The Sound and the Fury
Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. The opening section of The Sound and the Fury is considered one of the most challenging narratives in modern American literature. What makes this section so challenging?
2. Shortly after The Sound and the Fury was published, the noted critic Clifton Fadiman dismissed the novel, claiming that its themes were too “trivial” to deserve the elaborate craftsmanship Faulkner lavished on them. Many other critics have countered that the novel’s themes extend beyond the story of the Compson family specifically, and grapple with issues central to human life in general. In what way might the themes of the novel extend beyond the story of the Compsons’ decline?
3. Faulkner has said that the character of Caddy was his “heart’s darling”—her character inspired him to write the novel. Why is Caddy driven to pitfalls like promiscuity? What do you make of Mr. Compson’s explanation that virginity is an ideal invented by men, which is utterly irrelevant to women?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. One of the most wrenching sections of the novel is Quentin’s confrontation with Caddy following the loss of her virginity. What drives Quentin to propose mutual suicide and to conceive of the idea of incest as a solution to their problems? Even in the absence of sex between them, is there something incestuous about Quentin and Caddy’s relationship?
2. Compare and contrast the three major narrators of the novel: Benjy, Quentin, and Jason. How are their sections alike? How do they differ? What are the consequences of Faulkner’s decision not to introduce an easily readable chapter until the second half of the novel?
3. Think about Benjy’s character. What purpose, if any, does he serve beyond the novel’s opening section? Is he a believable character?
4. Perhaps the single most important theme in The Sound and the Fury is the presence of time in human life. How is that relationship explored throughout the four sections of the novel?
5. Why do you think the fourth section of The Sound and the Fury, the section focusing on Dilsey, is so technically different than the other three? For example, why would Faulkner write this section in the third person while the others are all written in the first person?
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