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The Structure In The Sound And The Fury Essay, Research Paper
A Study of Structure in The Sound and the Fury
In his novel, The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner employs a unique
structural assembly to relay a compelling and complex plot to his readers. As he looked
upon this work as a failure in its own right, Faulkner revealed, ?…I wrote that same story
four times. None of them were right…so I printed it in four sections? (Millgate 89). His
intention upon writing this novel was not for the sole purpose of creating such a peculiar
organization, but simply to relate a short story of, as he put it, ?..a little girl with muddy
drawers? (Hoffman 73). As his work progressed, this divided narrative grew into an
almost enigmatic structural masterpiece. M.Coindreau speaks of the divisions as ?…four
movements of a symphony? (Millgate 91). These ?movements,? may not become
apparent to the reader during his first attempt, but as he begins to listen more carefully to
the pitch of Faulkner?s song, he becomes increasingly conscious of The Sound and the
Fury?s harmonious aura.
Critics of The Sound and the Fury are quick to note the scrambled botch of ideas
and statements that the reader is faced with in the first section of the novel. The second
narration is slightly more coherent but again contains vague concepts. However, once the
reader has become familiar with Faulkner?s technique, a more in depth look can be taken
into the similarities and differences between the two characters, Benjy. and Quentin. The
parallelism of the complex structure and other literary attributes within the first two
sections of The Sound and the Fury are further developed by looking at the relationships
between the contrasting points of view and varying levels of consciousness of Benjy and
The opening section of the novel is narrated from the perspective of the character
Benjy, a thirty three year old man whose mind is developed no further than one of a
child. The individual sentence structure is very simple. This does not mean that the
section is simple, but there are no difficult words because the vocabulary of an idiot
would naturally be elementary. The first words of Faulkner?s creation are said by Edel
to ?…take us into a bewildering world, as if we were traversing without pause the ages of
man-and in the wrong order? (100). This ?bewildering world? can be understood with
significantly more clarity when Faulkner?s ?stream-of -consciousness? technique is
identified and studied. In this method one idea or instance flows into another by the
relation of a person, place, or event. For example, in pages 1-3 of the novel, Benjy is
walking near a golf course. The images of the area and the voices of the golfers calling
for their caddies, remind him of a time almost twenty years prior, when he was taking a
walk in the same surroundings with his sister Caddy. The lack of a transition or any
other type of explication between these two instances cause the unprepared reader to
become confused and frustrated. Faulkner does, however, leave one clue that some form
of variance is occurring, as the type style changes to italics. Therefore, the reader must
be constantly aware of the type set and let it be an aid in understanding the novel. With
the discernment of the obscure ?stream? technique and the recognition of Faulkner?s
subtle hints, one begins to employ, as Edel calls it, ?…a new way of reading fiction?
(100). Also, stream-of-conciseness can be identified as a technique whereby the author
writes as though he is in the minds of the characters. Likewise, Benjy?s thought can be
interrupted halfway through a thought; sometimes he can return to it and sometimes it is
lost forever. The complexity of the structure of this initial section of the novel is
comparative to the one which ensues it. Thus, in the Benjy section everything is
presented through an apparently unorganized succession of images.
Quentin, the character who narrates the second section, as Benjy was the narrator
of the first, also produces a ?stream of consciousness? in telling his tale. However, in
contrast to Benjy, Quentin?s stream reveals voluntary and involuntary thoughts and
moves between these thoughts much more quickly. As this section progresses he
becomes more and more immersed in his voluntary thoughts, as Benjy was only
conscious of what came to him naturally. Faulkner builds upon the basic method and
combines it with other techniques. He reveals his character?s mind ?…interacting with
the outside world by using external incidents to either aspire or cut off an extended
memory? (Geismar 200). Faulkner also adopts techniques such as an episode of
hallucination, in which no real action occurs at all, for the presentation of a character,
?…whose tormented thoughts are in reality driving him to suicide? (Geismar 200). In the
conclusion of his section Quentin does commit suicide. Therein lies a tone of finality
which sheds negative light onto the stream-of-consciousness technique and its
self-destructive nature. Whereas Faulkner?s style is relatively incomplex in presenting
Benjy?s simple mind, when he turns to the intricate mind of Quentin his style changes
drastically. In Quentin?s section the reader finds long, complex, and difficult ideas.
Quentin is trying to solve complicated moral issues, therefore his section is more
complicated. Also, like Benjy?s, in the Quentin section everything is presented through
random ideas connected by association.
In both sections of The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner combines the use of first-
person narration with a decisively additional improvement provided by stream-of-
consciousness techniques. The first person technique forces each character to reveal
himself to the reader, thereby eliminating the possibility of inarticulateness. As an
example of this the novel states, ??Your name is Benjy .? Caddy said. ?Do you hear…?
Caddy lifted me under the arms.?? (75). This episode is relaying Caddy?s attempts at
communication with Benjy, who can only moan in reply. We are maneuvered by the
novelist into taking over all of Benjy?s senses ?…his eyes become our eyes, his sense of
smell is ours, his unique experience of the world around him is ours…though we retain, at
the same time, our own awareness? (Millgate 90). What Faulkner has achieved in the
Benjy section is a use of language to evoke more perceptions and feelings than the reader
has ever experienced in any other unpoetic prose.
In Quentin?s section of The Sound and the Fury the technique dominates, even
though Faulkner employs first person narration. Quentin?s past-tense reporting of the
external facts, functions like omniscient third-person narration, whom he himself
replaces. ?He took one look at her and knew that she was the one who loved him the
most in the world.?(Faulkner 124). Since a first-person narrator is not aware of others
thoughts and feelings unless they are directly revealed to that character, it can be
surmised that Quentin was at some times more representative of a omniscient narrator.
To report his character?s thoughts, Faulkner shifts to a direct reporting technique based
on the present tense. For example Quentin says, ?I don?t remember forgetting them. I
don?t remember how many chins Mrs. Bland has either? (Faulkner 175). Since he has
taken the place of omniscient narrator, all of the observations are thus limited to his
As narrator, Quentin attempts to describe objectively the environment and the
events around him. He does this even though his objectivity is nullified from the start by
his mind?s distortions. The apparent objectivity with which he begins each of the
opening paragraphs disintegrates almost immediately into a memory of a conversation
with his father. The first five paragraphs work this way, but the fifth becomes more
complicated as, Quentin inadvertently begins to reveal the ?stream? of his mind.
?Quentin?s patterns of association become involuntary, as several thoughts rush into his
mind at once, we the readers begin to relate our own consciousness to his, and come
upon the realization that we have more thoughts than we care to recognize?(Geismar
199). As Quentin, in effect, tries to impose a biased interpretation upon the reader, Benjy
does not interpret any situations or events.
Benjy?s observations do not pass through an intelligence which is capable of
ordering. Benjy?s simplistic and easily confused nature is evident in the statement, ?They
came on. I opened the gate and they stopped, turning. I was trying to say, and I caught
her…she screamed…and the bright shapes began to stop…?(64). Since this occurs before
the reader can understand the events, the section takes on a curious nature that leaves the
reader sometimes having to make what he can out of the fragments he was given. ?He
reports the events of which he is a spectator, and even those in which he himself is a
participator, with a camera-like fidelity? (Millgate 91). His view of Caddy is highly
personal, but the reader infers this view from the scenes that his camera-mind records.
He does not judge people himself, although he becomes the instrument by which the
other characters are judged. Benjy is the moral reflector of the novel because he can
sense things that no one else can. He knows when Quentin committed suicide, when
Caddy has been promiscuous, and he knows when his order, or pattern of existence is
violated. Benjy?s ability to sense things gives him a slightly wider view of the world that
is inaccessible to him through speech.
The time element in Faulkner?s work is as essential for the reader to understand
as his stream-of-consciousness technique. In Benjy?s section clock time is almost
completely disregarded, because Benjy himself is completely oblivious of time. He
makes no distinction between an event that happened only hours ago and one that
occurred years ago. Benjy?s memory of the branch scene when he was ten years old is as
vivid in his mind as something that just happened that morning twenty-two years later.
Sartre explains that ?In Faulkner?s work there is never any progression, never anything
which comes from the future? (Sartre 88). This is explained by that, if Benjy goes on a
walk with Caddy through his field in 1929, it is because he has done so since 1902. He is
as enthusiastic about this walk in 1929 as he was years earlier. The many years that
Caddy was not there to walk with him are non-existent to him because he remembers
only those events which made him happy. Faulkner displaces conventional time
chronicles in order to emphasize Benjy?s rejection of the difference between various
times and, more importantly, to show how actions of the past are important to Benjy
because they gave him pleasure. As Benjy is completely oblivious of time, Quentin
expends all his energy trying to understand time.
Quentin?s section can be simply regarded a time bomb ticking to its inevitable
blast. This fleeting and unimaginable immobility, can however, be arrested and
pondered. Quentin can say ?I broke my watch,? but when he says it his gesture is past.
The past takes on a sort of super-reality, with perimeters that are definite and
unchangeable. These perimeters are apt to disguise the present, and reappears only when
they themselves is past. Sartre concludes with the following excerpt:
The coming suicide which casts a shadow over Quentin?s
last day is not a human possibility; not for a second does
Quentin envisage not killing himself. This suicide is an
immobile wall, a thing which he approached backward,
and which he neither wants to nor can conceive.?(91)
Quentin is so concerned with this configuration of past events fixed in his mind
that the present to him has become submerged in the past . Also, that which is lived in the
present is also lived in the past because what was previously the present now is the past.
As these complex ideas are slightly confusing, the idea to keep in mind here is that
Quentin tries to stop time from passing, and the only way that he can accomplish this is
by committing suicide, which he carries out at the end of the section.
The Sound and the Fury, a tale narrated by four diverse characters, presents a
challenging task to a brave reader with the use of a complex structure and many different
literary motifs. With its extraordinary message of mind over matter it persuades one no to
give into the little things in life, like Quentin, but to face all obstacles, like Benjy, and to
look forward to each day as if it were one?s birthday.
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