Although The Sound and the Fury was only Faulkner's fourth novel, by 1929 the 32-year-old had already given up trying to please publishers and reviewers and seemed content to write for himself. Faulkner was not alone in this notion. In the years following World War 1, members of what Gertrude Stein referred to as "The Lost Generation"—Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck and E. E. Cummings, to name a few—began to experiment with new methods of storytelling. Traditional aspects of the novel such as plot and character development became the background to new narrative forms that illustrated the fluidity of time and memory, and conveyed the reality of a character's state of mind. The result was the "modern" novel and some of our most cherished American stories, including The Sound and the Fury.
"Faulkner had made a startling breakthrough," writes biographer Jay Parini. "This was something new in American fiction, something strange, complex and disruptive, a work that attempts to articulate grief and loss while acknowledging, at every turn, the impossibility of recovery, the limits of articulation, as well as the pleasures afforded by repetition and incomplete reconstruction: the pleasures of the text itself.
"The initial scene of the novel represents a version of the funeral of Faulkner's own maternal grandmother, Lelia Swift Butler. Faulkner had been struck by the way the children were sent outside the house because they were not old enough to understand the seriousness of the event at hand. In the novel, Faulkner for the first time put aside all considerations of 'story' and allowed the text to absorb and embody whatever aspects of consciousness were caught in its web. The entire novel was written at stunning speed, rising up from some deep reservoir of the imagination.
"The novel 'began as a short story,' Faulkner later recalled, 'a story without plot, of some children being sent away from the house during the grandmother's funeral. They were too young to be told what was going on and they saw things only incidentally to the childish games they were playing.'" At the center of their childhood games, an image of a daring little girl named Caddy emerged that gripped Faulkner's heart and inspired his imagination. She became the focal point of the novel; she was the sun in the Compson brothers' universe and each section, Faulkner said, was his attempt to capture her. But ultimately, she eluded him, and Faulkner dubbed The Sound and the Fury his most splendid failure.
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