The Sound and the Fury
What’s Up With the Title?
We’ve got to hand it to Faulkner: the guy draws from only the best sources. Need a title? Might as well turn to the greatest author in the English language. (Shakespeare, in case you were wondering.) The Sound and the Fury is actually a reference to one of the most famous ending soliloquies in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. (Since Faulkner’s using lots of high-brow literary language, we here at Shmoop thought that we would, as well. After all, it’s only fair. "Oeuvre" is a French word that describes an author’s/creator’s entire body of work. If you’re a basketball player, all those sweet moves you’ve got might just be described as your oeuvre. Use that one to impress your folks. It’s on us.)
Back to Shakespeare and The Sound and the Fury, however; as we were saying, "sound and fury" comes from a very famous play. It’s from Macbeth, to be specific. As you probably guessed from reading Faulkner, he tends not to like comedy as much as he looooves a good tragedy. It’s probably fitting, then, that he chose to use Macbeth’s meditations on how his world has fallen apart at the end of the play.
In the quote that Faulkner adapts, Macbeth himself is thinking about how nothing seems to be worth anything anymore. Check the quote out below. In fact, we recommend reading it out loud to yourself. It’s a guaranteed way to send some shivers down the old spine. Because it’s just so, so good, we’ve quoted a large chunk of it for you here:
[Macbeth:] To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
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. (Macbeth, Act V, Scene v)
If you’re interested in learning more about Macbeth, check out Shmoop's coverage of Macbeth – or better yet, read the play yourself. Believe us, it’s every bit as blood-and-gore and horror-packed as any of Faulkner’s novels.
Why does Faulkner choose to appropriate some of the Shakespearean magic for his own work? Well, that’s the $10,000 question. We’re not completely sure why, but we have a few good hunches:
- Faulkner was pretty convinced that he was one of the world’s Great novelists. That’s Great with a capital g. The problem was that no one else seemed to recognize this yet. If you’re a young, aspiring novelist and you want to lay claim to greatness, how might you do it? Well, you could start by quoting the Bard himself. Sort of like Faulkner does.
- Macbeth is a play about a man’s world (and his family) falling completely apart. The Sound and the Fury is about several men’s worlds (and their family) falling completely apart. Notice any similarities? We thought so.
- Of course, the "tale told by an idiot" seems like a pretty clear reference to Benjy’s section of the novel. After all, he "bellows" all the time. Could he be the one that’s "full of sound and fury"? It seems pretty likely, right?
- Then again, Quentin’s not so brilliant in matters of the world, either. And Jason? Don’t get us started. In other words, determining just who Faulkner wants us to interpret as the "idiot" is a bit trickier than it might initially appear. We’re guessing that that’s precisely Faulkner’s point.
- One final thought: all that stuff about life meaning nothing and the world being full of gloom and doom is a pretty classically modernist stance. The modernist novel begins where most traditional tragedies end: with a world that seems impossible to put back into some sort of logical order. Words and actions mean nothing anymore. Characters are left to pick up the pieces of lives that just aren’t very significant. It’s not a very cheery prospect, we know, but The Sound and the Fury buys into a great deal of this gloom and doom. And heck, it still manages to be a pretty great novel.