The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner
Ever obsess about the one guy (or girl) that you just can’t have? Notice how that obsession takes up approximately 23.99999995 hours of your day? In an interesting way, Faulkner uses Caddy’s character to create this effect for us as readers. We see Quentin longing for Caddy. We see Benjy longing for Caddy. We see Jason thinking about Caddy, even when he wants to forget her forever. What we don’t see, of course, is Caddy herself. She’s the missing center of this novel. If Compson characters were Monopoly properties, she’d be Park Place. And we just never seem to draw her card.
What we’re left with, then, is something like a 1,000 piece puzzle missing the last piece. The picture almost makes sense – but you’re certain that it would look completely different if you could just find that piece! That’s our novel without Caddy. We hear so much about her. We just never actually get up close and personal with the wild, passionate, loving girl that captured the hearts of all of her family members. Interestingly, she captured Faulkner’s heart, too. When he talked about The Sound and the Fury later in his career, he called Caddy his "heart’s darling." She’s the image that generated his novel. And the sense of loss that we feel as readers – that nagging feeling that there must be something that could make this novel make sense – is what’s left in the wake of her absence. It’s what’s left by the end of the novel, as well. Mrs. Compson won’t even let Caddy’s name be spoken in her house, remember?
So, how do we talk about a character that pulls a major disappearing act? Well, here’s what we do know: she’s fearless as a child, braving the prospect of whipping in order to play in the creek. Of course, she also offers up a pretty good foreshadowing of her fate in this scene (play ominous foreshadowing music here). Declaring, "I’ll run away and never come back," Caddy threatens to do exactly what she wants whenever she wants to – and to hell with the consequences (1.212).
Of all the Compson children, Caddy and Benjy are the most comfortable in their bodies. Just as Benjy depends on bodily sensations to tell him about the world around him, Caddy depends upon the pleasures of her body (and her developing sense of desire) to lead her into a new world of experiences. Unfortunately, these experiences quickly become more than she can control. As she explains to Quentin: "There was something terrible in me sometimes at night I could see it grinning at me I could see it through them grinning at me through their faces it's gone now and I'm sick" (2.214).
Sexual desire becomes a reflection of her own consuming desires, not necessarily a desire for another person. Fascinated by Dalton Ames, Caddy starts a relationship with him and quickly becomes pregnant. Her pregnancy, the death knell of the family (if you ask Mrs. Compson, anyway), serves as the reason for a quick and unhappy marriage to a skeezy guy who works in a bank. Herbert Head even sounds like a tool. After her marriage, she effectively disappears from the novel. As we said, she’s persona non grata (totally unwelcome) at the House of Compson.
All that’s left, then, are Benjy’s memories of Caddy as the girl who "smelled like trees" and Quentin’s obsessive convictions that he can clear all of Caddy’s sins by convincing their father that they’ve committed incest. It’s not the most stellar legacy, we grant you. But then again, Faulkner never really lets her choose her own fate. Sure, we know he likes her a lot. But we never get to hear much of her side of the story. The one time that she does explain her sexual activity to Quentin, she does it through her body, by getting Quentin to feel her pulse when she hears the words "Dalton Ames." And let’s face it: that sort of communication is pretty hard to translate into a novel. After all, novels are about language, words. And Caddy isn’t always so good at using words. For a "heart’s darling," she sure gets the short end of the stick.