The Sound and the Fury
by William Faulkner
If the Compson family is a leaky ship foundering at sea, then Dilsey is its anchor. OK, we’ve got to be honest: we’re not really sure how the whole nautical metaphor pans out. Anchors don’t really do much good when you’re adrift on the ocean. Then again, Dilsey can’t really do much to fix all of the craziness that occurs in the Compson family. Maybe we were right, after all. Like an anchor, however, she stays in one piece; the rest of the family falls to bits.
Dilsey is one of the black servants of the Compson family. She and her husband, Roskus, have lived on the Compson property for…oh, let’s just say years and years and years. Their children, Frony and T.P., grow up with the Compson kids. Their grandchild, Luster, drives that ill-fated carriage on the day Benjy loses it on the town square. In other words, they’re worked into the fabric of the Compson family life. Dilsey, in fact, seems to single-handedly raise each and every one of the Compson kids.
As the matriarchal head of the Gibson family, Dilsey heads up a household which both works with and for the Compsons. More importantly, perhaps, the Gibsons offer us readers a different model of a family: they’re apparently loving, dependable, and actually seem to enjoy hanging out with each other on the rare occasions that they’re not at Mrs. Compson’s beck and call.
Speaking of beck-ing and calling, Dilsey sure offers a different a model of authority that Mrs. Compson does. Mrs. Compson does a lot of wailing and moaning. Dilsey’s mostly silent and rather undemonstrative (unless, of course, we consider the time that she starts crying in church). She hums as she makes breakfast, but her motions are quiet, understated, and effective. Everything, in other words, that Mrs. Compson isn’t. In fact, Dilsey seems like a rather easy character to overlook – and not just because she’s a servant. Most characters do, in fact, seem to forget that she’s the reason that the Compson house doesn’t collapse around their shoulders. Dilsey just fades into the background.
When she’s in church, however, it’s a different story entirely. She’s found a form of peace in her own personal faith. Through that faith, she can find a perspective that allows her to say, "I've seed de first en de last," […] "I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin" (4.280-282). Unlike the other characters, in other words, Dilsey understands time. She’s not wallowing in her memories. Her timeline may be largely religious (she’s looking forward to redemption, not to death), but it’s a timeline. It moves forwards, not backwards. Maybe that’s why her section is narrated in a traditional third-person voice. Her sense of time is one that most other people can understand. And in this novel, that’s saying something.