Through the various perspectives of a trio of brothers located in three different historical times--Benjy Compson, a severely retarded thirty-three-year-old man in 1928, Quentin Compson, a young student at Harvard in 1910, and Jason Compson, a bitter farm-supply-store worker in 1928--The Sound and the Fury portrays the decline and fall of the Compson family, once the most prominent dynasty in Jackson, Mississippi. Mr. Compson and Mrs. Compson have four children: the three brothers and one sister, Caddy. Jason is mean-spirited and difficult from birth, and is kept at a distance by the other children. Quentin and Caddy are extremely close. In the absence of the self-absorbed, ailing Mrs. Compson, Caddy serves as a mother figure for Benjy.
As the children grow older and become adolescents, Caddy begins to behave promiscuously, which torments Quentin into fits of jealousy and Benjy into fits of moaning and crying. Quentin is preparing to go to Harvard, and the family sells a large pasture to a local golf club in order to marshal the funds to send him there.
Caddy loses her virginity, which causes Quentin to threaten to kill her and himself--a threat she accepts as a suggestion. Quentin, shattered, lies to his father, claiming that he and Caddy have committed incest; but Mr. Compson does not believe him, and tells him to leave early for the Northeast.
Caddy becomes pregnant, and is unable or unwilling to name the father of the child, which is probably Dalton Ames. She is forced to marry very quickly, to a banker she met in Indiana, Herbert Head; Herbert promises Jason a job, but divorces Caddy once he realizes she is pregnant with another man's child. He also withdraws the job offer to Jason. In the meantime, Quentin, unable to bear the knowledge of Caddy's sin, commits suicide by drowning himself toward the end of his first year at Harvard.
Caddy is expelled from the Compson family, but Mr. and Mrs. Compson take in her daughter, whom Caddy names Quentin, after her brother. Miss Quentin is raised largely by Dilsey, the Compsons' Negro cook. When Mr. Compson dies of alcoholism a year or so after Quentin's suicide, Jason becomes the head of the household, and begins to work in the local farm-supply store. He also finds ingenious ways to blackmail his sister; in addition, he steals the money that Caddy sends to support Miss Quentin's upbringing. Miss Quentin grows up into a rebellious, unhappy, and promiscuous girl, continually in conflict with her overbearing and vicious uncle Jason. Eventually, she steals several thousand dollars from him and runs away with a man from a traveling show. He chases after them, but is unable to catch up.