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  • From Place to Place in The Sound and the Fury:The Syntax of Interrogation
  • Cheryl Lester (bio)


Because the individual sections of The Sound and the Fury are not intelligible in themselves, readings of this novel depend on the complex interplay between the sections. For this reason, the analytical approach generally brought to bear on this novel can analyze, in its most successful application, only the critical or fictional synthesis into which its individual sections have been read. Yet studies of The Sound and the Fury that proceed from section to section, like those of Olga Vickery or Wolfgang Iser, or that concentrate on one section alone, like that of George Stewart and Joseph Backus, give the mistaken impression that the significance of the novel is the sum of four independently meaningful parts, individually calculated and added up.

Analyses of The Sound and the Fury generally refer to the relationship among the sections only in order to characterize the development of the novel as a whole. The novel is most often said to shift, particularly with the fourth section, from obscurity to clarity, from privacy to universality, or from subjectivity to objectivity. Describing this development, André [End Page 141] Bleikasten writes, "No longer constrained to adopt the narrowly limited viewpoint of an idiot or the distorted vision of a neurotic, we can at last stand back and take in the whole scene" (176); Wolfgang Iser holds that "the identical world of the Compson brothers [is released] from the first-person point of view" (151); Olga Vickery argues that the novel "emerge[s] from the closed world of the Compson Mile into the public world as represented by Jefferson" (46); and Cleanth Brooks, in a more florid vein, claims that we "break into the sunlight of the world—an objective world. . . . Here the solipsism of the private world is expanded into something communal" (25). Yet these assumptions about liberation and enlightenment, about the novel's progress from obscurity to clarity, from privacy to publicity, or from subjectivity to objectivity are assumptions less about the novel than about the nature of signification in general.

Signification itself is at stake in the development of The Sound and the Fury, as Michael Millgate has recognized. He notes that the final section "forces us to view some aspects of the earlier sections in a radically different way" and that "meaning proves on closer inspection to dissolve into uncertainty and paradox" (Millgate 167-171). The development of the novel, or, in other words, the interplay among its parts, is crucial, then, because it represents the level of the text on which meaning at once emerges and dissolves. To address this level of the novel is to confront the uncertainty and paradox of one's own claims about its meaning.

The sort of analysis that has dominated the criticism of this novel confines itself to the semantic level of the text. The syntax of the novel is either condemned as fragmentary and hence flawed or salvaged in a proposition concerning the novel's "development." Yet the syntactic level of the text is not easily extricated from the meaningful, semantic level. In predominantly semantic readings, the peculiar disposition or arrangement of the novel returns, like the repressed, as evidence of an evasion.

By articulating a reading according to the novel's most apparent itinerary or architecture, one may appear to have left the stubbornly divided form of the work pure and intact. Yet the manifest allegiance of section-by-section analyses to the objective form of the work becomes a meaningless and empty gesture, which merely uses form as a ready-made, pigeon-holed container for self-presentation. Such presentations fail to acknowledge the fact that the significance they attribute to each ostensibly independent section comes belatedly and from without, that the sections in themselves are largely unintelligible, and that what appears to ameliorate this discomfiting absence of meaning is the play of relations among the individual sections. To represent the dynamics of this novel as a genetic development is not only to reduce a structure productive of countless possible meanings to one decisive meaning and form; it is also to deny the divagations, the sine qua...


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pp. 141-155
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