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

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