A Tale Told By An Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury

William Faulkner rendered in words from The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner rendered in words from The Sound and the Fury

My afternoon drive home today got me to thinking about William Faulkner’s masterpiece The Sound and the Fury.  Have you read it?  Do you find it infuriating or mesmerizing?  I’ve read it 4-5 times and it gets better with every read.  The first chapter can drive a reader mad because it is narrated by Benjy, an adult man with the mental capacity of a young child.   Benjy simply has a different sense of the flow of time.  The narrative shifts between time periods, three decades apart, with little orientation to the shifts.  Benjy’s thoughts about his long gone sister, Caddy, flit from one time to another like a drunk butterfly.  I love it, because I love me some drunk butterflies.

Faulkner wanted to cue his reader to shifts in time by presenting the narrative in different font colors, but the printing of the book would have been prohibitively expensive.  Oh well–the publisher did agree to some use of italics to indicate a shift. 

Have I bored you to death yet?  Well, if you’re still reading along at home, here’s why I thought of Benjy on my drive home.  There I sat in an SUV filled with:

  1. a frazzled mother carrying a five lb sack of mommy guilt at having spent the day away from her babies who therefore wants to have Quality Time and Meaningful Conversation
  2. a loquacious almost-six-year old who is attending theater camp to ratchet up her innate dramatic tendencies
  3. a babbling toddler who has discovered His Voice but has not yet mastered English

All trying to talk at once.  It goes something like this.

Mommy?  Yes?  PeePeeBooBeebee  We um played this game there was this boy named Aidan and he was by the fire?  I mean a pretend fire.  Was this a scene you were acting out in theater camp? Peekaboo Beebee!  No, um, Mommy, wait…let me start over   Peekaboo Peekaboo Peekaboo Beebee  Mommy?  Yes?  Aidan saw Bigfoot in his backyard.  Dukadukaduka Dukadukaduka Dukadukaduka   Huh, I’m surprised by that.  Usually people say Bigfoot lives in really remote places.  What’s remote?  Daddy!  Up in the mountains or far away from everyone.  Aidan has a big yard. AIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEYYYYYYYY!  OK.  So what happened when you were around the fire? MOMMY!  Peekaboo Beebee There wasn’t a fire.  Peekaboo Beebee We were ACTING. Right. Shoe!  Hand the baby his shoe.  Thank you.  Why is the O in Schlotzky’s a different color?  PeePeeBooBeebee  That’s called marketing–their sandwiches are round so they’re trying to get you to associate the shape of the O with the shape of the sandwich.  Peekaboo Beebee So um this girl not that other girl but this new girl she was NOT listening to Miss Dukadukaduka Kimberly today and she got in trouble.  She was on red? Dukadukaduka  Noooooo!  That’s school.  Dukadukaduka  This is CAMP.  Can I have a show?  After you’ve had your 10 minutes. Dukadukaduka  CarLOS!  MOMMY!  Carlos hit me with his shoe!  

And trying to keep up with all these threads?  This is why Faulkner drank himself to death.

It’s a lot to manage, this working mother gig.  But now that they are in bed, the lunches are packed, laundry sorted, clutter ignored and bills paid, I creep into their rooms to listen to them breathe and I try to tell myself that I’m doing an OK job.  The last lines of Benjy’s chapter are some of my all time favorite.  They capture the peace and wholeness of falling asleep as a child wrapped in the arms of someone who loves you.  Even if that world has fallen away, it was there for a time.

“Caddy held me and I could hear us all, and the darkness, and something I could smell. And then I could see the windows, where the trees were buzzing. Then the dark began to go in smooth, bright shapes, like it always does, even when Caddy says that I have been asleep.” 

The title of this piece, like the title of Faulkner’s novel, comes from Act V, Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Our family lore holds that my dad has been known to quote this passage when he’s had too much bourbon, which hasn’t happened since shortly before my birth.  Legend has it that he got knee-walking drunk one night at a cocktail party, started quoting this soliloquy and my mother decided to drive him home.  Unfortunately, she was nine months pregnant with me, 5’2″ tall, and stuck trying to drive a stick shift.  I think she cussed him so bad that he hasn’t been past tipsy since.

GEEK ALERT!!!  In researching this piece, I found awesome news for Faulkner fans.

Well, thus ends today’s lesson.  Please read Absalom! Absalom! before tomorrow’s quiz.

13 thoughts on “A Tale Told By An Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury

      1. Jessica K. Printz

        While teaching basic composition at U of M, I once got an essay on imagery in /The Sound and the Furry/. Unfortunately, the typo in the title (which was repeated ad nauseum) was the best thing about it. Still, at first glance I was excited to think a student was about to enlighten me—here I’d spent years oblivious to the glorious hirsuteness of one of my favorite novels! Out, out, damn Tribble!

  1. Mother

    Hilarious! The way I remember it, a slight buzz would bring the Shakespeare quotes. I did have to stop on the way home from a fish fry and let him put his foot on the ground so that his world would stop spinning.

  2. Chris Antenen

    I don’t have any favorites, just that you got me to read four of THEM and this wasn’t one of the four – I don’t think. As I said in my evaluation of Flannery O’Connor on Goodreads after I read Wise Blood. “For me, after reading all of her short stories, I read the novel because I come across references to it in other reading and I want to know what they’re referencing. Now, I know, and just as I know Faulkner, I know O’Connor, and I’ll probably search out happier grounds.” If I had read them all and more than once, I might have missed The Yellow Bird, The Wave, Drift, something about Owen Meany, all of HP with my granddaughter, a couple of Jean Auel books, Beloved, Uncle Tom[s Cabin (not considered lit when I was in school,) The Weight of Water, and who knows what else. Even the two books by our President (deep, deep) and the gardening book by Michelle, which is absolutely charming and also very well written. You may borrow it, but you have to come and get it.

    However, since it’s you, I will read it ONCE, if you’ll read DRIFT. If I take your age and double it, we still won’t have mine, so that bit about ‘so many books, so little time’ riings my bell. I’m also doing something else you told me to do, set up a blog. I’m in the middle of it. None of my stories. I think that’s not very interesting, and life is too full to get stuck. That’s why I like yours–it’s fresh. Keep truckin’. On reflection, I love MOST of your blogs. Wouldn’t want you to get a big head.

    Someday I want a novel to hit one of the clouds I’m sitting on, and have it be a new novel tossed there by someone named Ashley Garrett.

    Written with love, Chris


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