The Sound and the Fury | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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The Sound and the Fury | Plot Summary

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Summary

April Seventh, 1928

The Sound and the Fury opens with Benjy's narration, titled "April Seventh, 1928." Because Faulkner used the stream-of-consciousness technique in which readers experience the flow of thoughts through Benjy's mind, the narration of what is happening is interrupted repeatedly by Benjy's memories.

In the present, African American teenager Luster, charged with watching over Benjy, is preoccupied with finding a lost quarter so that he can go see the traveling show in town. He takes Benjy with him on the search, beginning along the fence separating the Compson property from a golf course. Benjy loves this route because he can hear the golfers yell, "Caddie!" The word reminds him of his beloved sister, Caddy. As the two continue around the property, places and objects trigger more memories for Benjy, often cascading like dominoes, one leading to the next without interruption.

His earliest memory at age three—the day his grandmother, Damuddy, dies—surfaces repeatedly. Benjy's next memories are linked to his name change. Until age five, his name was Maury, but when his mental disability became known, his parents changed his name to Benjamin so that sharing the disabled child's name with his Uncle Maury would not embarrass his uncle. Most of the other significant memories involve Caddy's evolving sexuality. Several of Benjy's memories originate from their childhood together through Caddy's wedding day in 1910—the day she leaves his life forever. Traumatic events, such as those leading up to his castration and the deaths of other people in his life, also appear as fragmented memories throughout this section. Scenes in the present reveal the stress in the Compson house, with constant bickering and infighting among its members, especially between Benjy's brother Jason and their niece, Miss Quentin. These arguments sometimes erupt in threats of physical violence from Benjy's brother Jason.

June Second, 1910

Set at and around Harvard University and titled "June Second, 1910," this part of the novel is narrated by Quentin. He awakens to the sound of his watch ticking and tries unsuccessfully to silence it by breaking it. He then packs his belongings in a trunk, dresses, and writes some letters before setting off on a series of errands. Readers soon realize that in doing this, Quentin is preparing to commit suicide. Quentin arranges for the letters to go to his father and to his roommate. He buys two heavy flatirons (large pieces of metal). He visits the Charles River twice. The second time, he goes to a rundown area where he hides the flatirons under a bridge.

Quentin's purposeful actions are interrupted when he talks with three boys who are fishing, followed by a long scene in which a young girl he meets in a bakery follows him in his wanderings. Quentin tries to find her home but ends up being attacked by the girl's brother, who thinks Quentin is trying to kidnap the girl. A constable arrests Quentin and takes him to see the town squire for judgment. Fortunately, Quentin encounters some Harvard friends who vouch for him, and the accusations are dismissed. He then gets in their car and enters a memory-laden reverie about his sister, Caddy, reliving his jealousy over her promiscuous relationships. He confuses the past and present and ends up hitting one of the men in the car as a result. Having bloodied his suit, Quentin must return to his room at Harvard to clean it before returning to the bridge where he plans to kill himself.

Quentin's memories revolve around his unhealthy relationship with his sister. He remembers Caddy's jealousy when he first pays attention to another girl, his extreme jealousy over all her involvements with men (with whom he often gets into fistfights), and a conversation with his father, in which Quentin claims falsely to have had an incestuous relationship with Caddy.

April Sixth, 1928

Jason's narrative in this section, "April Sixth, 1928," is fairly straightforward. Readers see how Jason typically operates, scheming to steal the money Caddy sends for the support of her daughter, Miss Quentin, insulting everyone he encounters, and moving along the regular paths that help him accomplish his distasteful deeds—from home to work to the bank and to the telegraph office.

As the morning begins, Jason and Miss Quentin argue, with Dilsey intervening to protect the girl from his threats of physical abuse. His mother, Caroline, whines and feels sorry for herself. The argument and threats continue as Jason takes Miss Quentin to school on his way to work. At his job, Jason focuses on four letters he has received rather than cooperating with his boss, Earl, or being fully engaged in work. Three of the letters involve money: one from his Uncle Maury, requesting funds, and two from Caddy, sending money to Miss Quentin and to their mother, Caroline, for her support. The fourth letter is from Lorraine, the mistress Jason keeps in Memphis. Much of Jason's day is taken up with the elaborate scheme he uses monthly to steal most of the money Caddy sends for Miss Quentin and with his visits to the telegraph office to check on his investments in the stock market.

Jason has managed to keep his mother, Caddy, and Miss Quentin from discovering his dishonesty for years. He takes pride in his cold deeds, such as denying Caddy access to her daughter and using money given to him by his mother for a fictitious investment, which he instead uses to buy himself a car. His belief in his own righteousness is further shown as he reveals the many sources of his rage and bitterness—his belief that his two older siblings have gotten all the family money, his disappointment with losing the job promised to him by Caddy's husband, his disgust at having incompetent parents, and so on.

On this day, Miss Quentin disrupts the normal flow of Jason's day with an unusual demand for money and with her blatant involvement with a male member of the traveling show. The latter causes Jason to engage in a car chase in pursuit of her and the man, following them into the country where they trick him by letting the air out of the tires on Jason's car. Thoroughly enraged, Jason is sure to make everyone at the Compson household miserable that evening. He demands that Miss Quentin and his mother come to dinner, even though they both plead to be left alone, then mercilessly picks on Miss Quentin throughout the meal. He taunts Luster by burning two tickets to a show Luster longs to attend right in front of him. Later, he is sarcastic and cruel toward his mother. In his bedroom, Jason counts the money in his money box and remembers the circumstances of his brother Benjy's castration.

April Eighth, 1928

Using an omniscient third-person narrator, Faulkner tells the story of "April Eighth, 1928." It's Easter morning, and someone has broken a window in Jason's room. Upon investigation, Jason learns that he has been robbed of the nearly $7,000 he has stolen from Caddy and their mother, and when he finds his niece gone and his empty cash box in her room, he knows Miss Quentin is the thief. She has taken the money and run off with a man from a traveling show. Jason spends his day furiously chasing after them without success.

Dilsey, who is the main focus of this part of the novel, spends Easter in a comforting way: taking care of everyone in both her family and the Compson family, going to church, and reflecting on the nature of existence. The story ends with Luster taking Benjy in the carriage for his weekly ride to the graveyard. Benjy bellows uncontrollably at the break in routine when Luster drives the wrong way around the town square. But then, crazed Jason, back in town, jumps into the carriage. He grabs the reins and steers it back to its usual direction. He hits both Luster and Benjy. Once the carriage is going the right way again, however, Benjy calms down.

The Sound and the Fury Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Quentin, Caddy, Benjy, and Jason Compson grow up together.

Rising Action

2 Benjy is mute and found to have a mental disability.

3 Teenage Caddy disgraces the family with early promiscuity.

4 Caddy becomes pregnant.

5 Caddy marries a man who is not the father of her child.

6 Caddy's husband discovers the truth and divorces her.

7 At Harvard, Quentin kills himself over Caddy's dishonor.

8 After his father dies, bitter Jason runs the household.

9 The Compsons raise Caddy's illegitimate daughter.

10 Jason steals money from his sister, mother, and niece.

Climax

11 Miss Quentin steals from Jason and runs away with a man.

Falling Action

12 Dilsey, Benjy, and Luster hear an Easter sermon at church.

13 Jason fails to catch Miss Quentin and becomes disempowered.

14 Luster scares Benjy driving the wrong way around the square.

Resolution

15 Jason sets the carriage back on course and Benjy calms down.

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