A Story of a Southern Family
The Sound and the Fury tells the story of an aristocratic Southern family which had distinguished ancestors but which has now fallen on evil days. It is the story of the decline and deterioration of a family with a highly respectable and distinguished past. The present family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Compson, and their four children-Quentin, Candace (or Caddy), Jason, and Benjamin (or Benjy or Ben).
There are a number of negro servants attending upon the Compson family. These servants are Dilsey, her husband Roskus, and their three sons, Versh, T.P., and Luster, and their daughter called Frony. There are several other characters in the novel, such as Shreve, Spoade, Gerald Bland and his mother, the small Italian girl, three boys out for fishing, a man called Earl (in whose hardware store Jason gets employed when he is grown up), Caddy’s boy-friend, by the name of Dalton Ames who is probably responsible for making her pregnant, and a man called Herbert Head whom she marries, Uncle Maury who is Mrs. Compson’s brother and who is a dependant on the Compson family. There is also the girl to whom Caddy gives birth, who is also named Quentin after her uncle, and: who is brought up in the Compson household because Caddy’s husband has refused to acknowledge the child as his own. (In actual fact, the child Quentin was born of the sexual union of Caddy with Dalton Ames or with some other lover, and is therefore an illegitimate child). Then there are a couple of other negro characters too in the story. But primarily and chiefly, The Sound and the Fury is the story of the various members of the Compson family and of Dilsey the negro servant who works as a house-keeper in that family and who looks after all the members.
The Story, Not Written In the Chronological Order
The story is not related to us in the novel in the proper chronological order. The author has not employed the traditional mode of straightforward narration of events and incidents. It is largely a psychological novel which tells us more about the inner life of the characters than of their outward life. While there is certainly some external or physical action, the focus chiefly is on what goes on in the minds of the characters. In order to depict the psychological states of the various characters, the author follows what is known as the stream-of-consciousness technique which was originally employed by writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. The result is that events, thoughts, and recollections of the past are jumbled together (except in the final section) and we face a lot of confusion as we read through the book.
Four Parts of the Novel
The novel is divided into four sections. The first three sections contain three monologues, each by a different character, while the fourth section narrates the incidents from the point of view of an impersonal or detached observer. The speakers in the first three sections are Benjy, Quentin, and Jason respectively. The dates on which these three characters utter their monologues are April seventh, 1928 ; June second, 1910 ; and April sixth, 1928. 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. In order to arrive at a proper understanding of the story, we have to disregard the division of the novel into the four sections mentioned above, and we have to piece together the facts as they emerge from our reading of the various sections. In fact, we can understand the story only after having gone through the entire novel and then also after consulting the commentaries provided by critics. Without knowing the incidents of the subsequent three sections, for instance, we cannot comprehend the bulk of even the opening section.
The Early Life of the Four Compson Children
The novel provides us with a number of important facts about the early life of the four Compson children as well as the major events of their adulthood. In this connection, a very important fact to be kept in mind is that Benjy is by birth an idiot, incapable of speaking or expressing his needs in words. Whenever something goes wrong, Benjy moans and slobbers. When something goes seriously wrong he begins to bellow and how). His life consists merely of sense-impressions. In the Compson household, the only persons who really care for him are his sister Caddy and the negro servant Dilsey. And the cardinal fact of Benjy’s existence is his deep attachment to Caddy. The four children often go out of doors to play together by the banks of a nearby stream or in the pasture. They have their minor quarrels. They do receive the affectionate notice of their parents, but the parents by, no means offer them as much affection or love or attention as would be normally expected from them. While Quentin, Caddy, and Benjy get on smoothly with one another, Jason finds himself” out of harmony with them. Whenever Caddy, for instance, gets her dress wet or dirties her clothes, Jason threatens to “tell on” her. Thus, in their very childhood, there exists a kind of cleavage between Jason and the other three. Mrs. Compson, the mother, for some unexplained reason, feels a strong preference for Jason. Benjy being an idiot, she looks upon him as God’s punishment to her for some unknown sins. Mrs. Compson is a woman who is generally sick, who keeps constantly, grumbling and complaining, and who is full; of self-pity.
The Castration of the Idiot, Benjy
The Compson children are very attached to their grandmother (their mother’s mother) to whom they refer as Damuddy. Sometimes Jason, and often Benjy, sleeps with Damuddy. But this has to be stopped when Damuddy falls sick. After a period of illness, Damuddy dies. Benjy could smell the impending death of Damuddy, because Benjy seems to have extraordinary psychic powers by virtue of which he can smell an imminent misfortune. However, Benjy cannot utter his thoughts or communicate with anybody either by words or by any other means. It may also be pointed out that Benjy’s original name was Maury and that it was subsequently changed to Benjamin, a name taken from the Bible. After the death of Damuddy,, Benjy would often sleep with Caddy, but that also had to be stopped when Benjy became fourteen or so. A year later, Benjy had to be castrated because he tried to seize a girl whom he would perhaps have raped (without of course realizing. the implications of his action).
Benjy’s Reaction to Caddy’s Being Kissed
Caddy grows up into a promiscuous girl. She is hardly seventeen when she develops a love-affair with a fellow called Dalton Ames. She starts going out with him, and he often comes to leave her at her house, though he does not enter the house. Benjy’s reaction to the stranger is very adverse. In fact, when once Benjy sees Caddy being kissed by a boy-friend, he becomes agitated and pulls at her dress as if to protest against what she is doing. She understands Benjy’s feelings and she tries to assure Benjy that she would not repeat her action (in kissing a boyfriend). Thus we find Benjy unconsciously feeling jealous of the man who has kissed his sister.
Quentin’s Incestuous Desire For Caddy
Caddy’s elder brother, Quentin, also feels greatly attached to her. In fact, when the children are 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. The very thought of a woman’s loss of her virginity upsets him, even though his father holds absolutely different ideas on the subject. That is the reason why Quentin feels deeply troubled and grieved when he learns that probably a fellow called Dalton Ames has made Caddy pregnant. He does not take kindly also to the man, Herbert Head, whom Caddy very soon after becoming pregnant marries in order to cover up the fact of her pregnancy and thus to avoid social censure. Quentin feels so deeply offended with Dalton Ames that he challenges that fellow to a fight though he discovers, to his dismay and shame, that he is no match for his opponent.
Quentin’s Suicide and the Reasons For It
Quentin goes to Harvard University for higher studies. But he cannot really apply his mind to his studies. He is haunted by the thought of how Caddy had become pregnant by Dalton Ames and how she had married a worthless fellow like Herbert. His incestuous desire for Caddy has also remained unfulfilled. His mind becomes obsessed by thoughts of Caddy and by what had happened to her. Several reasons, mostly connected with Caddy, make his life miserable and fill him with despair, so that he decides to commit suicide. On the day (2nd June, 1910) when he proposes to put his decision into effect, he has a number of misadventures. He is accused of having tried to kidnap a little Italian girl, though he is absolutely innocent. He falls out with a college-mate, Gerald Bland, who has somehow come to symbolize in his mind Caddy’s seducer (Dalton Ames), and gets a rather cruel beating from him. In fact, the whole of this day is spent by him in a state of mental torture because of the painful recollections of the past and the haunting memories of Caddy and what had gone wrong with her. Eventually, of course, he does commit suicide on that very day.
Jason as the Head of the Family
With Caddy having left the household after her marriage, Benjy most of the time remains disconsolate. The negro boy, Luster, does try to soothe Benjy, by showing him the golfers playing their game on the nearby golf course, or by making him sit before the fire, or by giving him a slipper belonging to Caddy. But Benjy is often moaning and slobbering. One of Dilsey’s chief anxieties in the household is to keep Benjy calm, and she strives her utmost to do, so. With Caddy gone, and Quentin having committed suicide, Jason becomes an important man in the family. And, after the death of his father, Jason becomes the head of the household and is thus regarded by his mother who is over-fond of him, being quite ignorant of his real nature which is evil. Jason is a crook.
The Objectionable Behaviour of the Girl Quentin
Another member of the Compson household now is a girl called Quentin, who is Caddy’s daughter and who has been reared in this house from her infancy, Caddy’s husband having refused to accept the child as his own. (After his marriage to Caddy, her husband had come to know that Caddy had become pregnant by another man before marrying him). The girl Quentin has taken after her mother, Caddy, in some ways though not in all ways. For instance, Miss Quentin becomes as promiscuous as her mother used to be. But, unlike her mother, she has no liking for Benjy at all and is frankly contemptuous of him. Miss Quentin develops a love affair with a fellow who is an employee in a carnival which is holding its shows in Jefferson. She has started playing the truant at school. She comes home late. She pays no attention to her .grandmother’s wishes. As for Jason, he has begun to find the girl’s presence in the house to be almost intolerable.
Jason’s Dishonesty and Fraud
Jason had originally been promised a job by Herbert (whom Caddy had married) in his bank, but Herbert had not really been serious about his promise. Herbert’s failure to have provided a good job to Jason had caused a lot of disappointment to both Jason and his mother. Jason had then taken up a job in a hardware-store owned by a man called Earl. Mrs. Compson had given Jason an amount of one thousand dollars to be invested in Earl’s business in order that Jason might regard himself as a partner in the business, but Jason had misappropriated this money and had bought a car with it. Jason had also got interested in speculation and he has been buying and selling shares in the cotton market with the hope of getting rich quickly. Furthermore, Jason has been misappropriating for the last fifteen years or so the monthly remittances which Caddy had been sending to Mrs. Compson as maintenance expenses for her daughter Quentin who has been brought up in the Compson household. Mrs. Compson had herself not been making use of that money but had regarded it as tainted money sent by a fallen woman. She bad therefore been burning the cheques which she believed were being sent by Caddy but which were actually fake cheques presented to her by Jason who had been depositing the genuine cheques in his own account without the knowledge of his mother.
The Happenings on the 8th April, 1928
As the relations between Miss Quentin and her uncle Jason have become very strained, and as Quentin has come to know that her uncle has been misappropriating some of the money sent by her mother, she decides to run away from home with her boy-friend from the carnival. Accordingly, she slips out of the window of her bedroom, goes down a pear tree growing close to the wall of the house, and disappears. However, before leaving, she steals all the money that Jason has accumulated secretly in a money-box which lay hidden in his room. On discovering that Quentin has run away and has stolen his money, Jason becomes wild with rage. He gives a hot chase to the runaways (Miss Quentin and her boyfriend), but cannot catch them. He then returns to Jefferson, a disappointed man. All this happens on the 8th April, 1928, which is Easter Sunday. On this day Dilsey, who is very religious kind of woman, goes to attend the Easter service in the local negro church, and takes Benjy along with her. The sermon preached by the visiting minister, Reverend Shegogg, pertains to the birth and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and Dilsey is moved to tears by it. The novel ends with a brief account of how Luster drives the carriage, with Benjy seated in it, in the wrong direction in the town square, and how Jason snatches the reins from Luster, gives him a blow, and turns the carriage in the right direction.