Study Guide

The Sound and the Fury Family

By William Faulkner


"He thirty three." Luster said. "Thirty three this morning."

"You mean, he been three years old thirty years." (1.180-81)

Benjy’s birthday comes to symbolize the ways that the Compson family is stuck in continual unhappiness. His birthdays pass each year – but he never develops mentally past the age of three.

"They aint no luck going be on no place where one of they own chillen's name aint never spoke." (1.382)

Although Benjy’s own name (Maury) isn’t spoken, the person Roskus is referring to here is Caddy. Two children have effectively been excised from the Compson family’s history.

I saw them. Then I saw Caddy, with flowers in her hair, and a long veil like shining wind. Caddy Caddy (1.503)

Benjy’s refrain, "Caddy Caddy" is the heart of the book. That fact that he’s able to get to the heart of his unhappiness and loneliness means that, in many ways, he’s more with it than either of his brothers.

His name's Benjy now, Caddy said.

How come it is, Dilsey said. He aint wore out the name he was born with yet, is he. (1.766-7)

Mrs. Compson decides to change Benjy’s name once it’s apparent that he’s mentally handicapped – she doesn’t want him to share her brother’s name. Dilsey’s comment offers us a perspective on how shallow Mrs. Compson’s sense of family is.

But I thought at first that I ought to miss having a lot of them around me because I thought that Northerners thought I did, but I didn't know that I really had missed Roskus and Dilsey and them until that morning in Virginia. (2.56)

The Gibsons (Dilsey and Roskus) could be said to play a larger role in the Compson children’s lives than even their own mother – a fact that Quentin, ironically, doesn’t figure out until he’s left the South to go to school. Northern stereotypes about racial relations allow him to understand his own real affection for Dilsey and Roskus.

My little sister had no. If I could say Mother. Mother (2.91)

Quentin can’t stand the fact that Caddy has a sex life – and he blames her sexuality on their mother. He’s right, but not in the way that he thinks. Caddy pushes against the strict morality that their mother tries to impose upon her children, and this contributes to her decision to hook up with Dalton Ames.

The first I knew was when you jumped up all of a sudden and said, "Did you ever have a sister? did you?" and when he said No, you hit him. I noticed you kept on looking at him, but you didn't seem to be paying any attention to what anybody was saying until you jumped up and asked him if he had any sisters. (2.881)

Quentin gets into a fight with Gerald Bland because he likes to talk about the ladies. Because so much of Quentin’s life revolves upon his relationship with his sister, he relates to all other women as if they were his – or somebody’s – sister.

"I know I'm just a trouble and a burden to you," she says, crying on the pillow.

"I ought to know it," I says. "You've been telling me that for thirty years. Even Ben ought to know it now." (3.12-13)

Jason, Mrs. Compson’s favorite child, is the only one willing to listen to her whining – and that’s because he uses it to feed his anger about, well, everything.

Then when she sent Quentin home for me to feed too I says I guess that's right too, instead of me having to go way up north for a job they sent the job down here to me and then Mother begun to cry and I says it's not that I have any objection to having it here; if it's any satisfaction to you I'll quit work and nurse it myself and let you and Dilsey keep the flour barrel full, or Ben. Rent him out to a sideshow; there must be folks somewhere that would pay a dime to see him […] (3.147)

Jason thinks of his family in economic terms – the amount of money that it costs to feed them, the amount he lost by not getting the job at the bank. The flour barrel becomes a symbol of how he measures his money – remember how he used to make (and sell) kites using flour as paste?

"You're not the one who has to bear it," Mrs Compson said. "It's not your responsibility. You can go away. You dont have to bear the brunt of it day in and day out. You owe nothing to them, to Mr Compson's memory. I know you have never had any tenderness for Jason. You've never tried to conceal it." (4.49)

Quentin comes to realize how important the Gibsons are to him as kin, but Mrs. Compson never does. After forty years, she still treats Dilsey as an outsider and a servant.