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The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury

by William Faulkner

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Benjy grieves for the loss of Caddy and his land.

OK, we know that The Sound and the Fury has a totally screwy plot structure. In fact, we’re not sure that we can make it fit into a classic plot analysis. But we’ll give it a try. Here’s the first point: we know Benjy’s grieving (or "blubbering"), but we don’t figure out why until much later in the novel. What we do know, however, is that Benjy’s life revolves around the land he lives on and the memories of his childhood. Time seems to have stopped.

Conflict

Caddy gets pregnant and marries the first man she can find.

Well, this isn’t really playing fair, either. After all, Caddy’s pregnancy and marriage aren’t really narrated. (They do get mentioned several times in Quentin’s section, but the memories are so disjointed that it’s hard to figure out what he’s talking about.) We’d like to argue, however, that Caddy’s pregnancy and marriage are the root of all the problems for the Compson siblings. Caddy marries and goes away, leaving Quentin, Benjy and Jason in her wake. Dealing with the sorrow of her loss and the anger her sexuality occasions consumes all of her brothers. Each deals with Caddy in different ways, but their narratives all circle around their own relationships with their sister.

Complication

Mrs. Compson banishes Caddy and refuses to mention her name.

Determined to uphold genteel conventions, Mrs. Compson puts on mourning when she finds out the Caddy kissed a boy (at age fifteen, no less). Once Caddy gets pregnant, she pushes her into a quick (and loveless) marriage. This is bad enough – but Mrs. Compson’s ideas of chastity and sin, while excessive, manage to influence the rest of her family deeply. Trapped in the paradoxical non-state of virginity, Quentin can’t understand Caddy’s sexuality but feels obliged to protect her against everything. Caddy herself is convinced that she’s a ruined woman, damned to hell. Even Jason uses his mother’s logic to dismiss Caddy as a "bitch."

Climax

Quentin contemplates suicide and announces that he’s committed incest.

Quentin’s attempts to deal with his sister’s sexuality are perhaps the most confused – and thus the most interesting – of all of the three brothers. (Feel free to argue with us here. We’re actually pretty sure that Benjy’s response is just as interesting.) He’s convinced that he’s got to save his sister. Here’s the problem: she won’t be saved. Maybe if he says that he’s had sex with her? Well, unfortunately, that doesn’t solve much. It turns out that nobody believes him – especially Caddy. Convinced that his world is over, Quentin jumps into the river.

Suspense

Nope

Sorry. There’s not much suspense. Because we jump between the past and the present so often (and so confusingly), most of the major actions are revealed before we actually figure out what they mean. For example: we know that Benjy’s field has become a golf course on page one. We just don’t know that the golf course was once Benjy’s field until much, much later. If there is any suspense, it’s of a formal quality: will Faulkner make all his characters’ narratives fit together? Do we really understand what’s going on?

Denouement

Quentin runs away

Quentin (that’s the girl, mind you) manages to escape from the clutches of her mean, thieving uncle. She runs off with a slick, oily circus man. It’s a perfect ending, right? Well, except for the fact that Quentin seems pretty unhappy the entire time. We could be happy that the next generation of Compsons has managed to get away from the clutches of Mrs. Compson, with her repressed notions of sexuality. Then again, Quentin’s future doesn’t look all that great. It’s almost an ending – except that Faulkner chooses to include another section after Jason’s, making it impossible to consider this the final chapter of the Compson story.

Conclusion

Dilsey finds peace at church.

What? Weren’t we talking about Caddy and the Compsons? Well, yes. So what’s going on here? For one thing, Dilsey really is a part of the Compson family, even if she doesn’t share their name. If Caddy’s the heart of the family, Dilsey is its hands. She runs the house, raises the children, and tends to the fallout of everyone’s emotions. It’s pretty obvious that none of the Compsons are ever going to find any sort of peace or rest…and after all, isn’t that what conclusions are about? Instead, Faulkner pulls a nifty trick. He turns our attention to Dilsey, the woman whose narrative has been a rather minor thread in the other narratives.

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