The oldest of the Compson children, Quentin feels an inordinate burden of responsibility to live up to the family’s past greatness and prestige. He is a very intelligent and sensitive young man, but is paralyzed by his obsession with Caddy and his preoccupation with a very traditional Southern code of conduct and morality. This Southern code defines order and chaos within Quentin’s world, and causes him to idealize nebulous, abstract concepts such as honor, virtue, and feminine purity. His strict belief in this code causes Quentin profound despair when he learns of Caddy’s promiscuity. Turning to Mr. Compson for guidance, Quentin feels even worse when he learns that his father does not care about the Southern code or the shame Caddy’s conduct has brought on the family. When Quentin finds that his sister and father have disregarded the code that gives order and meaning to his life, he is driven to despondency and eventually suicide.
Quentin’s Southern code also prevents him from being a man of action. The code preoccupies Quentin with blind devotion to abstract concepts that he is never able to act upon assertively or effectively. Quentin is full of vague ideas, such as the suicide pact with Caddy or the desire for revenge against Dalton Ames, but his ideas are always unspecific and inevitably end up either rejected by others or carried out ineffectively. Quentin’s focus on ideas over deeds makes him a highly unreliable narrator, as it is often difficult to tell which of the actions he describes have actually occurred and which are mere fantasy.