The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner
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April Eighth, 1928

Summary April Eighth, 1928

When Miss Quentin flees, the Compson name is definitively ruined. Caddy has been banished and neither of the remaining brothers is emotionally or mentally capable of passing the Compson name on to an heir. The storied, near-mythic past of the Compson family has disintegrated, with nothing remaining but a slobbering idiot and a bitter, wifeless, and now penniless farm-supply clerk. The Compsons are finished.

Miss Quentin’s successful escape emphasizes the impotence and failure of the Compson men, especially in relation to the Compson women. Mr. Compson sets this precedent, constantly bowing to his wife’s complaining and allowing her to pervert the family with her self-pitying and dependent nature. Likewise, we have seen that Benjy, Quentin, and Jason have all been dominated by Caddy in one way or another: Benjy cannot function without the sense of order Caddy provides him, Quentin cannot carry on with the knowledge of Caddy’s promiscuity, and Jason cannot get past the fact that Caddy’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy cost him a job. However, Caddy has never actively attempted to dominate her brothers. Each brother’s impotence comes from an internal weakness or a form of self-absorption: Benjy’s internal sense of order that relies entirely on Caddy, Quentin’s neurotic ideal of feminine purity, and Jason’s relentless self-pity. Caddy herself has never really done anything to harm her brothers directly.

Despite the Compsons’ weakness and downfall, one source of hope and stability remains to hold the family together—Dilsey’s simple, strong, protective presence. Dilsey adheres to the same traditional Southern values of religion and family upon which the original Compsons built their name. However, unlike the Compsons, Dilsey does not allow these values to be corrupted by self-absorption. When Dilsey arrives at the house to cook breakfast, she stays true to the task of setting the house in order despite constant interruption by the rest of the family. Unlike the rest of the family, she is not ashamed to bring Benjy to church with her. She loves Benjy as only Caddy has, and believes that God loves Benjy regardless of his lack of intelligence. Dilsey is not obsessed with the passage of time as Quentin is, and she is not overcome by the chaos of experience as the other Compsons are. Rather, she endures happiness and sadness with the same incorruptible will to carry on and sense of duty to protect those she loves. She looks on the Compson tragedy with sadness, but does not let it contaminate her own spirit. In her words, “I seed de beginning, en now I sees de ending.”

Dilsey’s words imply that the Compsons’ downfall is part of a larger cycle. Indeed, Dilsey has, in effect, resurrected the original values of the Compsons’ ancestors. The Compsons become carried away with the greatness of their own name, neglecting the strength of family in favor of self-absorption. Dilsey, on the other hand, is the antithesis of self-absorption. She maintains a strong spirit and a profound respect for an unpretentious, unadorned, yet powerful code of values. Dilsey is the redeemer of the Compson legacy, and provides an almost graceful landing after the resounding fall of the once-great household. In some respects, Dilsey’s new role represents a reversal of the traditional Southern order: a black servant, once considered the lowest position in Southern society, is now the only torchbearer for the name of a prestigious white family.

The novel closes where it started, with Benjy. For a brief moment, we return to the world of order and chaos that exists in Benjy’s mind. Benjy is almost unable to bear it when the carriage turns in an unexpected direction, as this deviation shatters his familiar, ordered routine. When Luster steers back onto the familiar route, Benjy becomes peaceful. Order prevails, and the elements of Benjy’s experience return to the places where he expects to find them. Faulkner implies a hope that the Compson name itself, under Dilsey’s guardianship, will likewise be set in order.