Modernists used fragmentation as a literary form. Through its use, they sought to underpin the fragmentation of modern reality and the modern world. Modernists’ work was created out of scattered fragments instead of full explanations, coherent transitions and clear resolutions that were traditionally used before modernism. Narrative forms, plot and themes are broken down to fragments. For instance, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury represents an example of fragmentation. The novel is fragmented in form; it is primarily constituted of disordered and nonlinear narrative. Faulkner’s novel is full of fragmentary sentences that are connected to other events. The first chapter of The Sound and the Fury starts with Benjamin (Benjy) Compson’s narration. Benjy is mentally disabled and has poor cognitive skills; henceforth, he cannot differentiate between the past and the present. The words that he uses in his narration are a juxtaposition of changes that occur in images, sounds and smells. The following passage is taken from Benjy’s narration:
… Hush, now.” Luster said. “Ain’t I told you you can’t go up there. They’ll knock your head clean off with one of them balls. Come on, here.” He pulled me back. “Sit down.” I sat down and he took off my shoes and rolled up my trousers. “Now, git in that water and play and see can you stop that slobbering and moaning.” … Caddy was all wet and muddy behind, and I started to cry and she came and squatted in the water. “Hush now.” she said. “I’m not going to run away.” So I hushed. Caddy smelled like trees in the rain. (Faulkner 16)
Accordingly, Benjy narrates an event with his servant, Luster; hence, we deduce that at this moment he is thirty-three years old and. His narration, suddenly, shifts to his childhood: the river reminds Benjy of his sister Caddy when she smudged her underwear with mud. This passage exhibits Faulkner’s technique of juxtaposing two separate events without proper introduction, leaving the narrative up to the readers to make necessary connections and relate the two separate events. Throughout Benjy’s narration we can distinguish a fragmentation of time and memories. Benjy continuously reconnects present events with past ones as his disability renders him incapable of distinguishing time.
4.2. Stream of Consciousness:
Stream of consciousness is a literary technique that was used by modernists in their attempt to capture the essence of the fragmented modern world. Through the use of stream of consciousness, modernists wanted to express their belief that people should be more concerned with their inner thoughts. As a matter of fact, modernists attempted to trace the non-linear process of thought of the modern character. These thoughts are not logically connected; they are characterized by their disordered flow. Stream of consciousness as a literary technique better captures the unorganized flow of insights, flashbacks, reflections, and memories.
Stream of consciousness is term coined by the psychologist William James in 1890 to refer to the continuous succession of experiences (Abrams 379). The term is used to describe the flow of one’s internal thoughts, and it is used to refer to the psychological features of characters in fiction. Stream of consciousness is used by writers in their attempt to capture the in which the mind works. This technique better shows the natural flow and random movement of character’s thoughts. Moreover, this technique helped writers to remove the logical transitions traditionally used; instead, the connection between characters’ thoughts is left up to the reader who is required to make the necessary associations between them. It is defined in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms as: “the continuous flow of sense-perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and memories in the human mind; or a literary method of representing such a blending of mental processes in fictional characters, usually in an unpunctuated or disjointed form of interior monologue.” (Baldick 244). Stream of consciousness was used extensively in modernist fiction. It was pioneered by Dorothy Richardson in Pilgrimage (1915-35) and by James Joyce in Ulysses (1922), and further developed by Virginia Woolf in her novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury (1929) (Baldick 244). Indeed, this literary technique is used by Faulkner, in The Sound and the Fury, to bring to the forefront the inner thoughts and emotions of his characters.
Faulkner employs this technique in order to display the subjectivity in one’s thoughts and the variance between individual’s perspectives. Faulkner uses the stream of consciousness differently in each chapter. Benjy’s section is challenging to many readers as they hardly understand his narration because of his mental disability. He relies heavily on images, smells and sounds to convey his narration, even if he uses very simple words making meaning out of his section becomes very difficult. For example, Benjy uses the smell of trees every time he refers to his sister Caddy: ? … Caddy smelled like trees” (Faulkner 6).
In contrast to Benjy’s section, Quentin uses very complex language in his section. The vocabulary Quentin uses reflects his higher education. However, his narration is centered on his sister’s Caddy’s promiscuity and his father’s neutral response to it. His stream of consciousness is very rich with indicators of time; one can even deduce that he is obsessed with time and this obsession continues until when he commits suicide.
4.3. Point of View:
In their experimentation with literary techniques, modernists employed shifting points of view in their narratives. Writers favored the use of first-person and third-person limited narrators as an alternative for omniscient narrators. In modernism, reality and truth are considered as subjective concepts since they cannot be regarded objectively; they are shaped according to each person’s perceptions. It is for this reason that modernists opted for the use of limited point of view in their narratives. In fact, the use of limited narrators permitted modernists to deliver the sense of uncertainty as well as a lack of awareness vis a vis the nature of human existence; it also allowed them to juxtapose conflicting and sometimes contradicting perspectives of multiple narrators to mirror the versatility of truth, and the flexibility of reality that many modernists praise.
Accordingly, it became common for modernist writers to use different limited narrators; for example, the poet T.S. Eliot used different speakers in his modernist poem “The Waste Land” and William Faulkner used several narrators in many of his novels. In his novel, The Sound and The Fury, Faulkner employs four different narrators to tell the story of the Compson Family. Divided into four chapters, each one has a specific narrator: Benjy, Quentin, Jason and Dilsey respectively. The latter’s narration works as an omniscient third person narrator. That is to say, Faulkner starts with Benjy’s narration which is considered to an objective narration to some extent because of Benjy’s mental disability. Afterwards, it shifts to two subjective narrations: Quentin’s and Jason’s, and concludes with their maid Dilsey’s objective narration. Through the use of this modernist technique, Faulkner sought to represent each character’s mind and accentuate the difference with which different characters perceive a single event. In modernism, there is no single truth but multiple truths that depend upon the perspective of narrators, all the narrators tell the story of Caddy Compson their sister, however, each one of her brothers gives readers a small parcel of what truly happened because their narrations are subjective. Faulkner leaves it up to readers to collect these parcels of truth about Caddy and deduce her entire story.
In this chapter, we sought to investigate the use of literary modernist techniques. In doing so, we attempted to lay a theoretical background by explaining literary notions such as modernism, its definition, historical background, characteristics and themes. Likewise, modernist literary techniques such as fragmentation, stream of consciousness and point of view. All along, we tried to give examples of these literary techniques in William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury. Indeed, Faulkner’s modernist tendency is fully noticeable in his narrative. He used modernist techniques such as fragmentation, juxtaposition, stream of consciousness and multiple points of view to mirror the feelings of uncertainty, loss and disillusionment that characterized modern times.