Caddy smells like trees.
Note: Benjy, the narrator of the difficult first section of the novel, has no concept of time. He portrays all events in the present—April Seventh, 1928—regardless of when they actually occurred in his life. The events that actually take place on April Seventh are rather insignificant. Far more important are the memories evoked by Benjy’s experiences on that day. The summary below therefore includes not only the events that take place on April Seventh, but the past events that these cues from the present cause Benjy to recall.
On the day before Easter, 1928, a teenaged “Negro” boy named Luster is watching after Benjy, the severely retarded youngest son of the aristocratic Compson family of Jefferson, Mississippi. It is Benjy’s thirty-third birthday, and Dilsey, the Compsons’ cook and Luster’s grandmother, has baked him a cake. Luster takes Benjy around the Compson property to search for a quarter he has lost. Luster had intended to use the quarter to buy a ticket to the minstrel show in Jefferson that weekend.
Luster leads Benjy to a nearby golf course, hoping to earn back his lost quarter by fetching lost golf balls from the rough. The golf course lies on a stretch of what used to be the Compson pasture, which Mr. Compson sold to developers to pay for his son Quentin’s education at Harvard. When Benjy hears one of the golfers calling out to his caddie, he moans because the sound of the word “caddie” reminds him of his sister.
Luster helps Benjy climb through a fence. Benjy catches his clothes on a nail, which brings back a memory of a time when Caddy helped Benjy free himself from that same nail twenty-six years before. This event occurred around Christmas, 1902, when Benjy was seven years old. In this memory, Mrs. Compson and her brother, Uncle Maury, are arguing inside the Compson house. Uncle Maury lives off of the Compsons’ money and hospitality, and he is also having an affair with Mrs. Patterson, the Compsons’ next-door neighbor. Uncle Maury uses young Benjy and Caddy as messengers to deliver his love letters to Mrs. Patterson. Mrs. Compson worries that Benjy will get sick from the cold, but she seems more concerned about the prospect of Benjy’s sickness ruining her Christmas party than about his actual welfare. These memories of Caddy make Benjy moan again, which annoys Luster.
Returning to 1928, Benjy and Luster walk past the carriage house on the Compson property, which reminds Benjy of a time he saw the carriage house long ago during a trip to the family cemetery. In this memory, from approximately 1912 or 1913, Benjy and his mother are riding in the Compsons’ carriage to visit the graveyard where Quentin and Mr. Compson were laid to rest. Dilsey mentions that Jason should buy the family a new carriage, as the current one is getting old. Jason mentions that Uncle Maury has been asking for money from Mrs. Compson. Luster chides Benjy for his crying once again.
Luster leads Benjy through the Compsons’ barn. The barn swings Benjy’s memory back to a time in 1902 when he and Caddy were delivering one of Uncle Maury’s love letters to Mrs. Patterson. Benjy then thinks of a different time when he was delivering one of the letters by himself. In this memory, Mr. Patterson notices Benjy delivering the letter. Worried, Mrs. Patterson runs over, which scares Benjy. Mr. Patterson gets to Benjy first and intercepts the letter, learning of his wife’s affair.
Back in the present, Benjy and Luster walk down toward the “branch,” or stream, that runs through the Compson property. The branch causes Benjy to recall the day his grandmother, Damuddy, was buried in 1898. Benjy is only three years old at the time and his disability has not yet been discovered. In this memory, Quentin, Caddy, Jason, and Benjy are all playing together in the stream. The children’s black attendant, Versh, tells Caddy she will be whipped for getting her dress wet, so she takes the dress off. However, Caddy gets mud on her underclothes. Walking back to the house, Caddy and Quentin worry that Jason will tattle to their parents about Caddy’s wet clothes. The children see Roskus milking a cow in the barn, which shifts Benjy to a memory of Caddy’s wedding in 1910.