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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e for fear he will see Roskus's ghost like he did last night, waving his arms.

Analysis of April 7, 1928:

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 degenerative change.

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 the process.

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."

"It's not 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 crazy."

"You're a skizzard." Jason said. He began to cry.

"You're a knobnot." Caddy said. Jason cried. His hands were in his pockets.

"Jason going to be rich man." Versh said. "He holding his money all the time" (35-36).

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

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