Faulkner’s In My Head

The Sound and the Fury both repulsed and intrigued me. I did not want to read it, but I didn’t want to stop reading it, either. This is the kind of sentiment I’ve come to associate with Faulkner, though.

The Sound and the Fury is the tragic story of the once-prestigious Compson family’s downfall. This downfall, both in terms of prestige and morality, comes in the form of the four Compson children – Quentin, Caddy, James, and Benjy.

Caddy’s promiscuity leads to the breakdown of the rest of her family. Benjy, whose internal peace relies on order and routine, completely loses it when Caddy is disowned. Quentin cannot bear his sister’s immorality, and James feels wronged and slighted as Caddy’s marriage dissolves.

My favorite part, though, was being inside Benjy’s head. Benjy has no concept of time whatsoever. His narrative is disjointed as he slips between memories. It is always the present, whether something triggers a memory of something that happened when he was a boy, or whether it is actually the present, when he is 33. This makes it hard to figure out exactly what is going on when.

For example, you have to work to figure out which James is mentioned – Benjy’s brother or his father – or whether Quentin refers to Benjy’s brother or Caddy’s illegitimate daughter. The repetition of names, along with the fact that Benjy perceives everything in the present tense, makes time seem incredibly random. Benjy seems to relive his memories as if they are actually re-happening to them; he has no sense of their being in the past.

But most of all, I just really liked the way Faulkner wrote in steam-of-consciousness. It was really interesting, overall, to be in Benjy’s head. It’s so rare to be made aware of memory as it actually works. It’s also rare to be made aware of how you actually think. Reading Benjy’s internal thoughts made me really aware of how memories are actually triggered. When you’re inside your head, your internal monologue doesn’t usually follow the same logic as when you’re talking to someone or writing your thoughts out. You see something or smell something or hear something that reminds you of something else and suddenly you’re there again. Benjy’s portion of the novel really drove that home.

Overall, it was super cool to read Faulkner. It made me feel like I was reading in a new and revolutionary way. It made me think about how I read and how I thought about what I was reading – and about what I was thinking – in a completely different light.

Go Faulkner.

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Princess of Cleves

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