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ART, English, Faulkner William, Literature

The sound and the Fury – William Faulkner / Ben Shahn

Shahn___Sunday_Afternoon1949

“The saddest thing about love, Joe, is that not only love cannot last forever, but even the heartbreak os also forgotten”

William Faulkner

The title of the novel is taken from Macbeth’s famous soliloquy of act 5, scene 5 ofWilliam Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Immediately obvious is the notion of a “tale told by an idiot”, in this case Benjy, whose view of the Compsons’ story opens the novel. The idea can be extended also to Quentin and Jason, whose narratives display their own varieties of idiocy. More to the point, the novel recounts the decline and death of a traditional upper-class Southern family, “the way to dusty death”. The last line is, perhaps, the most meaningful; Faulkner said in his speech upon being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature that people must write about things that come from the heart, “universal truths.” Otherwise they signify nothing.

Immediately obvious is the notion of a “tale told by an idiot”, in this case Benjy, whose view of the Compsons’ story opens the novel. The idea can be extended also to Quentin and Jason, whose narratives display their own varieties of idiocy. More to the point, the novel recounts the decline and death of a traditional upper-class Southern family, “the way to dusty death”. The last line is, perhaps, the most meaningful; Faulkner said in his speech upon being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature that people must write about things that come from the heart, “universal truths.” Otherwise they signify nothing.

“…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. 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 Sound and the Fury is set in Jefferson, Mississippi. The novel centers on the Compson family, former Southern aristocrats who are struggling to deal with the dissolution of their family and its reputation. Over the course of the 30 years or so related in the novel, the family falls into financial ruin, loses its religious faith and the respect of the town of Jefferson, and many of them die tragically. The novel is separated into four distinct sections. The first, April 7th, 1928, is written from the perspective of Benjamin “Benjy” Compson, a cognitively disabled 33-year-old man. The characteristics of his disease are not clear, but it is hinted that he suffers from mental retardation. Benjy’s section is characterized by a highly disjointed narrative style with frequent chronological leaps. The second section, June 2, 1910, focuses on Quentin Compson, Benjy’s older brother, and the events leading up to his suicide. In the third section, April 6, 1928, Faulkner writes from the point of view of Jason, Quentin’s cynical younger brother. In the fourth and final section, set a day after the first, on April 8, 1928, Faulkner introduces a third person omniscient point of view. The last section primarily focuses on Dilsey, one of the Compson’s black servants. Jason is also a focus in the section, but Faulkner presents glimpses of the thoughts and deeds of everyone in the family.

The reader may also wish to look in The Portable Faulkner for a four-page history of the Compson family. Faulkner said afterwards that he wished he had written the history at the same time he wrote The Sound and the Fury.

Image: Ben Shahn : “Sunday Afternoon 1949”

Ben Shahn (September 12, 1898 – March 14, 1969) was a Lithuanian-born Americanartist. He is best known for his works of social realism, his left-wing political views, and his series of lectures published as The Shape of Content.

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Discussion

One thought on “The sound and the Fury – William Faulkner / Ben Shahn

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    Posted by Neville | June 9, 2015, 12:07 pm

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