(1) MR. COMPSON
A Negligent Father
Mr. Compson is the head of the family whose degeneracy is the main theme of The Sound and the Fury. Mr. Compson has had distinguished ancestors including a governor and a brigadier-general. He himself is, however, not a distinguished man in any sense of the word. He is alcoholic, and he fails as a parent indeed, the combined failure of both Mr. Compson and Mrs. Compson as parents has been held by a number of critics to be responsible for the sad fate of all the Compson children. Mr. Compson certainly loves his children, but he does not take as much interest in their upbringing as a responsible father should do.
His love for his progeny is clear from the fact that he readily brings to his own house Caddy’s child who has been disowned by Caddy’s husband. Basically, Mr. Compson is a compassionate man. But he is negligent as a father.
His Wish to Escape the Tyranny of Time
There is another negative side to his character, too. He is cynical and nihilistic in his outlook and in his views about life and human nature. In the first place, he is obsessed with time, and he would very much like to escape from its tyranny. Probably Quentin’s obsession with time has been reinforced by his father’s. This is clear from the fact that Quentin’s monologue begins with a reference to the watch that he had received from his father. While giving that watch to Quentin, Mr. Compson had said : “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire.” Mr. Compson also describes time as “the position of mechanical hands on an arbitrary dial.” According to Mr. Compson, Christ was not crucified, but was “worn away by a minute clicking of little wheels”.
His Cynicism and Nihilism
In the course of his monologue, Quentin quotes many of his father’s sayings, and it is evident that Quentin has deeply been influenced by his father’s ideas because otherwise he would not be quoting so many of them. One of the important utterances of Mr. Compson is that no battle is ever won and that battles are not even fought. “The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.” This is certainly a cynical statement. Then Mr. Compson is cynical about women’s virginity also. According to him, virginity means very little to women. Virginity, he says, was invented by men, not by women. In this connection Mr. Compson had once said to Quentin : “Women are never virgins. Purity is a negative state and therefore, contrary to nature.” Quentin also quotes his father as having made the pessimistic statement that man is the sum of his misfortunes. “One day you’d think misfortune would get tired, but then time is your misfortune”, Mr. Compson had said. Another pessimistic view expressed by Mr. Compson is that all men are just “accumulations dolls stuffed with sawdust swept up from the trash-heaps where all previous dolls had been thrown away.” Mr. Compson’s view of women; also quoted by Quentin, is that they have “a natural affinity for evil”.
Disinclined to Believe Quentin’s Statements
Mr. Compson had not felt shocked at all when Quentin told him that he had committed incest with Caddy. In fact, Mr. Compson did not believe Quentin when he said so. Mr. Compson had also refused to belie that Quentin would commit suicide, though in this respect Mr. Compson proves to be wrong. Mr. Compson’s view was that soon Quentin would find that Caddy was not worth his despair.
His View About Doctors and About Health
Mr. Compson is cynical also about doctors. For instance, this is what he said to his wife on one occasion : “What do doctors know ? They make their livings advising people to do whatever they Pare not doing at the time, which is the extent of anyone’s knowledge of the degenerate ape.” He is cynical even about health. Benjy reports him as having said : “Bad health is the primary reason for all life. Created by disease, without putrefaction, into decay.”
His View of Uncle Maury
Mr. Compson holds a very poor opinion about his brother-in-law Maury who is a dependent on him. Mr. Compson taunts his wife by saying that, if he can support five or six niggers who do nothing at all but sic before the fire, he can certainly board and lodge Uncle Maury, and now and then lend him a little money also. From Benjy’s monologue we learn that Mr. Compson likes Maury because by Maury’s presence in the house Mr. Compson is enabled to experience a sense of superiority. This is what Mr. Compson says : “I admire Maury. He is invaluable to my own sense of uncial superiority. I wouldn’t swap Maury for a matched team:”
The Views of “Two Critics About Mr. Compson
This is how a critic comments upon Mr. Compson : “Mr. Compson by 1910 was a defeated man. Perhaps he had always been a weak man, not endowed with the fighting spirit necessary to save his family but there are plenty of indications that he was a man “possessed of love and compassion. Benjy remembers a scene in which Caddy and Father and Jason were in Mother’s chair. .Jon had been crying, and his father was evidently comforting him. Caddy’s head was on father’s shoulder. And when Benjy himself a rent over to the chair, father lifted him into the chair too. Long Act Mr. Compson’s death, Dilsey remembers him as a force for order in the household and reproaches Jason, saying that, if Mr. Jason were still alive, things would have been different. And when Caddy pleads with her cold-hearted brother to be allowed to see her baby, she says to him : “You have father’s name. Do you think I’d have to ask him twice ? Once, even ?” It is noteworthy that, even in his drinking, Mr. Compson goes from better to worse. Caddy tells Quentin : “Father will be dead in a year they say if he doesn’t stop drinking and he won’t stop he can’t stop since I……” Evidently, the knowledge of his daughter’s wantonness had hit Mr. Compson hard and his parade of cynicism about women and virginity, so much of which Quentin recalls on the day of his death, must have been in part an attempt to soften the blow for Quentin and perhaps for himself. Quentin was apparently very close to his father and the influence of his father on him was obviously very powerful. The whole of the Quentin section of the novel is saturated with what “father said”.
However, another critic writes : “Mr. Compson is a weak, nihilistic alcoholic who toys with the emotions and needs of his children. Even when he feels sympathy and compassion, he fails to show it effectively.
(2) MRS. COMPSON
Her Attitude Towards Her Children
Mrs. Caroline Compson is a whining, self pitying woman who is perpetually sick or imagines herself to be sick. We find her all the time complaining : against her husband, against her children, and against the way fate has treated her. She thinks her idiot son Benjy to be a divine punishment to her. The other children are not very much better in her eyes so far as their general behaviour is concerned and, in any case, Caddy brings nothing but shame and dishonour to the family, while Quentin becomes the cause of a deep disappointment’ to her when he commits suicide. She has, however; a soft corner for Jason whom she regards as her “joy” and her “salvation” ; but of course she knows nothing of his real character. She trusts Jason implicitly with the result that he keeps deceiving her for fifteen years or so by making her think that the cheques she has been burning were the genuine ones sent by Caddy while actually they were fake ones with which Jason had replaced the genuine ones. (The genuine ones Jason had been depositing in his own account). After the death of her husband, she begins to treat Jason as the head of the family and shows him the deference which would be due to him in that capacity However, one day she gets a shock when Jason goes so far as to take away the bunch of keys from her by force, an action which she could never have expected from any one in the house.
Her Pride in the, Bascomb Family
Mrs. Compson entertains certain illusory notions about the social standing and the reputation of the Bascomb family from which she comes. She talks of her family with great pride, and she holds her brother Maury in high esteem because he is the sole surviving male representative of that family. Having a soft corner for her brother she cannot refuse his recurrent requests for loans of money from her. In fact, she resents the mocking remarks which her husband makes about her brother, and she tells her husband that by his criticism of her brother he is encouraging the children also to become disrespectful to their, uncle.
Her Responsibility For the Break-Up of the Compson Family
A dissatisfied grumbling woman as she is, she has very little time for her children whom therefore she neglects. This is how a critic comments upon the character of Mrs. Compson in this context : “The basic cause of the break-up of the Compson family––let the more general cultural causes be what they may–is the cold and self-centred mother who is, sensitive about the social status of her own family (the Bascombs), who feel the birth of as idiot son as a kind of personal affront, who spoils and corrupts her favourite son, and who withholds any real love and affection from her other children and her husband. Caroline Compson is not so much an actively wicked and evil person as a cold weight of negativity which paralyzes the normal family relationships. She is certainly at the root of Quentin’s lack of confidence in himself and his inverted pride. She Js at least the immediate cause of her husband’s breakdown into alcoholic cynicism, and doubtless she is ultimately responsible for Caddy’s promiscuity. There is some evidence that Caddy’s conduct was obsessive and compulsive, a flight from her family. She tells her brother Quentin : ‘There was something terrible in me sometimes at night I could see it grinning at me I could see it through (my lovers) grinning at me through their faces’.” This, on the whole, is too harsh an opinion, about Mrs. Compson but it shows how some critics react to her. It has, however, to be admitted that she is an unsatisfactory mother, that she is self-centred, and that her pride in her family of Bascombs has little justification.
One of the most curious revelations about the neurotic Mrs. Compson is given by Jason who relates that, once when she happened to see a beau of Caddy’s kissing her, all next day she went around the house in a black dress and a veil and even Mr. Compson could not get her to say a word except crying. The mother’s extravagantly neurotic exaggeration of the seriousness of what Caddy had done must have been bewildering and humiliating to the girl. This reinforces our impression of Mrs. Compson’s being an unsatisfactory kind of mother.
A Student at Harvard University ; an Introvert
Quentin is the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Compson (having been born about the year 1890). On the day of his monologue, which is also the day of his suicide (second June, 1910), he would therefore be about twenty years old. He is at that time a student at Harvard University, having been sent there by his parents with the money which they raised by selling Benjy’s share of the family pasture because otherwise they could not have paid for the expenses of his education at the university. Quentin is an introvert and keeps thinking and brooding over his experiences. He is by nature morbid, and the happenings in his (brief) life aggravate his morbidity and make him a gloomy person. Quentin’s monologue is the longest of the three in this novel, and that shows the importance which the novelist attached to this particular character. Quentin’s monologue reveals his own character and some other characters: it, acquaints us also with a large number of events and incidents, which have taken place in the past. A number of episodes referred to in this monologue ‘occur on the very day on which he speaks the monologue, but nothing happens to make him change his decision already taken, to commit suicide.
His Desire to Escape From Time
The first thing that we learn about Quentin is that he’ is time-possessed, and that he desperately wishes to escape from the sense of time. , It is his desire to escape from time that makes him try to break his watch. In this respect he resembles “his father whom he quotes frequently in the course of his monologue. Quentin’s father regarded the watch which he presented to ‘Quentin as the “mausoleum of all hope and desire”.
His Incestuous Desire For Caddy
The central fact of Quentin’s existence is his incestuous desire for his sister Caddy, a desire which has remained unfulfilled. This incestuous ‘desire makes him extremely unhappy partly because it is a forbidden or sinful desire, and’ partly because it has not been fulfilled. Caddy is thus not only ‘his sister but his sweet-heart also. The situation has been made more complex and much more agonizing by the fact that Caddy has failed to maintain her purity as a maiden and has failed to keep her virginity intact. He is haunted by the recollections of Caddy’s having become pregnant as a “consequence of her love-affairs, especially the one with Dalton Ames. He is haunted also by the thought of her having subsequently married a worthless man like Herbert. When Caddy had become pregnant, he had told his father that her pregnancy was due to his having committed incest with her. He had told his father this lie in order to protect the good name of Caddy. This lie had served also to give to his incestuous desire: a concrete shape, even though the desire had remained unfulfilled. But, of course, his father had not believed him, At Harvard, Quentin remains obsessed, by thoughts of Caddy and by his memories not only of his own desire for her but also of her illicit love-affair with Dalton Ames, and on the last day of his life too these thoughts force themselves upon his consciousness.
Tormenting Recollections of His Defeat
Two incidents which had occurred in the past cause an intense torment to Quentin when he is at Harvard, and he recalls both these incidents in the course of his monologue on the last day of his life. One was his encounter with Dalton Ames, and the other was his meeting with Herbert. On both these occasions he had been thwarted in his attempt to prove what he could do for his sister, and on both occasions he had reaped nothing but a sense of frustration and helplessness. Both men had also made certain unpalatable comments on his sister. Dalton Ames had said that, if he had not Made Caddy pregnant, somebody else would have done so; while Herbert had said that he was not Caddy’s first lover, nor her last. Being idealistic and basically puritanical, Quentin had hoped that Caddy would remain undefiled, but he had been proved wrong. His own incestuous desire certainly violated the puritanical code, and therefore-made him feel guilty to the extent of thinking that both he and Caddy would be consigned to the burning fires of hell. However, being thrown into hell was not something of which he was terribly scared. If he was to go to hell, it would be in the company of Caddy.
The Parents’ Neglect of Quentin
One other reason that contributes to Quentin’s gloom in life is that both his parents have been indifferent to him from his childhood onwards, just ass they have been indifferent towards the other children Quentin especially misses the attention that he thinks that he should have received from his mother. Twice in the course of his monologue he wishes that he could truly say “Mother Mother”. As for his father, Quentin quotes a number of nihilistic observations that. Mr. Compson had made on various occasions. These nihilistic observations could not have failed to influence the growing young man’s mind adversely. It is true that Quentin had not accepted his father’s views, but he does not at the same time seem to protest against-them with any vehemence.
Causes Behind His Suicide
Quentin’s suicide is the most crucial fact of his life, and this is how a critic explains Quentin’s decision to end his life : “At first all Quentin’s desire seems to focus on Caddy as the maiden of his dreams. But as his desire becomes associated with night and unrest, Caddy begins to-merge with Little Sister Death–that is, with an incestuous love forbidden on threat of death. Rendered impotent by that threat Quentin comes to love, not the body of his sister, nor even’ dome concept of Compson honour, but death itself. In the end, he ceremoniously gives himself, not to Caddy but to the river. Quentin kills himself in part as punishment for his forbidden desire ; in part because Caddy proves corruptible ; in part, perhaps, because he decides that even she was not quite worth his despair. But he also kills himself because he fears his own inconstancy. What he discovers in himself is deep psychological impotence that manifests itself in his inability to play either of the heroic roles––seducer or avenger-that he deems appropriate to his fiction of’ himself as a gallant, chivalric lover. But beyond the failure he experiences, there lies the failure he anticipates, a moment when Caddy’s corruption no longer matters to him. Suicide thus completes his commitment to the only role left him, that of the despairing lover.”
(4) CANDACE (Or CADDY)
Her Deep Affection For Benjy
While each of the three other Compson children has bee& presented to us through a monologue directly registering the speaker’s present experiences and past memories, Caddy alone has not been provided with a monologue in the novel, but is brought before our minds and eyes through the impressions and recollections of the other characters. Benjy’s monologue makes it clear to us that he received the maximum affection and care from Caddy. Dilsey alone, among all the inmates of the Compson household, shows something like the same tenderness which Caddy had been lavishing upon Benjy even when they were small children. Benjy’s devotion to Caddy is so great that, when she has left the house after her marriage, even the sight of a slipper of hers can calm him if he, is in an agitated mood. Many times in the course of Benjy’s monologue we come across Benjy’s recollection that “Caddy smelled like trees”. This repeated recollection produces in the reader too an exquisite feeling of freshness and exhilaration.
Her Enterprising Spirit
As a child, Caddy shows certain qualities of initiative and enterprise. She climbs up a tree in order to watch her grandmother’s funeral. She does not care if her dress gets wet and if she has to take it off in order to dry it. On many occasions, she calls upon the other children “to mind her” (meaning that they should treat her as, their leader). A critic thus sums up these two aspects of Caddy’s, character: “Caddy herself is love, the one who can quiet Benjy down with the touch of her hand. She is also the boldness of youth as both her dirty underwear and confident assumption of the mother’s role indicate.” Caddy shows a good deal of affection for her parents also during her childhood, though she does not much care what they think of her violation of their instructions with regard to the hours of play and the plates where she sold go or sot. In fact, she has in her the seeds of rebelliousness.
As Caddy grows up, her love of independence develops into an attitude of irresponsibility and a defiance of convention. She moves about with her boy-friends and becomes intimate wish a fellow called Dalton Ames. She becomes pregnant and, in order to cover up the fact of her pregnancy, she hastily marries a man called Herbert Head. Her brother Benjy protests, in his idiotic manner, against her becoming intimate with a boy-friend ; and her brother Quentin scolds her for her misdemeanour. In fact, it is Quentin’s insistent reminders to her of her misconduct that have given rise to a feeling of guilt in her. For instance, Quentin had again and again asked her, after she had become pregnant, whether she bated Dalton Ames. But she had not admitted that she hated that fellow In other words, her sense of guilt had not arisen from her own nature, but had been imposed upon her or been injected into her by Quentin.. Of Quentin’s incestuous desire for her, she had, of course, remained utterly ignorant. There is surely one episode describing Quentin’s attempted seduction of Caddy, but this is a figment of Quentin’s imagination rather than an actual incident. This episode describes also Quentin’s attempted murder of Caddy when he imagines himself holding a razor against her throat.
Her Love For Her Daughter
From Jason’s monologue we learn of Caddy’s maternal anxiety about her child Quentin whom Mr. Compson had brought to his own home in Jefferson. Although the family had not informed Caddy of the death of Mr. Compson, Caddy still comes to the funeral after reading about the death in a newspaper. On this occasion she also expresses to Jason her intense desire to see her child, and she make: repeated appeals to Jason to keep her daughter as happy at possible. Afterwards Caddy keeps sending home a monthly cheque for her daughter’s expenses though this money is misappropriated by Jason regularly for fifteen years.
Our Mixed Reaction to Caddy
Our reaction to Caddy is of a mixed kind. As both Benjy and Quentin tend to idealize her in their monologues, we too fee attracted towards her. She also attracts us by virtue of her compassionate nature and her freedom from any real wickedness or evil. At the same time we cannot absolutely condone her promiscuity and her disregard of the code of respectability which we all have to observe if we are not to incur the wrath of society. Her own mother refers to Caddy as a “fallen” woman and has forbidden the mention of her name in the Compson household. Caddy’s, mother has also been refusing to touch the money that Caddy has been sending to her for the maintenance of the girl Quentin. (That money has been misappropriated by Jason, month after month, over the years).
Faulkner’s’ Own Attitude to Her
Faulkner himself always spoke of Caddy with great fervour. She was, he, said, both the sister of his imagination and the daughter of his mind. She was for him “the beautiful one”, and “his heart’s darling”. We, however, cannot share Faulkner’s ardour in this respect.
No Actual Incest
Faulkner was, once asked if Caddy and Quentin ever did commit incest. . Faulkner said “no”, and added : “Caddy was highly sexed but no nymphomoniac, was monogamous and even moral in, her fashion. Her sexual affinity was never Quentin but a tough, hard, soul-less man. Quentin, on the other hand, was under-sexed. He did not really want his sister’s body but wanted the world to believe he had committed incest with her.
His Sarcastic Wit
Jason is a brutal and cold-hearted man but he does, have a certain wit and a brittle logic which allow him to cap any remark made to him by his defiant niece or by his ailing mother or, by one of his business associates. He is rarely at a loss, and he is so self-righteous in his bitterness that many of his comments carry a kind of nasty conviction. For example, here is Jason feeling sorry for himself : “Well, Jason likes work. I says no I never had university advantages because at Harvard they teach you how to go for a swim at night without knowing how to swim and at Sewanee they don’t even teach you what water is. I says you might send me to the State University ; maybe I’ll learn how to stop my clock with a nose spray and, then you send Ben to the navy or to the cavalry anyway, they used, geldings¨ in the cavalry.” Jason is typically sardonic in his description of his father’s funeral. His ineffective and sycophantic Uncle Maury has braced himself for the ordeal with a few drinks, and has tried to disguise the fact by chewing cloves. The tell-tale smell however gives him’ away to Jason who observes “I reckon Uncle Maury thought that the least he could do at father’s funeral was to take a drink or maybe the sideboard thought it was still Father and tripped him up when he passed. Like I say, if Father had to sell something to send Quentin to Harvard we’d all been a damn sight better off it, he’d sold that side-board and bought himself a one-armed straight jacket with part of the money; Jason’s usual mode is a rather ponderous sarcasm. The opening paragraph of his section of the novel is typical : “Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say. I says you’re lucky if her playing out of school is all that worries you. I says she ought to be down there in that’ kitchen right now, instead of up there in her room, gobbling paint on her face and waiting for six niggers that can’t even stand up out of a chair unless they’ve got a pan full of bread and meat to balance them, to fix breakfast for her.”¨
His Place Among Faulkner’s Villains
Jason exposes himself in his coldly furious monologue, and he takes ‘his place as one of the’ half-dozen of Faulkner’s most accomplished villains. Faulkner’s resourcefulness and his imaginative power keep his villains from, conforming to a fixed type. All his villains are “different from one another in personality, appearance, “and behaviour. These villains are Anse1, Flem2, Popeye3 Thomas Sutpen4, Percy, Grimm5, and Jason6. All except Jason come largely of poor white families, but they are not in any way inferior to hint in meanness. Jason has more viality than Anse, less, maniacal fury than Percy Grimm, and far less staying power than we find in Flem’s cold rapacity. Jason does not match either the courage or the quality of perverse magnificence that attaches itself to Thomas Sutpen. Even so, in this company of prime villains Jason is among his peers, and his treatment of his sister Caddy, his idiot brother Benjy, and his niece Quentin shows deliberate cruelty that is unmatched by any of Faulkner’s other villains.
Not Interested in Women or is Nature
A common trait in Faulkner’s villains is the lack of any capacity for love. Their lack of love shows itself in two ways ; their attitude toward Nature and their attitude towards women. They do not respond to Nature ; they may even violate Nature. In quite the same way, they have no interest in women, or they use women as means to their own ends. They are impotent like Flem and Popeye, or they are strong-willed, abstemious men like Thomas Sutpen. Jason Compson, with no interest in Nature, or in women except as objects to be manipulated, is of this breed. However, he knows one thing about the nature of women and he sums it up in his memorable opening words: “Once a bitch always a bitch.” Besides, though not romantically interested in women, he keeps a mistress, Lorraine, for occasional pleasure.
(6) BENJAMIN (Or, BENJY Or, BEN)
A Born Idiot
Benjamin (or, Benjy or, Ben) is the youngest child of the Compson family. He is a born idiot or imbecile incapable of speaking or expressing his needs in words. The novel opens with a monologue by Benjy, the monologue being supposed to have been made on the 7th April, 1921, on his thirty-fourth birthday. His monologue is a mixture of his memories of the past and his experiences on that particular day. This monologue, based on Benjy’s sense-impressions (because he is not capable of any rational thinking or coherent statements), throws a good deal of light on his own nature and on the natures and temperaments of the various other characters in the novel.
His Deep Attachment to Caddy
The cardinal fact of Benjy’s life is his attachment to Caddy who is the only member of the Compson family to show him a genuine and deep affection. Benjy receives only a casual attention from his parents, and only hostility from Jason, and afterwards from Miss Quentin also. Dilsey, the negro servant, is the only other person in the household to feel a genuine sympathy for Benjy and to attend to all his needs. Dilsey frequently scolds Luster for not properly looking after Benjy. It is from Benjy’s incoherent recollections that we learn of Caddy’s rebelliousness in her very childhood. It is from Benjy’s monologue that we learn about Caddy’s having climbed up a tree to look at what was going on in the compound of the house. It was on that occasion that the other children had watched the muddy bottom of Caddy’s drawers, and Caddy’s muddy drawers are one of the governing images of the novel. Benjy’s love for Caddy is all-absorbing. Her presence is Benjy’s joy, and her absence is his grief. Of course, this attachment is due to the fact that Caddy keeps mothering him all the time. It would not be right to say that his interest in Caddy is of an incestuous nature.
His Instinctive Reactions
Benjy seems to have an instinctive sense of right and wrong. When, for instance, he sees Caddy being kissed by a boy-friend of hers, he protests by pulling at her dress. Caddy has then to send away her boy-friend, and she assures Benjy that she will never repeat her action. Similarly, when Caddy is holding a bottle of perfume, Benjy’s adverse reaction compels Caddy to pass on that bottle to Dilsey. Throughout the period of their childhood, Benjy has the feeling that Caddy smells like trees. Caddy’s smelling like trees is indicative of her natural freshness and purity.
Sources of Comfort to Benjy
Benjy easily feels upset, and whenever he is upset he begins to moan and slobber. When something causes him too much annoyance, he begins to bellow and howl. Then either Dilsey or Luster or Caddy has to comfort him. There are several things which somehow prove to be a source of comfort to Benjy. For instance, he feels soothed when he sits before a fire. He also draws some kind of comfort from looking into a mirror which hangs upon the wall opposite. In Quentin’s monologue we come across the following recollection by Quentin about Benjy : “How he used to sit before that mirror. Refuge unfailing in which conflict tempered silenced reconciled.” This recollection is a statement of the comfort that the reflections in the mirror used to offer to Benjy. Then the sight of the golfers at play also diverts his mind, and he becomes tranquil. A cushion too consoles Benjy when he is moaning. Sometimes Luster plucks a flower, generally a narcissus, and gives it to- Benjy who draws some sort of satisfaction by holding it in his hand. When Caddy has left the house after her marriage, and is gone for good, Benjy misses her terribly. In her absence, a slipper belonging to her affords much comfort to Benjy.
His Capacity to Smell a Misfortune
Benjy also seems to have an unusual psychic power. For instance, he can smell an impending misfortune, and he can always smell death. It is for this reason that Roskus says about Benjy “He know lot more than folks thinks.” Repeatedly Benjy is represented as having the instinctive and intuitive power to differentiate between objects or actions which are life-encouraging, and others which are life-injuring, and these are used by Faulkner to symbolize the antithesis between good and evil ft this limited sense, then, Benjy serves as a kind of moral mirror, in which the members of the Compson family may contemplate reflections of their own characters, their own moral strengths and weaknesses. Caddy, for instance, becomes conscious of her guilt in allowing tier boy-friend to kiss her by Benjy’s reaction, as already indicated above. In this connection, the last incident in the novel also deserves mention. When Luster takes the wrong direction, Benjy, who is seated in the carriage, begins to bowl and bellow, and be becomes quiet only when the carriage resumes the correct direction. Thus Benjy’s reaction here again emphasizes his, instinctive sense of right and wrong.
Not Conscious of the Passage of Time
It is noteworthy also that, while Quentin is time-obsessed, Benjy has no feeling about’ the passage of time AS Faulkner said of Benjy several years after writing this novel: “To that idiot, time was not a continuation, it was an instant, there was no yesterday and no tomorrow, it all is this moment, It all is now to him : He cannot distinguish between what was last year and what will be tomorrow, he doesn’t know whether he dreamed it, or saw it.” Benjy does not recall, and therefore cannot interpret, the past from the perspective of the present ; nor does the past help to determine that perspective. Instead of the past and the present being a continuum, each influencing the, meaning of the other, they have no temporal dimension at all. They are isolated, autonomous moments that do not come before or after. This freedom from time makes Benjy a unique narrator, indeed. It is this absence of a sense of consecutiveness that makes Benjy’s monologue so difficult to understand.
Her Loyalty to the Compson Family
Dilsey is one of the most memorable characters in the entire range of Faulkner’s fiction. In The Sound and the Fury itself, her role is conspicuous, even though the main story centres found the Compson family. Dilsey is a negro woman who works in the Compson household as a cook-cum-children’s nurse, and who in fact does more work than would normally be expected of her. She attends to the needs of the constantly, ailing Mrs. Compson she looks after the welfare of Benjy the idiot she puts all the children to bed at night; she does the entire cooking ; and so on. In fact, it is she who bas brought up all the children, and she gladly accepts the responsibility for bringing up the child Quentin, Caddy’s daughter, when this child is brought into the house by Mr. Compson. She remains devoted to all the children (including Miss. Quentin), though she has no liking at all for Jason. The cardinal trait of Dilsey’s character is loyalty or fidelity to the family she serves. And this loyalty shines in the novel like a beacon-light in the midst of the surrounding gloom. Dilsey, in fact, offers a striking contrast to all the members of the Compson family which is now in a state of decay and decadence.
Her Humanity and Compassion
Of all faithful servants in fiction, Dilsey is unsurpassed. Even her occasional impertinence is an aspect of her humanity and compassion which constitute the one source of love and order in the household. She would not, she tells Jason, blame Miss Quentin if she did break his window, with him nagging at her all the blessed time he is in the house. Under her watchful eye Luster pays some attention to his duties, but otherwise he evades work and is a comic prankster. The raising of Dilsey from the traditional minor role to that of a major character (who is prominent in the first and the third sections, and the centre of interest in the fourth) is one of Faulkner’s achievements. Faulkner included Dilsey with Sutpen and Joe Christmas as his three most tragic characters and said that she held the family together not for the hope of reward but just because it was the decent and proper thing to do. In the novel, Dilsey is one of the symbols of the forces of order as against those of chaos.
A Deeply Religious Woman
Dilsey is a deeply religious woman. In the final section of the novel, we are given a touching account of her visit to her church on Easter Sunday. She also takes the idiot Benjy with her to the church and, when her daughter Frony objects to Dilsey’s action on the ground that the white folk would not like one of the members of their community being taken to a negro church, Dilsey dismisses the objection with some spirit. She points out to Frony in a sarcastic manner that the white folk would not approve of a white man being taken to a negro church but that at the same time they would not approve of an idiot like Benjy being seen in their own church. At the church, as Dilsey listens to the sermon preached by the visiting minister in fervent tones, she is moved to tears, and she says that she has seen “the first and the last”, a remark which, .besides its apparent meaning, implies that she has witnessed the degeneration of the Compson family from the beginning to the end. Dilsey is such a good woman that she can serve as a measure by which we can judge the character of each of the members of the Compson family.
A Unifying and Sustaining Force
This is how a critic describes the character and the role of Dilsey: “The one member of the Compson household who represents a unifying and sustaining force is the negro servant Dilsey. She tries to take care of Benjy and to give the girl Quentin the mothering she needs. In contrast to Mrs. Compson’s vanity and whining self-pity, Dilsey exhibits charity and rugged good sense. We are told that she had once been a big woman, but now the unpadded skin is loosely draped upon the indomitable skeleton which is left rising like a ruin or a landmark about the somnolent and impervious guts……Dilsey’s essential hopefulness has not been obliterated ; she is not an embittered woman, but her optimism has been chastened by hurt and disappointment. Faulkner does not make the mistake of accounting for Dilsey’s virtues through some mystique of race in which good primitive black folk stand over against corrupt wicked white folk. Dilsey herself has no such notions.”