Over the years I have often wondered why no teacher ever assigned [a:William Faulkner|3535|William Faulkner|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1189905090p2/3535.jpg] to me in school. Now, reading [b:The Sound and the Fury|10975|The Sound and the Fury|William Faulkner|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1350949394s/10975.jpg|1168289], I completely understand. No high school teacher in his or her right mind would suffer through the reaction the average class of high school kids would have to this book.
This is a tale of a an old Southern family declining and coming apart at the seams. It is a masterful and challenging work. Stylistically, there is no doubt this book is a literary accomplishment on Faulkner's part, but it is definitely not an easy read. The book is comprised of four sections, one each written from the point of view of the three brothers in the Compson family who form the center of the tale, and a fourth written by an omniscient narrator. The edition I read, the Modern Library edition, actually included a fifth section as an afterward, which Faulkner had added in 1946 as a preface and said was the key to the whole thing. Having that section certainly helped make the rest more comprehensible to me. I'm not sure I would have stuck with the book without the structure this section supplied.
Why is this book such a challenging read? The first reason is that the book opens with the section written by Maury or Benjy (the family superstitiously changes his name partway through his life, which is one source of confusion for the reader) who is in some way mentally disabled. Although the nature of the disability is not entirely clear (probably autism), and Benjy understands more of the world than many around him give him credit for, his cognitive limitations color the way that his part of the narrative reads. The narrative centers on a single day, but covers events of a 30 year period, jumping around in a stream of consciousness style, and because Benjy even as an adult is always treated as a child, it is hard to determine what era is described as the narration weaves back and forth unexpectedly. In his mind, multiple days spent in the same locations, and even the multiple losses the family suffered over time, blend and merge, and the reader has to struggle to decipher the course of events. There are also two different characters in different generations with the name Quentin, one male and one female, another potential source of confusion to the reader trying to make sense of Benjy's narrative.
The sections that follow are much easier to process, a reward to the reader for getting through Benjy's section. The second section takes place during the last day of brother Quentin's freshman year at Harvard, leading up to his suicide. This narrative is also not entirely simple to follow, this time because of the narrator's severe depression. The third section is written by Jason, whose section is overwhelmingly colored by his selfishness and hatred for most of those around him, from others in the family to Dilsey, the strong, caring black housekeeper who is the most consistent source of goodness and sanity in the novel. The final section, with an objective narrator, rounds out the events in the tale, as the family is torn asunder one final time by the conflict that has been brewing.