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The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury


by William Faulkner

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type : None

So you wanted a basic plot analysis, huh? Sorry. You’re reading the wrong book, pal. Come on, did you think this was the nineteenth century? Modernists hate easy plots.

In case we forgot to mention it, The Sound and the Fury breaks most conventions. Following a logical plot just isn’t one of those conventions to which it chooses to adhere. After all, with sections that jump from 1928 to 1910 and back to 1928, it’s hard to figure out what "progress" actually means. As another Faulkner character once said, "The past is never dead. It isn’t even past." (That’s Gavin Stevens in Requiem for a Nun). In a lot of ways, the main actions of this novel occur before the first page was ever written. It arcs backwards, carrying its characters (and, of course, us readers) with it.

So, what do we do with the fact that there’s no discernable plot here? Well, for one thing, time actually does pass…it’s just that characters aren’t willing to live in the present. If we compare The Sound and the Fury with another modernist juggernaut, Ulysses, for example, we realize just how sprawling Faulkner’s timeline is. Ulysses takes place over the course of a single day. The Sound and the Fury, on the other hand, seems to reach back into the past forever.

Moreover, things actually do happen. The stock market crashes, a sister runs away, and a son kills himself. All in all, it’s got the makings of a fairly decent tragedy. (After all, tragedies are when bad stuff happens, right?) Well, yes. And no. We told you that modernists rarely had simple answers. See, your typical tragedy starts in a fairly happy place. Think about Macbeth: life’s not the greatest in Scotland, but then again, it’s not so awful either. Only later does the world fall apart.

That’s where Faulkner separates his novel from the typical tragedy. Sure, the Compson family falls apart. And sure, you’ve got the sorts of death, destruction, and universal unhappiness that you’d expect from a tragedy. But here’s the kicker: the novel starts out in a crummy place. Don’t get us wrong: you could argue that things actually do get worse over the course of the novel. (Go ahead. We dare you.) You might even be right. In our opinion, though, things started going downhill when Caddy left. As we can see (or, wait – as we don’t see), that’s long before the novel actually starts on page one.

What’re we left with, then? Well, a new form for the novel. That’s why folks liked Faulkner so much: he carried on the tradition started by James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and the other modernist folk. More importantly, he does it in a way that speaks to the emotional import of American landscapes. What Joyce does for Dublin, Faulkner does for the South.

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