of it should have been hers – given by Caddy for that specific purpose.
That’s why Jason can’t even alarm the police properly.
And he chases Miss Quentin himself.
To no avail.
Meanwhile, Luster, Dilsey’s grandchild takes Benjy down a different than regular route, which makes Benjy mad and he starts to cry uncontrollably.
Jason hits Luster and manages to quiet Benjy.
Once again – order is restored.
Except it isn’t.
And it never was any to be restored.
Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app, for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.
“The Sound and the Fury PDF Quotes”I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire... I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it. Click To Tweet No battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools. Click To Tweet It's not when you realize that nothing can help you - religion, pride, anything - it's when you realize that you don't need any aid. Click To Tweet A man is the sum of his misfortunes. One day you'd think misfortune would get tired but then time is your misfortune. Click To Tweet I'd have wasted a lot of time and trouble before I learned that the best way to take all people, black or white, is to take them for what they think they are, then leave them alone. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Not many writers can say that they have three novels included in the list of the 100 best in the English language.
Well, William Faulkner is one of them.
And of the three Faulkner novels included in that list, the highest-rated is “The Sound and the Fury,” standing at number 6.
You’ve read that right!
A respected editorial board considers “The Sound and the Fury” the 6th best novel of the 20th century.
And who are we to say anything different?
Naturally, we’ll not.
Especially since it’s one of our favorite novels.