There is not much I would have to say that has not already been said of this classic by William Faulkner. Arranged in four parts, each focusing on one member of the Compson family, it tracks the family’s fall into hard timed and eventual dissolution. Benji, the mentally-challenged 30-year-old, a brother Quentin and his obsession over his sister’s wayward ways, and Jason’s self-centered and judgmental attitude towards the rest of his family. The final part focused on one of family’s black servants, Dilsey. Faulkner’s care with words and authentic dialog bring out emotion, and I found myself hurting for, despising, and having compassion for the characters at different times. Set in Mississippi in the early 1900s, it displays all the good and bad of the era: the struggle of race relations, southern class divisions, the tug-of-war between the South’s agrarian culture and the lure of the North’s capitalism.
It is not an easy book to read, with the jumps in time, point of voice, voice, and even tone. The stream-of-consciousness sttyle—especially in the Benjy section—is difficult though the prose is beautiful. I did not find it “fun” to read, but it was fascinating and the characters drew me in, as if I was watching a slow car wreck happening right in front of me. That is Faulkner’s skill: to write in such a gorgeous and genuine manner that the reader is there, emotionally involved. I also appreciated the literary experimentation, the attempt to capture a character’s inner stream of thought, and the experimentation with time frames.
Faulkner wrote an appendix to the novel about fifteen years after publication. It tells the story of the Compson family from the time of their ancestor’s arrival in America in 1779 until 1945. It gives a fifth perspective on the events of the novel, as well as revealing some new events and details during the time frame of the novel and beyond. It also tells the story of the black family who worked for the Compsons—the last words are those of Dilsey: “They endured.”
Anyone interested in literature should read this book, and maybe more than once. It would help to have a guide to it as one reads, to get he most out of it and to understand why it is considered one of the top American classics.
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