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:
- 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
- a loquacious almost-six-year old who is attending theater camp to ratchet up her innate dramatic tendencies
- 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.
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,
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.