The Sound and the Fury was published in 1929, although it was one of the first novels Faulkner wrote. Many critics and even Faulkner himself think that it is the best novel that he wrote. Its subject is the downfall of the Compson family, the offspring of the pioneer Jason Lycurgus Compson. The family consists of Jason Compson III and his wife Caroline, their four children Jason IV, Quentin, Candace (Caddy), and Maury (whose name is changed in 1900 to Benjamin), Caroline's brother Maury Bascomb, and their family of black servants: Dilsey and Roskus and their children Versh, T.P. and Frony. In 1928 when the story mainly takes place, two other important characters are Quentin, Caddy's illegitimate daughter, and Luster, Frony's son.
Each of the first three sections of the novel is narrated by a different member of the Compson family; the first is narrated by Benjamin, the second by Quentin (Jason III's son, not Caddy's daughter), and the third by Jason IV. The fourth section is a third person narrative, although many readers see it as "narrated" by Dilsey, the Compson's old black servant. Although narrated by the three brothers and the servant, the focus of the novel is really the sister Caddy. Each of the three brothers has a different view on Caddy and her promiscuity. To Benjy Caddy is a gentle caretaker whose absence - caused by her promiscuity and marriage - fills his adult life with a sense of loss. To Quentin Caddy's sexuality is a sign of the dissolution of the antebellum Southern world of family honor and the event that spurs him to commit suicide. To Jason Caddy's promiscuity means the loss of a job opportunity and is the reason he is stuck at a desk job that he finds demeaning, as well as the reason he is stuck at home with a hypochondriac mother, retarded brother, rebellious illegitimate niece and family of servants who are eating him out of house and home. The last section of the novel provides a less biased view of Caddy's life and the downfall of the Compson family. Faulkner himself acknowledged the fact that the novel revolves around the absent center of Caddy and her story; he claims that the novel began as a single idea - an image of a little girl up a tree with muddy drawers - and grew into a short story entitled "Twilight." But Faulkner loved Caddy's character so much that he developed this short story into an entire novel.
The first three sections are narrated in a technique known as stream of consciousness, in which the writer takes down the character's thoughts as they occur to him, paying little attention to chronology of events or continuity of story line. The technique is the most marked in the first section, wherein Benjy's mind skips backward and forward in time as he relives events from the past while simultaneously conducting himself in the present. Quentin's section is slightly more ordered, although his agitated state of mind causes him to experience similar skips in time. Jason's section is almost totally chronological, much more structured than the first two. In order to make reading this difficult novel easier, Faulkner at one time suggested printing it in colored ink in order to mark the different time periods, but this was too expensive. Instead, in the first section, he writes some sentences in italics in order to signal a shift in time. Even with these italics, however, the story is difficult to read.
Not much happens in the three days in which the novel is mainly set; instead the stream of consciousness narration allows the reader to experience the history of the Compson family and step into the lives of this dwindling Southern family. The troubled relationships of the family are at once mundane and sweepingly tragic, pulling the reader into its downward spiral.