The Sound and the Fury Book summary

William Faulkner



William Faulkner is deemed to be one of the most influential figures in modernist literature, a reputation that originated with The Sound and The Fury. This book features Faulkner’s first use of the stream of consciousness narrative that is further complicated by some of the characters’ unique perceptions of time. The first section of The Sound and the Fury could easily be considered one of the most complex sections in all of modern English literature. Faulkner stated that he had begun the story about the Compsons by writing a short story about children who are sent out of the house on the day of their grandmother’s funeral because they are too young. He was then captivated by the idea of writing from the perspective of a character that was wholly innocent, and so Benjy’s section came into existence.

The title of the book is drawn from Macbeth’s monologue from Act V Scene V of Shakespeare’s famous play about the corruption that accompanies power. It is also interesting to observe that the monologue features another line that may have served as the inspiration for Benjy’s section, as Macbeth claims that life is a “tale told by an idiot."


Plot Summary

The Sound and the Fury begins with the narration of the mentally ill, Benjamin Compson, who is one of the four children of an aristocratic southern family. The first section of the book follows Benjamin on the day of his thirty-third birthday as he goes around the Compson property with a young black servant called Luster. Benjy has no concept of time, and he lives his memories as he sees reminders of events around the property. Benjy’s narrative is focused on his sister Caddy, and it begins with the night of his grandmother’s funeral. Benjy remembers how Caddy had fallen in a stream and muddied her underpants when all the children had been sent away from the house since they were far too young to understand their grandmother’s death. Benjy is mentally stuck at the age of three, but he has a clear idea of how things should be ordered and he protests any actions against this order with loud crying. He is far closer to his sister Caddy than any of his other family members, but he becomes obsessed with her smell which to him seems similar to trees. Benjy tries to ensure thatCaddy has the same smell, but this interferes with her development as a woman. Benjy is finally disappointed when Caddy loses her virginity and stops smelling like trees. She gets married later onwards, but Benjy continues to obsess about her. Benjy is castrated by his father and his brother, Jason when he accidentally attacks some school girls that are crossing near the family’s estate.

The second narrative section features Quentin Compson as he begins his day on the Harvard Campus in 1910. Quentin obsesses about time and thinks about the recently concluded marriage of his sister. Quentin skips his classes and spends the day wandering around the town as he relives his memories. He has been obsessed with the idea of Southern honor since he was very young. This belief is tested when he learns of Caddy’s promiscuous sexual character which results in her being pregnant without marriage. Quentin had suggested suicide upon learning the secret and had put a knife to Caddy’s throat with the conviction to kill themselves. He had then thought about taking the blame for Caddy’s pregnancy by claiming to have committed incest. Quentin had approached his father with that conviction, but his father had refused to believe him. To Quentin’s surprise, Mr. Compson had been rather unconcerned about Caddy’s virginity as he had believed it to be a ridiculous concept imposed on women by men. He had gone further to claim that Quentin was only upset about Caddy’s loss of virginity because he was a virgin. That hadn’t been the end for Quentin, who had found reasons to protest Caddy’s marriage to a local wealthy man called Herbert Head. Quentin had wanted Caddy to run away with him, and he believed they would be able to live off the tuition money. However, Caddy claimed that she had to marry someone before the pregnancy became evident. She had insisted that Quentin complete his education since the tuition had been paid by the sale of Benjy’s favorite pasture in the Compson estate. Quentin spends that day in 1910, two months after Caddy’s wedding, roaming around the town. He gets into an argument with one of his classmen who talks about his sexual encounters with women. Quentin kills himself after his fight with Gerald, and his last recollection is that of his father telling him that he will soon get over Caddy’s loss of virginity.

The third narrative section follows, Jason Compson, on the Easter weekend in 1928. Jason is in his thirties by this point and has turned into a hateful and almost evil man. Jason hates his brother Benjy and wants to send him to the insane asylum. He has hated his sister, Caddy, since childhood but his hatred for her grew when her marriage with Herbert ended in divorce. Herbert had divorced Caddy when he had learned about her pregnancy. Their divorce meant that Jason was denied a bank job that he had been promised when Herbert’s marriage to Caddy had been fixed. Jason had also hated his brother Quentin, who had committed suicide nearly a decade ago because Jason had never gotten the opportunity to study like Quentin. He hated his father, whom he claimed had spent away the family fortune to fulfill his alcoholism. He hates Miss Quentin, as she reminds him of her sister, and he wants to exercise control over her. Jason tries to control Quentin, but his mother and Dilsey prevent him from mistreating her. Jason receives money from his sister for the welfare of her illegitimate daughter, as Mr. Compson had taken in her daughter after Caddy’s divorce. Jason uses Caddy’s estrangement with her mother as a means to steal the money that Caddy sends for Quentin’s care. He uses that money to trade in the cotton market, and support a prostitute in a nearby town. Jason believes that his sister owes him this money because she cost him the bank job that Herbert had promised him.

Jason sees Quentin roaming the town with a man in a red tie, and decides to catch up to them but finds himself unable to do so. He is left stranded in a field with a punctured tire, but he is too embarrassed to admit that he had been chasing after Quentin when he comes back home after work. He makes snide remarks about her character that set off the 17-year-old girl, and she threatens to run away. On Sunday morning, Jason wakes to find Quentin missing from her room, and a broken window in his room. He realizes that Quentin has eloped with all of the money that he had been saving, and sets out to search for her. He receives no help from the sheriff who criticizes Jason for the way he runs his household, and he sets out to search for Quentin on her own. He fails miserably and has to hire help to drive him back to town. He returns to town to find Benjy panicking during a carriage ride as Luster takes him through a new route, and Jason can calm him down by returning the carriage to the old route. 

  • Author(s)

    William Faulkner
  • Publication date


  • Language


  • Classification

    Modernist Literature

  • Pages



Southern Renaissance, Non-linear Narrative


Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith