• Lesson 1: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: Introduction

    Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

    Published in 1929, The Sound and the Fury is often referred to as William Faulkner's first work of genius. Faulkner's style is characterized by frequent time shifts, narrator shifts, unconventional punctuation and sentence structure, as well as a stream-of-consciousness technique that reveals the inner thoughts of characters to the reader. This curriculum unit will examine narrative structure and time, narrative voice/point of view, and symbolism throughout The Sound and the Fury.

  • Lesson 3: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: Narrating Quentin's Mental Breakdown

    Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

    In The Sound and The Fury, Faulkner's presentation of time is unique and complex, as the Quentin chapter symbolically opens with a description of Quentin's watch, which was given to him by his father.

  • Lesson 2: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: Benjy's Sense of Time and Narrative Voice

    Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

    In the first chapter of William Faulkner's emotionally charged novel, The Sound and the Fury, Benjy Compson, the severely retarded son who narrates this section, matters in a most profound sense. It is through his voice—childlike, detached, and often disorienting—that readers are confronted with the reality of time as a recurring motif and how time affects and informs human experiences.

  • Lesson 4: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: Narration, Voice, and the Compson Family's New System

    Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

    The third chapter of The Sound and the Fury is told from the perspective of Jason Compson, now the patriarchal head of the family, after his father's death, Quentin's suicide, and Caddy's abandonment of her own daughter (also named Quentin). His leadership does not bode well for keeping intact the remnants of the Compson family, ultimately indicating the passing of both the Old South at large and its one-time aristocratic families such as the Compsons.

  • Lesson 5: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: April Eighth, 1928: Narrating from an 'Ordered Place'?

    Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

    Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury perhaps best gains clarity and meaning in its final chapter, which uniquely is narrated in the third person, omniscient narrative style. The final chapter, often referred to as the "Dilsey chapter" maintains a present, linear narrative that begins to shed light on the events of the preceding three chapters.

  • Introducing Jane Eyre: An Unlikely Victorian Heroine

    Charlotte Brontë

    Through their interpretation of primary documents that reflect Victorian ideals, students can learn the cultural expectations for and limitations placed on Victorian women and then contemplate the writer Charlotte Brontë's position in that context. Then, through an examination of the opening chapters of Jane Eyre, students will evaluate Jane's status as an unconventional Victorian heroine.

  • Personal or Social Tragedy? A Close Reading of Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome

    Edith Wharton at her writing desk.

    Students practice strategies of "close reading" in order to understand Edith Wharton's gripping tragedy about an unhappy marriage set against the stark backdrop of rural New England.

  • Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice": The Novel as Historical Source

    A contemporary portrait of Jane Austen based on an original drawing by Jane's  sister Cassandra.

    Jane Austen's classic novel offers insights into life in early nineteenth-century England. This lesson, focusing on class and the status of women, teaches students how to use a work of fiction as a primary source in the study of history.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    Faulkner's As I Lay Dying: Form of a Funeral (5 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    "The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead for a long time" -- Addie Bundren in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

    William Faulkner's self-proclaimed masterpiece, As I Lay Dying, originally published in 1930, is a fascinating exploration of the many voices found in a Southern family and community. The following lesson examines the novel's use of multiple voices in its narrative. Faulkner:

    often told his stories using multiple narratives, each with their own interests and biases, who allow us to piece together the 'true' circumstances of the story, not as clues in a mystery, but as different melodies in a piece of music that form a crescendo. The conclusion presents a key to understanding the broad panorama surrounding the central event in a way that traditional linear narratives simply are unable to accomplish.
    Evan Goodwin on Faulkner

    The novel's title—As I Lay Dying—invokes a first-person speaker, presumably the voice of the dead mother, Addie Bundren. Yet she only speaks once in the novel, and she is dead, not dying, throughout most of the novel (aside from the beginning chapters). How does Faulkner's form for the novel—a series of competing voices and perspectives presented as a multiple-voice narrative—work for or against the novel's title?

    Students will also explore the context of the novel, examine background information on social and economic conditions in the rural South in the first decades of the twentieth century. This background will enable the teacher and students to "place" Faulkner's novel historically and sociologically; Faulkner wrote about his own time and a place he knew well. Faulkner's life will be presented, briefly, so that parallels can be drawn between his life and the life depicted in the text. Faulkner grew up in a small Mississippi town in a middle-class family and saw in his surroundings perfect models for characters like the Bundren family and their neighbors. In the lessons of this curriculum unit, students will

    • Explore the use of multiple voices in narration
    • Learn about the social and economic conditions of the rural South in the 1920s and about William Faulkner's life.
    • Read, annotate, and discuss the text in class, individually and in groups.

    Guiding Questions

    • How does Faulkner's form for the novel—a series of competing voices and perspectives presented as a multiple-voice narrative—work for or against the novel's title?
    • What does the final portrait of the Bundrens look like? Are they as rotten as Addie's corpse, full of despair and dissolution? Or are they a tribute to the vigor and resolve of a Southern family, who successfully complete an overwhelming task? Does Faulkner truly resolve this issue?

    Learning Objectives

    • Define Faulkner's place in American literary history
    • Describe Faulkner's "South" in the context of the historical South
    • Understand and explore the use of multiple voices in narration
    • Examine the Bundren family through the subjective evidence provided by a multiplicity of characters

    Preparation Instructions

    Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.

    Download, print, and copy the PDF used in Lesson 2.

    Voice:

    The voice of the narrator helps shape the way that readers encounter the story. The voice can reveal the narrative point-of-view, the background of the speaker (such as education level, social standing, and so on), and the relationship of the narrator to others in the story. An omniscient narrator, for example, often gives the impression of authorial investment and oversight, but maintains distance from the characters. A character speaking from his own point-of-view, however, creates a sense of a limited but intimate perspective. Faulkner's ability to shift narrative voice in As I Lay Dying results in a rich tapestry of often competing perspectives, where information is doled out in small bits, left to the reader to piece together in an understanding of the larger (yet not complete) family portrait of the Bundrens.

    Review with your students a basic introduction to literary terms, including "point of view," or distribute a student handout on literary terms that is available at Purdue's Online Writing Lab, via the EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library.

    William Faulkner on the Web, available via EDSITEment-reviewed Internet Public Library, is the strongest representative of William Faulkner materials online. Below are a few key sections of the website that might prove helpful in teaching this lesson:

    • Commentary on As I Lay Dying
    • Bundren Genealogy, which gives an overview of the immediate Bundren family unit (note: click on the names in the image to get more information).
    • Character List for As I Lay Dying, with links to descriptions
    • WFotW links to William Faulkner (1897-1962) from the Instructor's Guide for The Heath Anthology of American Literature (3rd ed.). While the Heath deals with Faulkner's short stories, the introductory material might prove useful for preparation.

    A general review of Literature in the American South is available through the EDSITEment-reviewed website Documenting the American South. While not specific to As I Lay Dying (although it does discuss other Faulkner novels), the section Civil War discusses representations of the Civil War in literature in a manner immediately relevant to the study of Faulkner's work:

    But the southern writer … has been less concerned to reconstruct the actual time of the struggle than to recount the consequent loss of the antebellum southern culture and, in the response to this loss, the creation of a postbellum culture of survival.
    [from Civil War, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris.]

    The section Humor provides details on many aspects of the amusing and the grotesque often found in Southern literature, attributes obvious in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying:

    Southern humor, like much of the best southern writing in general, has been boisterous and physical, often grotesque, and generally realistic. On the whole, it has no doubt been better received and more appreciated outside the region than in it … William Faulkner was certainly a puzzle to the people of Oxford in his time. Writing has never been a particularly admired occupation in the South, and its comic writers, as well as the most perceptive serious writers, have singled out aspects of southern culture that many southerners would sooner forget. This combination has produced what many southern readers would no doubt characterize as a literature of betrayal.
    (From Humor, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris.)

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
    Skills
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Internet skills
    • Interpretation
    • Literary analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Writing skills
    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury": Narrating the Compson Family Decline and the Changing South (5 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    Published in 1929, The Sound and the Fury is often referred to as William Faulkner's first work of genius. It was only his fourth novel, yet it is widely considered to be one of the greatest contributions to American literature and one of Faulkner's most heartfelt literary creations. In the canon of great works, it is primarily recognized for its experimental form. Faulkner's style is characterized by frequent time shifts, narrator shifts, unconventional punctuation and sentence structure, as well as a stream-of-consciousness technique that reveals the inner thoughts of characters to the reader.

    This curriculum unit will examine narrative structure and time, narrative voice/point of view, and symbolism throughout The Sound and the Fury (with sections referred to as the "Benjy," "Quentin," "Jason," and "Dilsey" chapters). Students will engage in a close reading of the full novel and in activities that prompt them to consider the changing narrative structure and voice throughout the novel and the relationship between such changes and characterization. Students also will trace the decline of the Compson family. Upon completing this curriculum unit, students will have a solid understanding of the novel and of the changing South, and they will be able concretely to analyze the novel in spoken and written forms.

    Guiding Questions

    • How does Faulkner use narrative structure, time, voice/point of view, and other devices such as symbolism throughout each chapter of The Sound and the Fury?
    • How does Faulkner characterize Benjy, Quentin, Jason, Dilsey (and Caddy), document the decline of the Southern Compson family, and portray the changing the American South?

    Learning Objectives

    • Define Faulkner's place in American literary history
    • Describe Faulkner's "South" in the context of the historical South and understand how the South was changing socially and economically in the early 20th century
    • Understand narrative voice/point of view and its relation to content
    • Understand symbolism and its relationship to plot and narrative structure
    • Gain a firm understanding of The Sound and the Fury's plot and its use of time

    Background

    The Sound and the Fury is an emotionally charged work that is difficult for most mature readers, let alone junior and senior high school students. Yet it is not impossible to teach, nor is it out of the reach for most advanced students. In the novel, as in most of his works, Faulkner wrestles with moral themes, yet it is the structure of the narrative—at once stylistically compelling and yet obscure—that both ranks it as great among American literary classics and renders it so very complex for readers.

    The Sound and the Fury details the moral decay of the Compsons, a once-prosperous aristocratic family from Mississippi, with a lineage that stretches back to before the Civil War and includes a military general and a former governor of Mississippi. The tale is told in flashbacks, unfolding over at least three different periods of time and from more than one point of view. Benjy Compson, the thirty-three year old retarded son of Jason and Caroline Compson, is the moaning and slobbering "idiot" who narrates the first of four chapters; his older brother, the sensitive, Harvard-educated Quentin Compson, narrates the second chapter; the mean-spirited and stingy younger brother Jason IV narrates chapter three; and chapter four is relayed by an omniscient narrator who tells the story of this family decline by ironically focusing on the maid Dilsey, rendered powerless by virtue of her race and position, and yet the de facto matriarch of this family and its only source of stability.

    The Sound and the Fury continued to explore Faulkner's themes from earlier works related to the decline of the American South, as well as issues of morality, sin, and redemption, although one could rightly argue that his overarching concern was with the nature of human existence. These latter concepts are woven into a complex tapestry of race and class-consciousness and internecine struggle as the Compsons contend with the interrelated dynamics of family honor and feminine virtue within the context of social acceptability, life's perceived order, and the element of time.

    • The South: What is it, Where is it?, excerpted from John Shelton Reed's My Tears Spoiled My Aim and available via EDSITEment-reviewed American Studies at the University of Virginia, might be a good way to quickly review the multiple perspectives of the South. The article is lengthy, and uses statistics ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s, so it is intended as supplementary background information for the teacher.
    • For the purposes of this curriculum unit, the terms point of view and narrative voice will be used interchangeably. While some teachers might want to enhance the lesson by distinguishing between narrative voice and focalization, this lesson adopts the broader approach to point of view since the student is already grappling with a complex text. Point of view, then, here includes both 'who sees' (often termed focalization) and who speaks (often termed 'voice').

    Preparation Instructions

    • Review the lesson plan and the websites used throughout. Locate and bookmark suggested materials. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. The following worksheets are available for use, with their respective lessons in the curriculum unit noted in parentheses.
    • Students can access the novel and some of the activity materials via the Student LaunchPad.
    • Review the curriculum unit overview and the pre-reading activities for students.
    • Warn students to anticipate difficult reading ahead. While Benjy's version of events in the first chapter is complex and even difficult to read, for example, ask students to focus less on creating a firm initial sense of what happened and more on how the structure of Benjy's thoughts influences their sense of the Compson family's place in time and in culture.
    • Prepare students for Faulkner's use of offensive racist terms and racial stereotypes by setting the context of Faulkner's time and place. The article "Keeping Faulkner in the Classroom," by Lisa Hickman of Rhodes College (available from Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Faulkner Studies) will help you prepare students for such issues.

    The Sound and the Fury is an emotionally charged work that is difficult for most mature readers, let alone junior and senior high school students. Yet it is not impossible to teach, nor is it out of the reach for most advanced students. In the novel, as in most of his works, Faulkner wrestles with moral themes, yet it is the structure of the narrative—at once stylistically compelling and yet obscure—that both ranks it as great among American literary classics and renders it so very complex for readers.

    The Sound and the Fury details the moral decay of the Compsons, a once-prosperous aristocratic family from Mississippi, with a lineage that stretches back to before the Civil War and includes a military general and a former governor of Mississippi. The tale is told in flashbacks, unfolding over at least three different periods of time and from more than one point of view. Benjy Compson, the thirty-three year old retarded son of Jason and Caroline Compson, is the moaning and slobbering "idiot" who narrates the first of four chapters; his older brother, the sensitive, Harvard-educated Quentin Compson, narrates the second chapter; the mean-spirited and stingy younger brother Jason IV narrates chapter three; and chapter four is relayed by an omniscient narrator who tells the story of this family decline by ironically focusing on the maid Dilsey, rendered powerless by virtue of her race and position, and yet the de facto matriarch of this family and its only source of stability.

    The Sound and the Fury continued to explore Faulkner's themes from earlier works related to the decline of the American South, as well as issues of morality, sin, and redemption, although one could rightly argue that his overarching concern was with the nature of human existence. These latter concepts are woven into a complex tapestry of race and class-consciousness and internecine struggle as the Compsons contend with the interrelated dynamics of family honor and feminine virtue within the context of social acceptability, life's perceived order, and the element of time.

    • The South: What is it, Where is it?, excerpted from John Shelton Reed's My Tears Spoiled My Aim and available via EDSITEment-reviewed American Studies at the University of Virginia, might be a good way to quickly review the multiple perspectives of the South. The article is lengthy, and uses statistics ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s, so it is intended as supplementary background information for the teacher.
    • For the purposes of this curriculum unit, the terms point of view and narrative voice will be used interchangeably. While some teachers might want to enhance the lesson by distinguishing between narrative voice and focalization, this lesson adopts the broader approach to point of view since the student is already grappling with a complex text. Point of view, then, here includes both 'who sees' (often termed focalization) and who speaks (often termed 'voice').

    The Lessons

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
    • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
    Skills
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Discussion
    • Interpretation
    • Journal writing
    • Literary analysis
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Online research
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Using primary sources