Benjy remarks several times throughout his section that Caddy smells like trees or leaves. Caddy is Benjy’s only mother figure and source of affection when he is young, and she provides the cornerstone of comfort and order in Benjy’s mind. Benjy has relied heavily on his sister, and her absence plunges him into chaos. In his earliest memories of Caddy, Benjy pleasantly associates her youthful innocence with the smell of the trees in which they used to play. When Caddy becomes sexually active, Benjy notices the change she has undergone. The troubling realization corrupts his sense of order. Caddy knows Benjy is upset and begins to avoid him. Benjy laments this new distance between himself and his sister by saying that Caddy suddenly does not smell like trees. Trees are a pleasant memory associated with the affection and repose that Caddy has brought to Benjy’s life, and when that order disappears, Benjy ceases to associate Caddy with that memory.
This quotation occurs several times toward the end of Quentin’s section. Quentin is reflecting on how little affection his mother gave him as a child. Consumed by self-absorption and insecurities about her family name, Mrs. Compson showed affection for only one of her children, Jason. Quentin and Caddy formed a close bond as neglected, unloved outsiders, and Quentin developed an inordinately strong attachment to his sister. This bond leads to Quentin’s despair over Caddy’s promiscuity, which ends with his suicide. The object of Quentin’s focus during the last hours of his life—his mother’s absence and neglect—shows how significant and damaging Mrs. Compson’s failure as a mother has been.
I wouldn’t lay my hand on her. The bitch that cost me a job, the one chance I ever had to get ahead, that killed my father and is shortening my mother’s life every day and made my name a laughing stock in the town. I wont do anything to her.
In this quotation, in the final section of the novel, Jason explains to the sheriff why he is chasing after Miss Quentin. Jason is characteristically sarcastic and demonstrates the self-pitying notion that he is a victim. He resents Caddy for divorcing Herbert Head and costing Jason the bank job Herbert had promised. Jason has spent much of his adult life in this way, resentful of others and cruel in return. Jason is furious that Miss Quentin has escaped with his money, and proceeds to blame her for all the family’s misfortune. He is stung by the knowledge that he has been dependent on Miss Quentin’s presence as a source of stolen money. Jason knows that he will never truly succeed because he never takes responsibility for his own failures. The irony here is that when Jason says he will not do anything to Miss Quentin, his words are really true: she is now beyond his grasp, which deepens his frustration.
Whoever God is, He would not permit that. I’m a lady. You might not believe that from my offspring, but I am.
Mrs. Compson says these words in the final chapter, upon learning that Miss Quentin has run away. She initially believes that Miss Quentin might have killed herself, but she dismisses the thought, believing that God would never allow her children to hurt her in such a way. This comment provides a great deal of insight into Mrs. Compson’s thought process. First, it demonstrates the depth of her self-absorption, as she implies that she interpreted her son Quentin’s suicide as an attempt to defy or hurt her. She still has no concept of the depth of despair that Quentin experienced, and she arrogantly assumes that his motivation for killing himself was merely to spite her. Additionally, Mrs. Compson seems to think that her aristocratic social status gives her special privileges in the eyes of God. Mrs. Compson displays this selfishness, obliviousness, and materialism throughout the novel. She has discarded and corrupted the values upon which her family was founded, yet still relies on ancestry to justify her position in the world. Mrs. Compson is obsessed with the concept of family—the greatness of her family history and name—but she shows no capacity to love or care for her children, the last hope she has for maintaining her legacy.
Dilsey says these words during the Easter church service in the final section of the novel, just after she learns that Miss Quentin has left. Dilsey’s comment reveals her insight into the Compson family tragedy and her ability to see it in the context of a greater cycle. Dilsey has been present since the beginning, when the Compson children were only babies, and she is still here at the end, the culmination of the family’s disintegration. In this sense, Dilsey represents a constant in the novel. She has maintained the pure Southern values of faith, love, and family that the Compsons have long abandoned. Dilsey endures the test of time, surviving because she has conviction and faith in her own vision of eternity that is completely free of worldliness or petty human concerns. Dilsey has no preoccupation with time because she has faith in a spiritual eternity, which enables her to see the tragedies of the Compson family with perspective and distance. Her acceptance of the passage of time makes her a calming and comforting presence. Dilsey accepts that she, like the Compson family, has a beginning and an end. She uses the time she is given to do as much good as she can, rather than wasting it on obsessions with the past.