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Summary Of Sound And The Fury Essay, Research Paper
Summary of April Seventh, 1928:
This section of the book is commonly referred to as “Benjy’s section” because it is narrated by the retarded youngest son of the Compson family, Benjamin Compson. At this point in the story, Benjy is 33 years old – in fact, today is his birthday – but the story skips back and forth in time as various events trigger memories. When the reader first plunges into this narrative, the jumps in time are difficult to navigate or understand, although many scenes are marked by recurring images, sounds, or words. In addition, a sort of chronology can be established depending on who is Benjy’s caretaker: first Versh when Benjy is a child, then T. P. when he is an adolescent, then Luster when he is an adult. One other fact that may confuse first-time readers is the repetition of names. There are, for example, two Jasons (father and son), two Quentins (Benjy’s brother and Caddy’s daughter), and two Mauries (Benjy himself before 1900 and Benjy’s uncle). Benjy recalls three important events: the evening of his grandmother “Damuddy’s” death in 1898, his name change in 1900, and Caddy’s sexual promiscuity and wedding in 1910, although these events are punctuated by other memories, including the delivery of a letter to his uncle’s mistress in 1902 or 1903, Caddy’s wearing perfume in 1906, a sequence of events at the gate of the house in 1910 and 1911 that culminates in his castration, Quentin’s death in 1910, his father’s death and funeral in 1912, and Roskus’s death some time after this. I will summarize each event briefly.
The events of the present day (4/7/28) center around Luster’s search for a quarter he has lost somewhere on the property. He received this quarter from his grandmother Dilsey in order to go to the circus that evening. Luster takesBenjy with him as he searches by the golf course that used to be the Compson’s pasture, by the carriage house, down by the branch of the Yoknapatawpha River, and finally near Benjy’s “graveyard” of jimson flowers in a bottle.
As the story opens, Benjy and Luster are by the golf course, where the golfers’ cries of “caddie” cause Benjy to “beller” because he mistakes their cries for his missing sister Caddy’s name. In the branch, Luster finds a golfer’s ball, which he later tries to sell to the golfers; they accuse him of stealing it and take it from him. Luster tries to steer Benjy away from the swing, where Miss Quentin and her “beau” (one of the musicians from the circus) are sitting, but is unsuccessful. Quentin is furious and runs into the house, while her friend jokes with Luster and asks him who visits Quentin. Luster replies that there are too many male visitors to distinguish.
Luster takes Benjy past the fence, where Benjy sees schoolgirls passing with their satchels. Benjy moans whenever Luster tries to break from the routine path Benjy is used to. At Benjy’s “graveyard,” Luster disturbs the arrangement of flowers in the blue bottle, causing Benjy to cry. At this Luster becomes frustrated and says “beller. You want something to beller about. All right, then. Caddy. . . . Caddy. Beller now. Caddy” (55). Benjy’s crying summons Dilsey, Luster’s grandmother, who scolds him for making Benjy cry and for disturbing Quentin. They go in the kitchen, where Dilsey opens the oven door so Benjy can watch the fire. Dilsey has bought Benjy a birthday cake, and Luster blows out the candles, making Benjy cry again. Luster teases him by closing the oven door so that the fire “goes away.” he loves.
Luster takes Benjy to the library, where his cries disturb Jason, who comes to the door and yells at Luster. Luster asks Jason for a quarter. At dinner, Jason interrogates Quentin about the man she was with that afternoon and threatens to send Benjy to an asylum in Jackson. Quentin threatens to run away, and she and Jason fight. She runs out of the room. Benjy goes to the library, where Luster finds him and shows him that Quentin has given him a quarter. Luster dresses Benjy for bed; when Benjy’s pants are off he looks down and cries when he is reminded of his castration. Luster puts on his nightgown and the two of them watch as Quentin climbs out her window and down a tree. Luster puts Benjy to bed.
Benjy’s memories, in chronological order:
1. Damuddy’s death, 1898: Benjy is three years old and his name at this point is still Maury. Caddy is seven, Quentin is older (nine?) and Jason is between seven and three.
The four children are playing in the branch of the river. Roskus calls them to supper, but Caddy refuses to come. She squats down in the river and gets her dress wet; Versh tells her that her mother will whip her for that. Caddy asks Versh to help her take her dress off, and Quentin warns him not to. Caddy takes off her dress and Quentin hits her. The two of them fight in the branch and get muddy. Caddy says that she will run away, which makes Maury/Benjy cry; she immediately takes it back. Roskus asks Versh to bring the children to the house, and Versh puts Caddy’s dress back on her.
They head up to the house, but Quentin stays behind, throwing rocks into the river. The children notice that all the lights are on in the house and assume that their parents are having a party. Father tells the children to be quiet and to eat dinner in the kitchen; he won’t tell them why they have to be quiet. Caddy asks him to tell the other children to mind her for the evening, and he does. The children hear their mother crying, which makes Maury/Benjy cry. Quentin is also agitated by her crying, but Caddy reassures him that she is just singing. Jason too begins to cry.
The children go outside and down to the servants’ quarters, where Frony and T. P. (who are children at this point) have a jar of lightning bugs. Frony asks about the funeral, and Versh scolds her for mentioning it. The children discuss the only death they know – when their mare Nancy died and the buzzards “undressed her” in a ditch. Caddy asks T. P. to give Maury/Benjy his jar of lightning bugs to hold. The children go back up to the house and stop outside the parlor window. Caddy climbs up a tree to see in the window, and the children watch her muddy drawers as she climbs.
Dilsey comes out of the house and yells at them. Caddy tells the others that their parents were not doing anything inside, although she may be trying to protect them from the truth. The children go inside and upstairs. Father comes to help tuck them into bed in a strange room. Dilsey dresses them and tucks them in, and they go to sleep.
2. Benjy’s name change, 1900: Benjy is five years old, Caddy is nine, etc.
Benjy is sitting by the library fire and watching it. Dilsey and Caddy discuss Benjy’s new name; Dilsey wants to know why his parents have changed it, and Caddy replies that mother said Benjamin was a better name for him than Maury was. Dilsey says that “folks don’t have no luck, changing names” (58). Caddy brings Benjy to where her mother is lying in the bedroom with a cloth on her head, to say good night. Benjy can hear the clock ticking and the rain falling on the roof. Mother chides Caddy not to carry him because he is too heavy and will ruin her posture. She holds Benjy’s face in her hands and repeats “Benjamin” over and over. Benjy cries until Caddy holds his favorite cushion over his mother’s head. She leads him to the fire so that he can watch it. Father picks him up, and he watches the reflection of Caddy and Jason fighting in the library mirror. Father puts him down and breaks up Caddy and Jason, who are fighting because Jason cut up all of Benjy’s paper dolls. Father takes Jason to the room next door and spanks him. They all sit by the fire, and Benjy holds his cushion. Quentin comes and sits next to them. He has been in a fight at school and has a bruise. Father asks him about it. Versh sits next to them and tells them a story about a “bluegum” he knows who changed his name too. Father tells him to be quiet. Caddy and Versh feed Benjy his dinner, and the four children sit in father’s lap. Benjy says that Caddy and Quentin smell like trees and rain.
3. Versh, Caddy and Benjy go outside, December 23, 1902: Benjy is seven years old and Caddy is eleven.
Benjy is crying because he wants to go outside. Mother says it is too cold for him and he will freeze his hands. She says that if he won’t be quiet he will have to go to the kitchen. Versh replies that Dilsey wants him out of the kitchen because she has a lot of cooking to do, and Uncle Maury tells her to let him go outside. Versh puts on his coat and they go outside; Versh tells him to keep his hands in his pockets. Caddy comes through the gate, home from school. She takes his hands and they run through the fallen leaves into the house. Caddy puts him by the fire, and Versh starts to take his coat off, but Caddy asks if she can take him outside again. Versh puts on his overshoes again, and mother takes his face in her hands and calls him “my poor baby,” but Caddy kneels by him and tells him that he is not a poor baby at all because he has her. Benjy notices that she smells like trees.
4. Caddy and Benjy deliver Uncle Maury’s letter to Mrs. Patterson, December 25, 1902.
Caddy and Benjy cross the yard by the barn, where the servants are killing a pig for dinner. Caddy tells Benjy to keep his hands in his pockets and lets him hold the letter. She wonders why Uncle Maury did not send Versh with the letter. They cross the frozen branch and come to the Patterson’s fence. Caddy takes the letter and climbs the fence to deliver it. Mrs. Patterson comes out of the house.
5. Benjy delivers a letter to Mrs. Patterson alone, spring 1903: Benjy is eight years old.
Benjy is at the Patterson’s fence. Mr. Patterson is in the garden cutting flowers. Mrs. Patterson runs from the house to the fence, and Benjy cries when he sees her angry eyes. She says that she told Maury not to send Benjy alone again, and asks Benjy to give her the letter. Mr. Patterson comes running, climbs the fence and takes the letter. Benjy runs away.
6. Caddy wears perfume, 1906: Benjy is ten years old and Caddy is fourteen.
Caddy tries to hug Benjy but he cries and pushes her away. Jason says that he must not like her “prissy dress,” and says that she thinks she is all grown up just because she is fourteen. Caddy tries to hush Benjy, but he disturbs their mother, who calls them to her room. Mother tells Caddy to give Benjy his box full of cut-out stars. Caddy walks to the bathroom and washes the perfume off. Benjy goes to the door. Caddy opens the door and hugs him; she smells like trees again. They go into Caddy’s room and she sits at her mirror. Benjy starts to cry again. She gives him the bottle of perfume to smell and he runs away, crying. She realizes what made him cry and tells him she will never wear it again. They go to the kitchen, and Caddy tells Dilsey that the perfume is a present from Benjy to her. Dilsey takes the bottle , and Caddy says that “we don’t like perfume ourselves” (43).
7. Caddy in the swing, 1907?: Benjy is eleven or twelve and Caddy is fifteen or sixteen.
Benjy is out in the yard at night. T. P. calls for him through the window. He watches the swing, where there are “two now, then one in the swing” (47). Caddy comes running to him, asking how he got out. She calls for T. P. Benjy cries and pulls at her dress. Charlie, the boy she is with on the swing, comes over and asks where T. P. is. Benjy cries and she tells Charlie to go away. He goes, and she calls for T. P. again. Charlie comes back and puts his hands on Caddy. She tells him to stop, because Benjy can see, but he doesn’t. She says she has to take Benjy to the house. She takes his hand and they run to the house and up the porch steps. She hugs him, and they go inside. Charlie is calling her, but she goes to the kitchen sink and scrubs her mouth with soap. Benjy sees that she smells like trees again.
8. Benjy sleeps alone for the first time, 1908: Benjy is thirteen years old.
Dilsey tells Benjy that he is too old to sleep with anyone else, and that he will sleep in Uncle Maury’s room. Uncle Maury has a black eye and a swollen mouth, and Father says that he is going to shoot Mr. Patterson. Mother scolds him and father apologizes. He is drunk.
Dilsey puts Benjy to bed alone, but he cries, and Dilsey comes back . Then Caddy comes in and lies in the bed with him. She smells like trees. Dilsey says she will leave the light on in Caddy’s room so she can go back there after Benjy has fallen asleep.
9. Caddy loses her virginity, 1909: Benjy is fourteen years old and Caddy is eighteen.
Caddy walks quickly past the door where mother, father, and Benjy are. Mother calls her in, and she comes to the door. She glances at Benjy, then glances away. He begins to cry. He goes to her and pulls at her dress, crying. She is against the wall, and she starts to cry. He chases her up the stairs, crying. She stops with her back against the wall, crying, and looks at him with her hand on her mouth. Benjy pushes her into the bathroom.
10. Caddy’s wedding, 1910: Benjy is fifteen years old and Caddy is nineteen.
Benjy, Quentin, and T. P. are outside the barn, and T. P. has given Benjy some sarsaparilla to drink; they are both drunk. Quentin pushes T. P. into the pig trough. They fight, and T. P. pushes Benjy into the trough. Quentin beats T. P., who can’t stop laughing. He keeps saying “whooey!”. Versh comes and yells at T. P. Quentin gives Benjy some more sarsaparilla to drink, and he cries. T. P. takes him to the cellar, and then goes to a tree outside the parlor. T. P. drinks some more. He gets a box for Benjy to stand on so he can see into the parlor. Through the window, Benjy can see Caddy in her wedding veil, and he cries out, trying to call to her. T. P. tries to quiet him. Benjy falls down and hits his head on the box. T. P. drags him to the cellar to get more sarsaparilla, and they fall down the stairs into the cellar. They climb up the stairs and fall against the fence and the box. Benjy is crying loudly, and Caddy comes running. Quentin also comes and begins kicking T. P. Caddy hugs Benjy, but she doesn’t smell like trees any more, and Benjy begins to cry.
11. Benjy at the gate crying, 1910.
Benjy is in the house looking at the gate and crying, and T. P. tells him that no matter how hard he cries, Caddy is not coming back.
Later, Benjy stands at the gate crying, and watches some schoolgirls pass by with their satchels. Benjy howls at them, trying to speak, and they run by. Benjy runs along the inside of the fence next to them to the end of his yard. T. P. comes to get him and scolds him for scaring the girls.
12. Quentin’s death, 1910.
Benjy is lying in T. P.’s bed at the servants’ quarters, where T. P. is throwing sticks into a fire. Dilsey and Roskus discuss Quentin’s death without mentioning his name or Caddy’s name. Roskus talks about the curse on the family, saying “aint the sign of it laying right there on that bed. Aint the sign of it been here for folks to see fifteen years now” (29). Dilsey tells him to be quiet, but he continues, saying that there have been two signs now (Benjy’s retardation and Quentin’s death), and that there would be one more. Dilsey warns him not to mention Caddy’s name. He replies that “they aint no luck on this place” (29). Dilsey tucks Benjy into T. P.’s bed and pulls the covers up.
13. Benjy attacks a girl outside the gate and is castrated, 1911: Benjy is sixteen years old.
Benjy is standing at the gate crying, and the schoolgirls come by. They tell each other that he just runs along the inside of the fence and can’t catch them. He unlatches the gate and chases them, trying to talk to them. They scream and run away. He catches one girl and tries to talk to her, perhaps tries to rape her.
Later, father talks about how angry Mr. Burgess (her father) is, and wants to know how Benjy got outside the gate. Jason says that he bets father will have to send Benjy to the asylum in Jackson now, and father tells him to hush.
14. Mr. Compson’s death, 1912: Benjy is seventeen.
Benjy wakes up and T. P. brings him into the kitchen where Dilsey is singing. She stops singing when Benjy begins to cry. She tells T. P. to take him outside, and they go to the branch and down by the barn. Roskus is in the barn milking a cow, and he tells T. P. to finish milking for him because he can’t use his right hand any more. He says again that there is no luck on this place.
Later that day, Dilsey tells T. P. to take Benjy and the baby girl Quentin down to the servants’ quarters to play with Luster, who is still a child. Frony scolds Benjy for taking a toy away from Quentin, and brings them up to the barn. Roskus is watching T. P. milk a cow.
Later, T. P. and Benjy are down by the ditch where Nancy’s bones are. Benjy can smell father’s death. T. P. takes Benjy and Quentin to his house, where Roskus is sitting next to the fire. He says “that’s three, thank the Lawd . . . I told you two years ago. They aint no luck on this place” (31). He comments on the bad luck of never mentioning a child’s mother’s name and bringing up a child never to know its mother. Dilsey shushes him, asking him if he wants to make Benjy cry again. Dilsey puts him to bed in Luster’s bed, laying a piece of wood between him and Luster.
15. Mr. Compson’s funeral, 1912.
Benjy and T. P. wait at the corner of the house and watch Mr. Compson’s casket carried by. Benjy can see his father lying there through the glass in the casket.
16. Trip to the cemetery, 1912.
Benjy waits for his mother to get into the carriage. She comes out and asks where Roskus is. Dilsey says that he can’t move his arms today, so T. P. will drive them. Mother says she is afraid to let T. P. drive, but she gets in the carriage anyway. Mother says that maybe it would be for the best if she and Benjy were killed in an accident, and Dilsey tells her not to talk that way. Benjy begins to cry and Dilsey gives him a flower to hold. They begin to drive, and mother says she is afraid to leave the baby Quentin at home. She asks T. P. to turn the carriage around. He does, and it tips precariously but doesn’t topple. They return to the house, where Jason is standing outside with a pencil behind his ear. Mother tells him that they are going to the cemetery, and he asks her if that was all she came back to tell him. She says she would feel safer if he came, and he tells her that Father and Quentin won’t hurt her. This makes her cry, and Jason tells her to stop. Jason tells T. P. to drive, and they take off again.
17. Roskus’s death, later 1920s: Luster is old enough to take care of Benjy by now.
Dilsey is “moaning” at the servants’ quarters. Benjy begins to cry and the dog begins to howl, and Dilsey stops moaning. Frony tells Luster to take them down to the barn, but Luster says he won’t go down there for fear he will see Roskus’s ghost like he did last night, waving his arms.
Analysis of April 7, 1928:
The title of this novel comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act five, scene five, in Macbeth’s famous speech about the meaninglessness of life. He states that it is “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing.” One could argue that Benjy is the “idiot” referred to in this speech, for indeed his section seems, at first reading, to “signify nothing.” No one vignette in his narrative seems to be particularly important, much of it detailing the minutiae of his daily routine. His speech itself, the “bellering” with which me makes himself heard, does, in fact, “signify nothing,” since he is unable to express himself even when he wants to in a way other than howling. However, Benjy Compson is not merely an idiot, and his sectio n is much more meaningful than it first seems.
When discussing Mr. Compson’s death, Roskus states that Benjy “know a lot more than folks thinks” (31), and in fact, for all his idiocy, Benjy does sense when things are wrong with his self-contained world, especially when they concern his sister Caddy. Like an animal, Benjy can “smell” when Caddy has changed; when she wears perfume, he states that she no longer smells “like trees,” and the servants claim that he can smell death. He can also sense somehow when Caddy has lost her virginity; she has changed to him. From the time she loses her virginity on, she no longer smells like trees to him. Although his section at first presents itself as an objective snapshot of a retarded boy’s perceptions of the world, it is more ordered and more intelligent than that.
Most of the memories Benjy relates in his section have to do with Caddy, and specifically with moments of loss related to Caddy. The first memory of Damuddy’s death, for example, marks a change in his family structure and a change in his brother Jason, who was the closest to Damuddy and slept in her room. His many memories of Caddy are mostly concerned with her sexuality, a fact that changes her relationship with him and eventually removes her from his life. His later memories are also associated with some sort of loss: the loss of his pasture, of his father, and the loss associated with his castration. Critics have pointed out that Benjy’s narrative is “timeless,” that he cannot distinguish between present and past and therefore relives his memories as they occur to him. If this is the case, he is caught in a process of constantly regenerating his sister in memory and losing her simultaneously, of creating and losing at the same time. His life is a constant cycle of loss and degenerative change.
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