Twentieth Century Innovations in Narrative Perspective as exemplified in William Faulkner`s "The Sound and the Fury"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

19 Pages, Grade: 12

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1 Introduction: Revolutionary Changes in Life and Society influence the Arts

2 The Four Different Perspectives and the Ensuing Consequences
2.1 April Seventh, 1928: The Benjy Section
2.1.1 The character ’ s mind and his perception
2.1.2 Linguistic and Literary Devices Benjy ’ s Language The Literary Device of Repetition
2.2 June Second, 1910: The Quentin Section
2.2.1 TheCharacter ’ s State of Mind
2.2.2 The Consequent Linguistic and Literary Devices Vocabulary and Syntax Punctuation and Printing Devices Repetition as an Element of Organization
2.3 April Sixth, 1928: The Jason Section
2.3.1 The Interdependence between the Character ’ s Mind and the Stylistic Means employed
2.3.2 Jason as a Parody of Quentin
2.4. April Eighth, 1928: The Last Section
2.4.1 The Narrator ’ s Position
2.4.2 The Language

3 Conclusion: The Impact of the Four Different Perspectives on Topics and Language in the Novel and their Effect

1 Introduction: Revolutionary Changes in Life and Society influence the Arts

To cope with the revolutionary changes of life and society at the turn of the 19th century, artists tried to capture the enormous increase in complexity. To express new ideas and values they were experimenting with new styles of writing1, influenced by the surge of the new mass media, e.g. film and phonograph2.

One important problem posed by the breakdown of traditional values such as e.g. the southern code of honor, family, agricultural society etc., is the uncertainty about a clear identity. This leads to a preoccupation with one’s inner life. The search for identity was strongly influenced by Freud’s theories which considered the “ego” as “a location of deepseated conflicts and unerasable memories that constantly distorted one’s ability to understand the past or adjust to the future”.3 This quest to redefine one’s self finds its expression in new literary forms like the stream-of-consciousness technique.

As far as topics are concerned they continue the tendency developed through realism and naturalism towards dealing with everyday matters of ordinary people. In its extreme forms modernist literature deals with topics traditionally considered unworthy of being an object of literary art.4 An example of this is Faulkner’s choice of an idiot as one of his main characters in The Sound and the Fury.5 Modernist literature depicts a slice of ordinary life which need not have a dramatic climax.6 This is also true of Faulkner`s The Sound and the Fury in which none of the sections has a climatic structure.7

Apart from dealing with modernist themes such as the decay of southern culture, search for identity, nihilistic ideas8, Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury is innovative concerning the mode of presentation which is predetermined by the choice of narrative perspective. By presenting four different sets of perceptions of and reactions to the same situation he questions the existence of one true reality. Thus for Faulkner reality is composed of “individual realities” like the picture produced by a kaleidoscope or an impressionistic painting. Therefore Faulkner’s style has also been called impressionistic9. This way of writing demands of the reader that he “has to interpret and put together the parts so that they fall in place”10

2 The Four Different Perspectives and the Ensuing Consequences

The four sections of The Sound and the Fury, each dealing with one day in the lives of the Compson family, are presented from four different points of view. The first three sections are each narrated by a different character involved in the situation whereas the fourth is related by an external third person narrator.

To find out in what respect they differ one has to take a closer look at each of the sections separately in order to analyze the interdependence of differences in narrative perspective, stylistic means and the effects achieved.

2.1 April Seventh, 1928: The Benjy Section

2.1.1 The Character’s Mind and his Perception

In the first section the narrative perspective is that of a mentally retarded person with the consciousness of a very young child11. Due to the limitations implied because of this handicap, the perspective through which the situation is presented is necessarily restricted. This affects the choice of the events related as well as the language. Benjy’s only means of expressing himself are either being still and serene (pp. 48, 58, 321), or moaning, crying and howling (pp. 17, 33, 55, 57)12.13, the author uses a stream-of-consciousness technique to convey his mental processes as he cannot communicate by means of language. As is said in the text Benjy is:

“trying to say” (pp. 49, 50, 51);

“He can’t tell what you saying.” Luster said. “He deef and dumb” (p. 47)

The stream of consciousness technique mostly has as material “chaotic, spontaneous, incoate mental experiences of human consciousness”14. In Benjy’s section this is true because of his incapacity to differentiate between the present and the past. For him his memories are as real as present occurrences. Therefore his whole section is written in one and the same tense.

Things he perceives evoke associative memories from various time levels15 in the past.

These at face value unconnected episodes are elements of an impressionistic picture, which the reader has to sort out, almost without any help. The only clues Faulkner offers is a change in type face to indicate time changes16 and the change of Benjy’s attendants to mark different periods of his life17.

Most of his memories are connected by a central character, Caddy. His associations are triggered by sensory perceptions18, mainly the senses of smelling (p. 4) and touching e.g. when he was “being caught on a nail” (p. 2) are prevalent. The repetitive use of the expression “I could smell it”(p. 32) with “it” here meaning death betrays his strong emotion when members of his family died. Holding the slippers (pp. 58, 68, 70) comforts him and touching the cushion (pp. 61, 62) makes him stop crying. Thus for him strong emotional reactions are connected with these two senses e.g. he “hushed [and] held to her dress” (p. 44), he “cried and pulled Caddy’s dress” (p. 45) or he “caught her, trying to say,[…]” (p. 51) as he remembers his inability to communicate when he met the schoolgirls and thought one of them was Caddie. Caddy’s use of perfume (p. 40) disrupts his pattern of order as she usually “smells like trees” (pp. 7, 17, 41, 42, 46). This causes him to cry.

The other two senses, i.e. hearing and seeing, are made use of as “recording devices” because Benjy is incapable of establishing logical relationships, for example between cause and effect. His inability to interpret or even understand what is going on results in his rendering events just as a camera or phonograph would record it.19 Striking examples of his peculiar sense of vision are: “The barn wasn’t there and we had to wait until it came back. I didn’t see it come back. It came behind us ”(p. 19) or “The room went away, but I didn’t hush, and the room came back...” (p. 42) These are descriptions from Benjy’s point of view of the simple acts of in the first example walking up and down a hill and turning around and in the second closing and opening a door.

2.1.2 Linguistic and Literary Devices Benjy’s Language

To reflect this peculiar way of perception convincingly, Faulkner uses a certain array of literary and linguistic techniques. As Benjy is unaware of the connection between agent and performed act, he assigns an independent “life” to things as well as to people and parts of his own body. Thus he uses various subjects, animate and inanimate, indiscriminately with the same verb:

e.g.: I


the room went away

the fire

the bowl (pp. 40, 42, 45, 56, 68)

Because even the parts of his or other people’s bodies lead an external, independent life e.g. Luster’s “hand came for another piece of cake” (p. 55) Benjy does not realize that he himself is agent or object of particular actions or sensations. Therefore he merely describes actions performed by parts of his body which in fact are a consequence of his physical experience20, e.g. when he burns his hand: “my voice went loud and my hand tried to go back to my mouth” (p. 57) This estrangement from his own sensations in his final consequence leads to a confusion of the senses, synesthesia . As for example in the passage:

“My hands saw the slipper and I squatted there hearing it getting dark” (p. 70) or: “I could smell the bright cold” (p. 70)

To lend credibility to the character, the language needs to be in keeping with the limitations of a retarded person’s mind. Therefore certain limitations concerning vocabulary and syntax are typical of Benjy’s idiolect. His vocabulary is restricted in the number of words, containing about 500 items,21 as well as in their quality. The overall majority of these words consists of concrete nouns and verbs.22 Among the nouns are many names or words designating objects in his natural environment for example: sun, moon, grass, trees, leaves etc.. As for the kind of verbs used, these are usually unsophisticated and neutral, i.e. they convey information without evaluating it. Examples of this are passages like:

“Versh’s hand came with the spoon, into the bowl. The spoon came up to my mouth. The steam tickled into my mouth. Then we quit eating and we looked at each other and we were quiet, and then we heard it again and I began to cry.” (p. 23) The crudeness of the verbs is underlined by the exclusive use of past tense, even more so by his preference for the simple form. The scarce insertion of verbs with a more than purely informative content, like for example “to tickle” in the passage cited above, serve to make a passage appear more vivid and colorful.

Furthermore Benjy’s section contains few adjectives, adverbs and conjunctions due to his limited ability to interpret ongoing events. This scarceness of qualifying or structuring linguistic elements results in simple unmodified sentence structures:

Subject + Verb or Subject + Verb + Object

and an abundance of paratactic units, for example in the passage cited above or in the following excerpt:

“But when I tried to climb onto it, it jumped away and hit me on the back of the head and my throat made a sound . It made the sound again and I stopped trying to get up, and it made the sound again and I began to cry.” (p.38)

The fact that Benjy mechanically reports important and unimportant events, statements, questions etc. alike, is further stressed by Faulkner’s unconventional use of punctuation, leaving out question- and exclamation marks. To mark the end of a sentence only full stops are used, these even substitute commas most of the time.23

Literary device The Literary Device of Repetition

Another prominent stylistic means used in this section is repetition, which is employed towards two different ends. First repetition is used to stress the importance of certain events and emotions for Benjy, as for example in: “Caddy smells like trees.” to express his love for her and second to describe the relationship between different actions, which he cannot interpret or put in the right words. An example for this second use of repetition is:

“I could hear the water. I listened to it. [...] I listened to the water. I couldn’t hear the water, and Caddy opened the door.” (p. 40)

The repetition of “listen to the water” serves to express the duration of the action. “I couldn’t hear the water” signifies that Caddy has finished washing herself.

To convey information that would be beyond the grasp of Benjy’s mind, Faulkner resorts to the use of direct speeches memorized by Benjy as if recorded by a phonograph. The almost exclusive use of “to say” (pp. 27, 34)24 as introductory verb emphasizes once more his lack of discriminative capacity. Only in very few passages Benjy is allowed the use of reported speech, as for example when they are playing at the branch:

“He said he was going to tell. [...] when Quentin came back Versh stopped and hollered that he was going to tell. Caddy told him that if he wouldn’t tell, they’d let him come back. So Versh said he wouldn’t, and they let him.” (pp. 16/17)

That this unprocessed dialogue material makes up a large part of Benjy’s section 25 emphasizes the narrow scope of his linguistic means which mirrors his mental limitations. Faulkner thus creates a convincing image of an idiot while giving the reader nonetheless the opportunity to at least partly understand what is happening.

Benjy’s narrative perspective is at the same time the most limited of the four perspectives due to the narrowness of his mind and the least limited26. In his section the widest span of time is covered, the most characters are mentioned and Benjy’s memories are not completely restricted to Caddy’s loss of virginity or to Caddy at all.

2.2 June Second, 1910: The Quentin Section

2.2.1 The character’s State of Mind

The second section is written from Quentin’s point of view. He is Benjy’s older brother who is studying at Harvard. The difference between the two brothers concerning their mental capacity is that Quentin’s mind is much more complex and intelligent. His hypersensitivity leads to emotional instability, despair and ultimately to his suicide. Thus Quentin’s consciousness is multi-leveled. In his section not only actions, sensory perceptions and memories are presented, but also Quentin’s reflections about questions of human existence.

Like Benjy, he jumps from one time level to another, his interior monologue consists of a chain of thoughts, each generating another often without any obvious connection. Part of his associations stem from his subconscious.27 Some central themes are: his insistence on the importance of virginity (p. 76), his incest fantasy and his concept of manhood based on the southern code of honor:

“ I have committed incest I said father it was I it was not Dalton Ames And when he put Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. Dalton Ames. When he put the pistol in my hand I didn’t. That’s why I didn’t.” (pp. 77)

In this section the influence of Sigmund Freud’s psycho-analytic theories manifests itself most clearly. For example Quentin’s obsession with Caddy’s and her mother’s failures as regards the roles he assigns to women.28 His preoccupation with motherhood is illustrated for example by his imagining himself as Dalton Ames’ mother (p. 78). His repetition of the remark: “If I had just had a mother so I could say mother mother.”( p. 93) blames his mother’s shortcomings for the problems in the Compson family.29 Thus some knowledge of Freud’s theories enables the reader to recognize the lines along which his consciousness operates. This is illustrated by the following example:

“[...] I want my boys to be more than friends yes Candace and Quentin more than friends Father I have committed what a pity you had no brother or sister No sister no sister had no sister [...] and you have taken my little daughter away from me My little sister had no. If I could say Mother. Mother ” (p. 93 )

In these passages Quentin intersperses his interior monologue with remembered pieces of a conversation between himself, his mother and Herbert Head. The repeated line ”more than friends” reminds Quentin of his “confession” of having committed incest with Caddy. Then the conversation goes on until his mother mentions that Herbert has no sister, this is very important for Quentin and he ponders upon it until, following with one ear his mother’s speech, he hears the phrase “taken my little daughter away”. In his mind he pieces together “little” and “sister” and the term “daughter” makes him think of “mother”. That the daughter is “taken away” implicates the loss of a daughter and vice versa of a mother. Carrying the idea of loss further he arrives at the idea of absence, lack of a daughter/mother. So this passage seems to express his feeling that his “little sister” had no mother, which seems true considering the vague presence of Caroline Compson in the novel. However, as Quentin does not finish the last sentence this is not entirely clear.30

2.2.2 The Consequent Linguistic and Literary Devices Vocabulary and Syntax

The fact that this section is written from the point of view of an intelligent human being heavily affected by emotional turmoil, has a deep impact on the use of linguistic and literary devices. First of all Quentin’s superior educational standard is reflected in the level of language used in his section. As his thoughts center around abstract ideas the vocabulary employed is necessarily less concrete and more varied, and on the whole more sophisticated than in the Benjy section.

The structure of Quentin’s sentences depends on his momentary state of mind: the more fragmented the language, the more uncontrolled and incoherent his thinking.

On the one hand we are told a story from the point of view of a first person narrator, on the other hand we are confronted with an associative stream-of-consciousness technique,31 which serves to portray the psyche of a person whose concept of life has fallen apart. First person narrative is used to relate the events of the day on which Quentin commits suicide as well as some memories of the past, above all such which are not painful to him. In those parts of the second section he exercises complete control over his mind mirrored by his control over his language, which for example manifests itself by his denominating the speakers in the remembered conversations. (e.g.: p. 74)32

In the narrative passages his sentences are simple and related by parataxis. They almost exclusively contain finite verbs in the past tense. This paratactic structure suggests action, as for example when he describes impassively the preparations for his suicide. (pp. 177/178) Whenever events or memories are painful to Quentin, his mind and with it his language slip from his grasp. His sentences lose their structure and become ungrammatical. Loosely connected chains of words form in his mind, which makes the language fragmentary and thus conveys his blurred vision of the world. This is exemplified by the following fragments of sentences and appended words coming to his mind when he remembers Caddie’s wedding announcement:

“At home after the first of August number Something Something Avenue South Bend Indiana. Shreve said Aren’t you even going to open it? Three days. Times. Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson Young Lochinvar rode out of the west a little too soon, didn’t he?” (p. 91)

Apart from this experimental practice to mix seemingly incoherent fragments of thoughts with disconnected parts of remembered dialogues and accumulations of single words, unorthodox combinations of clauses like the ones in the following examples are used to demonstrate Quentin’s diminishing rational control.

“Face full of teeth white but not smiling.” (p. 91) “Just papier mâché, then touch.” (p. 90)

“A broken razor flinging them backward over his shoulder the same motion complete the jerked skein of blood backward not looping.” (p.114)

The lack of grammatical hierarchy makes the sentences also appear chainlike. The use of connectives that link clauses without respecting the ranks of the units is often arbitrary. Unfinished sentences or more rarely the deviation from the accepted word order in their extremes lead to the disintegration of the syntax.

As in the examples quoted above the impression of disconnectedness is often underlined by the use of non-finite verb-forms whose grammatical relationship with the preceding clause is misleading or even absent. The prevailing use of non-finite forms and nominal units suggests a more static quality of sensory perceptions, i.e. above all visual perceptions of simultaneous actions. This creates the effect of a so-called “set picture” or “arrested motion” typical of Faulkner’s narrative technique.33 Punctuation and Printing Devices

Faulkner does not only take liberties with grammar but also with punctuation and printing devices. Almost one third of Quentin’s section displays these unorthodox techniques, for example changes in typefaces, no punctuation or lack of capitalization. These means are often combined with each other, some such passages are extended over up to three pages. (pp. 106-110) The absence of punctuation underlines the uninterrupted flow of thoughts, so to speak the “stream-of-consciousness”. Thus one memory blends with other memories in free association leading away from the central theme. To convey Quentin’s central memory without too many deviations Faulkner simplifies his thought process by letting him be unconscious (pp. 148-162)34 in one part of the second section. These fourteen pages are completely without punctuation or typographical variations. Instead of full stops he uses paragraphs to structure the sequence, however without capitalization.

In contrast narrative passages are generally properly punctuated, for example in Quentin’s dialogues with Shreve or in his account of his current activities (pp. 80-84). The unusual punctuation and printing devices do not contribute to the readers’ understanding as they are not consistently used to the same ends in contrast to Benjy’s section (see 2.1.2, p. 5). Repetition as an Element of Organization

The effect of fragmentation and incoherence in Quentin’s section makes some kind of organization necessary to enable the reader to understand what is to be communicated. So Faulkner superimposes upon the fragmented language ”a new linguistic system of syntactic, lexical, and also morphological and phonemic repetition” in Quentin’s idiolect35. Thus e.g. identical lexical items are repeated in different syntactic functions however, as in the following example:

“It’s always the idle habits you acquire which you will regret. Father said that. That Christ was not crucified: he was worn away by a minute clicking of little wheels. That had no sister.” (p. 75)

Another technique of rhetorical organization is the recurrence of different motifs either directly like the repetition of names e.g. Dalton Ames (pp. 77, 78, 90); Harvard and Herbert (p. 91), or Caddie (pp. 90, 99, 100, 104, 110) or symbolically like the words shadow (pp. 74, 79, 88, 90, 94, 96, 103, 111), sister (pp. 75, 76, 90, 93), watch or clock (pp.74, 75, 76, 78, 81, 82, 83, 86, 90); which expresses Quentin’s obsession with different themes Due to this innovative technique of disintegrating and fragmenting articulation in Quentin’s section the effect Faulkner creates is that of an impressionistic painting rather than a photograph.

When disintegration is completed as e.g. in the strings of words that can’t be clearly analyzed what is communicated is an emotional state of mind and no longer a thought or even a manner of thinking. In this way Faulkner endeavors to convey experience as it enters Quentin’s consciousness and not to describe it.

2.3 April Sixth, 1928: The Jason Section

2.3.1 The Interdependence between the Character’s Mind and the Stylistic Means employed

The third section of the book is written from the perspective of Jason, the third Compson brother. It is easier to read as it is more orthodox as neither form nor content pose unusual difficulties for the reader. The narrative passages are rendered in a conventional first person narrative written in past tense, whereas most of the section consists of quoted direct speech, introduced by “I says” or “I says to myself”. The fact that his mind never operates beyond this speech level proves him to be an one-dimensional character. Jason insists on facts and shuts out all emotions to protect himself against all irrational. This causes him to view Caddy, his family and his environment in a distorted way and disables him to understand other people (p. 263). Therefore he does not care about what they do as long as appearances are kept up (p. 261).36 This pseudo-objective view of the world isolates Jason totally, just as the obsession with the past isolates Quentin. He is proud of his self-sufficiency:

“[…] like I say I guess I don’t need any man’s help to get along I can stand on my own feet like I always have.” (p. 206)

In spite of his attempts to appear objective and rational he turns out to be ultimately driven by similar impulses as Quentin. While Quentin is concerned about the violation of his concept of honor, Jason is only obsessed with appearances. This superficiality is in keeping with Jason’s one-leveled consciousness as reflected in his language.

On the one hand Jason’s section contains a number of hypo tactical structures reflecting his efforts to appear logical. They are mainly introduced by linkers like: if, so, but,(p. 232) etc.. On the other hand his grammar is flawed and his language contains substandard forms in imitation of common speech.(p. 202) The use of short sentences in the dialogue parts (pp. 54-56) suggests that Jason is always restless, always preparing for a better future that he will never reach (pp. 245/246) because of his shortcomings, which lie mainly in his believing to be clever. In reality he is incompetent in practical affairs, as he relies on prejudices and personal ideas to demonstrate his independence.

2.3.2 Jason as a Parody of Quentin

In summary one can say that Jason is not really sensible as his inability to be aware of his own irrationality makes it impossible for him to learn from experience or question his own motives. He comments on his own behavior, worrying that it might appear crazy (p. 232) and he thinks about how he “got to feeling funny again, kind of mad or something”(p. 202). He dotes on the “craziness” of all of his family members, which is inherited through the “blood” (pp. 232, 243, 230), but he never thinks about the impulses that drive him to frenetically pursue Quentin to save “his mother’s good name” (p.232).

Therefore the third perspective we are given, is that of a man who at first glance, though odious, appears rational and sensible but underneath the surface struggles with the same madness as Benjy and Quentin do.

The Jason section can also be interpreted as a parody of the Quentin section because Jason simplifies his father’s nihilist philosophy of “extreme relativism into absolutism”37. Moreover he shows the same obsessions like Quentin e.g. His pursuit of Ms. Quentin and her lover ironically mirrors Quentin’s moral and religious obsession with Caddie’s fall: Quentin is actually concerned about Caddie’s loss of virginity i.e. having committed a sin (p. 115)38, whereas Jason is solely concerned with preserving his reputation and recovering his money (pp. 308/309). with life governed by chance, which brings them to act similarly: both defend the Compsons’ name poorly, e.g. Quentin’s “quixotic”39 attack on Gerald Bland (p. 163) and Jason’s being knocked out by the old man when he questions him about Ms. Quentin’s whereabouts (p. 309).

2.4 April Eighth, 1928: The Last Section

2.4.1 The Narrator’s Position

At first glance the last section appears to be a conventional narration from the perspective of an objective third person narrator. This external point of view is that of an outside spectator who is mostly restricted to relating what he observes. In some instances, however, he explains the characters’ actions on the basis of his personal interpretation. It is his intimate knowledge of the family that enables him to reach his conclusions and not his omniscience. The narrator is allowed an insight into one character’s mind, namely Jason’s, only in few passages (p. 306 - 309). Thus he is not an omniscient narrator since his inside view is limited to only one character, and he does not even know what will happen to Jason nor what he will do or why.40 Though the insight in Jason’s consciousness becomes deeper in the course of the fourth section41 the distance between him and the narrator is kept up. This ambiguous mixture of insight and detachment is clearly demonstrated by the following quote:

“[…]he thought of the people soon to be going quietly home to Sunday dinner, decorously festive, and of himself trying to hold the fatal, furious little old man whom he dared not release long enough to turn his back and run.” (p. 310) “[…] And then a furious desire not to die seized him and he struggled […]” (p.311) The distance is underlined by recurring third person phrases like:

“He imagined himself […] (p.307);“He thought that.” (p. 314); He could see the opposed forces of his destiny” (p. 307).

2.4.2 The Language

Nevertheless the narrator is also not strictly objective. He provides a subjective view of reality by the repetitive use of similes as for example “like butterflies” (p. 293), “as a small child does” (p. 272), “like old silver or the walls ” (p. 266), “like a small, aged monkey” (p. 293) as well as by the pervasive use of numerous adjectives (p.265). The multitude of conjectural elements e.g. “as if her eyes could” (p. 270), “who appeared to have been shaped of […] (p. 274)”, “it was as though his eyes” (p. 280), “The hat seemed to isolate Luster’s skull” (p. 289) also destroy the impression of the events being told factually. Such elements above all “as if” are used almost on every page. This way of personalizing reality is already an interpretation and therefore cannot be purely objective.

The words chosen often belong to a sophisticated level of diction, e.g.” regal and moribund color” (p. 265), “evincing an enigmatic profundity” (p. 274), “a meager figure [...] like that of one long immured in striving with the implacable earth” (p. 294) and are evidence of the intelligent narrator’s personal perspective.

Thus the narrator in this section is relatively detached but not without bias.42 His perspective is that of a spectator who tends to interpret characters and their actions, but is limited in as far as he has real access into one mind only, in that he does not know anything about the future nor that he can control what happens. He is also restricted concerning time.

On the whole this section is just one more part of the painting which it does not complete. It does not provide a final interpretation of one of the central problems of the novel like the universe, the South or the Compsons , nor does it help the reader to better understand Caddie or any of the other characters. It leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions, to provide his own view of the picture and thus to participate in the narration.43

3. Conclusion: The Four Different Perspectives and their Impact on Topics and Language in the Novel

The four sections are narrated from four different points of view, each of which presents the situations and the characters’ reactions either filtered through the three involved narrators’ minds or from a pseudo-external point of view. They also differ significantly in style due to the character’s different levels of consciousness and the varying degrees of their mental and emotional capacities. The quantity and the variety of words used differ widely with respect to the level of language they belong to, from colloquial, familiar, spoken language in Benjy’s section as well as in Jason’s to the refined language of an educated intellectual in Quentin’s and in the final section. The characteristic features of colloquial or in contrast sophisticated language are also to be found in the sentence structures. They range from simple short sentences with finite verbs in the past tense, which are even sometimes used to different ends, to complex modified sentences. The fragmented sentences are either typical of spoken language or are used as a stylistic means to render, complicated, associative thoughts when a stream of consciousness technique is applied. The language used varies also within the first three sections in keeping the narrators’ emotional states of mind.

These sections, all first person narratives, are written from an internal point of view of three different “madmen”, whose different levels of madness are represented in the ways they see the world and reflected in the peculiar language of their corresponding sections, as I have shown above. Therefore none of the three perspectives presents an objective view of reality: Benjy is confined to emotional truth, Quentin is obsessed with moral values and their validity and Jason is so concerned about facts and being objective that his view of reality is distorted because it negates the existence and reality of emotions.

In Benjy’s section the perspective is limited to one person’s view i.e. a mentally retarded person’s, it is not limited however in time switching back and forth nor to any phase of Caddie’s problem. Thus the reader is given a general but confused picture as an introduction to the central problem.

Quentin’s narrative is also limited to the internal perspective of one person and additionally restricted in time. Present events take place on one single day and his memories center exclusively around topics closely related with Caddie’s fall.

In Jason’s section mainly events in the present are rendered and his memories are restricted to the circumstances of Miss Quentin’s admittance to the family, which is connected with Caddie’s fading from the Compsons’ life.

The subjective perspectives in these three sections are opposed to the pseudo-objective way of presentation in the fourth section of the novel, which is not restricted to only one person’s inner point of view although it sometimes allows some insight into Jason’s mind. This part of the narrative is strictly limited in time to one day only providing no past memories of a certain character.

Thus the innovative structure of this novel is mainly due to the shift of perspective throughout the four sections. Therefore perspective in this novel seems to be one of the goals and not only the means to achieve these goals44. Faulkner is experimenting with the heretofore more or less unexplored perspectives of characters with different mental limitations. His main objective is not to convey a plot but to describe the different psychological reactions to basically the same situation. Thus the novel works like a collage, which is created by partly overlaying four different perceptions, i.e. four different points of view. So each of the four sections actually only creates one impression in a kaleidoscope reality.

This conveys the idea that there is no one, true reality, but that reality is dependent on the person who perceives it, i.e. reality is always subjective and never objective. This is one of the typical features of modernist literature that it breaks down old rules of stability, unchangeable truth and the clear distinction between good and bad, sane and insane and ultimately between right and wrong, true or false. There is no longer any security or any reliable “manual” that contains the one right way, the ultimate truth on how you have to organize your life, what you should or should not do.


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Bowling, Lawrence E. “Faulkner: Technique of The Sound and the Fury.” The Kenyon Review 10 . (Autumn 1948): 552-66.

Brooks, Cleanth. “Five Perspectives in the Sound and the Fury.Readings on William Faulkner. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1998. 104-12.

Cecil, L. Moffit “A Rhetoric for Benjy .William Faulkner ’ s The Sound and the Fury. A Critical Casebook. Ed. André Bleikasten. New York & London: Garland, 1982. 65-77.

Clarke, Deborah. “Of Mothers, Robbery and Language: Faulkner and The Sound and the Fury.Faulkner and Psychology. Eds. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson M.: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. 56-77

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. London: Vintage, (1929) 1995.

Gross, Beverly. “Form and Fulfillment in The Sound and the Fury.William Faulkner ’ s The Sound and Fury: A Critical Casebook. Ed. André Bleikasten. New York: Garland, 1982. 141-51.

Hagopian, John V. “Nihilism in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Compson Family. Ed. Arthur F. Kinney. Boston: Hall, 1982. 197-206

Hughes, Richard. “Introduction to The Sound and the Fury.The Sound and the Fury. William Faulkner. London: Vintage, (1929) 1995. vii-ix.

Kaluźa, Irena. The Functioning of Sentence Structure in the Stream-of-

Consciousness Technique of William Faulkner ’ s The Sound and the Fury: A Study in Linguistic Stylistics. Norwood, PA: Norwood Eds., 1979.

Ross, Stephen. “The Loud World of Quentin Compson.” William Faulkner ’ s The Sound and Fury: A Critical Casebook. Ed. André Bleikasten. New York: Garland, 1982. 101-14.

The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter 3rd edition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. 1998.

Vickery, Olga W. “The Sound and the Fury: A Study in Perspective .PMLA vol . 69, part 2 (December 1954): 1017-1037.

www: Padgett, John B. WFotW~The Sound and the Fury. COMMENTARY: 1995-2001

www: ---- WFotW~The Sound and the Fury. RESSOURCES: 1995-2001


1 The Heath Anthology of American Literature p.885

2 The Heath Anthology of American Literature p.910

3 The Heath Anthology of American Literature p.898

4 The Heath Anthology of American Literature p.884/885

5 Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. Benjy’s Section

6 The Heath Anthology of American Literature p. 885

7 Gross, Beverly Form and Fulfillment in ” The Sound and the Fury ” p. 146

8 Hagopian, John V. Nihilism in Faulkner ’ s “ The Sound and the Fury ” p. 201/204

9 Bowling, Lawrence E. Technique of “ The Sound and the Fury ” . p. 556

10 Kaluźa, Irena. The Functioning of Sentence Structure in the Stream-of-Consciousness Technique of William Faulkner ’ s “ The Sound and the Fury ” . p. 102

11 Hughes, Richard. Introduction to “ The Sound and the Fury ” . p. viii

12 All references to the novel are from the Vintage Classics paperback edition (London 1995)

13 Vickery, Olga W. “The Sound and the Fury ” : A Study in Perspective p.1018

14 Kaluźa, Irena p.10

15 Vickery, Olga W.: p. 1021; Bowling, Lawrence E.: p. 555

16 Bowling, Lawrence E.: p. 553

17 Padgett, John B. in: WFotW ~ The Sound and the Fury: Resources p.1 Benjy ’ s section; WFotW ~ The Sound and the Fury Commentary p.1 The Story, Section 1: “ April Seventh, 1928 ”

18 Padgett, John B. in: WFot W~ The Sound and the Fury: Commentary p.1; Kaluźa, Irena: p.14; Bowling, Lawrence E.: p.554

19 Kaluźa, Irena: p52

20 Bowling , Lawrence E.: p. 556,557; Vickery, Olga W.: p. 1022

21 Cecil, L. Moffit. A Rhetoric for Benjy.: p. 69

22 Cecil, L. Moffit: p. 70

23 Kaluźa,Irena: p.43; Cecil, L. Moffit: p. 68

24 Kaluźa, Irena: p. 44

25 Kaluźa, Irena: p.44 “77 percent of the text”

26 Bowling, Lawrence E.: p. 566

27 Ross, Stephen M.: The loud World of Quentin Compson p. 105

28 Clarke, Deborah.: Of Mother ’ s, Robbery, and Language: Faulkner and “ The Sound and the Fury ” p. 64

29 Clarke, Deborah: p. 64

30 similar: Bowling, Lawrence E. p. 559

31 Ross, Stephen: pp. 103, 105

32 Ross, Stephen: p. 105

33 Kaluźa, Irena : p. 68

34 see: Bowling Lawrence E.: p.560

35 Kaluźa, Irena: p. 81

36 Vickery, Olga W.: pp. 1030/1031

37 Aswell, Duncan: The Recollection and the blood: Jason ’ s Role in ” The Sound and the Fury ”: p. 116

38 Aswell, Duncan: p. 118

39 Aswell, Duncan: p. 119

40 Blanchard, Margaret: The Rhetoric of Communion: Voice in The Sound and the Fury, p.126

41 Blanchard, Margaret: p. 125

42 Blanchard, Margaret: p.128

43 Blanchard, Margaret: p. 123

44 Vickery, Olga W.:p.1018

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Twentieth Century Innovations in Narrative Perspective as exemplified in William Faulkner`s "The Sound and the Fury"
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Christina Gerke (Author), 2002, Twentieth Century Innovations in Narrative Perspective as exemplified in William Faulkner`s "The Sound and the Fury", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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