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Balancing Alienation and Immersion: A Case Study of The Sound and the Fury


  • The Sound and the Fury's greatest success is its endurance as a literary work for academic analysis, largely as a result of its experimental narrative techniques
  • Faulkner explicitly made decisions to alienate the typical reader and shroud the story's meaning in such a way that it can be unraveled endlessly
  • Academic criticism of a piece of medium is useless, with the rare exception of driving its persistent sale to academics

As a novel, The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner is one of the least effective stories of all time. Its fragmented structure, one-sided characters, and sheer volume of near-nonsense makes the story unapproachable and difficult to decipher. A typical novel can be evaluated based on its success in immersing the reader in a believable world and telling an engrossing story, but Faulkner’s “masterpiece” alienates the reader and demands constant rereading to make sense of the novel. Thus, as a literary work for analysis, The Sound and the Fury has endured as a subject of thousands of academic essays, articles, and lectures. It is unlikely his work truly warrants the minute analysis of symbology, allusion, and psychology that it has received. That being said, Faulkner’s stream of consciousness narration was pioneering in a way few authors can compete with.

Comparing and contrasting two articles about The Sound and the Fury reveals its ambiguity. First: “Benjy’s Howl” by Maurice Ebileeni, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This article had an interesting spin due to its sourcing. It was written for a digital French english-language journal, and so set out to analyze the work’s narrative techniques from the lens of the famous French philosopher and psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan. The second, “Racial Temporality: Revealing the Collapse of the White Authority”, pointed out a potential racial message of the work. This article was not written professionally, but instead as a thesis of an English student who eventually pursued a Ph.D. in Literature. Due to the varied target audience, the two articles exhibited very different tones and level of language.

The concepts introduced by Ebileeni’s essay introduced a plethora of philosophical ideas; the vocabulary of the article alone could have taken hours to dissect. Lacan’s psychoanalysis is overwhelmingly complex, centering around a nuanced definition of “sinthome”. The more concrete ideas in the article were well defended: the cleansing symbology of water, the exact instances of Benjy’s howl, the bold claim that all Compsons are psychotic, and that their tragedy derives from the family's reliance upon Caddy’s purity. Ultimately, the argument of the article was that Benjy’s moaning took the place of the narrator of the book and took on narrator's role in providing structure to the disjointed scenes. As “Benjy’s Howl” was geared toward an audience of academia, the article references a multitude of other analyses of The Sound and the Fury by reputed literary critics (Edmond L. Volpe, Bleikasten, and Bruce Fink) Since much of the analysis was not grounded in the work itself, but rather in other scholars' analyses of the work, the some conclusions drawn by Ebileeni appear contrived or invalid.

In contrast, “Racial Temporality” grounded itself almost entirely in the book itself, with only the occasional reference to real-life interviews with Faulkner, certain editions' introductions to the book, or other outside sources. The major argument of the article was that Faulkner selectively used temporality to undermine the idea of white supremacy. African Americans in the novel tended to have a grounded and structured existence, free from the strange ideals and overtones of white aristocracy. Meanwhile, the white characters had warped perceptions of time and, due to their societal caveats, each was deeply flawed. By citing a multitude of examples in the text where black characters remained constant in the flux of the book, Min Hyun Oh creates a very persuasive argument.

These two scholarly articles present unique patterns and motifs within the book that could as easily be fabricated as they could be real and overlooked. Chief Creative Officer at game studio Spry Fox, Daniel Cook, once postulated that criticism could be seen "as a game that attempts to revisit an arc repeatedly and embellish it with additional meaning. The game is to generate essays superficially based on some piece of existing art. In turn, other players generate additional essays based off the first essays. This acts as both a referee mechanism and judge. Score is accumulated via reference counts and by rising through an organization hierarchy ... It is a deliciously political game of wit that is both impenetrable to outsiders and nearly independent of the actual source arcs" (LostGarden, 2012).

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