and Plot Summary by Michael J. Cummings...©
Faulkner’s Jigsaw Puzzle
Sound and the Fury, the past frequently intrudes upon the present in
the minds of three central characters who each narrate part of the novel.
This intrusion is not unusual; it happens to every man and woman from time
to time. For example, when you listen to a sermon in a church or a lecture
in a classroom–or when you are jogging or making a bed–a memory from yesterday,
a year ago, or 20 years ago may suddenly seize your attention. A sound,
a sight, a taste, or a smell may have triggered that memory. Or the memory
may simply have sprung up, unbidden.
most of this Faulkner novel, the past frequently intrudes upon the here
and now, barging into a character’s present thoughts without warning. Often,
the memories occur without heed to chronological sequence. A memory from
1910 might walk into the first paragraph on a page and a memory from 1898
into the third paragraph, with present thoughts occupying the second paragraph.
But even when the present is in control, it may veer from one present thought
to an unrelated present thought. Consequently, the events in the novel
become like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle dumped onto a table. However,
as the novel progresses, information slowly emerges that enables the reader
to match one piece with another until a picture forms, an impressionistic
rendering of the decline and fall of a southern family whose roots extend
back many generations. It is not easy, though, to assemble the puzzle.
One of the purposes of this study guide is to give readers essential information
ahead of time so that they may more quickly grasp and better appreciate
events in the novel occur according to relevance and significance, not
time sequence. The novel consists of four chapters. The first is entitled
“April Seventh, 1928"; the second, “June Second, 1910"; the third, “April
Sixth, 1928"; and the fourth, “April Eighth, 1928.” Male members of a declining
and dysfunctional southern family, the Compsons, narrate the first three
chapters in first-person point of view, and the author presents the fourth
chapter in omniscient, third-person point of view.
Chapter 1 Narration
1 takes place on Saturday, April 7, 1928, the day before Easter, but flashes
back frequently to previous years. The narrator of this chapter is Benjy
Compson, who was born in 1895. He is feeble-minded. He cannot speak, read,
or write. His retardation is so severe that he even confuses the past with
the present. A memory from long ago may occur to him as a present experience.
For example, in response to a triggering sensation–a sound, a sight, or
a smell–he might wait by the gate in front of his house for his sister
to come home from school even though his sister long ago moved away from
his house. In presenting Benjy’s narration, Faulkner uses phrases that
attempt to express the surreal and irrational workings of Benjy’s mind.
In one passage, Benjy says, “I could smell the clothes flapping.” In others,
Benjy hears the grass “rattling” or sees the wind “shining.” One problem
Benjy’s narration poses–besides the confusing rat-a-tat of disjointed thoughts–is
that it taxes plausibility and verisimilitude. A character incapable of
speaking or writing cannot tell a story–unless, of course, the author invades
the mind of this character and tells what he sees. Faulkner does so. Consequently,
Chapter 1 is really a narrative oddity: a kind of ventriloquism in which
the author speaks for the narrator.
Chapter 2 Narration
2 takes place on June 2, 1910. It also flashes back to previous years.
The narrator is Quentin, the oldest Compson child, who was born in 1891.
He is intelligent and articulate. However, because he is severely distraught,
he frequently narrates in fitful, spasmodic bursts, jumping from one thought
to another. Some paragraphs in this chapter contain no periods, commas,
Chapter 3 Narration
3 takes place on Good Friday, April 6, 1928. The narrator is Jason Lycurgus
Compson IV, who was born in 1894. This chapter is straightforward and easy
Chapter 4 Narration
4 takes place on Easter Sunday, April 8, 1928. The narrator is the author.
This chapter is relatively easy to understand.
Chapters 1, 3, and 4, the settings are in northern Mississippi in the fictional
locales of Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, and the nearby town of Mottson.
The main characters, the Compsons, live on a rundown Jefferson estate that
includes the ancestral home, stables, a kitchen garden, and a cabin to
house a family of black servants. At one time, the estate was considerably
larger, but the Compsons sold a large parcel of land to meet financial
obligations. Over the years, the Compsons have kept horses and milking
cows. In Chapter 2, the setting is in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts,
site of Harvard University. The action takes place on the following days:
April 7, 1928 (Chapter 1); June 2, 1910 (Chapter 2); April 6, 1928 (Chapter
3); April 8, 1928 (Chapter 4). There are frequent flashbacks to years in
the first two decades of the 20th Century and one flashback to a scene
Mix and Race Relations
fictional Yoknapatawpha County, blacks outnumber whites by approximately
three to two. In the first three decades of the 20th Century, Mississippi
whites–as well as whites elsewhere in the
United States–treated blacks almost as sub-humans.
The word "nigger" or "niggers" occurs more than 70 times in The Sound
and the Fury to reflect the attitude of whites toward blacks in the
early part of the century.
There is no clearly defined protagonist in the novel, although the family
itself at least partly fits the classical definition of tragic protagonist:
person of exalted status (the Compsons descended from moneyed aristocrats)
with a character flaw (the Compsons have many flaws) that causes him or
her to err and fall to ruin. However, the typical tragic protagonist–such
as Oedipus in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex–experiences a moment when
he recognizes and acknowledges his mistakes. The Compsons do not experience
such a moment–unless, in Quentin's case, one maintains that his decision
to commit suicide is an acknowledgment that something has gone wrong with
his life. Some critics identify Benjy, a mute imbecile, as the main
character because he witnesses and objectively reports on key episodes
in the novel and because the title refers specifically
to him. However, in terms of which character most affects the other characters,
Caddy Compson could be regarded as the main character. Benjy and Quentin
Compson love her and think constantly about her. Jason Compson despises
her and blames her for his failure to get a job he coveted. Caddy's illegitimate
daughter takes after her in some ways and plays a major role in events
in the second half of the novel. Oddly, though, Caddy appears only in flashback
The changing times, the influence of the past, the characters' own shortcomings
Jason Richmond Lycurgus
Compson III: An attorney and native of Jefferson, Mississippi. He is
the father of the four Compson children and husband of Caroline Bascomb
Compson. He espouses the ideals of the Old South aristocrats but in practice
is a cynic who believes in nothing. An alcoholic, he spends most of his
time with a decanter of whiskey rather than law books. His home, once a
fine mansion with expansive grounds, is in disrepair. He sold most of his
land to a golf club in order to pay for a year of his son, Quentin's, education
at Harvard and for his daughter, Caddy's, wedding. Much of his money also
goes for whiskey and everyday bills. He exhibits little real love for his
children. However, his views on Old South traditions greatly influence
Quentin, who takes them seriously. At the same time, his deep cynicism
about the world also influences Quentin. Jason Compson III dies in 1912.
Caroline Bascomb Compson:
Mother, in name only, of the four Compson children. She whines constantly
about the burdens imposed on her by her children, especially Benjy, who
is retarded. She spends much of her time in bed nursing imaginary illnesses
while the servants do the household chores and supervise the children when
they are growing up. The only child with she finds no fault is Jason IV.
She believes he takes after her side of the family, the Bascombs.
Candace (Caddy) Compson:
The only female Compson child. In her youth, she is a spirited, adventurous
child who frequently looks after Benjy and gives him the love his mother
denies him. Because she herself receives no love from her parents, she
seeks it from boys at an early age. After she becomes pregnant, she marries.
When her husband discovers that her child is not his, he divorces her.
Consequently, the family disowns Caddy and declares that her name is anathema
in the household. However, the family agrees to accept and rear her child,
and Caddy sends money to support her. Caddy, the second-oldest Compson
child, was born in 1892.
Benjamin (Benjy) Compson:The
youngest of the Compson children and the narrator of Chapter 1. His brother
Jason calls him Ben and sometimes refers to him as thegelding
because Benjy was castrated in his teen years. Benjy was baptized Maury,
the name of his mother's brother. In 1900, however, when Benjy was five,
his mother ordered his name changed to Benjamin after the family
discovered that he was severely retarded. Mrs. Compson wanted to avoid
bringing shame on her side of the family, the Bascombs. Benjy cannot speak,
read, or write. He was born in 1895 and is 33 when he narrates Chapter
1. Benjy appears to have been modeled on a character in another Faulkner
work, "The Kingdom of God," published in 1925.
Oldest of the Compson children and narrator of Chapter 2. He is intelligent,
sensitive, and idealistic. While growing up, he idolized and loved his
sister Caddy and was deeply disturbed when she started to become promiscuous
and eventually became pregnant. He confronted and fought the boy he suspected
of impregnating her. Through his teen, he continues to love her intensely
but never attempts to become intimate with her. After she marries and divorces,
he thinks of her often and wishes they could be alone together and live
and love platonically. Quentin was born in 1891.
Jason Compson IV:
Spiteful, selfish, brusque Compson child who narrates Chapter 3. Although
his mother favors him over her other children, he does not favor anyone
but himself. He is the only remaining male Compson child capable of marrying
and having children–Quentin has committed
suicide and Benjy has been castrated–but he
remains single, for he looks down on women in general. He is a racist and
anti-Semite. Jason was born in 1894.
grandmother of the Compson children. She dies in 1898.
Maury Bascomb: Brother
of Mrs. Compson and uncle of the Compson children. He lives on the Compson
estate as a freeloader and has an affair with a neighbor woman, Mrs. Patterson.
Mrs. Patterson: Neighbor
who has an affair with Maury Bascomb.
Mr. Patterson: Husband
of Mrs. Patterson. After discovering the affair between his wife and Maury
Bascomb, he thrashes Maury.
Dalton Ames: Young
man believed to have impregnated Caddy Compson. Caddy rejects him after
he thrashes her brother, Quentin, in a fight.
Sydney Herbert Head:
Harvard graduate and banker whom Caddy meets in French Lick, Indiana, and
marries after she becomes pregnant. He promises to give Jason Compson IV
a job. Not long after marrying Caddy, he divorces her after discovering
that her child is not his own and does not give Jason the promised job.
Jason, embittered, blames Caddy for this development.
Miss Quentin: Daughter
of Caddy and probably Dalton Ames. Caddy sends her to live at the Compson
home after her divorce from Mr. Head. Jason IV dislikes her and keeps for
himself the money Caddy sends for child support. Caddy, in turn, despises
Jason and eventually runs away with an employee of the carnival at Mottson.
Dilsey Gibson: Black
cook in the Compson household who helps to look after the Compson children
while rearing her own children, Versh (male), Frony (female), and T.P.
(male). Wise, practical, and morally upright, she is a rational and stabilizing
force in the Compson household. She and her family reside in a cabin on
the Compson property.
Roskus Gibson: Husband
of Dilsey who suffers from rheumatism.
Versh, T.P: Sons
of Dilsey Gibson. They help to look after Benjy.
Frony: Daughter of
Dilsey Gibson. She marries in 1910 and gives birth to a male child, Luster.
Luster: Son of Frony
and grandson of Dilsey Gibson. Luster, though less than half the age of
Benjy, is charged with looking after Benjy from time to time. Throughout
the novel, there are references to Luster's looking for a lost quarter,
or asking people around him for a quarter, so he can buy a ticket to a
traveling tent show.
Shreve, Spoade, Gerald
Bland: Harvard students who are friends of Quentin.
Mrs. Bland: Gerald
Charlie: One of Miss
Man With the Red Tie:
Pitchman from the traveling tent show with whom Miss Quentin runs away.
woman whom Jason sees to satisfy his lust.
Earl: Operator of
the farm-supply store where Jason works.
Job: Black employee
of the store.
Minister from St. Louis who preaches a sermon at Dilsey Gibson's church
on Easter Sunday.
Sheriff: Law officer
whom Jason asks to track Miss Quentin after she takes money from Jason's
metal box and runs away. The sheriff refuses the request, apparently aware
that the money she took was her own.
Little Italian Girl:
Immigrant girl Quentin tries to help on the day he commits suicide.
Julio: Brother of
the Italian girl.
Anse: Law officer
who arrests Quentin after Julio accuses him of attempting to kidnap his
The Squire: Court
official before whom Anse takes Quentin.
Jeweler: He shows
Quentin timepieces in his store.
Clerk at Hardware Store:
Clerk who sells Quentin two six-pound flatirons with which to weight himself
down when he jumps into the river to drown himself.
Work and Year of Publication
Sound and the Fury is a psychological novel about the dissolution of
a family with roots in the aristocratic Old South. It was published in
New York on October 7, 1929, by Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith.
Michael J. Cummings...©
is Saturday, April 7, 1928–Benjy Compson’s birthday. Benjy is a retarded
33-year-old who cannot speak and has no sense of time. He requires constant
supervision whether he is in the house or on the grounds of his family's
property. It has always been that way.
family–an Old South aristocratic clan with roots dating back to pre-Civil
War days–lives in northern Mississippi’s Yoknapatawpha County. Unlike the
Compsons of previous generations, the Compsons of 1928 are in financial
decline, although they continue to maintain household servants and a modicum
is outside on the Compson property, next to a golf course, watching through
a fence as players hit the ball. Keeping an eye on him is Luster, the 14-year-old
grandson of the family cook, Dilsey Gibson. Dilsey is the matriarch of
a black family that has long been attached to the Compson homestead. When
Benjy was younger, Dilsey’s two sons, Versh and T.P., frequently watched
over Benjy when he was outside. On this April day, that job has fallen
to Luster, the son of Dilsey’s daughter, Frony. While Benjy watches the
golfers, Luster searches for a quarter he lost in the grass. He plans to
use it to go to a traveling tent show, where there is a man who can play
a saw like a banjo. At one time, the Compsons owned the land occupied by
the golf course–land that they referred to as “Benjy’s pasture” because
it was one of his favorite places on the Compson estate–but they sold it
to alleviate financial difficulties.
Benjy and Luster crawl through a hole in the fence, Benjy snags his clothes
on a nail, reminding him of a Christmas long ago when his clothes caught
on the same nail and his sister, Caddy (Candace), came to his aid. Caddy
was the only member of the Compson family who paid attention to Benjy when
he was growing up. When a golfer says, “Here, caddie,” the latter word
triggers another memory of Caddy, one in which Benjy is outside with Versh
at the front gate of the Compson house. There, they meet Caddy coming back
from school. She smells like leaves, Benjy thinks. (He associates the smell
of leaves with purity and innocence.) She scolds Versh for not making Benjy
put his hands in his pockets against the cold, but Versh had already told
Benjy to do so.
mind shifts back to the present for a moment, as he and Luster come out
to the other side of the fence. Then Benjy returns to the past. His memories
are disjointed, sometimes focusing on one moment from one year, sometimes
on another from another year. In between, his mind idles in the present.
Because of his retardation, he lacks full awareness of chronology, freely
merging and mingling past and present. Gradually, however, he reveals bits
and pieces of himself and others around him. For example, whenever he thinks
of Caddy, he moans out of sadness. (Caddy is gone from the household, but
he still looks for her.) When she was young, she was a free spirit who
did not wait long to explore sexuality. She became pregnant, married, had
her child, and eventually divorced after her husband discovered that the
child was not his own.
Luster continues to search for his lost quarter, Benjy recalls a time when
he and his mother ride in a surrey driven by T.P. to a cemetery where his
father and brother Quentin are interred. Mrs. Compson does not trust T.P.'s
driving and wonders why Dilsey's husband, Roskus is not driving. Following
is the scene, which is significant because of what it reveals about Dilsey
as a steadying influence.
"Where's Roskus." she [Mrs. Compson] said.
"Roskus cant lift his arms, today." Dilsey said. "T.P. can drive all right."
"I'm afraid to." Mother said. "It seems to me you all could furnish me
with a driver for the carriage once a week. It's little enough I ask, Lord
"You know just as well as me that Roskus got the rheumatism too bad to
do more than he have to, Miss Cahline." Dilsey said. "You come on and get
in, now. T.P. can drive you just as good as Roskus."
"I'm afraid to." Mother said. "With the baby." Dilsey went up the steps.
"You calling that thing a baby." she said. She took Mother's arm. "A man
big as T.P. Come on, now, if you going."
"I'm afraid to." Mother said. They came down the steps and Dilsey helped
Mother in. "Perhaps it'll be the best thing, for all of us." Mother said.
"Aint you shamed, talking that way." Dilsey said. "Dont you know it'll
take more than a eighteen year old nigger to make Queenie run away. She
older than him and Benjy put together. And dont you start no projecking
with Queenie, you hear me. T.P. If you dont drive to suit Miss Cahline,
I going to put Roskus on you. He aint too tied up to do that."
"Yessum." T.P. said.
"I just know something will happen." Mother said. "Stop, Benjamin.
"Give him a flower to hold." Dilsey said. "That what he wanting." She reached
her hand in.
time to time, Benjy recalls moments when he and Caddy carry letters from
their Uncle Maury Bascomb (Mrs. Compson's brother) to a neighbor, Mrs.
Patterson, with whom Uncle Maury is having an affair. (Uncle Maury lives
with the Compsons, taking advantage of their money and his sister's goodwill.)
One day, Mr. Patterson intercepts a letter when Benjy alone arrives at
the fence of the Patterson property with the letter. Here is the scene:
|Mr. Patterson was chopping
in the green flowers. He stopped chopping and looked at me. Mrs. Patterson
came across the garden, running. When I saw her eyes I began to cry. You
idiot, Mrs Patterson said, I told him never to send you alone again. Give
it to me. Quick. Mr Patterson came fast, with the hoe. Mrs Patterson leaned
across the fence, reaching her hand. She was trying to climb the fence.
Give it to me, she said, Give it to me. Mr Patterson climbed the fence.
He took the letter. Mrs Patterson's dress was caught on the fence. I saw
her eyes again and I ran down the hill.
also relives a time when Caddy is seven and gets her dress wet in a creek
(referred to in the novel as the branch) while she, Benjy, then
about 3 or 4, and their brothers Jason, 5, and Quentin, 8, are playing.
Here is the scene:
the children is Versh, Dilsey’s son. After they are called for supper,
Versh says Mrs. Compson will whip Caddy for soiling her dress. Caddy orders
Versh to unbutton the dress in the back so she can take it off and let
it dry. Quentin, dismayed, orders Versh not to do her bidding. (Quentin,
the reader learns later in the novel, is extremely protective of Caddy’s
virtue; for her to remove her dress is to unduly expose herself to the
world.) Caddy ignores Quentin and again tells Versh to undo the buttons
or she will “tell Dilsey what you did yesterday.” Versh unbuttons the dress.
After Caddy takes it off, revealing muddied underwear, Quentin slaps her,
and she splashes water on him. A water battle ensues.
Benjy and Quentin, though very young, sense that the wet dress and underwear,
as well as Caddy’s exposure of herself, signal the beginning of reckless
behavior in her life. (Quentin later on becomes preoccupied with the image
of her muddy underwear, turning it into a symbol of the promiscuity that
would result in her pregnancy.) Moreover, both boys, as well as Caddy,
well know that Mrs. Compson–concerned about untoward behavior in so proper
a family–will likely react harshly, as Versh observed. As for Jason? He
is off by himself, seemingly unconcerned. (His isolation from other family
members at this time foreshadows his isolation from them later on. Jason
dislikes his siblings. In fact, he finds fault with everyone. In his eyes,
only he is an acceptable human being.) As
Benjy continues to shift back and forth between present and past, he recalls
Caddy's wedding, when he and T.P. get tipsy on champagne after T.P. mistakes
it for sarsaparilla (which T.P. calls sassprilluh).
sense of foreboding occurs in Benjy's narration when he recalls (several
times) hearing Roskus say,"Taint no luck on this place," indicating that
Roskus knows that doom awaits the family. Shortly thereafter, Benjy remembers
a time when he hears that Caddy's name is never again to be mentioned in
the Compson household (because of her promiscuous behavior that brings
shame on the family). His memories take a turn for the dark side when he
remembers the death of his grandmother in 1898 and the death of his father
In one of his memories,
Benjy recalls a time when Caddy's boyfriend, Charlie, makes advances toward
Caddy. Benjy cries and pulls at Caddy's dress. Here is the scene as Benjy
Caddy said. "It's just Charlie. Dont you know Charlie."
his nigger." Charlie said. "What do they let him run around loose for."
Benjy." Caddy said. "Go away, Charlie. He doesn't like you." Charlie went
away and I hushed. I pulled at Caddy's dress.
Benjy." Caddy said. "Aren't you going to let me stay here and talk to Charlie
that nigger." Charlie said. He came back. I cried louder and pulled at
away, Charlie." Caddy said. Charlie came and put his hands on Caddy and
I cried more. I cried loud.
no." Caddy said. "No. No."
cant talk." Charlie said. "Caddy."
you crazy." Caddy said. She began to breathe fast. "He can see. Dont. Dont."
Caddy fought. They both breathed fast. ......."Please.
"lease." Caddy whispered.
him away." Charlie said.
will." Caddy said. "Let me go."
you send him away." Charlie said.
Caddy said. "Let me go." Charlie went away. "Hush." Caddy said. "He's gone."
I hushed. I could hear her and feel her chest going.
have to take him to the house." she said. She took my hand. "I'm coming."
Charlie said. "Call the nigger."
Caddy said. "I'll come back. Come on, Benjy."
Charlie whispered, loud. We went on. "You better come back. Are you coming
back." Caddy and I were running. ......."Caddy."
Charlie said. We ran out into the moonlight, toward the kitchen.
and I ran. We ran up the kitchen steps, onto the porch, and Caddy knelt
down in the dark and held me. I could hear her and feel her chest. "I wont."
she said. "I wont anymore, ever. Benjy. Benjy.' Then she was crying, and
I cried, and we held each other. "Hush." She said. "Hush. I wont anymore.
So I hushed and Caddy got up and we went into the kitchen and turned the
light on and Caddy took the kitchen soap and washed her mouth at the sink,
hard. Caddy smelled like trees.
Benjy recalls the smell of perfume on Caddy in 1905 (a smell he associates
with sexual wile), he returns to 1928, when Caddy's illegitimate daughter,
Miss Quentin, dallies with a man with a red tie on the grounds of the Compson
home. He is a pitchman from the traveling tent show that Luster wants to
see. Benjy annoys Miss Quentin (who is named after Benjy's brother Quentin)
by approaching her when she is entertaining her beau. Unlike her mother,
she cannot tolerate the presence of Benjy.
another scene, Benjy wants to wait at the gate of the Compson home for
Caddy to return from school, not realizing that she has married and moved
out of the Compson home. He is with one of Dilsey's sons, T.P., who is
looking after Benjy, with Mrs. Compson nearby.
cant do no good looking through the gate, T.P. said. Miss Caddy done gone
long ways away. Done got married and left you. You cant do no good, holding
to the gate and crying. She cant hear you.
is it he wants, T.P. Mother said. Cant you play with him and keep him quiet.
want to go down yonder and look through the gate, T.P. said.
he cannot do it, Mother said. It's raining. You will just have to play
with him and keep him quiet. You, Benjamin.
nothing going to quiet him, T.P. said. He think if he down to the gate,
Miss Caddy come back. Nonsense, Mother said.
Benjy was in his teens, his family had him castrated after his brother
Jason and his father concluded that Benjy had attacked some girls. It was
a false conclusion. Here is the scene Benjy remembers:
[the front gate] was open when I touched it, and I held to it in the twilight.
I wasn't crying, and I tried to stop, watching the girls coming along in
the twilight. I wasn't crying.
cant get out. He wont hurt anybody, anyway. Come on."
scared to. I'm scared. I'm going to cross the street."
cant get out."
be a fraid cat. Come on."
came on in the twilight. I wasn't crying, and I held to the gate.
wont hurt you. I pass here every day. He just runs along the fence."
came on. I opened the gate and they stopped, turning. I was trying to say
[that I was looking for Caddy], and I caught her, trying to say, and she
screamed and I was trying to say and trying and the bright shapes began
to stop and I tried to get out. I tried to get it off of my face, but the
bright shapes were going again. They were going up the hill to where it
fell away and I tried to cry. But when I breathed in, I couldn't breathe
out again to cry, and I tried to keep from falling off the hill and I fell
off the hill into the bright, whirling shapes.
Benjy ends his reverie, he and Luster return to the house, where Dilsey
has a birthday cake waiting for Benjy in the kitchen. Luster blows out
the candles and cuts the cake while Dilsey is out of the room. Benjy sits
by the fireplace, watching the flames, as he and Luster eat cake. Fire
fascinates Benjy. When Dilsey returns, she notices Luster gorging on the
cake and reaching for another piece, then scolds him for eating too much
of it: "Reach it again, and I chop it right off with this here butcher
knife," she says. A moment later, she repeats her warning: "Reach hit [it]
one more time." Dilsey said. "Just reach it." Benjy then reaches into the
fireplace, burns his hand, and begins to cry. Quickly, Dilsey pours soda
on the burn and wraps a cloth around it. Mrs. Compson comes downstairs,
enters the room, and complains about Benjy's crying, saying, "How can I
lie there, with him bawling down here. Benjamin. Hush this minute." (Mrs.
Compson is almost always lying down, suffering from imaginary illnesses
and indulging in self-pity). Luster takes Benjy to another room, the library,
which triggers in Benjy another memory of Caddy, a pleasant one, followed
by a memory related to his name change when he was five years old. When
Benjy was born in 1895, he was baptized Maury, after his uncle.
However, in 1900, Mrs. Compson changed his name to Benjamin when she discovered
that he was retarded. (In the Bible, Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob,
the Jewish patriarch. See Genesis, Chapters 42-45.) She did not wish to
bring shame on the Bascomb name. Caddy, however, out of respect for Benjy,
sometimes calls him Maury.
after the interception of the letter to Mrs. Patterson (referred to above),
Benjy recalls the following scene in which Uncle Maury nurses injuries
inflicted by an outraged Mr. Patterson. The scene also reveals information
about Mr. Compson's heavy drinking and Mrs. Compson's concern for the Bascomb
Maury was sick. His eye was sick, and his mouth. Versh took his supper
up to him on the tray.
says he's going to shoot the scoundrel." Father said. "I told him he'd
better not mention it to Patterson before hand." He drank.
who, Father." Quentin said. "What's Uncle Maury going to shoot him for."
he couldn't take a little joke." Father said.
Mother said. "How can you. You'd sit right there and see Maury shot down
in ambush, and laugh."
Maury'd better stay out of ambush." Father said.
who, Father." Quentin said. "Who's Uncle Maury going to shoot."
Father said. "I dont own a pistol." Mother began to cry. "If you begrudge
Maury your food, why aren't you man enough to say so to his face. To ridicule
him before the children, behind his back."
course I dont." Father said. "I admire Maury. He is invaluable to my own
sense of racial superiority. I wouldn't swap Maury for a matched team.
And do you know why, Quentin."
sir." Quentin said.
ego in arcadia I have forgotten the latin for hay." Father said. "There,
there." he said. "I was just joking." He drank and set the glass down and
went and put his hand on Mother's shoulder.
no joke." Mother said. "My people are every bit as well born as yours.
Just because Maury's health is bad.
course." Father said. "Bad health is the primary reason for all life. Created
by disease, within putrefaction, into decay. Versh."
Versh said behind my chair.
the decanter and fill it."
tell Dilsey to come and take Benjamin up to bed." Mother said.
1 ends when Benjy and his siblings go to bed. In the darkness, Benjy recalls
that "I could see the windows, where the trees were buzzing. Then the dark
began to go in smooth, bright shapes, like it always does, even when Caddy
says that I have been asleep."
chapter, narrated by Quentin Compson, begins between 7 and 8 a.m. on June
2, 1910. The place is Cambridge, Mass., where Quentin, attends Harvard
University. On this day, he decides to cut all classes so he can prepare
to commit suicide. After getting up, he goes to the dresser, picks up his
wristwatch, breaks the crystal, and twists off the hands. His father had
told him that time was meaningless when little wheels kept track of it.
when the clock stops does time come to life,” Quentin paraphrases his father
Quentin packs his belongings in a trunk and writes his home address on
it. Then he bathes, shaves, puts on a new suit, and places the trunk key
and two notes in an envelope addressed to his father. After mailing the
envelope, he has breakfast at Parker’s Restaurant and buys a fifty-cent
cigar. Out on the street, he lights it and takes a few puffs. At a streetcorner,
two bootblacks approach him for business. He gives one of them the cigar
and the other one a nickel. Afterward, he goes into a jeweler’s and asks
whether the clocks in the show window display the correct time. The jeweler
says no, because the clocks have not been set. Quentin then walks across
the street, to a hardware store, and buys two six-pound weights (flatirons)
that he will use to keep his body under the water after he jumps into the
begins to relive memories of Caddy, whom he has always deeply loved but
never touched intimately. She is like a beautiful statue, a work of art
to be admired and preserved. When Dalton Ames–presumably Ames–impregnated
her, Quentin fought Ames but got thrashed. However, Caddy came to Quentin’s
defense and condemned Ames. Quentin regrets that he was not able to protect
her virginity. He remembers the day when he told his father that he and
Caddy had committed incest, but his father knew that he was lying. At the
time, Quentin hoped his “confession” would so enrage his parents that they
would cast out him and Caddy. He and Caddy would be pariahs, but they would
Caddy ended up marrying Sydney Herbert Head, a banker she met in French
Lick, Indiana, to preserve the honor of the Compson name.
thoughts of Caddy swim through Quentin’s brain, so do his father’s nihilistic
ideas–in particular, that life has no meaning, except perhaps for momentary
pleasure and for maintaining the attitude of a gentleman, a Southern gentleman.
Caddy is out of reach, if time and life have no meaning, if the values
of the Old South–including modesty and chastity in women–are out of date,
why go on living?
recalls a time when he is riding a train home from Harvard. After it stops
in Virginia, he sees a black man on a mule and gives him a quarter. He
also again thinks of Caddy and of the automobile that Head buys her as
a present, and he recalls her wedding day at Jefferson on April 25, 1910.
At the time, Head had promised to give Jason a job in his bank in South
Bend, Ind., after Jason finished high school.
Quentin's thoughts return to June 2, 1910, he takes a train to a little
town outside Cambridge. After getting off, he takes a walk and attempts
to help a little Italian immigrant girl who speaks no English and has lost
her way. He addresses her as “sister” and, at a bakery, they buy some buns.
While trying to show her the way home, her brother, a boy named Julio,
comes upon them, pounces on Quentin, tussles with him, and accuses Quentin
of kidnapping his sister. With him is a man named Anse, who is wearing
a badge. Neighbors gather around as Anse arrests Quentin and takes him
to “the Squire.” However, on the way, they run into some of Quentin’s friends
from college–Spoade, Shreve, and Gerald Bland–who have a car. There are
girls with them, as well as Mrs. Bland.
the squire, his classmates vouch for him as an upright fellow, and the
squire ends up fining Quentin, then releasing him. Quentin laughs at the
irony of the situation. Here was a boy, Julio, coming to the aid of his
little sister, a boy willing to fight for her–something Quentin believes
he himself did not do to protect Caddy's virginity.
when Quentin returns to his room, he is still thinking of Caddy. The reader
learns later in the novel that he commits suicide by jumping off a bridge
Chapters 3 and 4
3, narrated by Jason Compson, takes place on April 6, 1928 (Good Friday),
and Chapter 4, narrated by the author, takes place on April 8, 1928 (Easter
17-year-old daughter, Miss Quentin, lives with Mrs. Compson, Jason, and
Benjy but does not get along with the family and exhibits the same sort
of promiscuity that Caddy did. Jason, now the head of the family, despises
Miss Quentin. He and his mother are both angry with her because she recently
skipped school–again. Jason hints that she does so to be with boys.
a bitch always a bitch,” Jason says of her. That is his attitude toward
virtually all women. (He decides not to marry but uses a woman in Memphis,
Lorraine, to satisfy his lust.) His mother worries that Miss Quentin's
behavior will reflect poorly on the family and notes that “I didn't even
know she had a report card. She told me last fall that they had quit using
them this year. And now for Professor Junkin to call me on the telephone
and tell me if she's absent one more time, she will have to leave school.”
she says Jason is the only one who never gave her trouble.
answers sarcastically, “I never had time to [give you trouble] . . . .
I never had time to go to Harvard or drink myself into the ground. I had
to work. But of course if you want me to follow her around and see what
she does, I can quit the store [farm-supply store in Jefferson, where he
works] and get a job where I can work at night. Then I can watch her during
the day and you can use Ben for the night shift.”
Compson pouts and cries, then reaffirms her confidence in Jason.
to Mrs. Compson, Jason keeps for himself the money Caddy sends for Miss
Quentin’s support. Mrs. Compson had earlier told him not to accept any
money from Caddy, a persona non grata in the household because of the disgrace
she brought on the family name. However, to circumvent this dictum, Jason
makes a copy of each money order Caddy sends, burns it in front of Mrs.
Compson, then keeps the original. Over the years, he has amassed thousands
of dollars in this way.
day, Quentin takes up with a man from the traveling tent show–a pitchman
who wears a conspicuous red tie. When Jason drives around on the streets
of Jefferson to find her (to pacify his mother and to maintain the good
Compson name), he spots a Ford coming toward him. It stops and turns around.
Jason sees the red tie. He also sees Quentin looking out a window. A chase
ensues. When Jason thinks he sees their car parked along a road–“they had
tried to hide it,” Jason says–he stops, gets out, and traipses through
a plowed field and heavy brush to reach it. Moments later, he hears a car
start. A horn blows several times. Jason returns to his car only to discover
that the tires have been deflated. The horn blows several more times, tauntingly,
as Miss Quentin and the man with the red tie speed off. At Ab Russell’s
place nearby, he gets up pump and inflates his tires, drives back into
town, and goes to a telegraph office to check on the stock market.
returns home and discovers that Quentin is also there. Dilsey, the black
cook, has heard Quentin’s version of the chase and says, “Quentin come
in a while ago and says you been follerin her around all evenin and den
Miss Cahline jumped on her. Whyn't you let her alone? Cant you live in
de same house wid yo own blood niece widout quoilin?"
meanwhile, is still pleading for a quarter to go to the tent show. Dilsey
tells him,”[If] you had wings you could fly to heaven. I dont want to hear
another word about dat show."
says he has two complimentary tickets to the show. When Luster asks for
one of them, Jason says he will sell it for a nickel. Luster has no money.
So, out of meanness, Jason opens the lid of the stove and throws the tickets
in. Dilsey says, “A big growed man like you. Git on outen my kitchen.”Meanwhile,
Dilsey ends up giving Luster a quarter for the show.
Quentin runs away for good after taking $7,000 from a metal box Jason keeps
in his closet to hoard money from Caddy. Jason goes to Mottson, the next
town where the tent show is scheduled to appear. However, he fails to track
down his quarry–and suffers a bang on the head when tussling with one of
the show’s employees. Later, he asks the sheriff to intervene. But the
sheriff, well aware of Jason’s devious ways, refuses to act.
Easter Sunday, Dilsey takes Benjy and Luster to a service at her church
and hears a rousing sermon preached by the Rev. Shegog, of St. Louis. It
is about beginnings and endings, and Dilsey realizes that she has been
witness to the ending of the Compson family–although Dilsey herself will
carry on, just as the risen Christ carried on. When she allows Luster to
drive the horse-drawn carriage home, Luster makes a wrong turn that sends
Benjy into a frenzy. Benjy reacts that way because, for some reason, he
cannot cope with any kind of deviation from the norm. Jason, who happens
to be nearby, scolds Luster and steers the carriage back in the right direction.
Love Gone Wrong
Sound and the Fury centers on the downfall of a family with roots in
the aristocratic Old South. The family falls to ruin for a variety of reasons,
but the main one appears to be the family's impaired or limited ability
to express and share normal love. Mr. Compson's love of whiskey and nihilism
command most of his attention, and Mrs. Compson's self-pity and inordinate
concern for the family's "good name" prevent her from being a loving, full-time
mother. Caddy fulfills that role for Benjy, and Dilsey does what she can
for him and the other Compson children while raising a family of her own.
In her own search for love, Caddy turns to promiscuity. In his search for
love, Quentin becomes fixated on Caddy with platonic incestual desire.
Jason loves no one but himself and money. Caddy's daughter, Miss Quentin,
reenacts her mother's promiscuity. Unlike Caddy, though, she has no time
for Benjy. Uncle Maury seeks love with another man's wife.
Time in Turmoil
has little or no sense of the passage of time. Even after Caddy has moved
out of the Compson household, he waits for her at the front gate to come
home from school. His mind lives in the past and the present as if they
were one. Quentin–enthralled with the culture
and values of the Old South Compsons–cannot
adjust to the present. He is, in a sense, an anachronism. His father, on
the other hand, exists in a kind of chronological limbo. He tells Quentin
that "clocks slay time." He also says that "time is dead as long as it
is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time
come to life." Faulkner appears to be making a sort of Einsteinian statement:
that time is not fixed. It is relative to the cosmic traveler, whether
he is in the Compson's surrey or on a trans-galactic spaceship piloted
by Benjy, with Luster in tow searching the heavens for his lost quarter.
rebels against Old South Compson propriety when she becomes intimate with
her male friends. Her brother Quentin rebels against time, twisting off
the hands of his wristwatch. Jason, filled with contemptus mundi, rebels
against Caddy, Quentin, Benjy, and his parents, regarding himself as the
only worthwhile member of the family. He also rejects women as "bitches"
and becomes a racist and anti-Semite. Mr. and Mrs. Compson rebel against
Compson family, a remnant of the Old South aristocratic way of life, is
in its death throes. Its money is dwindling, its ancestral home is decaying,
and its land holdings are shrinking. Prospects for a new generation of
aristocratic Compsons are virtually nonexistent. Benjy cannot marry, Jason
refuses to marry, and Quentin commits suicide. Caddy marries, but her husband
divorces her after discovering that another man, presumably Dalton Ames,
fathered the child she bears. This child, Miss Quentin, rejects the family
and runs off with a man from a traveling show.
Compson blames Benjy, Caddy, and others for the travails she faces. Jason
blames everyone–including his siblings, his parents, Miss Quentin, and
Dilsey–for his problems or failures. When in his car chasing Miss Quentin
and the man with the red tie, he even blames the government for not fixing
the roads, saying "Yet we spend money and spend money on roads and dam
if it isn't like trying to drive over a sheet of corrugated iron roofing.
I'd like to know how a man could be expected to keep up with even a wheelbarrow."
Quentin blames himself for
not protecting Caddy.
strongest and wisest character in the novel is the Compsons' black cook,
Dilsey Gibson, who is at the bottom of the segregated Old South society.
But though she lacks social status, authority, education, and money, she
possesses what really matters in life: love, common sense, wisdom, faith,
perseverance, and strength. She is stronger by far than any of the Compsons
and able to cope effectively amid the turmoil of Compson dysfunction.
Gibson, Dilsey's husband, is a doomsayer, familiar figure in literature.
This character type has appeared in literary works since ancient times.
Perhaps the most famous fictional prophet of doom is the soothsayer in
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. He warns Caesar to "Beware
the Ides of March" (Act II, Scene I, Line 19), then repeats his warning.
Roskus frequently speaks these words: "Taint no luck on this place." Sometimes,
he accompanies his "prophecy" with an explanation, as in the following
two examples–the first referring to Benjy's name change and the second
referring to Mrs. Compson's proscription against ever again mentioning
Caddy's name in the Compson household:
"They aint no luck on this place." Roskus said. "I seen it at first but
when they changed his name I knowed it."
"That's what I tell you." Roskus said. "They aint no luck going be on no
place where one of they own chillen's name aint never spoke."
and again, Luster bemoans the loss of the quarter he planned to use to
see the traveling tent show. However, he persists in trying to find it
and, when it does not turn up, persists in asking others to supply a quarter.
Paragraphs 1 and 3 of Chapter 1 focus in part on the lost quarter. Thereafter,
there are more than 20 references in the novel to the quarter that Luster
needs. "Wish I could go [to the show]," Luster says again and again. He
tells Dilsey, "Ef I jes had a quarter, I could go to dat show." Dilsey
replies, "En ef you had wings you could fly to heaven. I dont want to hear
another word about dat show." However, Luster persists. Eventually, Dilsey
says, "I'll git you a quarter fum Frony tonight and you kin go tomorrow
night. Hush up, now." Luster has a goal, a simple one: He wants to go to
the show to see a man play a saw like a banjo. In this respect, at least,
he is superior to the Compsons, who seldom speak of goals or visions for
the future. Mr. Compson is content with the carpe diem of whiskey. Mrs.
Compson is content with lying in bed and courting sympathy. Caddy Compson
and her daughter, Miss Quentin, seek the sexual balm of now. Jason Compson
did have a goal–to work in Sydney Herbert
Head's bank–but after the job falls through,
he does not set a new goal. Rather, he occupies himself with getting even
with Caddy, whom he blames for the loss of the job because of her premarital
promiscuity and pregnancy. In other words, the past takes control of him.
scholars liken Benjy to Christ for the following reasons: He is 33 (the
same age as Christ when he died), he suffers mockery and other unjust treatment,
and his story (omitting flashbacks) unfolds on Easter weekend. In addition,
Benjy lives outside of time–as if in an eternal celestial
realm–because he has no grasp of the difference between past and present.
When a memory occurs to him, it as if it is taking place in the present.
Moreover, most of the other characters in the novel want little or nothing
to do with him, as if to say that in the world of 1928 people no longer
accept Christ or his message. Finally, Benjy knows intuitively when
Caddy sins and gets upset whenever anyone else strays from the "right path,"
as Luster does when he takes a wrong turn while driving Benjy home in the
surrey from the Easter service. After Luster turns left instead of right
at the Confederate monument in the town square, Benjy cries out. The omniscient
narrator says, "Bellow on bellow, his voice mounted, with scarce interval
for breath. There was more than astonishment in it, it was horror; shock;
agony eyeless, tongueless; just sound, and Luster's eyes backrolling for
a white instant. 'Gret God,' he said."
Sound and the Fury moves from beginning to end without a single, unforgettable,
climactic moment that alters the course of the novel. One gets the feeling
while reading the novel that the climax occurred in the distant past, before
Chapter 1. What the novel concentrates on is the outcome of that long-ago
climactic moment–an outcome centering on dissolution, decline, decomposition,
decay. In other words, The Sound and the Fury is one long denouement.
However, Miss Quentin stages a climax of sorts near the end of the novel
when she steals thousands of dollars from a metal box Jason keeps, money
that rightfully belongs to her. She then runs off with a pitchman from
the traveling show. Jason gives chase but fails to catch the fugitives.
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sometimes uses the stream-of-consciousness technique in the first three
chapters. In stream of consciousness, a term coined by American
psychologist William James (1842-1910), an author portrays a character’s
continuing “stream” of thoughts as they occur, regardless of whether they
make sense or whether the next thought in a sequence relates to the previous
thought. Generally, a stream-of-consciousness passage appears without punctuation
so that the flowing thoughts continue without interruption. The following
stream-of-consciousness passage from Chapter 2 presents the thoughts of
Quentin as he recalls bits and pieces of statements made by his mother:
what have I done to have
been given children like these Benjamin was punishment enough and now for
her to have no more regard for me her own mother I've suffered for her
dreamed and planned and sacrificed I went down into the valley yet never
since she opened her eyes has she given me one unselfish thought at times
I look at her I wonder if she can be my child except Jason he has never
given me one moment's sorrow since I first held him in my arms I knew then
that he was to be my joy and my salvation I thought that Benjamin was punishment
enough for any sins I have committed I thought he was my punishment for
putting aside my pride and marrying a man who held himself above me I dont
complain I loved him above all of them because of it because my duty though
Jason pulling at my heart all the while but I see now that I have not suffered
enough I see now that I must pay for your sins as well as mine what have
you done what sins have your high and mighty people visited upon me but
you'll take up for them you always have found excuses for your own blood
only Jason can do wrong because he is more Bascomb than Compson while your
own daughter my little daughter my baby girl she is she is no better than
that when I was a girl I was unfortunate I was only a Bascomb I was taught
that there is no halfway ground that a woman is either a lady or not but
I never dreamed when I held her in my arms that any daughter of mine could
let herself dont you know I can look at her eyes and tell you may think
she'd tell you but she doesn't tell things she is secretive you dont know
her I know things she's done that I'd die before I'd have you know that's
it go on criticise Jason accuse me of setting him to watch her as if it
were a crime while your own daughter can I know you dont love him that
you wish to believe faults against him you never have yes ridicule him
as you always have Maury you cannot hurt me any more than your children
already have and then I'll be gone and Jason with no one to love him shield
him from this I look at him every day dreading to see this Compson blood
beginning to show in him at last with his sister slipping out to see what
do you call it then have you ever laid eyes on him will you even let me
try to find out who he is it's not for myself I couldn't bear to see him
it's for your sake to protect you but who can fight against bad blood you
wont let me try we are to sit back with our hands folded while she not
only drags your name in the dirt but corrupts the very air your children
breathe Jason you must let me go away I cannot stand it let me have Jason
and you keep the others they're not my flesh and blood like he is strangers
nothing of mine and I am afraid of them I can take Jason and go where we
are not known I'll go down on my knees and pray for the absolution of my
sins that he may escape this curse try to forget that the others ever were
exhibits considerable versatility in his writing style in the The Sound
and the Fury. On the one hand, he presents the thought patterns and
modes of expression of three dissimilar narrators–the
first an imbecile, the second a sensitive college student, and the third
a redneck racist. On the other, he presents his own observations as the
omniscient narrator of Chapter 4. In addition, he writes dialogue in the
Southern black idiom. Striking imagery characterizes the narration, including
Benjy's. Following are examples:
Then I saw Caddy, with flowers
in her hair, and a long veil like shining wind.–Benjy.
grass was buzzing in the moonlight where my shadow
walked on the grass–Benjy. (Here,
Benjy turns the grass into chirping crickets. The shadow becomes the Shakespearean
symbol of futile life.)
I quit moving around and
went to the window and drew the curtains aside and watched them running
for chapel, the same ones fighting the same heaving coat-sleeves, the same
books and flapping collars flushing past like debris on a flood.–Quentin.
I could hear the Great
American Gelding [Benjy] snoring away like
a planing mill.–Jason.
pair of jaybirds came up from nowhere, whirled
up on the blast like gaudy scraps of
cloth or paper and lodged in the mulberries, where they swung
tilt and recover.–Omniscient
Along its quiet length white
people in bright clumps moved churchward, under the windy bells,
walking now and then in the random and tentative sun.–Omniscient
was like a worn small rock whelmed by the successive waves
of his voice.–Omniscient narrator describing
the preacher, the Rev. Shegog. (Metaphor: The rise and fall of the minister's
voice resembles the sound of ocean waves.)
Study Questions and Essay
Which character in the novel
do you most admire? Which character do you least admire? Explain your answers.
In what ways does the presence
of Benjy help to define other characters in the novel?
To what extent do Southern culture
and traditions affect the attitudes of the Compsons?
When she was growing up, Caddy
was spirited, with a mind of her own. However, she married Sydney Herbert
Head to preserve the "good name" of her family. Had Caddy lost her spirit?
Was she a broken woman?
Do any of the Compsons set goals
for the themselves?
Write an essay explaining whether
the treatment of blacks in the novel accurately reflects the treatment
of blacks in general in the early decades of the 19th Century.
Write an essay explaining whether
the attitude toward women in the novel accurately reflects society's attitude
toward women in the early decades of the 19th Century.
Sounds, smells, sights, people,
and places trigger memories in Benjy, Quentin, and Jason. Write a short
narrative or descriptive essay on a memory that an object (or sound, smell,
or sight) in your home or on your property triggers in you.
Write an essay focusing on the
internal and external conflicts that the Compson children face.
derived the title from words spoken by Macbeth, the murderous title character
of Shakespeare's great play. After Macbeth's enemies–full of righteous
wrath–close in on him, Macbeth expresses despair and utter resignation
upon realizing that all his hopes and dreams have come to naught as mere
shadows of past promise. Macbeth says:
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,
(Act V, Scene V, Lines 17-21)
Macbeth's conclusion that
life is nothing more than a tale told by an idiot sums up the Faulkner
novel. Benjy, of course, is the idiot.