Dying a Falkner-Related Death

Being number six on Modern Library’s 100 Best Fiction Novels, I presumed that The Sound and The Fury had to be sublime. Not only that, but I also felt that it deserved two blog posts, so this will be one of two. A few days ago, I came across a copy of Great Stories which is an anthology of short stories that I picked up chiefly because I recognized a story by Joseph Conrad that I’ve been meaning to read. Little did I know that I would be drawn to a story by John Updike titled Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth. Blind to the reference in the title–I’m not nearly as well-read as I make myself out to be, nor as well-read as I’d like to be–I learned a little bit about Macbeth in my reading.

After reading anything, even a short story, I feel inclined to do a little research and in doing so for Updike’s story I discovered the full version of the soliloquy, which is at the heart of the story . As fate had it, I noticed a line that was very similar to the title of the Faulkner book in question. William Shakespeare wrote in act five of Macbeth, “Full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing”. Naturally, I was/am perplexed. Here I am trying to delve into the meaning of Updike’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth, which in order to do so I have to first decipher the meaning of the Macbeth, only to determine that Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury also is dependent on the excerpt. If that isn’t intertextuality, I don’t know what is.

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, and signifying nothing.

I suppose what I should do here is make an effort to deduce meaning, but after asking around I couldn’t find a single person to discuss with and I’d rather not flail, grasping for meaning without finding some affirmation first. Number six on Modern Library’s Top 100 you’d think more people would’ve read it. Without an English teacher handy, I figure I have two choices either A) give up or B) find a Norton Critical Edition. I’m going for plan B, I just have to get my hands on Norton.

Until then, and presently on page 25, I’ve consulted Shmoop. The friendly writers of Shmoop condensed the meaning of Faulkner’s title choice into a trusty five-point list. For the sake of being brief, which I rarely am, I just include the two most weighty observations

1.Faulkner was pretty convinced that he was one of the world’s Great novelists. That’s Great with a capital g. The problem was that no one else seemed to recognize this yet. If you’re a young, aspiring novelist and you want to lay claim to greatness, how might you do it? Well, you could start by quoting the Bard himself. Sort of like Faulkner does….

5.One final thought: all that stuff about life meaning nothing and the world being full of gloom and doom is a pretty classically modernist stance. The modernist novel begins where most traditional tragedies end: with a world that seems impossible to put back into some sort of logical order. Words and actions mean nothing anymore. Characters are left to pick up the pieces of lives that just aren’t very significant. It’s not a very cheery prospect, we know, but The Sound and the Fury buys into a great deal of this gloom and doom. And heck, it still manages to be a pretty great novel.”

I love Shmoop, but my one complaint is that they know their audience too well. They always oversimplify, so I am often wary of their analysis. Yet, in this case, I found Shmoop very helpful.

Update: Following through on my plan, I visited the library and, me being me, I return with a few more things than just the Norton Critical Edition of The Sound and The Fury. I limited myself to A Reader’s Guide to William Faulkner: The Novels by Edmond Volpe, Three Famous Novels: Spotted Horse, Old Man, and The Bear by William Faulkner, Fences by August Wilson (which I’ve already finished, blog post is to be written), and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.

After reading portions of Volpe’s Reader’s Guide and having a few discussions about the book, I felt that I might just have the tools (and perseverance) needed to conquer Faulkner’s book.

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