This section of the
book is commonly referred to as "Benjy's section" because it is
narrated by the retarded youngest son of the Compson family, Benjamin Compson.
At this point in the story, Benjy is 33 years old - in fact, today is his
birthday - but the story skips back and forth in time as various events trigger
memories. When the reader first plunges into this narrative, the jumps in time
are difficult to navigate or understand, although many scenes are marked by
recurring images, sounds, or words. In addition, a sort of chronology can be established
depending on who is Benjy's caretaker: first Versh when Benjy is a child, then
T. P. when he is an adolescent, then Luster when he is an adult. One other fact
that may confuse first-time readers is the repetition of names. There are, for
example, two Jasons (father and son), two Quentins (Benjy's brother and Caddy's
daughter), and two Mauries (Benjy himself before 1900 and Benjy's uncle). Benjy
recalls three important events: the evening of his grandmother
"Damuddy's" death in 1898, his name change in 1900, and Caddy's
sexual promiscuity and wedding in 1910, although these events are punctuated by
other memories, including the delivery of a letter to his uncle's mistress in
1902 or 1903, Caddy's wearing perfume in 1906, a sequence of events at the gate
of the house in 1910 and 1911 that culminates in his castration, Quentin's
death in 1910, his father's death and funeral in 1912, and Roskus's death some
time after this. I will summarize each event briefly.
The events of the
present day (4/7/28) center around Luster's search for a quarter he has lost
somewhere on the property. He received this quarter from his grandmother Dilsey
in order to go to the circus that evening. Luster takes Benjy with him as he
searches by the golf course that used to be the Compson's pasture, by the
carriage house, down by the branch of the Yoknapatawpha River, and finally near
Benjy's "graveyard" of jimson flowers in a bottle.
As the story opens,
Benjy and Luster are by the golf course, where the golfers' cries of "caddie"
cause Benjy to "beller" because he mistakes their cries for his
missing sister Caddy's name. In the branch, Luster finds a golfer's ball, which
he later tries to sell to the golfers; they accuse him of stealing it and take
it from him. Luster tries to steer Benjy away from the swing, where Miss
Quentin and her "beau" (one of the musicians from the circus) are
sitting, but is unsuccessful. Quentin is furious and runs into the house, while
her friend jokes with Luster and asks him who visits Quentin. Luster replies
that there are too many male visitors to distinguish.
Luster takes Benjy
past the fence, where Benjy sees schoolgirls passing with their satchels. Benjy
moans whenever Luster tries to break from the routine path Benjy is used to. At
Benjy's "graveyard," Luster disturbs the arrangement of flowers in
the blue bottle, causing Benjy to cry. At this Luster becomes frustrated and
says "beller. You want something to beller about. All right, then. Caddy.
. . . Caddy. Beller now. Caddy" (55). Benjy's crying summons Dilsey,
Luster's grandmother, who scolds him for making Benjy cry and for disturbing
Quentin. They go in the kitchen, where Dilsey opens the oven door so Benjy can
watch the fire. Dilsey has bought Benjy a birthday cake, and Luster blows out the
candles, making Benjy cry again. Luster teases him by closing the oven door so
that the fire "goes away." Dilsey scolds Luster again. Benjy is
burned when he tries to touch the fire. His cries disturb his mother, who comes
to the kitchen and reprimands Dilsey. Dilsey gives him an old slipper to hold,
an object that he loves.
Luster takes Benjy
to the library, where his cries disturb Jason, who comes to the door and yells
at Luster. Luster asks Jason for a quarter. At dinner, Jason interrogates
Quentin about the man she was with that afternoon and threatens to send Benjy
to an asylum in Jackson. Quentin threatens to run away, and she and Jason
fight. She runs out of the room. Benjy goes to the library, where Luster finds
him and shows him that Quentin has given him a quarter. Luster dresses Benjy
for bed; when Benjy's pants are off he looks down and cries when he is reminded
of his castration. Luster puts on his nightgown and the two of them watch as
Quentin climbs out her window and down a tree. Luster puts Benjy to bed.
in chronological order:
1898: Benjy is three years old and his name at this point is still Maury. Caddy
is seven, Quentin is older (nine?) and Jason is between seven and three.
The four children
are playing in the branch of the river. Roskus calls them to supper, but Caddy
refuses to come. She squats down in the river and gets her dress wet; Versh
tells her that her mother will whip her for that. Caddy asks Versh to help her
take her dress off, and Quentin warns him not to. Caddy takes off her dress and
Quentin hits her. The two of them fight in the branch and get muddy. Caddy says
that she will run away, which makes Maury/Benjy cry; she immediately takes it
back. Roskus asks Versh to bring the children to the house, and Versh puts
Caddy's dress back on her.
They head up to the
house, but Quentin stays behind, throwing rocks into the river. The children
notice that all the lights are on in the house and assume that their parents
are having a party. Father tells the children to be quiet and to eat dinner in
the kitchen; he won't tell them why they have to be quiet. Caddy asks him to
tell the other children to mind her for the evening, and he does. The children
hear their mother crying, which makes Maury/Benjy cry. Quentin is also agitated
by her crying, but Caddy reassures him that she is just singing. Jason too
begins to cry.
The children go
outside and down to the servants' quarters, where Frony and T. P. (who are
children at this point) have a jar of lightning bugs. Frony asks about the
funeral, and Versh scolds her for mentioning it. The children discuss the only
death they know - when their mare Nancy died and the buzzards "undressed
her" in a ditch. Caddy asks T. P. to give Maury/Benjy his jar of lightning
bugs to hold. The children go back up to the house and stop outside the parlor
window. Caddy climbs up a tree to see in the window, and the children watch her
muddy drawers as she climbs.
Dilsey comes out of
the house and yells at them. Caddy tells the others that their parents were not
doing anything inside, although she may be trying to protect them from the
truth. The children go inside and upstairs. Father comes to help tuck them into
bed in a strange room. Dilsey dresses them and tucks them in, and they go to
change, 1900: Benjy is five years old, Caddy is nine, etc.
Benjy is sitting by
the library fire and watching it. Dilsey and Caddy discuss Benjy's new name;
Dilsey wants to know why his parents have changed it, and Caddy replies that
mother said Benjamin was a better name for him than Maury was. Dilsey says that
"folks don't have no luck, changing names" (58). Caddy brings Benjy
to where her mother is lying in the bedroom with a cloth on her head, to say
good night. Benjy can hear the clock ticking and the rain falling on the roof.
Mother chides Caddy not to carry him because he is too heavy and will ruin her
posture. She holds Benjy's face in her hands and repeats "Benjamin"
over and over. Benjy cries until Caddy holds his favorite cushion over his
She leads him to the fire so that he can watch
it. Father picks him up, and he watches the reflection of Caddy and Jason
fighting in the library mirror. Father puts him down and breaks up Caddy and
Jason, who are fighting because Jason cut up all of Benjy's paper dolls. Father
takes Jason to the room next door and spanks him. They all sit by the fire, and
Benjy holds his cushion. Quentin comes and sits next to them. He has been in a
fight at school and has a bruise. Father asks him about it. Versh sits next to
them and tells them a story about a "bluegum" he knows who changed
his name too. Father tells him to be quiet. Caddy and Versh feed Benjy his
dinner, and the four children sit in father's lap. Benjy says that Caddy and
Quentin smell like trees and rain.
Versh, Caddy and
Benjy go outside, December 23, 1902: Benjy is seven years old and Caddy is
Benjy is crying
because he wants to go outside. Mother says it is too cold for him and he will
freeze his hands. She says that if he won't be quiet he will have to go to the
kitchen. Versh replies that Dilsey wants him out of the kitchen because she has
a lot of cooking to do, and Uncle Maury tells her to let him go outside. Versh
puts on his coat and they go outside; Versh tells him to keep his hands in his
pockets. Caddy comes through the gate, home from school. She takes his hands
and they run through the fallen leaves into the house. Caddy puts him by the
fire, and Versh starts to take his coat off, but Caddy asks if she can take him
outside again. Versh puts on his overshoes again, and mother takes his face in
her hands and calls him "my poor baby," but Caddy kneels by him and
tells him that he is not a poor baby at all because he has her. Benjy notices
that she smells like trees.
Caddy and Benjy
deliver Uncle Maury's letter to Mrs. Patterson, December 25, 1902.
Caddy and Benjy
cross the yard by the barn, where the servants are killing a pig for dinner.
Caddy tells Benjy to keep his hands in his pockets and lets him hold the
letter. She wonders why Uncle Maury did not send Versh with the letter. They
cross the frozen branch and come to the Patterson's fence. Caddy takes the
letter and climbs the fence to deliver it. Mrs. Patterson comes out of the
Benjy delivers a
letter to Mrs. Patterson alone, spring 1903: Benjy is eight years old.
Benjy is at the
Patterson's fence. Mr. Patterson is in the garden cutting flowers. Mrs.
Patterson runs from the house to the fence, and Benjy cries when he sees her
angry eyes. She says that she told Maury not to send Benjy alone again, and
asks Benjy to give her the letter. Mr. Patterson comes running, climbs the
fence and takes the letter. Benjy runs away.
perfume, 1906: Benjy is ten years old and Caddy is fourteen.
Caddy tries to hug
Benjy but he cries and pushes her away. Jason says that he must not like her
"prissy dress," and says that she thinks she is all grown up just
because she is fourteen. Caddy tries to hush Benjy, but he disturbs their
mother, who calls them to her room. Mother tells Caddy to give Benjy his box
full of cut-out stars. Caddy walks to the bathroom and washes the perfume off.
Benjy goes to the door. Caddy opens the door and hugs him; she smells like
trees again. They go into Caddy's room and she sits at her mirror. Benjy starts
to cry again. She gives him the bottle of perfume to smell and he runs away,
crying. She realizes what made him cry and tells him she will never wear it
again. They go to the kitchen, and Caddy tells Dilsey that the perfume is a
present from Benjy to her. Dilsey takes the bottle, and Caddy says that
"we don't like perfume ourselves" (43).
Caddy in the swing,
1907?: Benjy is eleven or twelve and Caddy is fifteen or sixteen.
Benjy is out in the
yard at night. T. P. calls for him through the window. He watches the swing,
where there are "two now, then one in the swing" (47). Caddy comes
running to him, asking how he got out. She calls for T. P. Benjy cries and
pulls at her dress. Charlie, the boy she is with on the swing, comes over and
asks where T. P. is. Benjy cries and she tells Charlie to go away. He goes, and
she calls for T. P. again. Charlie comes back and puts his hands on Caddy. She
tells him to stop, because Benjy can see, but he doesn't. She says she has to
take Benjy to the house. She takes his hand and they run to the house and up
the porch steps. She hugs him, and they go inside. Charlie is calling her, but
she goes to the kitchen sink and scrubs her mouth with soap. Benjy sees that
she smells like trees again.
Benjy sleeps alone
for the first time, 1908: Benjy is thirteen years old.
Dilsey tells Benjy
that he is too old to sleep with anyone else, and that he will sleep in Uncle
Maury's room. Uncle Maury has a black eye and a swollen mouth, and Father says
that he is going to shoot Mr. Patterson. Mother scolds him and father
apologizes. He is drunk.
Dilsey puts Benjy
to bed alone, but he cries, and Dilsey comes back. Then Caddy comes in and lies
in the bed with him. She smells like trees. Dilsey says she will leave the
light on in Caddy's room so she can go back there after Benjy has fallen
Caddy loses her
virginity, 1909: Benjy is fourteen years old and Caddy is eighteen.
Caddy walks quickly
past the door where mother, father, and Benjy are. Mother calls her in, and she
comes to the door. She glances at Benjy, then glances away. He begins to cry. He
goes to her and pulls at her dress, crying. She is against the wall, and she
starts to cry. He chases her up the stairs, crying. She stops with her back
against the wall, crying, and looks at him with her hand on her mouth. Benjy
pushes her into the bathroom.
1910: Benjy is fifteen years old and Caddy is nineteen.
Benjy, Quentin, and
T. P. are outside the barn, and T. P. has given Benjy some sarsaparilla to
drink; they are both drunk. Quentin pushes T. P. into the pig trough. They fight,
and T. P. pushes Benjy into the trough. Quentin beats T. P., who can't stop
laughing. He keeps saying "whooey!". Versh comes and yells at T. P.
Quentin gives Benjy some more sarsaparilla to drink, and he cries. T. P. takes
him to the cellar, and then goes to a tree outside the parlor. T. P. drinks
some more. He gets a box for Benjy to stand on so he can see into the parlor.
Through the window, Benjy can see Caddy in her wedding veil, and he cries out,
trying to call to her. T. P. tries to quiet him. Benjy falls down and hits his
head on the box. T. P. drags him to the cellar to get more sarsaparilla, and
they fall down the stairs into the cellar. They climb up the stairs and fall
against the fence and the box. Benjy is crying loudly, and Caddy comes running.
Quentin also comes and begins kicking T. P. Caddy hugs Benjy, but she doesn't
smell like trees any more, and Benjy begins to cry.
Benjy at the gate
Benjy is in the
house looking at the gate and crying, and T. P. tells him that no matter how
hard he cries, Caddy is not coming back.
Later, Benjy stands
at the gate crying, and watches some schoolgirls pass by with their satchels.
Benjy howls at them, trying to speak, and they run by. Benjy runs along the
inside of the fence next to them to the end of his yard. T. P. comes to get him
and scolds him for scaring the girls.
Benjy is lying in
T. P.'s bed at the servants' quarters, where T. P. is throwing sticks into a
fire. Dilsey and Roskus discuss Quentin's death without mentioning his name or
Caddy's name. Roskus talks about the curse on the family, saying "aint the
sign of it laying right there on that bed. Aint the sign of it been here for
folks to see fifteen years now" (29). Dilsey tells him to be quiet, but he
continues, saying that there have been two signs now (Benjy's retardation and
Quentin's death), and that there would be one more. Dilsey warns him not to
mention Caddy's name. He replies that "they aint no luck on this
place" (29). Dilsey tucks Benjy into T. P.'s bed and pulls the covers up.
Benjy attacks a
girl outside the gate and is castrated, 1911: Benjy is sixteen years old.
Benjy is standing
at the gate crying, and the schoolgirls come by. They tell each other that he
just runs along the inside of the fence and can't catch them. He unlatches the
gate and chases them, trying to talk to them. They scream and run away. He
catches one girl and tries to talk to her, perhaps tries to rape her.
Later, father talks
about how angry Mr. Burgess (her father) is, and wants to know how Benjy got
outside the gate. Jason says that he bets father will have to send Benjy to the
asylum in Jackson now, and father tells him to hush.
death, 1912: Benjy is seventeen.
Benjy wakes up and
T. P. brings him into the kitchen where Dilsey is singing. She stops singing
when Benjy begins to cry. She tells T. P. to take him outside, and they go to
the branch and down by the barn. Roskus is in the barn milking a cow, and he
tells T. P. to finish milking for him because he can't use his right hand any
more. He says again that there is no luck on this place.
Later that day,
Dilsey tells T. P. to take Benjy and the baby girl Quentin down to the
servants' quarters to play with Luster, who is still a child. Frony scolds
Benjy for taking a toy away from Quentin, and brings them up to the barn.
Roskus is watching T. P. milk a cow.
Later, T. P. and
Benjy are down by the ditch where Nancy's bones are. Benjy can smell father's
death. T. P. takes Benjy and Quentin to his house, where Roskus is sitting next
to the fire. He says "that's three, thank the Lawd . . . I told you two
years ago. They aint no luck on this place" (31). He comments on the bad
luck of never mentioning a child's mother's name and bringing up a child never
to know its mother. Dilsey shushes him, asking him if he wants to make Benjy
cry again. Dilsey puts him to bed in Luster's bed, laying a piece of wood
between him and Luster.
Benjy and T. P.
wait at the corner of the house and watch Mr. Compson's casket carried by.
Benjy can see his father lying there through the glass in the casket.
Trip to the
Benjy waits for his
mother to get into the carriage. She comes out and asks where Roskus is. Dilsey
says that he can't move his arms today, so T. P. will drive them. Mother says
she is afraid to let T. P. drive, but she gets in the carriage anyway. Mother says
that maybe it would be for the best if she and Benjy were killed in an
accident, and Dilsey tells her not to talk that way. Benjy begins to cry and
Dilsey gives him a flower to hold. They begin to drive, and mother says she is
afraid to leave the baby Quentin at home. She asks T. P. to turn the carriage
around. He does, and it tips precariously but doesn't topple. They return to
the house, where Jason is standing outside with a pencil behind his ear. Mother
tells him that they are going to the cemetery, and he asks her if that was all
she came back to tell him. She says she would feel safer if he came, and he
tells her that Father and Quentin won't hurt her. This makes her cry, and Jason
tells her to stop. Jason tells T. P. to drive, and they take off again.
later 1920s: Luster is old enough to take care of Benjy by now.
"moaning" at the servants' quarters. Benjy begins to cry and the dog
begins to howl, and Dilsey stops moaning. Frony tells Luster to take them down
to the barn, but Luster says he won't go down there for fear he will see
Roskus's ghost like he did last night, waving his arms.
Analysis of April
The title of this
novel comes from Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act five, scene five, in Macbeth's
famous speech about the meaninglessness of life. He states that it is "a
tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing."
One could argue that Benjy is the "idiot" referred to in this speech,
for indeed his section seems, at first reading, to "signify nothing."
No one vignette in his narrative seems to be particularly important, much of it
detailing the minutiae of his daily routine. His speech itself, the
"bellering" with which me makes himself heard, does, in fact,
"signify nothing," since he is unable to express himself even when he
wants to in a way other than howling. However, Benjy Compson is not merely an
idiot, and his section is much more meaningful than it first seems.
When discussing Mr.
Compson's death, Roskus states that Benjy "know a lot more than folks
thinks" (31), and in fact, for all his idiocy, Benjy does sense when
things are wrong with his self-contained world, especially when they concern
his sister Caddy. Like an animal, Benjy can "smell" when Caddy has
changed; when she wears perfume, he states that she no longer smells "like
trees," and the servants claim that he can smell death. He can also sense
somehow when Caddy has lost her virginity; she has changed to him. From the
time she loses her virginity on, she no longer smells like trees to him.
Although his section at first presents itself as an objective snapshot of a
retarded boy's perceptions of the world, it is more ordered and more
intelligent than that.
Most of the
memories Benjy relates in his section have to do with Caddy, and specifically
with moments of loss related to Caddy. The first memory of Damuddy's death, for
example, marks a change in his family structure and a change in his brother
Jason, who was the closest to Damuddy and slept in her room. His many memories
of Caddy are mostly concerned with her sexuality, a fact that changes her
relationship with him and eventually removes her from his life. His later
memories are also associated with some sort of loss: the loss of his pasture,
of his father, and the loss associated with his castration. Critics have
pointed out that Benjy's narrative is "timeless," that he cannot
distinguish between present and past and therefore relives his memories as they
occur to him. If this is the case, he is caught in a process of constantly
regenerating his sister in memory and losing her simultaneously, of creating
and losing at the same time. His life is a constant cycle of loss and
If Benjy is trapped
in a constantly replaying succession of losses, the objects that he fixates on
seem to echo this state. He loves fire, for instance, and often stares into the
"bright shapes" of the fire while the world revolves around him. The
word "fire" is mentioned numerous times in the memory of his name change.
Caddy and the servants know that he stops crying when he looks at the fire,
which is the reason in the present day that Luster makes a fire in the library
even though one is not needed.
The fire is a
symbolic object; it is conventionally associated with the contrast between
light and dark, heat and cold. It is a comfort, not merely to Benjy because of
the pleasure he receives in watching it, but because it is associated with the
hearth, the center of the home. As critics have pointed out, it is often Caddy
who places Benjy in front of the fire: "she led me to the fire and I
looked at the bright, smooth shapes" (64). The fire is therefore tied in
Benjy's mind with the idea of Caddy; both are warm and comforting forces within
a cold family. But unlike Caddy, the fire is unchanging; there will always be a
fire, even after she leaves him. The fact that Benjy burns himself on the
kitchen stove after Luster closes the oven door reveals the pain - both
physical and mental - that Benjy associates with Caddy's absence.
Another object that
provides comfort to Benjy is the library mirror. Like the fire, the mirror
plays a large part in the memory of his name change, as Benjy watches the
various members of his family move in and out of the mirror: "Caddy and
Jason were fighting in the mirror . we could see Caddy fighting in the mirror
and Father put me down and went into the mirror and fought too . He rolled into the corner, out of the mirror.
Father brought Caddy to the fire. They were all out of the mirror"
(64-65). The mirror is a frame of reference through which Benjy sees the world;
people are either in or out of the mirror, and he does not understand the
concept of reflection. Like the mirror, Benjy's section of the book provides
readers with a similar exact reflection of the world that Benjy sees, framed by
his memories. Characters slide in and out of the mirror of his perception,
their conversations and actions accurately reported but somewhat distorted in
As the "tale
told by an idiot," Benjy's section makes up the center kernel of the story
of the Compson family tragedy. And the scene of Damuddy's death in many ways
makes up the center around which this section and the entire story revolve.
Faulkner has said that the story grew out of the image of a little girl's muddy
drawers as she climbs a tree to look into the parlor windows at the funeral
taking place. From this image a story evolved, a story "without plot, of
some children being sent away from the house during the grandmother's funeral.
There were too young to be told what was going on and they saw things only
incidentally to the childish games they were playing" (Millgate, 96). This
original story was entitled "Twilight," and the story grew into a
novel because Faulkner fell in love with the character of this little girl to
such an extent that he strove to tell her story from four different viewpoints.
If this one scene
is the center of the story, it is also a microcosm of the events to follow. The
interactions of the children in this scene prefigure their relations in the
future and in fact the entire future of the Compson family. Thus Caddy's
soaking her dress in the water of the branch is a metaphor for the sexual fall
that will torment Quentin and ruin the family:
She was wet. We
were playing in the branch and Caddy squatted down and got her dress wet and
Versh said, "Your mommer going to whip you for getting your dress
wet." Caddy said. She stood up in the water and looked at her dress.
"I'll take it off." she said. "Then it'll be dry."
"I bet you
won't." Quentin said.
"I bet I
will." Caddy said.
"I bet you
better not." Quentin said.
"You just take
your dress off," Quentin said. Caddy took her dress off and threw it on
the bank. Then she didn't have on anything but her bodice and drawers, and
Quentin slapped her and she slipped and fell down in the water (17-18).
Caddy sullies her
garments in an act that prefigures her later sexuality. She then takes off her
dress, a further sexual metaphor, causing Quentin to become enraged and slap
her. Just as the loss of her virginity upsets Quentin to the point of suicide,
his angry and embarrassed reaction to taking off her dress here reveals the
jealous protectiveness he feels for her sexuality. Benjy, too, is traumatized
by the muddying of Caddy's dress: "Caddy was all wet and muddy behind, and
I started to cry and she came and squatted in the water" (19). Just as her
sexuality will cause his world to crack later on, her muddy dress here causes
him to cry.
Jason, too, is a
miniature version of what he will become in this scene. While Caddy and Quentin
fight in the branch, Jason stands "by himself further down the
branch," prefiguring the isolation from the rest of his family that will
characterize his later existence (19). Although the other children ask him not
to tell their father that they have been playing in the branch, the first thing
he does when he sees father is tattle. He is as perverse and mean here as he is
sadistic in the third section of the book. His reaction to Damuddy's death,
too, is a miniature for the way he will deal with the loss that he sees in
Caddy's betrayal of the family later on:
"Do you think
the buzzards are going to undress Damuddy." Caddy said. "You're
skizzard." Jason said. He began to cry.
"You're a knobnot."
Caddy said. Jason cried. His hands were in his pockets.
to be rich man." Versh said. "He holding his money all the time"
Here Jason cries
over the loss of Damuddy with his hands in his pockets, "holding his
money," just as later he will sublimate his anger at Caddy's absence by
becoming a miserly workaholic and embezzling thousands of dollars from Quentin
and his mother.
The scene ends with
the image of Caddy's muddy drawers as she climbs the tree: "We watched the
muddy bottom of her drawers. Then we couldn't see her. We could hear the tree
thrashing . . . . the tree quit thrashing. We looked up into the still branches"
(39). This image of Caddy's muddy undergarments disappearing into the branches
of the tree, the scene that prompted Faulkner to write the entire novel, is, as
critic John T. Matthews points out, an image of Caddy disappearing, just as she
will disappear from the lives of her three brothers:
What the novel has
made, it has also lost . . . . [Caddy] is memorable precisely because she
inhabits the memories of her brothers and the novel, and memory for Faulkner
never transcends the sense of loss . . . . Caught in Faulkner's mind as she
climbs out of the book, Caddy is the figure that the novel is written to lose
(Matthews, 2-3). Thus the seminal scene in this section of the story is that of
the sullied Caddy, "climbing out of" Benjy's life.
The scene of
Damuddy's death is not the only part of this section that forecasts the future.
Like a Greek tragedy, this section is imbued with a sense of impending
disaster, and in fact the events of the present day chronicle a family that has
fallen into decay. For Benjy, the dissolution of the life he knows is wrapped
up in Caddy and her sexuality, which eventually leads her to desert him. For
his mother and the servants, the family's demise is a fate that cannot be
avoided, of which Benjy's idiocy and Quentin's death are signs. This is what
prompts Roskus to repeatedly vow that "they aint no luck on this
place," and what causes mother to perform the almost ritualistic ablution
of changing Benjy's name. It is as if changing his name from Maury, the name of
a Bascomb, will somehow avert the disastrous fate that the Compson blood seems
to bring. This overwhelming sense of an inescapable family curse will resurface
many times throughout the book.
Summary of June
This section of the
book details the events of the day of Quentin's suicide, from the moment he
wakes in the morning until he leaves his room that night, headed to the river
to drown himself. Like Benjy's section, this section is narrated in stream of
consciousness, sliding constantly between modern-day events and memories;
however, Quentin's section is not as disjointed at Benjy's, regardless of his
agitated mental state. As with Benjy, most of the memories he relates are
centered on Caddy and her precocious sexuality.
The present day:
Quentin wakes in
his Harvard dorm room to the sound of his watch ticking: "when the shadow
of the sash appeared on the curtain it was between seven and eight oclock and
then I was in time again, hearing the watch" (76). This is the watch his
father gave him when he came to Harvard. He tries to ignore the sound, but the
more he tries, the louder it seems. He turns the watch over and returns to bed,
but the ticking goes on. His roommate Shreve appears in the doorway and asks
him if he is going to chapel, then runs out the door to avoid being late
himself. Quentin watches his friends running to chapel out the window of his
dorm room, then listens to the school's bell chiming the hour (8:00 a.m.).
He goes to the
dresser and picks up his watch, tapping it against the side of the dresser to
break the glass. He twists the hands of the watch off, but the watch keeps
ticking. He notices that he cut himself in the process and meticulously cleans
his wound with iodine. He painstakingly packs up all his clothes except two
suits, two pairs of shoes, and two hats, then locks his trunk and piles his
schoolbooks on the sitting-room table, as the quarter-hour bell chimes.
He bathes and puts
on a new suit and his (now broken) watch, puts his trunk key into an envelope
addressed to his father, then writes two noes and seals them. He goes out the
door, bumping into his returning roommate on the way, who asks him why he is
all dressed up. The half-hour chimes and Quentin walks into Harvard Square, to
the post office. He buys stamps and mails one letter to his father and keeps
one for Shreve in his coat pocket. He is looking for his friend "the
Deacon," an eccentric black man who befriends all the Southern students at
Harvard. He goes out to breakfast; while he is eating he hears the clock strike
the hour (10:00 a.m.).
to walk around the square, trying to avoid looking at clocks, but finds it
impossible to escape time like that. He eventually walks into a jeweler's and
asks him about fixing his watch. He asks if any of the watches in the window is
right, and stops the jeweler before he can tell him what time it is. The
jeweler says that he will fix his watch this afternoon, but Quentin takes it
back and says he will get it fixed later. Walking back out into the street, he
buys two six-pound flat-irons; he chooses them because they are "heavy
enough" but will look like a pair of shoes when they are wrapped up and he
is carrying them around the Square (85).
He takes a
fruitless cable car ride, then gets off the car on a bridge, where he watches
one of his friends rowing on the river. He walks back to the Square as the bell
chimes the quarter hour (11:15), and he meets up with the Deacon and gives him
the letter he has written to Shreve, asking him to deliver it tomorrow. He
tells the Deacon that when he delivers the letter tomorrow Shreve will have a
present for him. As the bell chimes the half-hour, he runs into Shreve, who
tells him a letter arrived for him this morning. Then he gets on another car as
the bells chime 11:45.
When he gets off
the car he is near a run-down town on the Charles River, and he walks along the
river until he comes across three boys fishing on a bridge over the river; he
hides the flat irons under the edge of the bridge before striking up a
conversation with the boys. They notice that he has a strange accent and ask if
he is from Canada; he asks them if there are any factories in town (factories
would have hourly whistles). He walks on toward the town, although he is
anxious to keep far enough away from the church steeple's clock to render its
face unreadable. Finally he arrives in town and walks into a bakery; there is
nobody behind the counter, but there is a little Italian immigrant girl
standing before it. A woman enters behind the counter and Quentin buys two buns.
He tells the proprietress that the little girl would like something too; the
proprietress eyes the girl suspiciously and accuses her of stealing something.
Quentin defends her
and she extends her hand to reveal a nickel. The woman wraps up a five-cent
loaf of bread for the girl, and Quentin puts some money on the counter and buys
another bun as well. The woman asks him if he is going to give the bun to the
girl, and he says he is. Still acting exasperated, she goes into a back room
and comes out with a misshapen cake; she gives it to the girl, telling her it
won't taste any different than a good cake. The girl follows Quentin out of the
store, and he takes her to a drugstore and buys her some ice cream. They leave
the drugstore and he gives her one of the buns and says goodbye, but she
continues to follow him. Not knowing exactly what to do, he walks with her
toward the immigrant neighborhood across the train tracks where he assumes she
lives. She will not talk to him or indicate where she lives. He asks some men
in front of a store if they know her, and they do, but they don't know where
she lives either. They tell him to take her to the town marshal's office, but
when he does the marshal isn't there.
Quentin decides to
take her down to her neighborhood and hopefully someone will claim her. At one
point she seems to tell him that a certain house is hers, but the woman inside
doesn't know her. They continue to walk through the neighborhood until they
come out on the other side, by the river. Quentin gives a coin to the girl,
then runs away from her along the river. He walks along the river for a while,
then suddenly meets up with the little girl again. They walk along together for
a while, still looking for her house; eventually they turn back and walk toward
town again. They come across some boys swimming, and the boys throw water at
them. The hurry toward town, but the girl still won't tell him where she lives.
Suddenly a man flies at them and attacks
Quentin; he is the little girl's brother. He has the town marshal with him, and
they take him into town to talk to the police because they think he was trying
to kidnap the girl. In town they meet up with Shreve, Spoade and Gerald,
Quentin's friends, who have come into town in Gerald's mother's car. Eventually
after discussing everything at length, the marshal lets Quentin go, and he gets
into the car with his friends and drives away.
As they drive
Quentin slides into a kind of trance wherein he remembers various events from
his past, mostly to do with her precocious sexuality (to be discussed later).
While his is lost in this reverie the boys and Gerald's mother have gotten out
of the car and set up a picnic. Suddenly he comes to, bleeding, and the boys
tell him that he just suddenly began punching Gerald and Gerald beat him up.
They tell him that he began shouting "did you ever have a sister? Did
you?" then attacked Gerald out of the blue. Quentin is more concerned
about the state of his clothes than anything else. His friends want to take the
cable car back to Boston without Gerald, but Quentin tells them he doesn't want
to go back. They ask him what he plans to do (perhaps they suspect something
about his suicidal plans). They go back to the party, and Quentin walks slowly
toward the city as the twilight descends.
gets on a cable car. Although it is dark by now, he can smell the water of the
river as they pass by it. As they pass the Harvard Square post office again, he
hears the clock chiming but has no idea what time it is. He plans to return to
the bridge where he left his flatirons, but he has to wash his clothes first in
order to carry out his plans correctly. He returns to his dorm room and takes
off his clothes, meticulously washing the blood off his vest with gasoline. The
bell chimes the half-hour as he does so. Back in his darkened room, he looks
out the window for a while, then as the last chime of the three-quarters hour
sounds, he puts his clothes and vest back on. He walks into Shreve's room and
puts a letter and his watch in the desk drawer. He remembers that he hasn't
brushed his teeth, so he goes back into his room and takes the toothbrush out
of his bag. He brushes his teeth and returns the brush to the bag, then goes to
the door. He returns for his hat, then leaves the room.
are not as clearly defined or as chronologically discernible as Benjy's. There
are three important memories that obsess him.
change, 1900: Dilsey claims that Benjy can "smell what you tell him;"
Roskus asks if he can smell bad luck, sure that the only reason they changed
his name is to try to help his luck.
Natalie, undated: Natalie, a neighbor girl, and Quentin are in the barn and it
is raining outside. Natalie is hurt; Caddy pushed her down the ladder and ran
off. Quentin asks her where it hurts and says that he bets he can lift her up.
[a skip in time] Natalie tells him that something [probably kissing] is
"like dancing sitting down" (135); Quentin asks her how he should
hold her to dance, placing his arms around her, and she moans. Quentin looks up
to see Caddy in the door watching them. Quentin tells her that he and Natalie
were just dancing sitting down; she ignores him.
She and Natalie
fight about the events that led to Natalie being pushed off the ladder and
whose fault it was; Caddy claims that she was "just brushing the trash off
the back of your dress" (136). Natalie leaves and Quentin jumps into the
mud of the pigpen, muddying himself up to his waist. Caddy ignores him and
stands with her back to him. He comes around in front of her and tells her that
he was just hugging Natalie. She turns her back and continues to ignore him,
saying she doesn't give a damn what he was doing. Shouting "I'll make you
give a damn," he smears mud on her dress as she slaps him. They tumble,
fighting, on the grass, then sit up and realize how dirty they are. They head
to the branch to wash the mud off themselves.
Caddy kisses a boy
(1906): Quentin slaps Caddy and demands to know why she let the boy kiss her.
With the red print of his hand rising on her cheek, she replies that she didn't
let him, she made him. Quentin tells her that it is not for kissing that he
slapped her, but for kissing a "darn town squirt" (134). He rubs her
face in the grass until she says "calf rope." She shouts that at
least she didn't kiss a "dirty girl like Natalie anyway" (134).
Caddy has sex with
Dalton Ames, 1909: Caddy stands in the doorway, and someone [Quentin?] asks her
why she won't bring Dalton Ames into the house. Mother replies that she
"must do things for women's reasons" (92). Caddy will not look at
Quentin. Benjy bellows and pulls at her dress and she shrinks against the wall,
and he pushes her out of the room. Sitting on the porch, Quentin hears her door
slamming and Benjy still howling. She runs out of the house and Quentin follows
her; he finds her lying in the branch. He threatens to tell Father that he
committed incest with her; she replies with pity. He tells her that he is
stronger than she is, he will make her tell him. He adds that he fooled her;
all the time she thought it was her boyfriends and it was Quentin instead. The
smell of honeysuckle is all around them.
She asks him if
Benjy is still crying. He asks her if she loves Dalton Ames; she places his
hand on her chest and he feels her heart beating there. He asks her if he made
her do it, saying "Ill kill him I swear I will father neednt know until
afterward and then you and I nobody need ever know we can take my school money
we can cancel my matriculation Caddy you hate him dont you" (151). She
moves his hand to her throat, where the blood is "hammering," and
says "poor Quentin" (151). A moment later she says "yes I hate
him I would die for him Ive already died for him I die for him over and over again"
(151). She looks at him and then says "you've never done that have
you," to which Quentin responds "yes yes lots of times with lots of
girls," but he is lying, and Caddy knows it; he cries on her shirt and
they lie together in the branch (151). He holds a knife to her throat, telling
her that he can kill her quickly and painlessly and then kill himself. She
agrees and he asks her to close her eyes, but she doesn't, looking past his
head at the sky.
He begins to cry;
he cannot do it. She holds his head to her breast and he drops the knife. She
stands up and tells him that she has to go, and Quentin searches in the water
for his knife. The two walk together past the ditch where Nancy's bones were,
then she turns and tells him to stop [she is headed to meet Dalton Ames]. He
replies that he is stronger than she is; she tells him to go back to the house.
But he continues to follow her. Just past the fence, Dalton Ames is waiting for
her, and she introduces them and kisses Dalton.
Quentin tells them
that he is going to take a walk in the woods, and she asks him to wait for her
at the branch, that she will be there soon. He walks aimlessly, trying to
escape the smell of honeysuckle that chokes him, and lies on the bank of the
branch. Presently Caddy appears and tells him to go home. He shakes her; she is
limp in his hands and does not look at him. They walk together to the house,
and at the steps he asks her again if she loves Dalton Ames. She tells him that
she doesn't know. She tells him that she is "bad anyway you cant help
Quentin fights with
Dalton Ames, 1909: Quentin sees Dalton Ames go into a barbershop in town and
waits for him to come out. He tells him "Ive been looking for you two or
three days" and Dalton replies that he can't talk to him there on the
street; the two arrange to meet at the bridge over the creek at one o'clock
(158). Dalton is very polite to Quentin. Later, Caddy overhears Quentin telling
T. P. to saddle his horse and asks him where he is going. He will not tell her
and calls her a whore. He tells T. P. that he won't need his horse after all
and walks to the bridge. Dalton is waiting for him there. Quentin tells him to
Dalton stares at him and asks if Caddy sent
him. Quentin tells him that he, and only he, is asking Dalton to leave town.
Dalton dismisses this, just wishing to know if Caddy is all right. Quentin
continues to order him to leave, and Dalton counters with "what will you
do if I dont leave" (160). In response Dalton slowly and deliberately
smokes a cigarette, leaning on the bridge railing. He tells Quentin to stop
taking it so hard, that if he hadn't gotten Caddy pregnant some other guy would
have. Shaking, Quentin asks him if he ever had a sister, and he replies
"no but theyre all bitches" (160). Quentin hits him, but Dalton
catches him by both wrists and reaches under his coat for a gun, then turns him
Dropping a piece of bark into the creek,
Dalton shoots at it and hands the gun to Quentin. Quentin punches at him and he
holds his wrists again, and Quentin passes out. He asks Quentin how he feels
and if he can make it home all right. He tells him that he'd better not walk
and offers him his horse. Quentin brushes him off and eventually he rides off.
Quentin slumps against a tree. He hears hoofbeats and Caddy comes running. She
thought that Dalton shot him. She holds his face with her hands and Quentin
grabs her wrists. She begs him to let her go so she can run after Dalton, then
suddenly stops struggling. Quentin asks her if she loves him. Again she places
his hand on her throat, and tells him to say his name. Quentin says
"Dalton Ames," and each time he does he can feel the blood surging in
Herbert Head before Caddy's wedding, 1910: Herbert finds Quentin alone in the
parlor and attempts to get to know him better. He is smoking a cigar and offers
one to Quentin. Herbert tells him that Caddy talked so much about him when they
met that he thought she was talking about a husband or boyfriend, not a
brother. He asks Quentin about Harvard, reminiscing about his own college days,
and Quentin accuses him of cheating [he has heard rumors about Herbert's
cheating at cards]. Herbert jokingly banters back that Quentin is "better
than a play you must have made the Dramat" (108).
He tells Quentin
that he likes him and that he is glad they are going to be friends. He offers
to give him a hand and get him started in business, but Quentin rejects his
offer and challenges him. They begin to fight but stop when Herbert sees that
his cigar butt has almost burned a spot into the mantel. He backs off and again
offers Quentin his friendship and offers him some money, which Quentin rejects.
They are just beginning to fight again when Caddy enters and asks Herbert to
leave so she can talk to Quentin alone. Alone, she asks Quentin what he is
doing and warns him not to get involved in her life again. He notices that she
is feverish, and she tells him that she is sick. He asks her what she means and
she tells him she is just sick and begs him not to tell anyone. Again he asks
her what she means and tells her that if she is sick she shouldn't go through
with the ceremony. She replies that she can and must and that "after that
it'll be all right it wont matter" and begs him to look after Benjy and
make sure that they don't send him to an asylum (112). Quentin promises.
1910: Benjy is howling outside, and Caddy runs out the door to him, "right
out of the mirror" (77).
undated: Mother tells Father that she wants to go away and take only Jason,
because he is the only child who loves her, the only child who is truly a
Bascomb, not a Compson. She says that the other three children are her
"punishment for putting aside [her] pride and marrying a man who held
himself above [her]" (104). These three are "not [her] flesh and
blood" and she is actually afraid of them, that they are the symbols of a
curse upon her and the family. She views Caddy not merely as damaging the
family name with her promiscuity but actually "corrupting" the other
conversations with Father, undated (a string of separate conversations on the
same theme): Quentin tells his father that he committed incest with Caddy; his
father does not believe him. Father takes a practical, logical, if unemotional
view of Caddy's sexuality, telling Quentin that women have "a practical
fertility of suspicion . . . [and] an affinity for evil," that he should
not take her promiscuity to heart because it was inevitable (96). When Quentin
tells him that he would like to have been born a eunuch so that he never had to
think about sex, he responds "it's because you are a virgin: dont you see?
Women are never virgins. Purity is a negative state and therefore contrary to
nature. It's nature is hurting you not Caddy."
"that's just words" and father counters "so is virginity"
(116). Quentin insists that he has committed incest with Caddy and that he
wants to die, but still Father won't believe him. Father tells him that he is
merely "blind to what is in yourself to that part of general truth the
sequence of natural events and their causes which shadows every mans brow even
benjys . . . you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you
like this" (177). He claims that not even Caddy was really "quite
worth despair," that Quentin will grow out of the pain he feels at her
betrayal of his ideal (178).
Analysis of June
From the very first
sentence of the section, Quentin is obsessed with time; words associated with
time like "watch," "clock," "chime," and
"hour" occur on almost every page. When Quentin wakes he is "in
time again, hearing the watch," and the rest of the day represents an
attempt to escape time, to get "out of time" (76). His first action
when he wakes is to break the hands off his watch in an attempt to stop time,
to escape the "reducto absurdum of all human experience" which is the
gradual progression toward death (76). Perversely taking literally his father's
statement 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," he tears the
hands off his watch, only to find that it continues to tick even without the
hands (85). Throughout this section, Quentin tries to escape time in similar
ways; he tries to avoid looking at clocks, he tries to travel away from the
sound of school chimes or factory whistles. By the end of the section he has
succeeded in escaping knowledge of the time (when he returns to school he hears
the bell ringing and has no idea what hour it is chiming off), but he still has
not taken himself out of time. In the end, as he knows throughout this section,
the only way to escape time is to die.
in his analysis of this novel, sees Quentin's suicide as not merely a way of
escaping time but of exploding time. His suicide is present in all the actions
of the day, not so much a fate he could dream of escaping as "an immobile
wall, a thing which he approaches backward, and which he neither wants to nor
can conceive" (Sartre, 91). It is not a future but a part of the present,
the point from which the story is told. Quentin narrates the day's events in
the past tense, as if they have already happened; the "present" from
which he looks back at the day's events must be the moment of his death. As
Sartre puts it:
Since the hero's
last thoughts coincide approximately with the bursting of his memory and its
annihilation, who is remembering? . . . . [Faulkner] has chosen the
infinitesimal instant of death. Thus when Quentin's memory begins to unravel
its recollections ("Through the wall I heard Shreve's bed-springs and then
his slippers on the floor hishing. I got up . . . ") he is already dead
In other words,
time explodes at the instant of Quentin's suicide, and the events of this
"infinitesimal instant" are recorded in this section. By killing
himself, Quentin has found the only way to access time that is
"alive" in the sense that his father details, time that has escaped
the clicking of little wheels.
But why does
Quentin want to escape time? The answer lies in one of the conversations with
his father that are recorded in this section. When Quentin claims that he
committed incest with Caddy, his father refuses to believe him and says:
You cannot bear to
think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this . . . it is hard
believing to think that a love or a sorrow is a bond purchased without design
and which matures willynilly and is recalled without warning . . . no you will
not do that until you come to believe that even she was not quite worth despair
to this statement is "i will never do that nobody knows what i know."
His attempt to stop the progression of time is an attempt to preserve the
rawness of the pain Caddy's promiscuity and marriage have caused him; he never
wants to think of her as "not quite worth despair."
Like Benjy, Quentin
is obsessed with an absent Caddy, and both brothers' sections are ordered
around memories of her, specifically of her promiscuity. For both brothers, her
absence is linked to her promiscuity, but for Quentin her promiscuity signals
not merely her loss from his life but also the loss of the romantically
idealized idea of life he has built for himself. This ideal life has at its
center a valuation of purity and cleanness and a rejection of sexuality;
Quentin sees his own developing sexuality as well as his sister's as sinful.
The loss of her virginity is the painful center of a spiral of loss as his
illusions are shattered.
Critics have read
Quentin's obsession with Caddy's virginity as an antebellum-style preoccupation
with family honor, but in fact family honor is hardly ever mentioned in this
section. The pain that Caddy's promiscuity causes Quentin seems too raw, too
intense, too visceral to be merely a disappointment at the staining family
honor. And perhaps most importantly, Quentin's response to her promiscuity,
namely telling his father that he and she committed incest, is not the act of a
person concerned with family honor. Rather it is the act of a boy so in love
with his sister and so obsessed with maintaining the closeness of their
relationship that he would rather be condemned by the town and suffer in hell
than let her go. He is, in fact, obsessed with her purity and virginity, but
not to maintain appearances in the town; he wants her forever to remain the
unstained, saintly mother/sister he imagines her to be.
Quentin did not, of
course, commit incest with Caddy. And yet the encounters he remembers are
fraught with sexual overtones. When Caddy walks in on Quentin and Natalie
kissing in the barn, for instance, Quentin throws himself into the
"stinking" mud of the pigpen. When this fails to get a response from
Caddy, he wipes mud on her:
You dont you dont
I'll make you I'll make you give a damn. She hit my hands away I smeared mud on
her with the other hand I couldnt feel the wet smacking of her hand I wiped mud
from my legs smeared it on her wet hard turning body hearing her fingers going
into my face but I couldnt feel it even when the rain began to taste sweet on
my lips (137).
mud-stained drawers that symbolize her later sexuality, Quentin smears mud on
Caddy's body in a heated exchange, feeling as he does so her "wet hard
turning body." The mud is both Quentin's penance for his sexual
experimentation with Natalie and the sign of sexuality between Quentin and
The scene in the
branch of the river is similarly sexual in nature. Quentin finds Caddy at the
branch trying to wash away the guilt she finds; amid the "suck[ing] and
gurgl[ing]" waves of the water. When he asks her if she loves Dalton Ames,
she places his hand on her chest and he feels her heart "thudding"
(150). He smells honeysuckle "on her face and throat like paint her blood
pounded against my hand I was leaning on my other arm it began to jerk and jump
and I had to pant to get any air at all out of that thick gray
honeysuckle;" and he lies "crying against her damp blouse"
Taking out a knife, he holds it against her
throat and tells her "it wont take but a second Ill try not to hurt."
She replies "no like this you have to push it harder," and he says
"touch your hand to it" (151). In this scene we have the repetitive
surging both of the water and of Caddy's blood beneath Quentin's hand. We have
the two siblings lying on top of one another at the edge of this surging water,
the pungent smell of honeysuckle (which Quentin associates with sex throughout
the section) so thick around them that Quentin has trouble breathing. We have a
knife (a common phallic symbol) which Quentin proposes to push into Caddy's
blood-flushed neck, promising he will "try not to hurt." Overall, the
scene overflows with sexual metaphors; if the two do not actually commit
incest, they certainly do share a number of emotionally powerful, sexually
Quentin's wish to
have committed incest is not a desire to have sex with Caddy; that would
shatter his ideals of purity even more than her encounters with Dalton Ames.
Nor is it, as we have determined, a way to preserve the family honor. Instead,
it seems to be a way to keep Caddy to himself forever: "if it could just
be a hell beyond that: the clean flame the two of us more than dead. Then you
will have only me then only me then the two of us amid the pointing and the
horror beyond the clean flame" (116). Separated from the rest of the world
by the "clean" purifying flames of hell, Quentin and Caddy could be
alone together, forever burning away the sin of her sexuality. He would rather
implicate himself in something as horrible as incest than leave Caddy to her
promiscuity or lose her through her marriage to Herbert Head.
If time-words are
the most frequently occurring words in this section, the second most frequent
is the word "shadow." Throughout his journeys, Quentin is just as
obsessed with his shadow as he is with time. For example, he walks on his
shadow as he wanders through Cambridge: "trampling my shadow's bones . . .
. I walked upon the belly of my shadow" (96). When asked what the
significance of shadows was in this section, Faulkner replied "that shadow
that stayed on his mind so much was foreknowledge of his own death, that he was
- Death is here, shall I step into it or shall I step away from it a little
longer? I won't escape it, but shall I accept it now or shall I put it off
until next Friday" (Minter, qtd. in Martin, 6). This explanation certainly
seems to fit some of Quentin's thoughts; for example, at one point, he imagines
drowning his shadow in the water of the river, just as he will later drown
himself: "my shadow leaning flat upon the water, so easily had I tricked
it . . . . if I only had something to blot it into the water, holding it until
it was drowned, the shadow of the package like two shoes wrapped up lying on
Niggers say a
drowned man's shadow was watching for him in the water all the time" (90).
Here Quentin imagines his drowned shadow beckoning him from the river, drowned
before him and waiting for him to follow suit.
Like his shadow
mirroring his motions and emotions, certain aspects of his day's travels mirror
his life and the troubled state of his mind. Most obvious among these is his
encounter with the Italian girl he calls "sister" and the reaction of
her brother Julio. Calling this little girl "little sister" or
"sister" ironically recalls Caddy, whom Quentin at one point calls
"Little Sister Death." But whereas his suicidal mission is caused by
the fact that he cannot hold on to Caddy, here he cannot get rid of this
"little sister," who follows him around the town and will not leave
him. Then when Julio finds them, he accuses Quentin stealing her, just as
Quentin feels Dalton Ames and Herbert Head have stolen Caddy from him.
Julio is not the
only character to mirror Quentin, though. As Edmond Volpe points out, Dalton
Ames himself is a foil for Quentin, the embodiment of the romantic ideal he has
cast for himself:
with Dalton is a disaster. His conception of himself in the traditional role of
protector of women collapses, not only because he fails to accomplish his
purpose [of beating Dalton up] but because he is forced to recognize his own
weakness. Dalton is actually a reflection of Quentin's vision of himself: calm,
courageous, strong, kind. The real Quentin does not measure up to the ideal
Quentin, just as reality does not measure up to Quentin's romantic vision of
what life should be (113).
Quentin is in
actuality the "obverse reflection" of himself, a man who does not
live up to his own ideals, who fails to protect his sister from a villain who
turns out to be as chivalrous and Quentin is weak.
Thus at the
"infinitesimal instant" of his death, Quentin is a man whose
disillusionment with his shattered ideals consumes him. His death, one of the
"signs" Roskus sees of the bad luck of the Compson family, is one
step in the gradual dissolution of the family, a degeneration that will pick up
speed in the sections to come.
Summary of April
Beginning with the
statement "once a bitch always a bitch," this section reads as if
Jason is telling the reader the story of his day; it is more chronological and
less choppy than Quentin's or Benjy's sections, but still unconventional in
tone. Jason and his mother in her room waiting for Quentin to finish putting on
her makeup and go down to breakfast. Mother is concerned that Quentin often
skips school and asks Jason to take care of it. Both Jason and his mother are
manipulative and passive-aggressive, mother complaining about the ailments she
suffers and the way her children betrayed her, Jason countering with statements
like "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 and get a job where I can work at night" (181).
Jason goes down to the kitchen, where Quentin is begging Dilsey for another cup
of coffee. Dilsey tells her she will be late for school, and Jason says he will
fix that, grabbing her by the arm.
Her bathrobe comes
unfastened and she pulls it closed around her. He begins to take off his belt,
but Dilsey stops him from hitting her. Mother comes in, and Jason puts down the
belt. Quentin runs out of the house. In the car on the way to town, Quentin and
Jason fight about who paid for her schoolbooks - Caddy or Jason. Jason claims
that Mother has been burning all of the checks Caddy sends. Quentin tells Jason
that she would tear off any dress that he paid for and grabs the neck of her
dress as if she will tear it. Jason has to stop the car and grab her wrists to
stop her. He tells her that she is a slut and a bad girl, and she replies that
she would rather be in hell than in his house. He drops her off at school and
drives on to his job at the farm goods store.
At the store, old
Job, a black worker, is unloading cultivators, and Jason accuses of him of
doing it as slowly as he possibly can. He has mail; he opens a letter with a
check from Caddy. The letter asks if Quentin is sick and states that she knows
that Jason reads all her letters. He goes out to the front of the store and
engages in a conversation with a farmer about the cotton crop. He tells him
that cotton is a "speculator's crop" that "a bunch of damn
eastern jews" get farmers to grow so that they can control the stock
market (191). He goes to the telegraph office, where a stock report has just
come in (Jason has invested in the cotton crop) - the cotton stock is up four
points. He tells the telegraph operator to send a collect message to Caddy
saying "Q writing today" (193).
He goes back to the
store and sits at his desk, reading a letter from his girlfriend Lorraine, who
is basically a prostitute he keeps in Memphis. She calls Jason her
"daddy." He burns her letter, commenting "I make it a rule never
to keep a scrap of paper bearing a woman's hand, and I never write them at
all" (193). Then he takes out Caddy's letter to Quentin, but before he can
open it some business interrupts him. He recalls the day of his father's
funeral; he remembers saying that Quentin wasted his chance at Harvard,
learning only "how to go for a swim at night without knowing how to
swim," Benjy is nothing but a "gelding" that should be rented
out as a circus sideshow, Father was a drunk who should have had a
"one-armed strait jacket," and Caddy is a whore (196-197).
Uncle Maury patted
Mother's arm with expensive black gloves at the funeral, and Jason noted that
the flowers on the grave must have cost fifty dollars. He also remembers the
day that Father brought baby Quentin home; Mother would not let her sleep in
Caddy's old room, afraid she will be contaminated by the atmosphere in there.
She also declares that nobody in the house must ever say Caddy's name again. On
the day of the funeral, Caddy appeared in the cemetery and begged Jason to let
her see the baby for just one minute, and she would pay him fifty dollars;
later she changes this to one hundred dollars. Jason smugly remembers how he
took the baby in a carriage and held her up to the window as he drove past
Caddy; this fulfilled his agreement to the letter. Later she showed up in the
kitchen, accusing him of backing out of their agreement. He threatened her and
told her to leave town immediately. She made him promise to treat Quentin well
and to give her the money that she sends for her.
Jason's boss, Earl,
comes up to the front of the store and tells Jason he is going out for a snack
because they won't have time to go home for lunch; a show is in town and there
will be too much business. Jason finally opens Caddy's letter to Quentin, and
inside is a money order for fifty dollars, not a check. He looks around in the
office for a blank check; every month he takes a fake check home to mother to
burn and cashes the real check. But the blank checks are all gone. Quentin
comes in and asks if a letter has come for her. He taunts her, then finally
gives her the letter, without the money in it. She reaches out for the money
order, but he will not give it to her. He tells her she has to sign it without
looking at it. She asks how much it is for, and he tells her it is for ten
dollars. She says he is lying, but he will not give it to her until she agrees
to take ten dollars for it. She takes the money and leaves, upset.
Earl returns and
again tells Jason not to go home to lunch; Jason agrees and leaves. First he
goes to a print shop to get a blank check. The print shop doesn't have any, and
finally Jason finds a checkbook that was a prop at an old theater. He goes back
to the store and puts the check in the letter, gluing the envelope back to look
unopened. As he leaves again, Earl tells him not to take too much time. He goes
to the telegraph office and checks up on the stock market, then goes home for
lunch. He goes up to Mother's room and gives her the doctored letter. Instead
of burning it right away she looks at it for a while. She notices that it is
drawn on a different bank than the others have been, but then burns it. Dilsey
is not ready with lunch yet because she is waiting for Quentin to come home;
finally she puts it on the table and they eat. Jason hands Mother a letter from
Uncle Maury; it is a letter asking her to lend him some money for an investment
he would like to make.
Mother's bankbook with him and returns to town. He goes to the bank and
deposits the money from Caddy and his paycheck, then returns to the telegraph
office for an update; the stock is down thirteen points. He goes back to the
store, where Earl asks him if he went home to dinner. Jason tells him that he
had to go to the dentist's. A while later he hears the band from the show start
playing. He argues with Job about spending money to go to a show like that.
Suddenly he sees Quentin in an alley with a stranger with a red bow tie. It is
still 45 minutes before school should let out. He follows them up the street,
but they disappear. A boy comes up and gives Jason a telegram: the market day
closed with cotton stocks down. He goes back to the store and tells Earl that
he has to go out for a while.
He gets in his car
and goes home. Gasoline gives him headaches, and he thinks about having to
bring some camphor with him when he goes back to the store. He goes into his
room and hides the money from Caddy in a strongbox in his room. Mother tells
him to take some aspirin, but he doesn't. He gets back in his car and is almost
to town when he passes a Ford driven by a man with a red bow tie. He looks
closer and sees Quentin inside. He chases the Ford through the countryside, his
headache growing by the second. Finally he sees the Ford parked near a field
and gets out to look for them; he is sure they are hiding in the bushes
somewhere having sex. The sun slants directly into his eyes, and his headache
is pounding so hard he can't think straight. He reaches the place where he
thinks they are, then hears a car start up behind him and drive off, the horn
honking. He returns to his own car and sees that they have let the air out of
one of his tires. He has to walk to the nearest farm to borrow a pump to blow
it back up.
He returns to town,
stopping in a drugstore to get a shot for his headache and the telegraph
office; he has lost $200 on the stock market. Then he goes back to the store. A
telegram has arrived from his stockbroker, advising him to sell. Instead he
writes back to the broker, telling him he will buy. The store closes, and he
drives home to the sounds of the band playing. At home, Quentin and Mother are
fighting upstairs, and Luster asks him for a quarter to go to the show. Jason
replies that he has two tickets already that he won't be using. Luster begs him
for one, but he tells him he will only sell it to him for a nickel. Luster
replies that he has no money, and Jason burns the tickets in the fireplace. Dilsey
puts supper on the table for him and tells him that Quentin and Mother won't be
coming to dinner.
Jason insists that they come unless they are
actually sick. They come down. At dinner, he offers Quentin an extra piece of
meat and tells her and Mother that he lent his car to a stranger who needed to
chase around one of his relatives who was running around with a town woman.
Quentin looks guilty. Finally she stands up and says that if she is bad, it is
only because Jason made her bad. She runs off and slams the door. Mother
comments that she got all of Caddy's bad traits and all of Quentin's too; Jason
takes this to mean that Mother thinks Quentin is the child of Caddy and her
brother's incestuous relationship. They finish dinner, and Mother locks Quentin
into her room for the night. Jason retires to his room for the night, still
ruminating on the "dam New York jew" that is taking all of his money
Analysis of April
appears more readable and more conventional; its style, while still
stream-of-consciousness, is more chronological in progression, with very few
jumps in time. It reads more like a monologue than a string of loosely
connected events, like Benjy's and Quentin's sections were. Critics have
claimed that the book progresses from chaos to order, from timelessness to
chronology, from pure sensation to logical order, and from interiority to
exteriority as it travels from Benjy's world of bright shapes and confused time
through Jason's rigorously ordered universe to the third-person narrative of
the fourth section. This third section represents a shift into the public world
from the anguished interiority of Benjy and Quentin, and a shift into
"normal" novelistic narrative as Jason recounts the story of the
events of the day.
The first sentence
of each section reveals a lot about the tone and themes of that particular
part; this is especially true with Quentin's and Jason's section. In Quentin's
section, the first sentence draws the reader into his obsession with being
caught "in time" and includes two of the most common symbols in the
section: time and shadows. Jason's section begins "once a bitch always a
bitch, what I say," introducing both Jason's irrational anger not only
toward his sister and her daughter, but toward the world in general, and also
the rigorous logic that runs through this section (180). Jason's world is
dominated by logic. Once a bitch, always a bitch; like mother, like daughter.
Caddy was a whore, so is her daughter. He is furious at Caddy for ruining his
chances at getting a job, and the way she ruined his chances was to bear an
illegitimate daughter; therefore the way he will get revenge on her and
simultaneously recoup the money he lost is through this same daughter. Caddy
should have gotten him a job, but instead she had Quentin; therefore it is his
right to embezzle the money she sends to Quentin in order to make up for the
money he lost when he lost the job.
Jason's logic takes
the form of literalism. Caddy is responsible for getting him money, no matter
where it comes from. She sends money each month for Quentin's upkeep; he keeps
Quentin clothed, housed and fed, so the money should go to him. He himself
claims that he "make[s] it a rule never to keep a scrap of paper bearing a
woman's hand," and yet he keeps the money from the checks Caddy sends him;
this act fits into his system of logic because he cashes the checks, literally
getting rid of her handwriting while keeping the money. He allows his mother to
literally burn the checks she sends, but only after he has cashed them in
secret. When Caddy gives him 100 dollars to "see [Quentin] a minute"
he grants her request to the letter, holding the baby up to the carriage window
as he drives by, literally allowing Caddy only a minute's glimpse (203-205).
When Luster can't pay him a nickel for tickets to the show, he burns the
tickets rather than give then to him (255). All of these acts fit into a rigid
and literally defined logical order with which Jason structures his life.
Some readers see
Jason's logic as a sign that he is more "sane" than the rest of his
family. He is not retarded like Benjy or irrationally distraught like Quentin.
He is able to live his life in a relatively normal way, with a logical order to
both his narrative and his daily activities. However, Jason is just as blind,
just as divorced from reality as his brothers. Like them, he tries to control
his life through a strictly defined order, and when this is disrupted he
collapses into irrationality. Benjy's system of order is the routine of
everyday life, disrupted on a grand scale when Caddy leaves and on a small
scale when Luster turns the horses the wrong way or changes the arrangement of
Quentin's system of order is the honor and
purity he saw in himself and Caddy when they were young, disrupted when Caddy
loses her virginity and leaves him. Jason's system of order is the rigidity of
his logic, most of which has to do with money, and with this he tries to
control the world around him. This system is disrupted when he loses his job
opportunity (Quentin gets a career boost in going to Harvard, so should Jason
get a career boost from Herbert Head), and again when Quentin refuses to come
to dinner, skips school, or runs away with his money. For each brother, the systems
he has established help to control everyday life, and the way they do so is by
controlling Caddy. As long as she is motherly to Benjy, virginal to Quentin,
and profftable to Jason, their worlds are in order. But these controlling
mechanisms are inflexible, breaking down entirely as soon as Caddy or her
daughter defies them.
remains irrationally connected with the past, particularly with memories of
Caddy. Benjy relives his memories of Caddy all the time, making no distinction
between the present and the past. Quentin goes through the routines of life
washed in a sea of memories of Caddy. And Jason, for all he seems to have cut
himself off from her entirely by refusing to mention her name, is perhaps the
closest of all to her. Not only is he surrounded by reminders of her in the
shape of her daughter and her money, but he is also constantly reminded of her
in his anger. It has been eighteen years since she lost him his job
opportunity, and yet he remains as angry with her as he ever was. Certainly
this is no way to forget her, nor is it any more "sane" than his
Nor is Jason even a
particularly good businessman, for all he obsesses about money. In the course
of this one day he loses $200 in the stock market, for example; he has been
warned that the market is in a state of flux and yet he leaves town on a wild
goose chase when he should be watching the market and deliberately defies his
broker's advice by buying when he should sell. He is rude and spiteful to his
boss, which is certainly not the best way to succeed in business. He buys a car
even though he knows that gasoline gives him headaches. And perhaps the
clearest indication of his bad business sense is the fact that when Quentin
steals his savings in the fourth section, she steals $7000. This is the money
that he has been embezzling from Caddy and Quentin, and Caddy has been sending
him $200 a month for fifteen years. By this point he should have amassed
upwards of $30,000; where did it all go? Even though he thinks of little else
besides money, he is not capable of handling it properly.
Mrs. Compson spends
much of the novel telling Jason that he is different from Quentin and Benjy,
that he is a Bascomb at heart. And yet, underneath the sadism, money-grubbing
and isolation, Jason is surprisingly similar to his brothers. He is just as
obsessed with Caddy as they are, and her sexuality shatters his world just as
much as theirs.
Summary of April
The section opens
with Dilsey standing on the stoop of her house in her church clothes, then
going back inside to change into her work clothes. It is raining and gray
outside. Dilsey goes into the kitchen and brings some firewood with her; she
can barely walk. She begins to make breakfast and Mrs. Compson calls her from
upstairs; she wants her to fill her hot water bottle. Dilsey struggles up the
stairs to get the hot water bottle, saying that Luster has overslept after the
night's reveries. She goes outside and calls Luster; he appears from the cellar
looking guilty and she tells him to get some firewood and take care of Benjy.
He brings in a huge armful of firewood and leaves. A while later, Mrs. Compson
calls her again, and she goes out to the stairs. Mrs. Compson wants to know
when Luster will be up to take care of Benjy.
Dilsey begins to slowly climb the stairs
again, while Mrs. Compson inquires whether she had better go down and make
breakfast herself. When Dilsey is halfway up the stairs, Mrs. Compson reveals
that Benjy is not even awake yet, and Dilsey clambers back down. Luster emerges
from the cellar again. She makes him get another armful of wood and go up to
tend Benjy. The clock strikes five times, and Dilsey says "eight
o'clock" (274). Luster appears with Benjy, who is described as big and
pale, with white-blonde hair cut in a child's haircut and pale blue eyes. She
sends Luster up to see if Jason is awake yet; Luster reports that he is up and
angry already because one of the windows in his room is broken. He accuses
Luster of breaking it, but Luster swears he didn't.
Jason and Mrs.
Compson come to the table for breakfast. Although Mrs. Compson usually allows
Quentin to sleep in on Sundays, Jason insists that she come and eat with them
now. Dilsey goes upstairs to wake her. Mrs. Compson tells him that the black
servants are all taking the afternoon off to go to church; the family will have
to have a cold lunch. Upstairs Dilsey calls to Quentin, but receives no answer.
Suddenly, Jason springs up and mounts the stairs, shouting for Quentin. There
is still no response and he comes back down to snatch the key to her room from
his mother. He fumbles at the lock and then finally opens the door. The room is
empty. Jason runs to his own room and begins throwing things out of the closet.
Mrs. Compson looks around Quentin's note for a suicide note, convinced that
history is repeating itself. In his room, Jason finds that his strongbox has
been broken into. He runs to the phone and calls the sheriff, telling him that
he has been robbed, and that he expects the sheriff to get together a posse of
men to help him search for Quentin. He storms out.
that he bets Jason beat Quentin and now he is going for the doctor. Dilsey
tells him to take Benjy outside. Luster tells her that he and Benjy saw Quentin
climb out her window and down the pear tree last night. Dilsey goes back to her
cabin and changes into her church clothes again. She calls for Luster and finds
him trying to play a saw like one of the players did at the show last night.
She tells him to get his cap and to come with her; they meet up with Frony and
head to church, Benjy in tow. Dilsey carries herself with pride among the other
blacks, and some of the children dare each other to touch Benjy. They take
their seats as the mass starts.
The sermon will be
delivered by a visiting preacher, Reverend Shegog. The preachers process in,
and Reverend Shegog is so slight and nondescript as to attract no attention.
But when he speaks, he holds their attention. First he speaks without accent
"like a white man," describing the "recollection and the blood
of the Lamb," then when this doesn't have much of an effect, he modulates
into black dialect and delivers the same sermon again, describing the major
events of Jesus' life and his resurrection. When he finishes, Benjy is rapt
with attention and Dilsey is quietly weeping. As the leave the church, she
states "I've seed de first en de last . . . . I seed de beginning, en now
I sees de endin" (297).
They return to the
house. Dilsey goes up to Mrs. Compson's room and checks on her; Mrs. Compson,
still convinced that Quentin has killed herself, asks Dilsey to pick up the
Bible that has fallen off the bed. Dilsey goes back downstairs and prepares
lunch for the family, commenting that Jason will not be joining them.
Meanwhile, Jason is
in his car driving to the sheriff's. When he gets there, nobody is prepared to
leave as Jason requested. He enters the station, and the sheriff tells him that
he will not help him find Quentin, because it was her own money she stole and
because Jason drove her away. Jason drives away toward Mottson, the town where
the traveling show will be next. He begins to get a headache and remembers that
he has forgotten to bring any camphor with him. By the time he gets to Mottson
he cannot see very well; he finds two Pullman cars that belong to the show and
he enters one. Inside is an old man, and he asks him where Quentin and her
boyfriend are. The man becomes angry and threatens him with a knife.
Jason hits him on the head and he slumps to
the floor. He runs from the car, and the old man comes out of the car with a
hatchet in his hand. They struggle, and Jason falls to the ground. Some show
people haul him to his feet and push him away. One of the men tells him that
Quentin and her boyfriend aren't there, that they have left town. Jason goes
back to his car and sits down, but he can't see to drive. He calls to some
passing boys, asking if they will drive him back to Jackson for two dollars;
they refuse. He sits a while longer in the car. A black man in overalls comes
up to him and says that he will drive him for four dollars, but Jason refuses,
then eventually acquiesces.
Back at the house,
Luster takes Benjy out to his "graveyard," which consists of two blue
glass bottles with jimson weeds sticking out of them. Luster hides one of the
bottles behind his back, and Benjy starts to howl; Luster puts it back. He
takes Benjy by the golf course and they watch the men playing. When one of them
yells "caddie," Benjy begins to cry again. Frustrated, Luster repeats
Caddy's name over and over, making him cry even louder. Dilsey calls them and
they go to her cabin. Dilsey rocks Benjy and strokes his hair, telling Luster
to go get his favorite slipper. When he begins to cry again, Dilsey asks Luster
where T. P. is (T. P. is supposed to take Benjy to the graveyard as he does
every Sunday). Luster tells her that he can drive the surrey instead of T. P.,
and she makes him promise to be good. They put Benjy into the surrey and hand
him a flower to hold, and Luster climbs into the driver's seat.
Dilsey takes the switch away from him and
tells him that the horse knows the way. As soon as they are out of sight of the
house, Luster stops the horse and picks a switch from the bushes along the
road, then climbs back into the driver's seat, carrying himself like royalty.
They approach the square and pass Jason in his car by the side of the road.
Luster, carried away in his pride, turns the horse to the left of the statue in
the square instead of to the right, breaking the pattern that Benjy is used to.
Benjy begins to howl. As his voice gets louder and louder, Jason comes running
and turns the horse around. When the objects they pass begin to go in the right
direction again, Benjy hushes.
Analysis of April
refer to this section of the novel as "Dilsey's section," although it
is narrated in the third person. Dilsey plays a prominent role in this section,
and even if she does not narrate this section, she serves a sort of moral lens
through which to view the other characters in the section and, in fact, in the
novel as a whole. The section contrasts Dilsey's slow, patient progress through
the day with Jason's irrational pursuit of Quentin and Mrs. Compson's
self-centered flightiness. As we watch Dilsey slowly climb up the stairs as
Mrs. Compson watches to tend to Benjy, only to discover halfway up that he
isn't even awake yet, we begin to sympathize with this wizened old woman. As we
see her tenderly wiping Benjy's mouth as he eats, we come to see her as the
only truly good person in the book. Even Caddy, the object of Benjy and Quentin's
obsessions, was not as selflessly kind or as reliable as Dilsey. Throughout the
course of the section, she is witness to any number of the Compson family's
flaws, yet she never judges them.
The only statement
she makes that resembles a judgement is her concern that Luster has inherited
the "Compson devilment." Instead she stands calmly in the midst of
the chaos of the disintegrating household, patiently bearing what she is dealt
"like cows do in the rain" (272). Unlike any of the Compson family, Dilsey
is capable of extending outside herself and her own needs. Each of the brothers
is selfish in his own way; Benjy because he cannot take care of himself and
relies on her to, Quentin because he is too wrapped up in his ideals, Jason
because of his greed and anger. Mrs. Compson is even worse,
passive-aggressively manipulating the members of the family as she lies in her
sickbed. And Miss Quentin is too troubled and lonely to sympathize with anyone
else. Dilsey, however, in her kindness, ungrudgingly takes care of each family
member with tenderness and respect.
selflessness, Dilsey conforms to the Christian ideal of goodness in
self-sacrifice; therefore it is not surprising that the section takes place on
Easter Sunday. This section of the novel resounds with biblical allusions and
symbols and revolves around the sermon delivered by Reverend Shegog at Dilsey's
church. The sermon profoundly affects Dilsey, who leaves the church in tears.
Perhaps this is because the sermon seems to describe perfectly the
disintegrating Compson family. Benjamin is the youngest son described as being
"sold into Egypt" in the Appendix to the novel; here Shegog lectures
on the Israelites who "passed away in Egypt" (295). Matthews notes
that Jason is a "wealthy pauper" (11), fitting Shegog's description:
"wus a rich man: whar he now, O breddren? Wus a po man: whar he now, O
sistuhn?" (295). He has embezzled thousands of dollars from his sister,
yet he lives like a poor man. Even Mrs. Compson, Matthews claims, is described
in Shegog's sermon: "I hears de weepin en de lamentation of de po mammy
widout de salvation en de word of God" (296). Matthews even suggests that
Quentin is implied in the voice of one congregation member that rises
"like bubbles rising in water" (11).
Much has been made
of the religious symbolism in this chapter. Aside from Shegog's sermon there is
Benjy's age: he is 33 years old, the age Christ was when he died. Like Christ,
or like a priest, he is celibate. And he seems to be one of the only "pure"
members of the family, incapable of doing anything evil merely because of his
handicaps. But he is not the only Christlike member of the family. Quentin, the
daughter of the woman whose brother wanted to remember her as both virginal and
motherly, has an unknown father, just as Christ, the son of the Virgin Mary,
had no earthly father.
Like Christ, Quentin suffers a misunderstood
and mistreated existence. But most compelling is the fact of her disappearance
on Easter Sunday. Just as the disciples found Christ's tomb empty, the
wrappings from his body discarded on the floor, Jason opens Quentin's room to
find it empty: "the bed had not been disturbed. On the floor lay a soiled
undergarment of cheap silk a little too pink, from a half open bureau drawer
dangled a silk stocking" (282). If Quentin is a Christ figure, however,
she seems to have a very un-Christlike effect on her family. Whereas the pure
and virginal Christ's disappearance signaled the end of death and the beginning
of new life in heaven, the promiscuous Quentin's disappearance signals the
destruction of her family.
Other elements of
the section seem more apocalyptic: there is Shegog's name, for instance, which
sounds much like the Gog and Magog mentioned in the Book of Revelation. There
is the story's preoccupation with the end of the Compson family: Jason is the
last of the Compsons, and he is childless, his house literally rotting away.
And finally there is Dilsey's comment that she has seen the first and the last,
the beginning and the end: although the meaning of this statement is unclear,
she seems to be discussing the end of the Compson family as well as her life,
and perhaps the end of the world. Dilsey has borne witness to the alpha and the
omega of the Compson family.
of this religious symbolism is particularly well-developed. It is impossible to
tell who, if anyone, is the Christ figure in this Easter story. It is
impossible to know what will happen to Quentin, or if the family will really
dissolve as Dilsey seems to think it will. Nor is it particularly clear why
Reverend Shegog's sermon has such an effect on Dilsey or what his actual
message is; he has seen the recollection and the blood of the Lamb, but why is
this important? What should the congregation do about it? What can they do in
order to see this themselves?
The problem with
this last section is that it doesn't satisfactorily bring the story of the
Compson family to a close. The reader is left with a glimpse of the family's
psychology and slow demise, but no real answers, no redemption. We don't know
what will happen to the family or its servants: will Jason send Benjy to
Jackson? Will Dilsey die? Will Quentin get away? John Matthews has pointed out
that the story doesn't really end but keeps repeating itself.
This is partially
due to its nature as a stream-of-consciousness narrative; none of the three
brothers' sections is purely chronological, therefore when the story ends their
memories continue on. Matthews claims that the fourth section does not
"[complete] the shape of the fiction's form" or "retrospectively
order" the rest of the book; in fact it does not have much to do with the
first two sections at all (9). The Compson clock ticks away toward the family's
imminent demise, but it chimes the wrong hours, mangling the metaphor. Reverend
Shegog's sermon does not have the intended effect, so he modifies it and tells
it again: it "succeeds because it is willing to say, and then say
again" (12). The story doesn't end; its loose ends are not tied together.
Instead it constantly repeats. Faulkner himself said that the novel grew
because he wrote the story of Caddy once (Benjy's section), and that didn't
work, so he wrote it again (Quentin's section), but that wasn't enough either,
so he wrote it again (Jason's section), and finally wrote it again (Dilsey's
section), and even this wasn't good enough. The story of Caddy and the Compsons
does not end, but repeats itself eternally in its characters' memories.
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