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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Caddy smelled like trees in the rain.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
While I'm hesitant to say assertively that The Sound and the Fury is "about" something in particular, it follows the Compson family in Mississippi (I just had to do the em-aye-ess-ess-aye-ess-ess-aye-pee-pee-aye rhyme in my head) during the early part of the 20th century. The family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Compson, one daughter Candace (aka Caddy), and three sons - Jason, Quentin, and Benjy (previously known as Maury). Benjy is mentally challenged and nonverbal, Jason is a total jerkface, Quentin kills himself after spending a year at Harvard (I think partly because he's in love with his sister Caddy), Caddy gets knocked up but marries a different man who divorces her when he finds out about the baby, and they name the baby... you guessed it! QUENTIN! Good old "hundred years of solitude" style - when you need a new name, just USE AN OLD ONE! The reader will definitely NOT be confused by this! The family also has household servants who are African American -- Dilsey, Frony, Luster, Roskus, T.P., and Versh -- and their stories are interwoven. Jason, his mother, and Dilsey raise Caddy's daughter, Quentin, because Caddy's reputation is shot. Quentin grows up very wild -- well, not really, but Jason is a tool so that doesn't help. In the end she robs Jason of his money (some of which was really her money because her mom sent it but Jason kept it) and we only sort of care because we don't like Jason at all to begin with. Toss that all in a pot, jumble the time frames of each event, tell the story from 4 different perspectives, leave out a bunch of punctuation, and use italics a lot, and BABLAM! There you have it. Sound and Fury.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

This book was...trippy. Not really in a good way. I liked the jumbled nature of Slaughterhouse-Five but I didn't really like the enigmatic nature of this book. I ended up skimming over my notes at the end and reading sentences like "Quentin is a boy. No a girl. No a boy. No there are 2 Quentins. Quentin is trans?" and "brother loves sister??" and "Maury is Benjy? Benjy is Maury? Maury was castrated?"

Here are my thoughts overall:

-4 chapters (Benjy, Quentin, Jason, Dilsey)
I liked that the story was told from different points of view, though I admit that while it was the most confusing, I liked the chapter told from Benjy's point of view the best, which made the ensuing chapters kind of a letdown. The stream of consciousness felt more intentional in this section; we got a lot of what Benjy was experiencing through sound, smell, or touch. The sensory details were eloquent and tangible. When we got to Jason, though, I was just dragging my heels through the chapter. He was so mean!

-2 Quentins
I think you all know how I feel about character renaming. I like it about as much as I like renaming new pets after dead pets. SO NOT AT ALL.

-Mystery Novel/A lesson in context clues
I felt throughout the novel like I was teaching a very complex lesson to my middle schoolers at Breakthrough on context clues. "How do we know what's going on here? What indicators do we get? What adjectives are present?" There was something a little bit fun in it, in that I was proud when I read the appendix (OH YEAH - did I MENTION that Faulkner published an appendix SEVENTEEN years after the book was published and claimed it was "the key to the whole book"? TYPICAL. You can't make a key and then give it to us 17 years later! That's cheating!) and realized I had actually gotten most of the major plot points. But it also made me think that if I, an experienced reader and thoughtful sleuth, was only just able to grab onto most of the major events, how much of a struggle must it be for others? I think it's okay to challenge your readers to an extent, but when you challenge them to the point of exclusion, snobbery, or downright orneriness, I get a little peeved. Also, there was some discussion about whether the appendix should precede or follow the text of the novel itself - which made it feel a bit like a hanging chad - CONFUSED AND UNLOVED.

-Lack of Punctuation/Stream of Consciousness/Time Jumping
Well. What do you think I thought of this? What would you think of it? You probably wouldn't like it at all, either! It's like someone keeps playing a prank on you. Just when you think you have an iota of what's going on, someone YANKS THE RUG OUT FROM UNDER YOUR FEET and they're like, "Hagha! Joke's on you!" Also, Faulkner just starts leaving out apostrophes (ex: dont, cant) which just seems like LAZINESS. (To lose both parents seems like CARELESSNESS!)

Like I said, NOT fair, Faulkner. Either write it with the original, or leave it out! (Also, appendix always makes me think - "Dan-ton-ten-six - it's an appendix!)

-Mrs. Compson reminds me of Mrs. Bennet
Here's a line from her in the beginning (well, from early on in the novel): "Nobody knows how I dread Christmas. Nobody knows. I am not one of those women who can stand things. I wish for Jason's and the children's sakes I was stronger." (Nobody knows how I suffer with my Poor NERVES!)

-Caddy smelled like trees
This is a line from when Benjy is narrating. He frequently points out what Caddy smells like (Caddy's his favorite) and at one point, Caddy has a new perfume, and Benjy is hollering, and no one can figure out why. Finally, Caddy realizes that Maury hates the perfume because it's covering up her smell. She gives the perfume to Dilsey, and she says, with Benjy at her side, "We don't like perfume ourselves," and Benjy reiterates, "She smelled like trees."
This was one of my favorite moments in the whole book. So tender.

-Dilsey makes Benjy a birthday cake
The family has really mixed feelings on Benjy - Caddy is the only one who really loves him, but a lot of his care is left to the servants - and while the servants find him trying at times, they're much sweeter to him than most of his own family. In the first chapter, Dilsey makes him a birthday cake, using her own money to buy the ingredients so Jason won't scold her. She says, "I fixed him some birthday." Adorable. I would like Dilsey to fix me some birthday next March.

-Mixing senses
Faulkner does a lot of interesting things with sensory details. I love that Benjy often describes things in slightly mixed up senses: "She smelled like trees", "Hearing it get dark", "it smelled like cold", "you can feel noon". Benjy also smells it when their grandmother dies early in the book. Not the actual smell of her body, since it has just happened, but death itself. It reminded me of when Twain said that it "smelt late".

-Rooms for sickness
When Damuddy (their grandmother) has died, the children have to sleep in a different room (presumably because the body is being kept somewhere public). Caddy protests, because she says, "this is where we have the measles!" I thought it was really funny to think of having a whole room in the house where you go when you're sick, kind of like a mini-hospital in your house. Do you know where I had the chicken pox? Bottled up in the house with Diana during the BLIZZARD of '93! Woooo oatmeal baths.

-The man with the red tie
When Quentin (Caddy's daughter) runs off at the end of the book, Jason sees her sneaking off with a man "with a red tie" from the traveling show that's in town. The red tie takes on great significance, and I thought it was funny that all we really know about the character is his red tie. (I'm sure, just for the record, that literary theorists have thought WAY TOO HARD about that red tie and what it means, but I just think it's a Funny Red Tie.)

-Jason is a jerk
This is true. Luster, one of the servants, wants to see the show in town, but he loses a quarter that he had found when he and Benjy were chasing golf balls near the house (the family sold the pasture to pay for Quentin (son) to attend Harvard and it became a golf course). He spends most of the book looking for this quarter. I like Luster, and he's very good at taking care of Benjy, though he is a bit addled, so I really wanted to give him a quarter to go to the show. Jason comes home one evening with 2 FREE tickets to the show, and what does he do? He offers them to Luster FOR A NICKEL, knowing that Luster doesn't have a nickel. So then what does he do? HE BURNS THE TICKETS IN THE STOVE IN FRONT OF LUSTER. Seriously. Be a bigger jerk, Jason! See if I care At all when you lose 3,000 dollars at the end of the book.

-Luster is Gus Gus
At one point, Dilsey asks Luster to bring wood in for the fire. Faulkner writes, "He loaded himself mountainously with stove wood. He could not see over it, and he staggered to the steps and up them and blundered crashing against the door, shedding billets." This scene reminds me of the moment in the old Disney Cinderella when Gus Gus tries to sneak past the cat with his tiny paws STUFFED up to his teeth with corn. Every time I have my hands full and I use my chin (or my teeth) to keep the top of the pile steady, I think of Gus Gus. (Huh, Huh, HUPPEE BERFDAY, Cinderelly!)

-Mrs. Compson messes with Dilsey
Dilsey is strong and an important member of the household, but she is old, and Mrs. Compson just Loves to order her around with her "poor nerves". My favorite scene was when Mrs. Compson complains and complains to Dilsey about coming upstairs to dress Benjy (she's simultaneously asking her to make breakfast, bring her a water bottle, and start her fire) until Dilsey finally starts up the stairs, one slow step at a time. When Dilsey is almost at the top, Mrs. Compson says, "Are you going to wake him up just to dress him?" Heh. Heh. Heh.

-Benjy -- Boo Radley
Like I said, I'm at least 80% sure that Benjy gets castrated after trying to force himself on a girl earlier on in his life. At any rate, after this, some children have a conversation about coming close to Benjy --
"I bet you wont go up en tech him."
"How come I wont?"
"I bet you wont. I bet you skeered to."
"He wont hurt folks. He des a looney."
"How come a looney wont hurt folks?"
"Dat un wont. I teched him."
This reminded me of when Scout, Jem, and Dill are daring each other to run onto Boo Radley's porch. If you remember, Boo Radley is rather instrumental in saving their lives, and Scout has a very tender moment with Boo. Caddy's tenderness with Benjy made me think of Scout's relationship with Boo.

There were some killer sentences:

  • "The grass was buzzing in the moonlight where my shadow walked on the grass."
  • "And I will look down and see my murmuring bones and the deep water like wind, like a roof of wind, and after a long time they cannot distinguish even the bones upon the lonely and inviolate sand."
  • "Father said it used to be a gentleman was known by his books; nowadays he is known by the ones he has not returned."
  • "We went on in the thin dust, our feet silent as rubber in the thin dust where pencils of sun slanted in the trees. And I could feel water again running swift and peaceful in the secret shade."
  • "On the wall above a cupboard, invisible save at night, by lamplight and even then evincing an enigmatic profundity because it had but one hand, a cabinet clock ticked, then with a preliminary sound as if it had cleared its through, struck five times."
  • "Just sound. It might have been all time and injustice and sorrow become vocal for an instant by a conjunction of planets."

All told, I get why it's a classic, but I wouldn't rank it too highly on my personal list of favorites. If you loved it (or hated it), I'd love to hear why!

I'm off to tackle final projects, summer internship searching, and Briansteen. Or is it Josephsteln? Hrm.. that's not quite it...

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