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The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Sound and the Fury

author  William Faulkner

type of work  Novel

genre  Modernist novel

language  English

time and place written  1928; Oxford, Mississippi

date of first publication  1929

publisher  Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith

narrator  The story 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.

point of view  Benjy, Quentin, and Jason narrate in the first person, as participants. They narrate in a stream of consciousness style, attentive to events going on around them in the present, but frequently returning to memories from the past. The final section is narrated in third-person omniscient.

tone  The world outside the minds of the narrators slowly unravels through personal thoughts, memories, and observations. The tone differs in each chapter, depending on the narrator.

tense  Present and past

setting (time)  Three of the chapters are set during Easter weekend, 1928, while Quentin’s section is set in June, 1910. However, the memories the narrators recall within these sections cover the period from 1898 to 1928.

setting (place)  Jefferson, Mississippi, and Cambridge, Massachusetts (Harvard University)

protagonist  The four Compson children: Caddy, Quentin, Benjy, and Jason

major conflict  The aristocratic Compson family’s long fall from grace and struggle to maintain its distinguished legacy. This conflict is manifest in Caddy’s promiscuity, her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, her short marriage, and the ensuing setbacks and deaths that her family members suffer.

rising action  Caddy’s climbing of a tree with muddy drawers; Benjy’s name change; Caddy’s pregnancy and wedding; Quentin’s suicide; Benjy’s castration; Mr. Compson’s death from alcoholism

climax  Miss Quentin’s theft of Jason’s money, and her elopement with the man with the red tie

falling action  Dilsey’s taking Benjy to Easter Sunday service and Benjy’s trip to the cemetery

themes  The corruption of Southern aristocratic values; resurrection and renewal; the failure of language and narrative

motifs  Time; order and chaos; shadows; objectivity and subjectivity

symbols  Water; Quentin’s watch; Caddy’s muddy underclothes; Caddy’s perfume

foreshadowing  Caddy’s muddy drawers when she climbs the pear tree foretell an inevitable dirtying of the Compson name that will never wash away.