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The Sound and the Fury
By William Faulkner (1897-1962)
A Study Guide
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Time Shifts and Narration
Racial Mix and Race Relations
Type of Work
Year of Publication
Plot Summary
Strong Character
Prophetic Character
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About the Title
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Notes and Plot Summary by Michael J. Cummings...© 2007
Introduction: Faulkner’s Jigsaw Puzzle

.......In The Sound and the Fury, the past frequently intrudes upon the present in the minds of three central characters who each narrate part of the novel. This intrusion is not unusual; it happens to every man and woman from time to time. For example, when you listen to a sermon in a church or a lecture in a classroom–or when you are jogging or making a bed–a memory from yesterday, a year ago, or 20 years ago may suddenly seize your attention. A sound, a sight, a taste, or a smell may have triggered that memory. Or the memory may simply have sprung up, unbidden. 
.......In most of this Faulkner novel, the past frequently intrudes upon the here and now, barging into a character’s present thoughts without warning. Often, the memories occur without heed to chronological sequence. A memory from 1910 might walk into the first paragraph on a page and a memory from 1898 into the third paragraph, with present thoughts occupying the second paragraph. But even when the present is in control, it may veer from one present thought to an unrelated present thought. Consequently, the events in the novel become like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle dumped onto a table. However, as the novel progresses, information slowly emerges that enables the reader to match one piece with another until a picture forms, an impressionistic rendering of the decline and fall of a southern family whose roots extend back many generations. It is not easy, though, to assemble the puzzle. One of the purposes of this study guide is to give readers essential information ahead of time so that they may more quickly grasp and better appreciate the novel.

Time Shifts and Narration

.......The events in the novel occur according to relevance and significance, not time sequence. The novel consists of four chapters. The first is entitled “April Seventh, 1928"; the second, “June Second, 1910"; the third, “April Sixth, 1928"; and the fourth, “April Eighth, 1928.” Male members of a declining and dysfunctional southern family, the Compsons, narrate the first three chapters in first-person point of view, and the author presents the fourth chapter in omniscient, third-person point of view. 

Chapter 1 Narration

.......Chapter 1 takes place on Saturday, April 7, 1928, the day before Easter, but flashes back frequently to previous years. The narrator of this chapter is Benjy Compson, who was born in 1895. He is feeble-minded. He cannot speak, read, or write. His retardation is so severe that he even confuses the past with the present. A memory from long ago may occur to him as a present experience. For example, in response to a triggering sensation–a sound, a sight, or a smell–he might wait by the gate in front of his house for his sister to come home from school even though his sister long ago moved away from his house. In presenting Benjy’s narration, Faulkner uses phrases that attempt to express the surreal and irrational workings of Benjy’s mind. In one passage, Benjy says, “I could smell the clothes flapping.” In others, Benjy hears the grass “rattling” or sees the wind “shining.” One problem Benjy’s narration poses–besides the confusing rat-a-tat of disjointed thoughts–is that it taxes plausibility and verisimilitude. A character incapable of speaking or writing cannot tell a story–unless, of course, the author invades the mind of this character and tells what he sees. Faulkner does so. Consequently, Chapter 1 is really a narrative oddity: a kind of ventriloquism in which the author speaks for the narrator. 

Chapter 2 Narration

.......Chapter 2 takes place on June 2, 1910. It also flashes back to previous years. The narrator is Quentin, the oldest Compson child, who was born in 1891. He is intelligent and articulate. However, because he is severely distraught, he frequently narrates in fitful, spasmodic bursts, jumping from one thought to another. Some paragraphs in this chapter contain no periods, commas, or capitalization. 

Chapter 3 Narration

.......Chapter 3 takes place on Good Friday, April 6, 1928. The narrator is Jason Lycurgus Compson IV, who was born in 1894. This chapter is straightforward and easy to understand.

Chapter 4 Narration

.......Chapter 4 takes place on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1928. The narrator is the author. This chapter is relatively easy to understand. 


.......In Chapters 1, 3, and 4, the settings are in northern Mississippi in the fictional locales of Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, and the nearby town of Mottson. The main characters, the Compsons, live on a rundown Jefferson estate that includes the ancestral home, stables, a kitchen garden, and a cabin to house a family of black servants. At one time, the estate was considerably larger, but the Compsons sold a large parcel of land to meet financial obligations. Over the years, the Compsons have kept horses and milking cows. In Chapter 2, the setting is in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, site of Harvard University. The action takes place on the following days: April 7, 1928 (Chapter 1); June 2, 1910 (Chapter 2); April 6, 1928 (Chapter 3); April 8, 1928 (Chapter 4). There are frequent flashbacks to years in the first two decades of the 20th Century and one flashback to a scene in 1898. 

Racial Mix and Race Relations

.......In fictional Yoknapatawpha County, blacks outnumber whites by approximately three to two. In the first three decades of the 20th Century, Mississippi whitesas well as whites elsewhere in the United Statestreated blacks almost as sub-humans. The word "nigger" or "niggers" occurs more than 70 times in The Sound and the Fury to reflect the attitude of whites toward blacks in the early part of the century.


Protagonist: There is no clearly defined protagonist in the novel, although the family itself at least partly fits the classical definition of tragic protagonist: a person of exalted status (the Compsons descended from moneyed aristocrats) with a character flaw (the Compsons have many flaws) that causes him or her to err and fall to ruin. However, the typical tragic protagonist–such as Oedipus in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex–experiences a moment when he recognizes and acknowledges his mistakes. The Compsons do not experience such a moment–unless, in Quentin's case, one maintains that his decision to commit suicide is an acknowledgment that something has gone wrong with his life. Some critics identify Benjy, a mute imbecile, as the main character because he witnesses and objectively reports on key episodes in the novel and because the title refers specifically to him. However, in terms of which character most affects the other characters, Caddy Compson could be regarded as the main character. Benjy and Quentin Compson love her and think constantly about her. Jason Compson despises her and blames her for his failure to get a job he coveted. Caddy's illegitimate daughter takes after her in some ways and plays a major role in events in the second half of the novel. Oddly, though, Caddy appears only in flashback scenes.

Antagonists: The changing times, the influence of the past, the characters' own shortcomings and frailties. 

Jason Richmond Lycurgus Compson III: An attorney and native of Jefferson, Mississippi. He is the father of the four Compson children and husband of Caroline Bascomb Compson. He espouses the ideals of the Old South aristocrats but in practice is a cynic who believes in nothing. An alcoholic, he spends most of his time with a decanter of whiskey rather than law books. His home, once a fine mansion with expansive grounds, is in disrepair. He sold most of his land to a golf club in order to pay for a year of his son, Quentin's, education at Harvard and for his daughter, Caddy's, wedding. Much of his money also goes for whiskey and everyday bills. He exhibits little real love for his children. However, his views on Old South traditions greatly influence Quentin, who takes them seriously. At the same time, his deep cynicism about the world also influences Quentin. Jason Compson III dies in 1912.
Caroline Bascomb Compson: Mother, in name only, of the four Compson children. She whines constantly about the burdens imposed on her by her children, especially Benjy, who is retarded. She spends much of her time in bed nursing imaginary illnesses while the servants do the household chores and supervise the children when they are growing up. The only child with she finds no fault is Jason IV. She believes he takes after her side of the family, the Bascombs. 
Candace (Caddy) Compson: The only female Compson child. In her youth, she is a spirited, adventurous child who frequently looks after Benjy and gives him the love his mother denies him. Because she herself receives no love from her parents, she seeks it from boys at an early age. After she becomes pregnant, she marries. When her husband discovers that her child is not his, he divorces her. Consequently, the family disowns Caddy and declares that her name is anathema in the household. However, the family agrees to accept and rear her child, and Caddy sends money to support her. Caddy, the second-oldest Compson child, was born in 1892.
Benjamin (Benjy) Compson:The youngest of the Compson children and the narrator of Chapter 1. His brother Jason calls him Ben and sometimes refers to him as thegelding because Benjy was castrated in his teen years. Benjy was baptized Maury, the name of his mother's brother. In 1900, however, when Benjy was five, his mother ordered his name changed to Benjamin after the family discovered that he was severely retarded. Mrs. Compson wanted to avoid bringing shame on her side of the family, the Bascombs. Benjy cannot speak, read, or write. He was born in 1895 and is 33 when he narrates Chapter 1. Benjy appears to have been modeled on a character in another Faulkner work, "The Kingdom of God," published in 1925. 
Quentin Compson: Oldest of the Compson children and narrator of Chapter 2. He is intelligent, sensitive, and idealistic. While growing up, he idolized and loved his sister Caddy and was deeply disturbed when she started to become promiscuous and eventually became pregnant. He confronted and fought the boy he suspected of impregnating her. Through his teen, he continues to love her intensely but never attempts to become intimate with her. After she marries and divorces, he thinks of her often and wishes they could be alone together and live and love platonically. Quentin was born in 1891.
Jason Compson IV: Spiteful, selfish, brusque Compson child who narrates Chapter 3. Although his mother favors him over her other children, he does not favor anyone but himself. He is the only remaining male Compson child capable of marrying and having childrenQuentin has committed suicide and Benjy has been castratedbut he remains single, for he looks down on women in general. He is a racist and anti-Semite. Jason was born in 1894.
Damuddy: maternal grandmother of the Compson children. She dies in 1898.
Maury Bascomb: Brother of Mrs. Compson and uncle of the Compson children. He lives on the Compson estate as a freeloader and has an affair with a neighbor woman, Mrs. Patterson. 
Mrs. Patterson: Neighbor who has an affair with Maury Bascomb.
Mr. Patterson: Husband of Mrs. Patterson. After discovering the affair between his wife and Maury Bascomb, he thrashes Maury.
Dalton Ames: Young man believed to have impregnated Caddy Compson. Caddy rejects him after he thrashes her brother, Quentin, in a fight. 
Sydney Herbert Head: Harvard graduate and banker whom Caddy meets in French Lick, Indiana, and marries after she becomes pregnant. He promises to give Jason Compson IV a job. Not long after marrying Caddy, he divorces her after discovering that her child is not his own and does not give Jason the promised job. Jason, embittered, blames Caddy for this development. 
Miss Quentin: Daughter of Caddy and probably Dalton Ames. Caddy sends her to live at the Compson home after her divorce from Mr. Head. Jason IV dislikes her and keeps for himself the money Caddy sends for child support. Caddy, in turn, despises Jason and eventually runs away with an employee of the carnival at Mottson. 
Dilsey Gibson: Black cook in the Compson household who helps to look after the Compson children while rearing her own children, Versh (male), Frony (female), and T.P. (male). Wise, practical, and morally upright, she is a rational and stabilizing force in the Compson household. She and her family reside in a cabin on the Compson property.
Roskus Gibson: Husband of Dilsey who suffers from rheumatism. 
Versh, T.P: Sons of Dilsey Gibson. They help to look after Benjy. 
Frony: Daughter of Dilsey Gibson. She marries in 1910 and gives birth to a male child, Luster.
Luster: Son of Frony and grandson of Dilsey Gibson. Luster, though less than half the age of Benjy, is charged with looking after Benjy from time to time. Throughout the novel, there are references to Luster's looking for a lost quarter, or asking people around him for a quarter, so he can buy a ticket to a traveling tent show. 
Shreve, Spoade, Gerald Bland: Harvard students who are friends of Quentin.
Mrs. Bland: Gerald Bland's mother.
Charlie: One of Miss Quentin's boyfriends. 
Man With the Red Tie: Pitchman from the traveling tent show with whom Miss Quentin runs away. 
Lorraine: Memphis woman whom Jason sees to satisfy his lust.
Earl: Operator of the farm-supply store where Jason works.
Job: Black employee of the store.
Reverend Shegog: Minister from St. Louis who preaches a sermon at Dilsey Gibson's church on Easter Sunday. 
Sheriff: Law officer whom Jason asks to track Miss Quentin after she takes money from Jason's metal box and runs away. The sheriff refuses the request, apparently aware that the money she took was her own. 
Little Italian Girl: Immigrant girl Quentin tries to help on the day he commits suicide. 
Julio: Brother of the Italian girl. 
Anse: Law officer who arrests Quentin after Julio accuses him of attempting to kidnap his sister.
The Squire: Court official before whom Anse takes Quentin. 
Jeweler: He shows Quentin timepieces in his store. 
Clerk at Hardware Store: Clerk who sells Quentin two six-pound flatirons with which to weight himself down when he jumps into the river to drown himself. 

Type of Work and Year of Publication

.......The Sound and the Fury is a psychological novel about the dissolution of a family with roots in the aristocratic Old South. It was published in New York on October 7, 1929, by Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith.

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2007

Chapter 1

.......It is Saturday, April 7, 1928–Benjy Compson’s birthday. Benjy is a retarded 33-year-old who cannot speak and has no sense of time. He requires constant supervision whether he is in the house or on the grounds of his family's property. It has always been that way. 
.......His family–an Old South aristocratic clan with roots dating back to pre-Civil War days–lives in northern Mississippi’s Yoknapatawpha County. Unlike the Compsons of previous generations, the Compsons of 1928 are in financial decline, although they continue to maintain household servants and a modicum of hauteur. 
.......Benjy is outside on the Compson property, next to a golf course, watching through a fence as players hit the ball. Keeping an eye on him is Luster, the 14-year-old grandson of the family cook, Dilsey Gibson. Dilsey is the matriarch of a black family that has long been attached to the Compson homestead. When Benjy was younger, Dilsey’s two sons, Versh and T.P., frequently watched over Benjy when he was outside. On this April day, that job has fallen to Luster, the son of Dilsey’s daughter, Frony. While Benjy watches the golfers, Luster searches for a quarter he lost in the grass. He plans to use it to go to a traveling tent show, where there is a man who can play a saw like a banjo. At one time, the Compsons owned the land occupied by the golf course–land that they referred to as “Benjy’s pasture” because it was one of his favorite places on the Compson estate–but they sold it to alleviate financial difficulties.
.......While Benjy and Luster crawl through a hole in the fence, Benjy snags his clothes on a nail, reminding him of a Christmas long ago when his clothes caught on the same nail and his sister, Caddy (Candace), came to his aid. Caddy was the only member of the Compson family who paid attention to Benjy when he was growing up. When a golfer says, “Here, caddie,” the latter word triggers another memory of Caddy, one in which Benjy is outside with Versh at the front gate of the Compson house. There, they meet Caddy coming back from school. She smells like leaves, Benjy thinks. (He associates the smell of leaves with purity and innocence.) She scolds Versh for not making Benjy put his hands in his pockets against the cold, but Versh had already told Benjy to do so.
.......Benjy's mind shifts back to the present for a moment, as he and Luster come out to the other side of the fence. Then Benjy returns to the past. His memories are disjointed, sometimes focusing on one moment from one year, sometimes on another from another year. In between, his mind idles in the present. Because of his retardation, he lacks full awareness of chronology, freely merging and mingling past and present. Gradually, however, he reveals bits and pieces of himself and others around him. For example, whenever he thinks of Caddy, he moans out of sadness. (Caddy is gone from the household, but he still looks for her.) When she was young, she was a free spirit who did not wait long to explore sexuality. She became pregnant, married, had her child, and eventually divorced after her husband discovered that the child was not his own. 
.......While Luster continues to search for his lost quarter, Benjy recalls a time when he and his mother ride in a surrey driven by T.P. to a cemetery where his father and brother Quentin are interred. Mrs. Compson does not trust T.P.'s driving and wonders why Dilsey's husband, Roskus is not driving. Following is the scene, which is significant because of what it reveals about Dilsey as a steadying influence. 
....... "Where's Roskus." she [Mrs. Compson] said. 
....... "Roskus cant lift his arms, today." Dilsey said. "T.P. can drive all right." 
....... "I'm afraid to." Mother said. "It seems to me you all could furnish me with a driver for the carriage once a week. It's little enough I ask, Lord knows." 
....... "You know just as well as me that Roskus got the rheumatism too bad to do more than he have to, Miss Cahline." Dilsey said. "You come on and get in, now. T.P. can drive you just as good as Roskus." 
....... "I'm afraid to." Mother said. "With the baby." Dilsey went up the steps. "You calling that thing a baby." she said. She took Mother's arm. "A man big as T.P. Come on, now, if you going." 
....... "I'm afraid to." Mother said. They came down the steps and Dilsey helped Mother in. "Perhaps it'll be the best thing, for all of us." Mother said. 
....... "Aint you shamed, talking that way." Dilsey said. "Dont you know it'll take more than a eighteen year old nigger to make Queenie run away. She older than him and Benjy put together. And dont you start no projecking with Queenie, you hear me. T.P. If you dont drive to suit Miss Cahline, I going to put Roskus on you. He aint too tied up to do that." 
....... "Yessum." T.P. said. 
....... "I just know something will happen." Mother said. "Stop, Benjamin. 
....... "Give him a flower to hold." Dilsey said. "That what he wanting." She reached her hand in.
.......From time to time, Benjy recalls moments when he and Caddy carry letters from their Uncle Maury Bascomb (Mrs. Compson's brother) to a neighbor, Mrs. Patterson, with whom Uncle Maury is having an affair. (Uncle Maury lives with the Compsons, taking advantage of their money and his sister's goodwill.) One day, Mr. Patterson intercepts a letter when Benjy alone arrives at the fence of the Patterson property with the letter. Here is the scene:
Mr. Patterson was chopping in the green flowers. He stopped chopping and looked at me. Mrs. Patterson came across the garden, running. When I saw her eyes I began to cry. You idiot, Mrs Patterson said, I told him never to send you alone again. Give it to me. Quick. Mr Patterson came fast, with the hoe. Mrs Patterson leaned across the fence, reaching her hand. She was trying to climb the fence. Give it to me, she said, Give it to me. Mr Patterson climbed the fence. He took the letter. Mrs Patterson's dress was caught on the fence. I saw her eyes again and I ran down the hill.
.......Benjy also relives a time when Caddy is seven and gets her dress wet in a creek (referred to in the novel as the branch) while she, Benjy, then about 3 or 4, and their brothers Jason, 5, and Quentin, 8, are playing. Here is the scene:
.......With the children is Versh, Dilsey’s son. After they are called for supper, Versh says Mrs. Compson will whip Caddy for soiling her dress. Caddy orders Versh to unbutton the dress in the back so she can take it off and let it dry. Quentin, dismayed, orders Versh not to do her bidding. (Quentin, the reader learns later in the novel, is extremely protective of Caddy’s virtue; for her to remove her dress is to unduly expose herself to the world.) Caddy ignores Quentin and again tells Versh to undo the buttons or she will “tell Dilsey what you did yesterday.” Versh unbuttons the dress. After Caddy takes it off, revealing muddied underwear, Quentin slaps her, and she splashes water on him. A water battle ensues.
.......Both Benjy and Quentin, though very young, sense that the wet dress and underwear, as well as Caddy’s exposure of herself, signal the beginning of reckless behavior in her life. (Quentin later on becomes preoccupied with the image of her muddy underwear, turning it into a symbol of the promiscuity that would result in her pregnancy.) Moreover, both boys, as well as Caddy, well know that Mrs. Compson–concerned about untoward behavior in so proper a family–will likely react harshly, as Versh observed. As for Jason? He is off by himself, seemingly unconcerned. (His isolation from other family members at this time foreshadows his isolation from them later on. Jason dislikes his siblings. In fact, he finds fault with everyone. In his eyes, only he is an acceptable human being.) As Benjy continues to shift back and forth between present and past, he recalls Caddy's wedding, when he and T.P. get tipsy on champagne after T.P. mistakes it for sarsaparilla (which T.P. calls sassprilluh).
.......A sense of foreboding occurs in Benjy's narration when he recalls (several times) hearing Roskus say,"Taint no luck on this place," indicating that Roskus knows that doom awaits the family. Shortly thereafter, Benjy remembers a time when he hears that Caddy's name is never again to be mentioned in the Compson household (because of her promiscuous behavior that brings shame on the family). His memories take a turn for the dark side when he remembers the death of his grandmother in 1898 and the death of his father in 1912. 
In one of his memories, Benjy recalls a time when Caddy's boyfriend, Charlie, makes advances toward Caddy. Benjy cries and pulls at Caddy's dress. Here is the scene as Benjy narrates it:
......."Benjy." Caddy said. "It's just Charlie. Dont you know Charlie." 
......."Where's his nigger." Charlie said. "What do they let him run around loose for." 
......."Hush, Benjy." Caddy said. "Go away, Charlie. He doesn't like you." Charlie went away and I hushed. I pulled at Caddy's dress. 
......."Why, Benjy." Caddy said. "Aren't you going to let me stay here and talk to Charlie a while." 
......."Call that nigger." Charlie said. He came back. I cried louder and pulled at Caddy's dress. 
......."Go away, Charlie." Caddy said. Charlie came and put his hands on Caddy and I cried more. I cried loud. 
......."No, no." Caddy said. "No. No." 
......."He cant talk." Charlie said. "Caddy." 
......."Are you crazy." Caddy said. She began to breathe fast. "He can see. Dont. Dont." Caddy fought. They both breathed fast. ......."Please. "lease." Caddy whispered. 
......."Send him away." Charlie said. 
......."I will." Caddy said. "Let me go." 
......."Will you send him away." Charlie said. 
......."Yes." Caddy said. "Let me go." Charlie went away. "Hush." Caddy said. "He's gone." I hushed. I could hear her and feel her chest going. 
......."I'll have to take him to the house." she said. She took my hand. "I'm coming." she whispered. 
......."Wait." Charlie said. "Call the nigger." 
......."No." Caddy said. "I'll come back. Come on, Benjy." 
......."Caddy." Charlie whispered, loud. We went on. "You better come back. Are you coming back." Caddy and I were running. ......."Caddy." Charlie said. We ran out into the moonlight, toward the kitchen. 
......."Caddy." Charlie said. 
.......Caddy and I ran. We ran up the kitchen steps, onto the porch, and Caddy knelt down in the dark and held me. I could hear her and feel her chest. "I wont." she said. "I wont anymore, ever. Benjy. Benjy.' Then she was crying, and I cried, and we held each other. "Hush." She said. "Hush. I wont anymore. So I hushed and Caddy got up and we went into the kitchen and turned the light on and Caddy took the kitchen soap and washed her mouth at the sink, hard. Caddy smelled like trees.
.......After Benjy recalls the smell of perfume on Caddy in 1905 (a smell he associates with sexual wile), he returns to 1928, when Caddy's illegitimate daughter, Miss Quentin, dallies with a man with a red tie on the grounds of the Compson home. He is a pitchman from the traveling tent show that Luster wants to see. Benjy annoys Miss Quentin (who is named after Benjy's brother Quentin) by approaching her when she is entertaining her beau. Unlike her mother, she cannot tolerate the presence of Benjy.
.......In another scene, Benjy wants to wait at the gate of the Compson home for Caddy to return from school, not realizing that she has married and moved out of the Compson home. He is with one of Dilsey's sons, T.P., who is looking after Benjy, with Mrs. Compson nearby. 
.......You cant do no good looking through the gate, T.P. said. Miss Caddy done gone long ways away. Done got married and left you. You cant do no good, holding to the gate and crying. She cant hear you. 
.......What is it he wants, T.P. Mother said. Cant you play with him and keep him quiet. 
.......He want to go down yonder and look through the gate, T.P. said. 
.......Well, he cannot do it, Mother said. It's raining. You will just have to play with him and keep him quiet. You, Benjamin. 
.......Aint nothing going to quiet him, T.P. said. He think if he down to the gate, Miss Caddy come back. Nonsense, Mother said.
.......When Benjy was in his teens, his family had him castrated after his brother Jason and his father concluded that Benjy had attacked some girls. It was a false conclusion. Here is the scene Benjy remembers: 
.......It [the front gate] was open when I touched it, and I held to it in the twilight. I wasn't crying, and I tried to stop, watching the girls coming along in the twilight. I wasn't crying.
......."There he is."
.......They stopped.
......."He cant get out. He wont hurt anybody, anyway. Come on."
......."I'm scared to. I'm scared. I'm going to cross the street."
......."He cant get out."
.......I wasn't crying.
......."Dont be a fraid cat. Come on."
.......They came on in the twilight. I wasn't crying, and I held to the gate.
.......They came slow.
......."I'm scared."
......."He wont hurt you. I pass here every day. He just runs along the fence."
.......They came on. I opened the gate and they stopped, turning. I was trying to say [that I was looking for Caddy], and I caught her, trying to say, and she screamed and I was trying to say and trying and the bright shapes began to stop and I tried to get out. I tried to get it off of my face, but the bright shapes were going again. They were going up the hill to where it fell away and I tried to cry. But when I breathed in, I couldn't breathe out again to cry, and I tried to keep from falling off the hill and I fell off the hill into the bright, whirling shapes.
.......After Benjy ends his reverie, he and Luster return to the house, where Dilsey has a birthday cake waiting for Benjy in the kitchen. Luster blows out the candles and cuts the cake while Dilsey is out of the room. Benjy sits by the fireplace, watching the flames, as he and Luster eat cake. Fire fascinates Benjy. When Dilsey returns, she notices Luster gorging on the cake and reaching for another piece, then scolds him for eating too much of it: "Reach it again, and I chop it right off with this here butcher knife," she says. A moment later, she repeats her warning: "Reach hit [it] one more time." Dilsey said. "Just reach it." Benjy then reaches into the fireplace, burns his hand, and begins to cry. Quickly, Dilsey pours soda on the burn and wraps a cloth around it. Mrs. Compson comes downstairs, enters the room, and complains about Benjy's crying, saying, "How can I lie there, with him bawling down here. Benjamin. Hush this minute." (Mrs. Compson is almost always lying down, suffering from imaginary illnesses and indulging in self-pity). Luster takes Benjy to another room, the library, which triggers in Benjy another memory of Caddy, a pleasant one, followed by a memory related to his name change when he was five years old. When Benjy was born in 1895, he was baptized Maury, after his uncle. However, in 1900, Mrs. Compson changed his name to Benjamin when she discovered that he was retarded. (In the Bible, Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob, the Jewish patriarch. See Genesis, Chapters 42-45.) She did not wish to bring shame on the Bascomb name. Caddy, however, out of respect for Benjy, sometimes calls him Maury. 
.......Later, after the interception of the letter to Mrs. Patterson (referred to above), Benjy recalls the following scene in which Uncle Maury nurses injuries inflicted by an outraged Mr. Patterson. The scene also reveals information about Mr. Compson's heavy drinking and Mrs. Compson's concern for the Bascomb name.
.......Uncle Maury was sick. His eye was sick, and his mouth. Versh took his supper up to him on the tray.
......."Maury says he's going to shoot the scoundrel." Father said. "I told him he'd better not mention it to Patterson before hand." He drank.
......."Jason." Mother said.
......."Shoot who, Father." Quentin said. "What's Uncle Maury going to shoot him for."
......."Because he couldn't take a little joke." Father said. 
......."Jason." Mother said. "How can you. You'd sit right there and see Maury shot down in ambush, and laugh." 
......."Then Maury'd better stay out of ambush." Father said. 
......."Shoot who, Father." Quentin said. "Who's Uncle Maury going to shoot."
......."Nobody." Father said. "I dont own a pistol." Mother began to cry. "If you begrudge Maury your food, why aren't you man enough to say so to his face. To ridicule him before the children, behind his back."
......."Of course I dont." Father said. "I admire Maury. He is invaluable to my own sense of racial superiority. I wouldn't swap Maury for a matched team. And do you know why, Quentin." 
......."No, sir." Quentin said.
......."Et ego in arcadia I have forgotten the latin for hay." Father said. "There, there." he said. "I was just joking." He drank and set the glass down and went and put his hand on Mother's shoulder. 
......."It's no joke." Mother said. "My people are every bit as well born as yours. Just because Maury's health is bad. 
......."Of course." Father said. "Bad health is the primary reason for all life. Created by disease, within putrefaction, into decay. Versh."
......."Sir." Versh said behind my chair.
......."Take the decanter and fill it."
......."And tell Dilsey to come and take Benjamin up to bed." Mother said.
.......Chapter 1 ends when Benjy and his siblings go to bed. In the darkness, Benjy recalls that "I could see the windows, where the trees were buzzing. Then the dark began to go in smooth, bright shapes, like it always does, even when Caddy says that I have been asleep."

Chapter 2

.......This chapter, narrated by Quentin Compson, begins between 7 and 8 a.m. on June 2, 1910. The place is Cambridge, Mass., where Quentin, attends Harvard University. On this day, he decides to cut all classes so he can prepare to commit suicide. After getting up, he goes to the dresser, picks up his wristwatch, breaks the crystal, and twists off the hands. His father had told him that time was meaningless when little wheels kept track of it. 
.......“Only when the clock stops does time come to life,” Quentin paraphrases his father as saying. 
.......Next, Quentin packs his belongings in a trunk and writes his home address on it. Then he bathes, shaves, puts on a new suit, and places the trunk key and two notes in an envelope addressed to his father. After mailing the envelope, he has breakfast at Parker’s Restaurant and buys a fifty-cent cigar. Out on the street, he lights it and takes a few puffs. At a streetcorner, two bootblacks approach him for business. He gives one of them the cigar and the other one a nickel. Afterward, he goes into a jeweler’s and asks whether the clocks in the show window display the correct time. The jeweler says no, because the clocks have not been set. Quentin then walks across the street, to a hardware store, and buys two six-pound weights (flatirons) that he will use to keep his body under the water after he jumps into the Charles River. 
.......Quentin begins to relive memories of Caddy, whom he has always deeply loved but never touched intimately. She is like a beautiful statue, a work of art to be admired and preserved. When Dalton Ames–presumably Ames–impregnated her, Quentin fought Ames but got thrashed. However, Caddy came to Quentin’s defense and condemned Ames. Quentin regrets that he was not able to protect her virginity. He remembers the day when he told his father that he and Caddy had committed incest, but his father knew that he was lying. At the time, Quentin hoped his “confession” would so enrage his parents that they would cast out him and Caddy. He and Caddy would be pariahs, but they would be together.
.......But Caddy ended up marrying Sydney Herbert Head, a banker she met in French Lick, Indiana, to preserve the honor of the Compson name.
.......As thoughts of Caddy swim through Quentin’s brain, so do his father’s nihilistic ideas–in particular, that life has no meaning, except perhaps for momentary pleasure and for maintaining the attitude of a gentleman, a Southern gentleman.
.......If Caddy is out of reach, if time and life have no meaning, if the values of the Old South–including modesty and chastity in women–are out of date, why go on living?
.......He recalls a time when he is riding a train home from Harvard. After it stops in Virginia, he sees a black man on a mule and gives him a quarter. He also again thinks of Caddy and of the automobile that Head buys her as a present, and he recalls her wedding day at Jefferson on April 25, 1910. At the time, Head had promised to give Jason a job in his bank in South Bend, Ind., after Jason finished high school. 
.......When Quentin's thoughts return to June 2, 1910, he takes a train to a little town outside Cambridge. After getting off, he takes a walk and attempts to help a little Italian immigrant girl who speaks no English and has lost her way. He addresses her as “sister” and, at a bakery, they buy some buns. While trying to show her the way home, her brother, a boy named Julio, comes upon them, pounces on Quentin, tussles with him, and accuses Quentin of kidnapping his sister. With him is a man named Anse, who is wearing a badge. Neighbors gather around as Anse arrests Quentin and takes him to “the Squire.” However, on the way, they run into some of Quentin’s friends from college–Spoade, Shreve, and Gerald Bland–who have a car. There are girls with them, as well as Mrs. Bland. 
.......Before the squire, his classmates vouch for him as an upright fellow, and the squire ends up fining Quentin, then releasing him. Quentin laughs at the irony of the situation. Here was a boy, Julio, coming to the aid of his little sister, a boy willing to fight for her–something Quentin believes he himself did not do to protect Caddy's virginity. 
.......Later, when Quentin returns to his room, he is still thinking of Caddy. The reader learns later in the novel that he commits suicide by jumping off a bridge and drowning.

Chapters 3 and 4

.......Chapter 3, narrated by Jason Compson, takes place on April 6, 1928 (Good Friday), and Chapter 4, narrated by the author, takes place on April 8, 1928 (Easter Sunday). 
.......Caddy’s 17-year-old daughter, Miss Quentin, lives with Mrs. Compson, Jason, and Benjy but does not get along with the family and exhibits the same sort of promiscuity that Caddy did. Jason, now the head of the family, despises Miss Quentin. He and his mother are both angry with her because she recently skipped school–again. Jason hints that she does so to be with boys.
.......“Once a bitch always a bitch,” Jason says of her. That is his attitude toward virtually all women. (He decides not to marry but uses a woman in Memphis, Lorraine, to satisfy his lust.) His mother worries that Miss Quentin's behavior will reflect poorly on the family and notes that “I didn't even know she had a report card. She told me last fall that they had quit using them this year. And now for Professor Junkin to call me on the telephone and tell me if she's absent one more time, she will have to leave school.”
.......Then she says Jason is the only one who never gave her trouble.
.......He answers sarcastically, “I never had time to [give you trouble] . . . . I never had time to go to Harvard or drink myself into the ground. I had to work. But of course if you want me to follow her around and see what she does, I can quit the store [farm-supply store in Jefferson, where he works] and get a job where I can work at night. Then I can watch her during the day and you can use Ben for the night shift.”
.......Mrs. Compson pouts and cries, then reaffirms her confidence in Jason. 
.......Unknown to Mrs. Compson, Jason keeps for himself the money Caddy sends for Miss Quentin’s support. Mrs. Compson had earlier told him not to accept any money from Caddy, a persona non grata in the household because of the disgrace she brought on the family name. However, to circumvent this dictum, Jason makes a copy of each money order Caddy sends, burns it in front of Mrs. Compson, then keeps the original. Over the years, he has amassed thousands of dollars in this way. 
.......One day, Quentin takes up with a man from the traveling tent show–a pitchman who wears a conspicuous red tie. When Jason drives around on the streets of Jefferson to find her (to pacify his mother and to maintain the good Compson name), he spots a Ford coming toward him. It stops and turns around. Jason sees the red tie. He also sees Quentin looking out a window. A chase ensues. When Jason thinks he sees their car parked along a road–“they had tried to hide it,” Jason says–he stops, gets out, and traipses through a plowed field and heavy brush to reach it. Moments later, he hears a car start. A horn blows several times. Jason returns to his car only to discover that the tires have been deflated. The horn blows several more times, tauntingly, as Miss Quentin and the man with the red tie speed off. At Ab Russell’s place nearby, he gets up pump and inflates his tires, drives back into town, and goes to a telegraph office to check on the stock market. 
.......Jason returns home and discovers that Quentin is also there. Dilsey, the black cook, has heard Quentin’s version of the chase and says, “Quentin come in a while ago and says you been follerin her around all evenin and den Miss Cahline jumped on her. Whyn't you let her alone? Cant you live in de same house wid yo own blood niece widout quoilin?"
.......Luster, meanwhile, is still pleading for a quarter to go to the tent show. Dilsey tells him,”[If] you had wings you could fly to heaven. I dont want to hear another word about dat show."
.......Jason says he has two complimentary tickets to the show. When Luster asks for one of them, Jason says he will sell it for a nickel. Luster has no money. So, out of meanness, Jason opens the lid of the stove and throws the tickets in. Dilsey says, “A big growed man like you. Git on outen my kitchen.”Meanwhile, Dilsey ends up giving Luster a quarter for the show.
.......Eventually, Quentin runs away for good after taking $7,000 from a metal box Jason keeps in his closet to hoard money from Caddy. Jason goes to Mottson, the next town where the tent show is scheduled to appear. However, he fails to track down his quarry–and suffers a bang on the head when tussling with one of the show’s employees. Later, he asks the sheriff to intervene. But the sheriff, well aware of Jason’s devious ways, refuses to act. 
.......On Easter Sunday, Dilsey takes Benjy and Luster to a service at her church and hears a rousing sermon preached by the Rev. Shegog, of St. Louis. It is about beginnings and endings, and Dilsey realizes that she has been witness to the ending of the Compson family–although Dilsey herself will carry on, just as the risen Christ carried on. When she allows Luster to drive the horse-drawn carriage home, Luster makes a wrong turn that sends Benjy into a frenzy. Benjy reacts that way because, for some reason, he cannot cope with any kind of deviation from the norm. Jason, who happens to be nearby, scolds Luster and steers the carriage back in the right direction.


Love Gone Wrong

.......The Sound and the Fury centers on the downfall of a family with roots in the aristocratic Old South. The family falls to ruin for a variety of reasons, but the main one appears to be the family's impaired or limited ability to express and share normal love. Mr. Compson's love of whiskey and nihilism command most of his attention, and Mrs. Compson's self-pity and inordinate concern for the family's "good name" prevent her from being a loving, full-time mother. Caddy fulfills that role for Benjy, and Dilsey does what she can for him and the other Compson children while raising a family of her own. In her own search for love, Caddy turns to promiscuity. In his search for love, Quentin becomes fixated on Caddy with platonic incestual desire. Jason loves no one but himself and money. Caddy's daughter, Miss Quentin, reenacts her mother's promiscuity. Unlike Caddy, though, she has no time for Benjy. Uncle Maury seeks love with another man's wife. 

Time in Turmoil

.......Benjy has little or no sense of the passage of time. Even after Caddy has moved out of the Compson household, he waits for her at the front gate to come home from school. His mind lives in the past and the present as if they were one. Quentinenthralled with the culture and values of the Old South Compsonscannot adjust to the present. He is, in a sense, an anachronism. His father, on the other hand, exists in a kind of chronological limbo. He tells Quentin that "clocks slay time." He also says that "time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life." Faulkner appears to be making a sort of Einsteinian statement: that time is not fixed. It is relative to the cosmic traveler, whether he is in the Compson's surrey or on a trans-galactic spaceship piloted by Benjy, with Luster in tow searching the heavens for his lost quarter. 


.......Caddy rebels against Old South Compson propriety when she becomes intimate with her male friends. Her brother Quentin rebels against time, twisting off the hands of his wristwatch. Jason, filled with contemptus mundi, rebels against Caddy, Quentin, Benjy, and his parents, regarding himself as the only worthwhile member of the family. He also rejects women as "bitches" and becomes a racist and anti-Semite. Mr. and Mrs. Compson rebel against parenthood. 


.......The Compson family, a remnant of the Old South aristocratic way of life, is in its death throes. Its money is dwindling, its ancestral home is decaying, and its land holdings are shrinking. Prospects for a new generation of aristocratic Compsons are virtually nonexistent. Benjy cannot marry, Jason refuses to marry, and Quentin commits suicide. Caddy marries, but her husband divorces her after discovering that another man, presumably Dalton Ames, fathered the child she bears. This child, Miss Quentin, rejects the family and runs off with a man from a traveling show.


.......Mrs. Compson blames Benjy, Caddy, and others for the travails she faces. Jason blames everyone–including his siblings, his parents, Miss Quentin, and Dilsey–for his problems or failures. When in his car chasing Miss Quentin and the man with the red tie, he even blames the government for not fixing the roads, saying "Yet we spend money and spend money on roads and dam if it isn't like trying to drive over a sheet of corrugated iron roofing. I'd like to know how a man could be expected to keep up with even a wheelbarrow." 
Quentin blames himself for not protecting Caddy.
Strongest Character

.......The strongest and wisest character in the novel is the Compsons' black cook, Dilsey Gibson, who is at the bottom of the segregated Old South society. But though she lacks social status, authority, education, and money, she possesses what really matters in life: love, common sense, wisdom, faith, perseverance, and strength. She is stronger by far than any of the Compsons and able to cope effectively amid the turmoil of Compson dysfunction. 

Prophetic Character

.......Roskus Gibson, Dilsey's husband, is a doomsayer, familiar figure in literature. This character type has appeared in literary works since ancient times. Perhaps the most famous fictional prophet of doom is the soothsayer in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He warns Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March" (Act II, Scene I, Line 19), then repeats his warning. Roskus frequently speaks these words: "Taint no luck on this place." Sometimes, he accompanies his "prophecy" with an explanation, as in the following two examples–the first referring to Benjy's name change and the second referring to Mrs. Compson's proscription against ever again mentioning Caddy's name in the Compson household: 

    (1)  "They aint no luck on this place." Roskus said. "I seen it at first but when they changed his name I knowed it."
    (2)  "That's what I tell you." Roskus said. "They aint no luck going be on no place where one of they own chillen's name aint never spoke."
Persistent Character

.......Again and again, Luster bemoans the loss of the quarter he planned to use to see the traveling tent show. However, he persists in trying to find it and, when it does not turn up, persists in asking others to supply a quarter. Paragraphs 1 and 3 of Chapter 1 focus in part on the lost quarter. Thereafter, there are more than 20 references in the novel to the quarter that Luster needs. "Wish I could go [to the show]," Luster says again and again. He tells Dilsey, "Ef I jes had a quarter, I could go to dat show." Dilsey replies, "En ef you had wings you could fly to heaven. I dont want to hear another word about dat show." However, Luster persists. Eventually, Dilsey says, "I'll git you a quarter fum Frony tonight and you kin go tomorrow night. Hush up, now." Luster has a goal, a simple one: He wants to go to the show to see a man play a saw like a banjo. In this respect, at least, he is superior to the Compsons, who seldom speak of goals or visions for the future. Mr. Compson is content with the carpe diem of whiskey. Mrs. Compson is content with lying in bed and courting sympathy. Caddy Compson and her daughter, Miss Quentin, seek the sexual balm of now. Jason Compson did have a goalto work in Sydney Herbert Head's bankbut after the job falls through, he does not set a new goal. Rather, he occupies himself with getting even with Caddy, whom he blames for the loss of the job because of her premarital promiscuity and pregnancy. In other words, the past takes control of him. 

Christlike Character

.......Many scholars liken Benjy to Christ for the following reasons: He is 33 (the same age as Christ when he died), he suffers mockery and other unjust treatment, and his story (omitting flashbacks) unfolds on Easter weekend. In addition, Benjy lives outside of time–as if in an eternal celestial realm–because he has no grasp of the difference between past and present. When a memory occurs to him, it as if it is taking place in the present. Moreover, most of the other characters in the novel want little or nothing to do with him, as if to say that in the world of 1928 people no longer accept Christ or his message. Finally, Benjy knows intuitively when Caddy sins and gets upset whenever anyone else strays from the "right path," as Luster does when he takes a wrong turn while driving Benjy home in the surrey from the Easter service. After Luster turns left instead of right at the Confederate monument in the town square, Benjy cries out. The omniscient narrator says, "Bellow on bellow, his voice mounted, with scarce interval for breath. There was more than astonishment in it, it was horror; shock; agony eyeless, tongueless; just sound, and Luster's eyes backrolling for a white instant. 'Gret God,' he said." 


.......The Sound and the Fury moves from beginning to end without a single, unforgettable, climactic moment that alters the course of the novel. One gets the feeling while reading the novel that the climax occurred in the distant past, before Chapter 1. What the novel concentrates on is the outcome of that long-ago climactic moment–an outcome centering on dissolution, decline, decomposition, decay. In other words, The Sound and the Fury is one long denouement. However, Miss Quentin stages a climax of sorts near the end of the novel when she steals thousands of dollars from a metal box Jason keeps, money that rightfully belongs to her. She then runs off with a pitchman from the traveling show. Jason gives chase but fails to catch the fugitives. 

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Stream-of-Consciousness Technique

.......Faulkner sometimes uses the stream-of-consciousness technique in the first three chapters. In stream of consciousness, a term coined by American psychologist William James (1842-1910), an author portrays a character’s continuing “stream” of thoughts as they occur, regardless of whether they make sense or whether the next thought in a sequence relates to the previous thought. Generally, a stream-of-consciousness passage appears without punctuation so that the flowing thoughts continue without interruption. The following stream-of-consciousness passage from Chapter 2 presents the thoughts of Quentin as he recalls bits and pieces of statements made by his mother:

    what have I done to have been given children like these Benjamin was punishment enough and now for her to have no more regard for me her own mother I've suffered for her dreamed and planned and sacrificed I went down into the valley yet never since she opened her eyes has she given me one unselfish thought at times I look at her I wonder if she can be my child except Jason he has never given me one moment's sorrow since I first held him in my arms I knew then that he was to be my joy and my salvation I thought that Benjamin was punishment enough for any sins I have committed I thought he was my punishment for putting aside my pride and marrying a man who held himself above me I dont complain I loved him above all of them because of it because my duty though Jason pulling at my heart all the while but I see now that I have not suffered enough I see now that I must pay for your sins as well as mine what have you done what sins have your high and mighty people visited upon me but you'll take up for them you always have found excuses for your own blood only Jason can do wrong because he is more Bascomb than Compson while your own daughter my little daughter my baby girl she is she is no better than that when I was a girl I was unfortunate I was only a Bascomb I was taught that there is no halfway ground that a woman is either a lady or not but I never dreamed when I held her in my arms that any daughter of mine could let herself dont you know I can look at her eyes and tell you may think she'd tell you but she doesn't tell things she is secretive you dont know her I know things she's done that I'd die before I'd have you know that's it go on criticise Jason accuse me of setting him to watch her as if it were a crime while your own daughter can I know you dont love him that you wish to believe faults against him you never have yes ridicule him as you always have Maury you cannot hurt me any more than your children already have and then I'll be gone and Jason with no one to love him shield him from this I look at him every day dreading to see this Compson blood beginning to show in him at last with his sister slipping out to see what do you call it then have you ever laid eyes on him will you even let me try to find out who he is it's not for myself I couldn't bear to see him it's for your sake to protect you but who can fight against bad blood you wont let me try we are to sit back with our hands folded while she not only drags your name in the dirt but corrupts the very air your children breathe Jason you must let me go away I cannot stand it let me have Jason and you keep the others they're not my flesh and blood like he is strangers nothing of mine and I am afraid of them I can take Jason and go where we are not known I'll go down on my knees and pray for the absolution of my sins that he may escape this curse try to forget that the others ever were
Writing Style

.......Faulkner exhibits considerable versatility in his writing style in the The Sound and the Fury. On the one hand, he presents the thought patterns and modes of expression of three dissimilar narratorsthe first an imbecile, the second a sensitive college student, and the third a redneck racist. On the other, he presents his own observations as the omniscient narrator of Chapter 4. In addition, he writes dialogue in the Southern black idiom. Striking imagery characterizes the narration, including Benjy's. Following are examples: 


Then I saw Caddy, with flowers in her hair, and a long veil like shining wind.Benjy. 


The grass was buzzing in the moonlight where my shadow walked on the grassBenjy. (Here, Benjy turns the grass into chirping crickets. The shadow becomes the Shakespearean symbol of futile life.) 


I quit moving around and went to the window and drew the curtains aside and watched them running for chapel, the same ones fighting the same heaving coat-sleeves, the same books and flapping collars flushing past like debris on a flood.Quentin. 


I could hear the Great American Gelding [Benjy] snoring away like a planing mill.Jason. 


A pair of jaybirds came up from nowhere, whirled up on the blast like gaudy scraps of cloth or paper and lodged in the mulberries, where they swung in raucous tilt and recover.Omniscient narrator. 

Concise Images

Along its quiet length white people in bright clumps moved churchward, under the windy bells, walking now and then in the random and tentative sun.Omniscient narrator. 


He was like a worn small rock whelmed by the successive waves of his voice.Omniscient narrator describing the preacher, the Rev. Shegog. (Metaphor: The rise and fall of the minister's voice resembles the sound of ocean waves.)


Study Questions and Essay Topics

  • Which character in the novel do you most admire? Which character do you least admire? Explain your answers.
  • In what ways does the presence of Benjy help to define other characters in the novel?
  • To what extent do Southern culture and traditions affect the attitudes of the Compsons?
  • When she was growing up, Caddy was spirited, with a mind of her own. However, she married Sydney Herbert Head to preserve the "good name" of her family. Had Caddy lost her spirit? Was she a broken woman? 
  • Do any of the Compsons set goals for the themselves?
  • Write an essay explaining whether the treatment of blacks in the novel accurately reflects the treatment of blacks in general in the early decades of the 19th Century. 
  • Write an essay explaining whether the attitude toward women in the novel accurately reflects society's attitude toward women in the early decades of the 19th Century.
  • Sounds, smells, sights, people, and places trigger memories in Benjy, Quentin, and Jason. Write a short narrative or descriptive essay on a memory that an object (or sound, smell, or sight) in your home or on your property triggers in you.
  • Write an essay focusing on the internal and external conflicts that the Compson children face.
About the Title

.......Faulkner derived the title from words spoken by Macbeth, the murderous title character of Shakespeare's great play. After Macbeth's enemies–full of righteous wrath–close in on him, Macbeth expresses despair and utter resignation upon realizing that all his hopes and dreams have come to naught as mere shadows of past promise. Macbeth says: 

    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. 
    (Act V, Scene V, Lines 17-21)
Macbeth's conclusion that life is nothing more than a tale told by an idiot sums up the Faulkner novel. Benjy, of course, is the idiot.