The Story of the Compson Family
The Sound and the Fury is the story of the decline of a Southern family. The family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Compson, and their four children-Quentin, Caddy, Jason, and Benjy. There are a number of negro servants attending upon this family. The servants include Dilsey, the house-keeper, and her son Luster whose main duty is to look after Benjy who is by birth an idiot. The Compson family lives in the town of Jefferson.
The Stream-of-Consciousness Technique
The story of the Compson family is not given to us by the author in the proper chronological order and according to the traditional mode of narration. The author adopts what is known as the stream-of-consciousness technique according to which the thoughts of the characters are presented to us as they occur to the characters concerned. The result is that events, thoughts, and memories of the past are jumbled together, creating a lot of confusion in our minds.
Four Sections of the Novel
The novel consists of four sections. The first three sections contain three monologues, each by a different character, while the fourth section narrates the incidents from the points of view of a detached observer. The speakers in the first three sections are Benjy, Quentin and Jason respectively. The dates on which these three persons speak their monologues are April seventh, 1908 ; June second, 1910 ; and April sixth, 1929. These three dates serve also as the headings for the three sections respectively, while the fourth section carries the heading “April eighth, 1928”, and relates the happenings of that particular day.
Benjy, an Idiot, and His Attachment to Caddy
Benjy’s monologue in the opening section mainly gives us the incidents of the early life of the four Compson children (including himself) even though the monologue itself is uttered on the seventh April, 1928 when Benjy is thirty-three years old. As Benjy is an idiot or an imbecile, he can only register his sense-impressions and is in no position to articulate his reactions to his experiences. Most of the time he moans and slobbers and bellows. He receives great affection from his sister Caddy to whom be becomes deeply attached and in whose absence he feels almost desolate. The sight of the fire, watching the golfers at play, and looking into a mirror that hangs upon a wall are other sources of comfort to Benjy, apart from the constant affection shown to him by Caddy and by Dilsey (the housekeeper), and the very occasional interest taken in him by his parents. Benjy also possesses what may be called an unusual psychic power and can smell an impending misfortune, especially a death.
Caddy’s Pregnancy Before Marriage
On growing up into a young girl, Caddy develops a love-affair with a fellow called Dalton Ames and becomes pregnant by him. In order to avoid disgrace, Caddy hurriedly gets married to a man called Herbert Head. However, when she gives birth to a child, her husband refuses to acknowledge the child as his own, with the result that Caddy’s father, Mr. Compson, feels compelled to bring the child to his own house where the child is then brought up. (This child receives the name Quentin, the same as the name of one of her uncles). Mrs. Compson breaks off all connection with her daughter Caddy, whom she now regards as a “fallen woman”.
Caddy’s elder brother, Quentin, had been feeling greatly attached to her ever since they were children. When the children have all grown up, Quentin develops an incestuous desire for Caddy. At the same time he develops puritanical ideas about a woman’s virtue and purity. That is the reason why he feels deeply, distressed on learning that a fellow called Dalton Ames has made Caddy pregnant without having married her. Quentin goes to Harvard University for his studies, but he is all the time haunted by the thought of how Caddy had become pregnant, and how she had afterwards married a worthless fellow by the name of Herbert. His incestuous desire for Caddy has also remained unfulfilled. His mind is now obsessed by thoughts of Caddy and by what had happened to her. Morbid by nature, he is overcome by the feeling of despair and he decides to commit suicide. On the second June, 1910, Quentin, after his mind has been visited by numerous recollections of the past, and after a few unpleasant experiences on that particular day, commits suicide by jumping into a river. (Caddy had married a month or two before Quentin’s suicide, and Caddy gives birth to the child called Quentin a few months after that suicide).
Eighteen Years After Quentin’s Suicide
The scene shifts from Harvard University back to the Compson household in the town of Jefferson. The girl Quentin is now almost seventeen years old She has, to a large extent, taken after her mother, Caddy. She has begun to absent herself from school and goes about in the company of young fellows in an irresponsible manner. She then develops a love-affair with a man who is working in a carnival which is on a brief visit to the town of Jefferson. Her uncle Jason rebukes her for the way she has been behaving, but she adopts a defiant attitude towards him. She also ignores her grandmother (Mrs. Compson). When she finds her position in the house intolerable, she runs away with her boy-friend but, before going, she steals all the money that Jason had accumulated in a money-box hidden in his room. Jason had acquired this money by fraudulent means, largely by misappropriating the monthly amount that Caddy had been sending for the maintenance of her daughter Quentin. The whole amount, about three thousand dollars, is taken away by the girl. Jason makes a frantic effort to trace the girl but fails. And that is how the story ends,
An Account of the Deterioration and’ Degeneration of a Family
The novel has been called The Sound and the Fury because the story illustrates the futility of the life of an aristocratic Southern family which had distinguished ancestors but which afterwards fell on evil days. The eldest child, who was the most promising, commits suicide. The girl, Caddy, allows herself to be corrupted at the young age of seventeen and finds herself an exile from her parental home. Jason, who is the favourite son of his mother, proves to be a crook and a villain who has no sentiment of affection either for his mother, or for his idiot brother Benjy, or for his niece Quentin towards whom he adopts a ruthless attitude, driving her further into a life of degradation. The youngest of the four children, namely Benjy, is a born idiot whom Mrs. Compson regards as God’s punishment to her. The head of the family, Mr. Compson, is a cynic and an alcoholic, and Mrs. Compson is a weak, complaining woman who perpetually imagines herself to be sick and who is constantly asking for a hot-water bottle and all the time trying to apply a camphor-soaked handkerchief to her head. The degeneration of the family is obvious.