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In The Sound and the Fury The Sound and the Fury has been seen as an “example par excellence of modernist American fiction” (Cohen). Its publication represented a watershed in American literature as it introduced several modernist techniques among which: the destruction of chronological order, the division of the perspectives, the increased number of narrators, the free association technique, the stream of consciousness.
I have selected three fragments from the first three sections of the novel in order to highlight some of these new literary devices.
Each fragment represents the responding narrator point of view about the event that marked the beginning of the decline of the Compton family-cicada’s flagrantly loss. The first fragment comes from the section “April 7th, 1928” where gradually we find out about the Compton tragedy.
The narrator- Benny a youngest son of the family, also a thirty-three year man afflicted by Idiocy-has no concept of time or morality. Thus in his narration the present and the past fuse in indiscernible ways making the comprehension of the plot difficult to follow.
Beings memories are blending with the present happenings or amalgamate with each other. The events re narrated in the present tense which renders whatever claim of chronology futile. He says that he could “hear the fire and the roof” and then he could “could hear Caddy walking fast” (Faulkner) in this way the clear shift from one memory to another is obscure.
This is another innovative technique Faulkner used creating an apparent continuity on the surface of the narration by repenting certain phrases from one scene to another, a sort of harmony in chaos.
Beside the fragmentation of the traditional linear time, the author resort to another modernist device In order to capture the reader’s attention: he doesn’t fully epic’s the events, he only alludes at them, we are only witnessing the characters reaction to them. For example, Benny, despite his idiocy, can sense that something bad has happened as soon as Caddy comes home, walking fast: “We could hear Caddy walking fast. Father and Mother looked at the door. Caddy passed it, walking fast. She didn’t look. She walked fast. (Faulkner) However we cannot tell what that thing is, we are left to imagine it, to conjecture it. We are only seeing Penny’s and Cicada’s reaction to it: Her eyes flew at me, and away. I began to cry. It went loud and I got up. Caddy came in and stood with her back to the wall, looking at me. Went toward her, crying, and she shrank against the wall and I saw her yes and I cried louder and pulled at her dress. She put her hands out but I pulled at her dress. Her eyes ran. We were in the hall. Caddy was still looking at me. Her hand was against her mount Ana I saw near eyes Ana I cereal. Faulkner) I en event AT cay’s loss AT flagrantly is never narrated, this omission only adding to the increased ambiguity of the novel. Despite the fact that it is not conspicuously delineated all major characters relate o it some way or another, for it has a crucial role in the development of the plot. It also appears in the second section of the novel “June 2nd, 1910” narrated by Question the eldest brother. He goes to Harvard to complete his education but being deeply marked by the promiscuity and consequent fall of his sister, commit suicide.
In this section we get a glimpse of the story from his perspective. Even though the present- day of this section is almost eighteen years prior to the present-day of Penny’s section, it nevertheless follows roughly the chronological development of the novel, for while any of Beings recollections are of their early childhood, most of Question’s flashbacks record their adolescence, particularly Caddy dawning sexuality and its consequences on the family name and honor. Contrary to Benny, Question is aware of time and can differentiate between present and past, between memories and present events.
However he too, seems obsessed with the past and frequently lasses into reminiscing anterior events. The flashbacks hurl Question in complicated abstract thinking about honor, motivation, sin, guilt, to conceptualize ideals. Faulkner uses the stream of consciousness technique in order o depict Question point of view, thoughts, or sensory feelings. The associative processes, the leaps in syntax, the omission of punctuation- all modernist literary devices- turn Question’s narration into a true challenge for the reader,as the coherence and cohesion of the text are discarded.
For example in a single block of text a past conversation with Caddy is intertwined with the recollection of the circumstances of her loss of virginity and with the outer events of present time: Sold the pasture His white shirt was motionless in the fork, in the flickering shade. The wheels were spidery. Beneath the sag of the buggy the hooves neatly rapid like the motions off lady doing embroidery, diminishing without progress like a figure on a treadmill being drawn rapidly offstage.
Sold the pasture Father will be dead in a year they say if he doesn’t stop drinking and he wont stop he can stop since I since last summer and then they’ll send Benny to Jackson I can cry I can even cry one minute she was standing in the door the next minute he was pulling at her dress and bellowing his voice hammered back and forth between the walls in waves and she shrinking against the wall getting smaller and mailer[… ] (Faulkner). Question still feels pride in his family’s noble and glorious past but also recognizes that today that past is crumbling away.
Confronted with his father cynicism and nihilism who advice him not to take so serious Caddy pregnancy, and who also implies that his horror is due only to his own virginity, a useless concept invented by men; and with Caddy sexual promiscuity- a blatant violation of the ideal of femininity found in his Southern code of honor- he escapes time in the only way he can that is by drowning himself. In his perspective, death is the only way o redeem the sin which his sister had committed, but as he cannot carry out the suicidal pact with Caddy, he does it all by himself.
In the end he is an idealist, cast in an decrepit and crumbling world, willing to die for his ideas. I en Tanta part AT ten KICK ” April ton BIBB” Is narrated Dye Jason ten toner Trotter AT the Compton family. Unlike his brothers, Jason is much more focused on the present, offering fewer flashbacks and less abstract thoughts. The section has the closest form of a traditional novel, as the story is narrated in a more or less chronological order ND the character’s ideas and thoughts are far less complicated than those in the first two section of the novel.
This is only Faulkner way to allude at his characters’ psychology: if Question is concerned with highbrow ideals and concepts, Jason is more pragmatic and down-to-earth. His narrative doesn’t include endless remembrance of the past. He takes into consideration previous circumstances only if they have an effect on present time. Still he is unable to escape his family legacy, as he is the only sane male member of the Compton family, he has to take the paper of the head of the family.
From this position “he tyrannically compensate for the suffering of his childhood by persecution of his young niece, Caddie’s daughter, Question, by petty thievery, by deception practiced against his weak mother” (Scott), by meanest torment toward his negro employees. In a bitter tone and devious way he recollects the past which shaped his present: the sale of the pasture in order to pay for Question tuition at Harvard who killed himself, the loss of the Job as a bankers at Herbert bank, Cicada’s husband who retracted the offer when he found out about Cicada’s promiscuity: Well, Jason likes work.
I says no I never had university advantages because at Harvard they teach you how to go for a swim at night without knowing how to swim Then when she sent Question home for me to feed too I says I guess that’s right too, instead of me having to go way up north for a Job they sent the Job down here to (Faulkner) From this section we can see that Jason holds Caddy responsible for the family and his own downfall. In his opinion her first mistake was the thing which triggered the whole series of tragedies that befallen them and that eventually led to the disastrous end of the Compton lineage.
Even though the three different perspective stand apart they are only three distinct lights shed on one and the same event, three different focal points. Penny’s perspective can be considerate as objective as he does not give any interpretation or Judgment upon the things unfolding before his eyes. On the contrary Question’s and Season’s perspectives are Judgmental, subjective. So which of them is the right one? We could ask. The answer is none and all. But this is exactly what the author is trying to do : to show a multi-faceted truth. To exemplify the modernist criterion which asserted the death of one absolute truth.