The Sound and the Fury: A Literary Criticism

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

In Donald M. Kartiganer’s review of The Sound and the Fury, he sets out to prove that the novel serves as evidence of Faulkner's mastery of his specific form; a form that is unsparingly honest, a form Kartiganer labels as “waste-land fiction”, and a form that is both subjective and objective, a reversed picaresque, with characters happening to the world around them, rather than the world happening to them.

Kartiganer does a wonderful job setting the stage for his critique, going through other writers who used what he describes as:

“the presence of fragments

often moving to no particular end

or recognizable rationale” (614).

He also contrasts this with more traditional works by writers such as James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, who employed the form of a controlled beginning, middle, and end. He uses Henri Bergson’s 1934 work, The Creative Mind as one of his primary references throughout this review.

Bergson’s work focused primarily on form, and how broken verses, shifting narrators, and shattered time sequences can be a more artistic and effective way of depicting a character’s perception of the world around them as they experience it, rather than molding these experiences into a scientific format that can only occur once the character has recounted on the events. Bergson believed it to be more impactful to write the character’s perception as it occurred in their brain, but he also acknowledged that this form would be incredibly challenging, and only the most skillful writers would be able achieve such a feat successfully. Kartiganer solidifies Bergson’s relevance with a quote from Faulkner, who once stated that Bergson was an obvious influence on his style of writing.

Kartiganer writes:

“An art of process is a recording of life’s motion

and of the mind’s constant attempt to keep abreast of it” (617).

Writers such as Walt Whitman employed a pure process, where he formatted his works in a traditional chronology. By Faulkner trying to keep abreast of events as they happen, it forced him to rewrite a lot more, having to go back constantly to make sure his dates match up, and having to go back and insert realizations made by characters that even he himself did not realize at the moment he was writing their perspectives. Kartiganer notes that while Faulkner’s style lacks the aesthetic ease many readers are accustomed to and have grown to enjoy, the form he mastered in The Sound and the Fury is much more organic, requiring an immense concentration that makes finishing the novel more of an undertaking, and thus, much more of an achievement.

In this article, we are taken through the style of each perspective, going from Benjy’s abstract objectivity in the opening section, to the neutral and traditionally written voice of the fourth section. We are given the pure perception by Benjy, as even his memories present themselves to readers as new experiences, or as Kartiganer writes:

“new in the sense that he is not recalling them

but reliving them with exactly the feeling of their first occurrence” (621).

Through Benjy, we are given a clear and unbiased picture of his siblings; Caddy as the nurturer, Jason as the evil one, and Quentin as someone who remains unquantifiable. Kartiganer argues that Quentin is the most conventional character in the novel in terms of form, as his delivery is deliberate and romantic, and much more subjective than that of Benjy’s.

Kartiganer’s arguments are convincing, as he lends enough support from the text. He finds ways to explain the obvious abstract nature of the novel and the reasons behind them. He doesn’t just assume that Faulkner was influenced by Bergson’s take on form, he actually provides quotes where Faulkner states this fact, and he weaves Bergson’s claims into each section of The Sound and the Fury. This support is where the greatest strength of the article lies; however, it is equally important to note the fervor in which Kartiganer argues the complexity of each character, and criticizes the pigeon-hole that many critics put them in. The review could have been fuller with more analysis of the sections following Benjy’s opening section, specifically by contrasting the more traditional fourth section, but the in-depth New Criticism that Kartiganer writes provides some insight into just how spectacular Faulkner’s mastery of his form truly was.