Study Guide

The Sound and the Fury Summary

By William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury Summary

The Compson family is falling apart. The kids run wild, the mother locks herself in her bedroom with a hot water bottle and her Bible, and the father locks himself in the den with a nice big bottle of whiskey. In other words, life isn’t exactly the sunniest. Not to worry, though: it can always get worse.

The Sound and the Fury cycles through the first-person narratives of three Compson children as they remember their childhood, and mourn the loss of their sister Caddy. Benjy, the first narrator of the novel, is mentally-handicapped and the youngest son of the family. He spends his days wandering around the edges of the family’s small-town Mississippi home, listening to the golfers across the way yell for their caddies. To Benjy’s ear, "caddie" sounds a whole lot like "Caddy," and so he thinks about all the times that Caddy played a huge part in his life. Since Caddy played a huge role in his life fairly frequently, his memories take a while to develop. Time warps backwards and forwards as Benjy’s memory gets going: we get his account of Caddy’s fierce independence and her blossoming sexuality.

Just when we’re getting lulled into Benjy’s mind and memories, however, Faulkner switches it all up. We wouldn’t want to get too comfortable, would we? Chapter Two lands us smack in the middle of Quentin Compson’s life eighteen years earlier. It’s 1910. Quentin has left Mississippi to attend Harvard University. Sounds like a totally different life from Benjy’s, right? Well, yes. And no. Like Benjy, Quentin is obsessed with Caddy. Like Benjy, he just can’t seem to get her out of his head. Unlike Benjy, however, Quentin has an agonizing sense of how time is passing. Breaking his father’s watch in a frantic attempt to stop time from ticking on, Quentin begins to move through the last day of his life.

The last day of his life? Well, yes. By the end of Quentin’s section, he’s on his way to jump into the river. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before his suicide, Quentin walks out of town into the country, helps a small girl, and gets beaten up by a college friend. Sounds like a straightforward day, right? Oh, but that would be forgetting Quentin’s past.

As he walks, all of the old agony Quentin felt when Caddy got pregnant – and when she got married – surfaces again. Desperate to stop Caddy from changing into a woman, Quentin even offers to claim that he’s committed incest with her. By his logic, sex with your brother is better than sex with random, unknown guys. No one seems to agree with Quentin, though. His plan is a bust. His family is falling apart. By the end of his chapter, his past and his present seem completely incompatible.

If you pity Quentin, you’ll love to hate Jason. Jason, the second-eldest of the Compson boys, begins his section of the novel in 1928. He’s a bitter, corrupt man whose hobbies include stealing from Caddy’s daughter and skipping out on his work. In the course of Jason’s day, he manages to scam Quentin (that’s Caddy’s daughter – not to be confused with her uncle Quentin) out of fifty dollars, forge a check from Caddy, berate Dilsey, the long-suffering servant of the family, and lose lots of money at the stock exchange. In other words, he’s a busy guy. Oh – he also chases Quentin (Jr.) around for a while. It seems that she’s run off with a circus man.

After the craziness of Jason’s day, the final section of the novel is a breath of fresh air. It follows Dilsey as she prepares breakfast for the day and heads off to church.

In between these events, of course, there’s a bit of good action: Quentin (Jr.) runs off, taking Jason’s treasure hoard with her. We may all cheer for Quentin, but Jason’s not all that happy about the turn of events. He tries to get the cops to run after her. For some reason, though, the cops seem to want to sit around and laugh at Jason. Maybe they like him as little as we do. Furious, Jason takes off on a manhunt all by himself.

Meanwhile, Dilsey heads to church, where a very unimpressive pastor manages to deliver an absolutely astounding sermon. Dilsey starts to cry. She recognizes Quentin’s disappearance for what it is – the end of the Compson family.

Jason tries to find Quentin (Jr.) and fails miserably. He does get to smack a little old man around, though. It makes him feel better. Meanwhile, Benjy goes out for his Sunday afternoon ride. When Luster, Dilsey’s grandson, takes the carriage out the wrong way, all hell breaks loose. Benjy loses it in the middle of town. He HATES changes in his routine. He starts bellowing; the carriage runs wild, and Jason himself has to step in to set things right. The novel ends with "order" restored: the carriage starts moving in the right direction, and Benjy watches calmly as everything passes by in the proper order.