The Sound and the Fury

This section of the book is commonly referred to as "Benjy's section" because it is narrated by the retarded youngest

The Sound and the Fury

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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.

In her 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.

Nevertheless, none 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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