Benjy narrates the first section of the novel. Due to his severe intellectual disability, he has no concept of time. This makes his narrative incoherent and frustrating at times because he cannot separate events in the past from those in the present. Benjy can only associate the images of his daily existence, such as the golf course and fencepost, with other occurrences of those images in the past. Benjy’s fusion of past and present explains why he still haunts the front yard waiting for Caddy to come home from school—he does not understand that Caddy has grown up, moved away, and will never return.
Benjy’s distorted perspective conveys Faulkner’s idea that the past lives on to haunt the present. Benjy’s condition allows Faulkner to introduce the Compsons’ struggle to reconcile their present with a past they cannot escape. This unique narrative voice provides an unbiased introduction to Quentin’s equally difficult section, in which Quentin struggles with his own distorted vision of a past that eventually overwhelms and destroys him.
Although the plot of
In many of his novels, Faulkner focuses on this ultimate decline of the Southern aristocracy since the Civil War. As the Compsons belong to this aristocracy,
Caddy is at the center of most of the problems plaguing the Compson children. Quentin is obsessed with her. Jason is vindictive toward her and jealous of her. Benjy is utterly reliant on her comforting presence. Indeed, despite her young age, Caddy serves as a central force that holds the disparate members of the family together. This loving, unifying presence becomes the root of Caddy’s and the Compsons’ demise. When Caddy’s husband discovers that she is pregnant by another man, he divorces her, setting off a chain of events that ultimately ruins the family. First, Jason loses the job Caddy’s husband had promised him. Jason resents Caddy so much that he blames Caddy and her illegitimate daughter for all of his own problems. His resentment builds into a hatred that haunts him relentlessly, undermining every other opportunity that arises.
Quentin’s obsession with Caddy drives him to suicide after she loses her virginity. Mr. Compson foresees the danger in Quentin’s obsession long before it pushes his son to suicide. He tries to calm Quentin by explaining that virginity is just a tradition and code of the old South, and that it ultimately only matters to men who take those traditions and codes too seriously. In a sense, Mr. Compson’s insight provides a refreshing alternative to the strict adherence to past traditions that the rest of the Compson family follows. Any hope, however, that Mr. Compson’s advice might lead to a turnaround in his son’s obsession vanishes with Quentin’s suicide, which devastates Mr. Compson and likely contributes to his death from alcoholism not long thereafter. The cold, selfish, compassionless Jason IV rises up to run the family, which eventually leads to the Compsons’ demise.
Take a Study Break
Every Shakespeare Play Summed Up in a Quote from The Office
Every Marvel Movie Summed Up in a Single Sentence
Macbeth As Told in a Series of Texts
QUIZ: Is This a Great Gatsby Quote or a Lorde Lyric?
QUIZ: Which Coming-of-Age Trope Will You Experience This Summer?
QUIZ: Are You a Hero, a Villain, or an Anti-Hero?
Pick 10 Books and We'll Guess Whether You're an Introvert or an Extrovert