William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury“– an Exemplary Modernist Text

Term Paper, 2013

21 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Modernism
2.1 Historical Background
2.2 Stylistic and Thematic Characteristics

3. The Sound and the Fury
3.1 Background and Summary
3.2 Historical Analysis
3.2.1 Slavery and Economic Decline
3.2.2 Southern Values and Gender Roles
3.3 Technical Analysis
3.3.1 Composition
3.3.2 Language
3.3.3 Themes and Symbolism Shadows Quentin’s Watch Jason’s Greed Caddy’s Innocence Order and Chaos Religion

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” is considered “one of the greatest [Modernist] novels of the 20th century” (Churchwell), but what exactly qualifies it as such? To answer this question I will start by looking at what Modernism can be defined or classified as which means looking at its historical background as well as stylistic and thematic characteristics. After having done so I will examine Faulkner’s text in close comparison to these results and identify the commonalities along with the differences of theory and practice. In the process I will go into detail while analyzing some of the most striking characteristics of the novel in order to clarify their importance for Faulkner’s work as a whole.

2. Modernism

Peter Childs defines Modernism as “the art of […] the ‘tradition of the new’”, which roughly ranges from shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century up to 1965. Whether it can be seen as “a period, style, genre or combination of these” (Childs) is a matter of definition, but concerning William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” as the object of study I will concentrate on the historical context and the stylistic, as well as thematic characteristics of Modernist literature to illustrate Faulkner’s affiliation to this genre.

2.1 Historical Background

One of the main events that took place during the concerned period was the First World War (1914-1918). Though the war was already traumatic in itself, especially for the involved parties consisting of the Allied powers – Great Britain, France, Russia and the USA- on the one side and Germany on the other, it was the side effects and aftermath of the war that particularly influenced society to go through a major change.

Technical innovation regarding significantly more powerful and effective armory turned this war into one of the “bloodiest […] in history” (Wilson) and left many families having to deal with physically or mentally shattered men returning home and acting “as a terrible reminder not just of the war’s cost and waste, but [….] of the beliefs, class hierarchies and conventional moralities that made it possible” (Wilson).

Even though, the costs of the war can be categorized as mainly negative there have been some positive effects as well.

The control of the coal mines and railway network was turned over from private business to the government and resulted in improved living standards, especially of the urban poor population (Wilson).

Another positive effect was the “rising importance of psychiatry” (Wilson) in order to take care of the war veterans that had returned home and suffered from their traumatic experiences during their time at the front.

Even though, the major powers involved in the war made efforts to prevent another event like this from happening through The Treaty of Versailles (1919) and the establishment of the League of Nations (1920) inflation, political and economic instabilities finally resulted in the rise of several “right-wing parties in Europe […] and the increased activities of left-wing-groups” (Wilson).

Another development that took place at the end of the 19th century was the women’s rights movement which revolved around voting rights and “improving women’s position within bourgeois marriage” (Wilson) and later on outside of it.

Furthermore, the emergence of a mass culture trough “the transformation of publishing, leisure and entertainment” (Wilson) lead to a bigger interest in and a better accessibility of reading material. This development was highly criticized by self-claimed intellectuals who feared it would cause a degradation of literature and culture in general and which resulted in the emergence of Modernist literature in contrast to the so-called bestsellers the general population was reading.

Concerning technological developments the 19th century can be seen as an era of many significant discoveries affecting the rise of modern medicine, physics and astronomy. The beginning of mass production in 1908 rapidly lead to the car becoming “a privileged status symbol denoting not wealth, but also modernity […] and changed […] an understanding of the nature and capacities of the individual human body [as well as] to relations between human bodies” (Wilson).

2.2 Stylistic and Thematic Characteristics

Modernism is “rooted in tradition and classicism but fascinated by the impulse towards the ‘new’; it aspires to aesthetic integrity but finds increasingly ingenious ways to capture fragmentation; it presses towards the intensity of the moment but also reaches toward the infinite” (Shiach) and therefore, is quite contradictory.

Arthur Miller’s so-called ‘ideology of modernist aesthetics’ which he understands to be the guidelines of Modernist literary critics and cultural historians is expressed in a radical engagement with new forms of cultural expression in order to break with the “cultural values of the preceding period” (Shiach) and results in art forms articulating profound innovation trough “manifestos and essays as well as in their creative practice of rebellion and radical reinvention” (Shiach).

One of the most important proclamations of this movement is Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” (1909). It describes the motivation behind the avant-garde-movement, naming “[courage], audacity [] and revolt […] the essential elements of [its] poetry” and the poetry itself “as a violent attack on unknown forces”.

According to Marinetti’s “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature” (1912) there are eleven rules that need to be followed when creating Modernist poetry. The first one is the destruction of syntax and “scattering one’s nouns at random”, followed by the importance of using verbs in the infinitive. He also names the abolishment of adjectives as well as adverbs to prevent the noun from being stripped from its meaning. The fifth rule orders that “every noun must be immediately followed by another noun” and the elimination of “words such as like, as, so and similar”. Another important factor in Modernist poetry is the abolishment of punctuation. Instead it should be an “uninterrupted flow of new images” constructed through an analogical style which is seen as “the absolute master of all matter and its intense life”. The last rule is the destruction “of the ‘I’ in literature”.

Finally, Marinetti names three elements that should be essential for Modernist literature: noise, weight and smell. In Marinetti’s opinion, these are the three things the human mind perceives when experiencing its surroundings.

In practice, these guidelines were achieved through “radical aesthetics, technical experimentation, spatial or rhythmic rather than chronological form, self-conscious reflexiveness” (Childs) in form of the stream of consciousness technique and a “focus on the micro- rather than the macrocosm” (Childs).

Other tools to depict these rather abstract ideas of time and self were “motif, juxtaposition, significant parallels, different voices [and] shifts and overlays in time[,] place and perspective” (Lye). In historical relation there are also recurring themes that can be find in most Modernist literature, such as “question of the reality of experience itself; the search for a ground of meaning in a world without God; the critique of the traditional values of the culture; the loss of meaning and hope in the modern world and an exploration of how this loss may be faced” (Lye).


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William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury“– an Exemplary Modernist Text
Technical University of Darmstadt
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William Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury, Modernism
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Jessica Fowler (Author), 2013, William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury“– an Exemplary Modernist Text, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/281605


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