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If Benjy is trapped in a constantly replaying succession of losses, the objects that he fixates on seem to echo this state. He loves fire, for instance, and often stares into the “bright shapes” of the fire while the world revolves around him. The word “fire” is mentioned numerous times in the memory of his name change. Caddy and the servants know that he stops crying when he looks at the fire, which is the reason in the present day that Luster makes a fire in the library even though one is not needed. The fire is a symbolic object; it is conventionally associated with the contrast between light and dark, heat and cold. It is a comfort, not merely to Benjy because of the pleasure he receives in watching it, but because it is associated with the hearth, the center of the home. As critics have pointed out, it is often Caddy who places Benjy in front of the fire: “she led me to the fire and I looked at the bright, smooth shapes” (64). The fire is therefore tied in Benjy’s mind with the idea of Caddy; both are warm and comforting forces within a cold family. But unlike Caddy, the fire is unchanging; there will always be a fire, even after she leaves him. The fact that Benjy burns himself on the kitchen stove after Luster closes the oven door reveals the pain – both physical and mental – that Benjy associates with Caddy’s absence.
Another object that provides comfort to Benjy is the library mirror. Like the fire, the mirror plays a large part in the memory of his name change, as Benjy watches the various members of his family move in and out of the mirror: “Caddy and Jason were fighting in the mirror . . . . we could see Caddy fighting in the mirror and Father put me down and went into the mirror and fought too . . . . He rolled into the corner, out of the mirror. Father brought Caddy to the fire. They were all out of the mirror” (64-65). The mirror is a frame of reference through which Benjy sees the world; people are either in or out of the mirror, and he does not understand the concept of reflection. Like the mirror, Benjy’s section of the book provides readers with a similar exact reflection of the world that Benjy sees, framed by his memories. Characters slide in and out of the mirror of his perception, their conversations and actions accurately reported but somewhat distorted in the process.
As the “tale told by an idiot,” Benjy’s section makes up the center kernel of the story of the Compson family tragedy. And the scene of Damuddy’s death in many ways makes up the center around which this section and the entire story revolve. Faulkner has said that the story grew out of the image of a little girl’s muddy drawers as she climbs a tree to look into the parlor windows at the funeral taking place. From this image a story evolved, a story “without plot, of some children being sent away from the house during the grandmother’s funeral. There were too young to be told what was going on and they saw things only incidentally to the childish games they were playing” (Millgate, 96). This original story was entitled “Twilight,” and the story grew into a novel because Faulkner fell in love with the character of this little girl to such an extent that he strove to tell her story from four different viewpoints.
If this one scene is the center of the story, it is also a microcosm of the events to follow. The interactions of the children in this scene prefigure their relations in the future and in fact the entire future of the Compson family. Thus Caddy’s soaking her dress in the water of the branch is a metaphor for the sexual fall that will torment Quentin and ruin the family:
She was wet. We were playing in the branch and Caddy squatted down and got her dress wet and Versh said,
“Your mommer going to whip you for getting your dress wet.”
. . .
“It’s not wet.” Caddy said. She stood up in the water and looked at her dress. “I’ll take it off.” she said. “Then it’ll be dry.”
“I bet you won’t.” Quentin said.
“I bet I will.” Caddy said.
“I bet you better not.” Quentin said.
. . .
“You just take your dress off,” Quentin said. Caddy took her dress off and threw it on the bank. Then she didn’t have on anything but her bodice and drawers, and Quentin slapped her and she slipped and fell down in the water (17-18).
Caddy sullies her garments in an act that prefigures her later sexuality. She then takes off her dress, a further sexual metaphor, causing Quentin to become enraged and slap her. Just as the loss of her virginity upsets Quentin to the point of suicide, his angry and embarrassed reaction to taking off her dress here reveals the jealous protectiveness he feels for her sexuality. Benjy, too, is traumatized by the muddying of Caddy’s dress: “Caddy was all wet and muddy behind, and I started to cry and she came and squatted in the water” (19). Just as her sexuality will cause his world to crack later on, her muddy dress here causes him to cry.
Jason, too, is a miniature version of what he will become in this scene. While Caddy and Quentin fight in the branch, Jason stands “by himself further down the branch,” prefiguring the isolation from the rest of his family that will characterize his later existence (19). Although the other children ask him not to tell their father that they have been playing in the branch, the first thing he does when he sees father is tattle. He is as perverse and mean here as he is sadistic in the third section of the book. His reaction to Damuddy’s death, too, is a miniature for the way he will deal with the loss that he sees in Caddy’s betrayal of the family later on:
“Do you think the buzzards are going to undress Damuddy.” Caddy said. “You’re crazy.”
“You’re a skizzard.” Jason said. He began to cry.
“You’re a knobnot.” Caddy said. Jason cried. His hands were in his pockets.
“Jason going to be rich man.” Versh said. “He holding his money all the time” (35-36).
Here Jason cries over the loss of Damuddy with his hands in his pockets, “holding his money,” just as later he will sublimate his anger at Caddy’s absence by becoming a miserly workaholic and embezzling thousands of dollars from Quentin and his mother.
The scene ends with the image of Caddy’s muddy drawers as she climbs the tree: “We watched the muddy bottom of her drawers. Then we couldn’t see her. We could hear the tree thrashing . . . . the tree quit thrashing. We looked up into the still branches” (39). This image of Caddy’s muddy undergarments disappearing into the branches of the tree, the scene that prompted Faulkner to write the entire novel, is, as critic John T. Matthews points out, an image of Caddy disappearing, just as she will disappear from the lives of her three brothers:
What the novel has made, it has also lost . . . . [Caddy] is memorable precisely because she inhabits the memories of her brothers and the novel, and memory for Faulkner never transcends the sense of loss . . . . Caught in Faulkner’s mind as she climbs out of the book, Caddy is the figure that the novel is written to lose (Matthews, 2-3). Thus the seminal scene in this section of the story is that of the sullied Caddy, “climbing out of” Benjy’s life.
The scene of Damuddy’s death is not the only part of this section that forecasts the future. Like a Greek tragedy, this section is imbued with a sense of impending disaster, and in fact the events of the present day chronicle a family that has fallen into decay. For Benjy, the dissolution of the life he knows is wrapped up in Caddy and her sexuality, which eventually leads her to desert him. For his mother and the servants, the family’s demise is a fate that cannot be avoided, of which Benjy’s idiocy and Quentin’s death are signs. This is what prompts Roskus to repeatedly vow that “they aint no luck on this place,” and what causes mother to perform the almost ritualistic ablution of changing Benjy’s name. It is as if changing his name from Maury, the name of a Bascomb, will somehow avert the disastrous fate that the Compson blood seems to bring. This overwhelming sense of an inescapable family curse will resurface many times throughout the book.
Summary of June Second, 1910:
This section of the book details the events of the day of Quentin’s suicide, from the moment he wakes in the morning until he leaves his room that night, headed to the river to drown himself. Like Benjy’s section, this section is narrated in stream of consciousness, sliding constantly between modern-day events and memories; however, Quentin’s section is not as disjointed at Benjy’s, regardless of his agitated mental state. As with Benjy, most of the memories he relates are centered on Caddy and her precocious sexuality.
The present day:
Quentin wakes in his Harvard dorm room to the sound of his watch ticking: “when the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtain it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch” (76). This is the watch his father gave him when he came to Harvard. He tries to ignore the sound, but the more he tries, the louder it seems. He turns the watch over and returns to bed, but the ticking goes on. His roommate Shreve appears in the doorway and asks him if he is going to chapel, then runs out the door to avoid being late himself. Quentin watches his friends running to chapel out the window of his dorm room, then listens to the school’s bell chiming the hour (8:00 a.m.).
He goes to the dresser and picks up his watch, tapping it against the side of the dresser to break the glass. He twists the hands of the watch off, but the watch keeps ticking. He notices that he cut himself in the process and meticulously cleans his wound with iodine. He painstakingly packs up all his clothes except two suits, two pairs of shoes, and two hats, then locks his trunk and piles his schoolbooks on the sitting-room table, as the quarter-hour bell chimes.
He bathes and puts on a new suit and his (now broken) watch, puts his trunk key into an envelope addressed to his father, then writes two noes and seals them. He goes out the door, bumping into his returning roommate on the way, who asks him why he is all dressed up. The half-hour chimes and Quentin walks into Harvard Square, to the post office. He buys stamps and mails one letter to his father and keeps one for Shreve in his coat pocket. He is looking for his friend “the Deacon,” an eccentric black man who befriends all the Southern students at Harvard. He goes out to breakfast; while he is eating he hears the clock strike the hour (10:00 a.m.).
Quentin continues to walk around the square, trying to avoid looking at clocks, but finds it impossible to escape time like that. He eventually walks into a jeweler’s and asks him about fixing his watch. He asks if any of the watches in the window is right, and stops the jeweler before he can tell him what time it is. The jeweler says that he will fix his watch this afternoon, but Quentin takes it back and says he will get it fixed later. Walking back out into the street, he buys two six-pound flat-irons; he chooses them because they are “heavy enough” but will look like a pair of shoes when they are wrapped up and he is carrying them around the Square (85).
He takes a fruitless cable car ride, then gets off the car on a bridge, where he watches one of his friends rowing on the river. He walks back to the Square as the bell chimes the quarter hour (11:15), and he meets up with the Deacon and gives him the letter he has written to Shreve, asking him to deliver it tomorrow. He tells the Deacon that when he delivers the letter tomorrow Shreve will have a present for him. As the bell chimes the half-hour, he runs into Shreve, who tells him a letter arrived for him this morning. Then he gets on another car as the bells chime 11:45.
When he gets off the car he is near a run-down town on the Charles River, and he walks along the river until he comes across three boys fishing on a bridge over the river; he hides the flat irons under the edge of the bridge before striking up a conversation with the boys. They notice that he has a strange accent and ask if he is from Canada; he asks them if there are any factories in town (factories would have hourly whistles). He walks on toward the town, although he is anxious to keep far enough away from the church steeple’s clock to render its face unreadable. Finally he arrives in town and walks into a bakery; there is nobody behind the counter, but there is a little Italian immigrant girl standing before it. A woman enters behind the counter and Quentin buys two buns. He tells the proprietress that the little girl would like something too; the proprietress eyes the girl suspiciously and accuses her of stealing something. Quentin defends her and she extends her hand to reveal a nickel. The woman wraps up a five-cent loaf of bread for the girl, and Quentin puts some money on the counter and buys another bun as well. The woman asks him if he is going to give the bun to the girl, and he says he is. Still acting exasperated, she goes into a back room and comes out with a misshapen cake; she gives it to the girl, telling her it won’t taste any different than a good cake. The girl follows Quentin out of the store, and he takes her to a drugstore and buys her some ice cream. They leave the drugstore and he gives her one of the buns and says goodbye, but she continues to follow him. Not knowing exactly what to do, he walks with her toward the immigrant neighborhood across the train tracks where he assumes she lives. She will not talk to him or indicate where she lives. He asks some men in front of a store if they know her, and they do, but they don’t know where she lives either. They tell him to take her to the town marshal’s office, but when he does the marshal isn’t there. Quentin decides to take her down to her neighborhood and hopefully someone will claim her. At one point she seems to tell him that a certain house is hers, but the woman inside doesn’t know her. They continue to walk through the neighborhood until they come out on the other side, by the river. Quentin gives a coin to the girl, then runs away from her along the river. He walks along the river for a while, then suddenly meets up with the little girl again. They walk along together for a while, still looking for her house; eventually they turn back and walk toward town again. They come across some boys swimming, and the boys throw water at them. The hurry toward town, but the girl still won’t tell him where she lives. Suddenly a man flies at them and attacks Quentin; he is the little girl’s brother. He has the town marshal with him, and they take him into town to talk to the police because they think he was trying to kidnap the girl. In town they meet up with Shreve, Spoade and Gerald, Quentin’s friends, who have come into town in Gerald’s mother’s car. Eventually after discussing everything at length, the marshal lets Quentin go, and he gets into the car with his friends and drives away.
As they drive Quentin slides into a kind of trance wherein he remembers various events from his past, mostly to do with her precocious sexuality (to be discussed later). While his is lost in this reverie the boys and Gerald’s mother have gotten out of the car and set up a picnic. Suddenly he comes to, bleeding, and the boys tell him that he just suddenly began punching Gerald and Gerald beat him up. They tell him that he began shouting “did you ever have a sister? Did you?” then attacked Gerald out of the blue. Quentin is more concerned about the state of his clothes than anything else. His friends want to take the cable car back to Boston without Gerald, but Quentin tells them he doesn’t want to go back. They ask him what he plans to do (perhaps they suspect something about his suicidal plans). They go back to the party, and Quentin walks slowly toward the city as the twilight descends.
Eventually Quentin gets on a cable car. Although it is dark by now, he can smell the water of the river as they pass by it. As they pass the Harvard Square post office again, he hears the clock chiming but has no idea what time it is. He plans to return to the bridge where he left his flatirons, but he has to wash his clothes first in order to carry out his plans correctly. He returns to his dorm room and takes off his clothes, meticulously washing the blood off his vest with gasoline. The bell chimes the half-hour as he does so. Back in his darkened room, he looks out the window for a while, then as the last chime of the three-quarters hour sounds, he puts his clothes and vest back on. He walks into Shreve’s room and puts a letter and his watch in the desk drawer. He remembers that he hasn’t brushed his teeth, so he goes back into his room and takes the toothbrush out of his bag. He brushes his teeth and returns the brush to the bag, then goes to the door. He returns for his hat, then leaves the room.
Quentin’s memories are not as clearly defined or as chronologically discernible as Benjy’s. There are three important memories that obsess him.
1. Benjy’s name change, 1900: Dilsey claims that Benjy can “smell what you tell him;” Roskus asks if he can smell bad luck, sure that the only reason they changed his name is to try to help his luck.
2. Quentin kisses Natalie, undated: Natalie, a neighbor girl, and Quentin are in the barn and it is raining outside. Natalie is hurt; Caddy pushed her down the ladder and ran off. Quentin asks her where it hurts and says that he bets he can lift her up. [a skip in time] Natalie tells him that something [probably kissing] is “like dancing sitting down” (135); Quentin asks her how he should hold her to dance, placing his arms around her, and she moans. Quentin looks up to see Caddy in the door watching them. Quentin tells her that he and Natalie were just dancing sitting down; she ignores him. She and Natalie fight about the events that led to Natalie being pushed off the ladder and whose fault it was; Caddy claims that she was “just brushing the trash off the back of your dress” (136). Natalie leaves and Quentin jumps into the mud of the pigpen, muddying himself up to his waist. Caddy ignores him and stands with her back to him. He comes around in front of her and tells her that he was just hugging Natalie. She turns her back and continues to ignore him, saying she doesn’t give a damn what he was doing. Shouting “I’ll make you give a damn,” he smears mud on her dress as she slaps him. They tumble, fighting, on the grass, then sit up and realize how dirty they are. They head to the branch to wash the mud off themselves.
3. Caddy kisses a boy (1906): Quentin slaps Caddy and demands to know why she let the boy kiss her. With the red print of his hand rising on her cheek, she replies that she didn’t let him, she made him. Quentin tells her that it is not for kissing that he slapped her, but for kissing a “darn town squirt” (134). He rubs her face in the grass until she says “calf rope.” She shouts that at least she didn’t kiss a “dirty girl like Natalie anyway” (134).
4. Caddy has sex with Dalton Ames, 1909: Caddy stands in the doorway, and someone [Quentin?] asks her why she won’t bring Dalton Ames into the house. Mother replies that she “must do things for women’s reasons” (92). Caddy will not look at Quentin. Benjy bellows and pulls at her dress and she shrinks against the wall, and he pushes her out of the room. Sitting on the porch, Quentin hears her door slamming and Benjy still howling. She runs out of the house and Quentin follows her; he finds her lying in the branch. He threatens to tell Father that he committed incest with her; she replies with pity. He tells her that he is stronger than she is, he will make her tell him. He adds that he fooled her; all the time she thought it was her boyfriends and it was Quentin instead. The smell of honeysuckle is all around them. She asks him if Benjy is still crying. He asks her if she loves Dalton Ames; she places his hand on her chest and he feels her heart beating there. He asks her if he made her do it, saying “Ill kill him I swear I will father neednt know until afterward and then you and I nobody need ever know we can take my school money we can cancel my matriculation Caddy you hate him dont you” (151). She moves his hand to her throat, where the blood is “hammering,” and says “poor Quentin” (151). A moment later she says “yes I hate him I would die for him Ive already died for him I die for him over and over again” (151). She looks at him and then says “you’ve never done that have you,” to which Quentin responds “yes yes lots of times with lots of girls,” but he is lying, and Caddy knows it; he cries on her shirt and they lie together in the branch (151). He holds a knife to her throat, telling her that he can kill her quickly and painlessly and then kill himself. She agrees and he asks her to close her eyes, but she doesn’t, looking past his head at the sky. He begins to cry; he cannot do it. She holds his head to her breast and he drops the knife. She stands up and tells him that she has to go, and Quentin searches in the water for his knife. The two walk together past the ditch where Nancy’s bones were, then she turns and tells him to stop [she is headed to meet Dalton Ames]. He replies that he is stronger than she is; she tells him to go back to the house. But he continues to follow her. Just past the fence, Dalton Ames is waiting for her, and she introduces them and kisses Dalton. Quentin tells them that he is going to take a walk in the woods, and she asks him to wait for her at the branch, that she will be there soon. He walks aimlessly, trying to escape the smell of honeysuckle that chokes him, and lies on the bank of the branch. Presently Caddy appears and tells him to go home. He shakes her; she is limp in his hands and does not look at him. They walk together to the house, and at the steps he asks her again if she loves Dalton Ames. She tells him that she doesn’t know. She tells him that she is “bad anyway you cant help it” (158).
5. Quentin fights with Dalton Ames, 1909: Quentin sees Dalton Ames go into a barbershop in town and waits for him to come out. He tells him “Ive been looking for you two or three days” and Dalton replies that he can’t talk to him there on the street; the two arrange to meet at the bridge over the creek at one o’clock (158). Dalton is very polite to Quentin. Later, Caddy overhears Quentin telling T. P. to saddle his horse and asks him where he is going. He will not tell her and calls her a whore. He tells T. P. that he won’t need his horse after all and walks to the bridge. Dalton is waiting for him there. Quentin tells him to leave town. Dalton stares at him and asks if Caddy sent him. Quentin tells him that he, and only he, is asking Dalton to leave town. Dalton dismisses this, just wishing to know if Caddy is all right. Quentin continues to order him to leave, and Dalton counters with “what will you do if I dont leave” (160). In response Dalton slowly and deliberately smokes a cigarette, leaning on the bridge railing. He tells Quentin to stop taking it so hard, that if he hadn’t gotten Caddy pregnant some other guy would have. Shaking, Quentin asks him if he ever had a sister, and he replies “no but theyre all bitches” (160). Quentin hits him, but Dalton catches him by both wrists and reaches under his coat for a gun, then turns him loose. Dropping a piece of bark into the creek, Dalton shoots at it and hands the gun to Quentin. Quentin punches at him and he holds his wrists again, and Quentin passes out. He asks Quentin how he feels and if he can make it home all right. He tells him that he’d better not walk and offers him his horse. Quentin brushes him off and eventually he rides off. Quentin slumps against a tree. He hears hoofbeats and Caddy comes running. She thought that Dalton shot him. She holds his face with her hands and Quentin grabs her wrists. She begs him to let her go so she can run after Dalton, then suddenly stops struggling. Quentin asks her if she loves him. Again she places his hand on her throat, and tells him to say his name. Quentin says “Dalton Ames,” and each time he does he can feel the blood surging in her throat.
6. Quentin meets Herbert Head before Caddy’s wedding, 1910: Herbert finds Quentin alone in the parlor and attempts to get to know him better. He is smoking a cigar and offers one to Quentin. Herbert tells him that Caddy talked so much about him when they met that he thought she was talking about a husband or boyfriend, not a brother. He asks Quentin about Harvard, reminiscing about his own college days, and Quentin accuses him of cheating [he has heard rumors about Herbert's cheating at cards ]. Herbert jokingly banters back that Quentin is “better than a play you must have made the Dramat” (108). He tells Quentin that he likes him and that he is glad they are going to be friends. He offers to give him a hand and get him started in business, but Quentin rejects his offer and challenges him. They begin to fight but stop when Herbert sees that his cigar butt has almost burned a spot into the mantel. He backs off and again offers Quentin his friendship and offers him some money, which Quentin rejects. They are just beginning to fight again when Caddy enters and asks Herbert to leave so she can talk to Quentin alone. Alone, she asks Quentin what he is doing and warns him not to get involved in her life again. He notices that she is feverish, and she tells him that she is sick. He asks her what she means and she tells him she is just sick and begs him not to tell anyone. Again he asks her what she means and tells her that if she is sick she shouldn’t go through with the ceremony. She replies that she can and must and that “after that it’ll be all right it wont matter” and begs him to look after Benjy and make sure that they don’t send him to an asylum (112). Quentin promises.
7. Caddy’s wedding, 1910: Benjy is howling outside, and Caddy runs out the door to him, “right out of the mirror” (77).
8. Mother speaks, undated: Mother tells Father that she wants to go away and take only Jason , because he is the only child who loves her, the only child who is truly a Bascomb, not a Compson. She says that the other three children are her “punishment for putting aside [her] pride and marrying a man who held himself above [her]” (104). These three are “not [her] flesh and blood” and she is actually afraid of them, that they are the symbols of a curse upon her and the family. She views Caddy not merely as damaging the family name with her promiscuity but actually “corrupting” the other children (104).
9. Quentin’s conversations with Father, undated (a string of separate conversations on the same theme): Quentin tells his father that he committed incest with Caddy; his father does not believe him. Father takes a practical, logical, if unemotional view of Caddy’s sexuality, telling Quentin that women have “a practical fertility of suspicion . . . [and] an affinity for evil,” that he should not take her promiscuity to heart because it was inevitable (96). When Quentin tells him that he would like to have been born a eunuch so that he never had to think about sex, he responds “it’s because you are a virgin: dont you see? Women are never virgins. Purity is a negative state and therefore contrary to nature. It’s nature is hurting you not Caddy.” Quentin replies “that’s just words” and father counters “so is virginity” (116). Quentin insists that he has committed incest with Caddy and that he wants to die, but still Father won’t believe him. Father tells him that he is merely “blind to what is in yourself to that part of general truth the sequence of natural events and their causes which shadows every mans brow even benjys . . . you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this” (177). He claims that not even Caddy was really “quite worth despair,” that Quentin will grow out of the pain he feels at her betrayal of his ideal (178).
Analysis of June Second, 1910:
From the very first sentence of the section, Quentin is obsessed with time; words associated with time like “watch,” “clock,” “chime,” and “hour” occur on almost every page. When Quentin wakes he is “in time again, hearing the watch,” and the rest of the day represents an attempt to escape time, to get “out of time” (76). His first action when he wakes is to break the hands off his watch in an attempt to stop time, to escape the “reducto absurdum of all human experience” which is the gradual progression toward death (76). Perversely taking literally his father’s statement that “time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life,” he tears the hands off his watch, only to find that it continues to tick even without the hands (85). Throughout this section, Quentin tries to escape time in similar ways; he tries to avoid looking at clocks, he tries to travel away from the sound of school chimes or factory whistles. By the end of the section he has succeeded in escaping knowledge of the time (when he returns to school he hears the bell ringing and has no idea what hour it is chiming off), but he still has not taken himself out of time. In the end, as he knows throughout this section, the only way to escape time is to die.
Jean-Paul Sartre, in his analysis of this novel, sees Quentin’s suicide as not merely a way of escaping time but of exploding time. His suicide is present in all the actions of the day, not so much a fate he could dream of escaping as “an immobile wall, a thing which he approaches backward, and which he neither wants to nor can conceive” (Sartre, 91). It is not a future but a part of the present, the point from which the story is told. Quentin narrates the day’s events in the past tense, as if they have already happened; the “present” from which he looks back at the day’s events must be the moment of his death. As Sartre puts it:
Since the hero’s last thoughts coincide approximately with the bursting of his memory and its annihilation, who is remembering? . . . . [Faulkner] has chosen the infinitesimal instant of death. Thus when Quentin’s memory begins to unravel its recollections (”Through the wall I heard Shreve’s bed-springs and then his slippers on the floor hishing. I got up . . . “) he is already dead (92).
In other words, time explodes at the instant of Quentin’s suicide, and the events of this “infinitesimal instant” are recorded in this section. By killing himself, Quentin has found the only way to access time that is “alive” in the sense that his father details , time that has escaped the clicking of little wheels.
But why does Quentin want to escape time? The answer lies in one of the conversations with his father that are recorded in this section. When Quentin claims that he committed incest with Caddy, his father refuses to believe him and says:
You cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this . . . it is hard believing to think that a love or a sorrow is a bond purchased without design and which matures willynilly and is recalled without warning . . . no you will not do that until you come to believe that even she was not quite worth despair perhaps (177-178).
Quentin’s response to this statement is “i will never do that nobody knows what i know.” His attempt to stop the progression of time is an attempt to preserve the rawness of the pain Caddy’s promiscuity and marriage have caused him; he never wants to think of her as “not quite worth despair.”
Like Benjy, Quentin is obsessed with an absent Caddy, and both brothers’ sections are ordered around memories of her, specifically of her promiscuity. For both brothers, her absence is linked to her promiscuity, but for Quentin her promiscuity signals not merely her loss from his life but also the loss of the romantically idealized idea of life he has built for himself. This ideal life has at its center a valuation of purity and cleanness and a rejection of sexuality; Quentin sees his own developing sexuality as well as his sister’s as sinful. The loss of her virginity is the painful center of a spiral of loss as his illusions are shattered. Critics have read Quentin’s obsession with Caddy’s virginity as an antebellum-style preoccupation with family honor, but in fact family honor is hardly ever mentioned in this section. The pain that Caddy’s promiscuity causes Quentin seems too raw, too intense, too visceral to be merely a disappointment at the staining family honor. And perhaps most importantly, Quentin’s response to her promiscuity, namely telling his father that he and she committed incest, is not the act of a person concerned with family honor. Rather it is the act of a boy so in love with his sister and so obsessed with maintaining the closeness of their relationship that he would rather be condemned by the town and suffer in hell than let her go. He is, in fact, obsessed with her purity and virginity, but not to maintain appearances in the town; he wants her forever to remain the unstained, saintly mother/sister he imagines her to be.
Quentin did not, of course, commit incest with Caddy. And yet the encounters he remembers are fraught with sexual overtones. When Caddy walks in on Quentin and Natalie kissing in the barn, for instance, Quentin throws himself into the “stinking” mud of the pigpen. When this fails to get a response from Caddy, he wipes mud on her:
You dont you dont I’ll make you I’ll make you give a damn. She hit my hands away I smeared mud on her with the other hand I couldnt feel the wet smacking of her hand I wiped mud from my legs smeared it on her wet hard turning body hearing her fingers going into my face but I couldnt feel it even when the rain began to taste sweet on my lips (137).
Echoing the mud-stained drawers that symbolize her later sexuality, Quentin smears mud on Caddy’s body in a heated exchange, feeling as he does so her “wet hard turning body.” The mud is both Quentin’s penance for his sexual experimentation with Natalie and the sign of sexuality between Quentin and Caddy.
The scene in the branch of the river is similarly sexual in nature. Quentin finds Caddy at the branch trying to wash away the guilt she finds; amid the “suck[ing] and gurgl[ing]” waves of the water. When he asks her if she loves Dalton Ames, she places his hand on her chest and he feels her heart “thudding” (150). He smells honeysuckle “on her face and throat like paint her blood pounded against my hand I was leaning on my other arm it began to jerk and jump and I had to pant to get any air at all out of that thick gray honeysuckle;” and he lies “crying against her damp blouse” (150). Taking out a knife, he holds it against her throat and tells her “it wont take but a second Ill try not to hurt.” She replies “no like this you have to push it harder,” and he says “touch your hand to it” (151). In this scene we have the repetitive surging both of the water and of Caddy’s blood beneath Quentin’s hand. We have the two siblings lying on top of one another at the edge of this surging water, the pungent smell of honeysuckle (which Quentin associates with sex throughout the section) so thick around them that Quentin has trouble breathing. We have a knife (a common phallic symbol) which Quentin proposes to push into Caddy’s blood-flushed neck, promising he will “try not to hurt.” Overall, the scene overflows with sexual metaphors; if the two do not actually commit incest, they certainly do share a number of emotionally powerful, sexually loaded moments.
Quentin’s wish to have committed incest is not a desire to have sex with Caddy; that would shatter his ideals of purity even more than her encounters with Dalton Ames. Nor is it, as we have determined, a way to preserve the family honor. Instead, it seems to be a way to keep Caddy to himself forever: “if it could just be a hell beyond that: the clean flame the two of us more than dead. Then you will have only me then only me then the two of us amid the pointing and the horror beyond the clean flame” (116). Separated from the rest of the world by the “clean” purifying flames of hell, Quentin and Caddy could be alone together, forever burning away the sin of her sexuality. He would rather implicate himself in something as horrible as incest than leave Caddy to her promiscuity or lose her through her marriage to Herbert Head.
If time-words are the most frequently occurring words in this section, the second most frequent is the word “shadow.” Throughout his journeys, Quentin is just as obsessed with his shadow as he is with time. For example, he walks on his shadow as he wanders through Cambridge: “trampling my shadow’s bones . . . . I walked upon the belly of my shadow” (96). When asked what the significance of shadows was in this section, Faulkner replied “that shadow that stayed on his mind so much was foreknowledge of his own death, that he was – Death is here, shall I step into it or shall I step away from it a little longer? I won’t escape it, but shall I accept it now or shall I put it off until next Friday” (Minter, qtd. in Martin, 6). This explanation certainly seems to fit some of Quentin’s thoughts; for example, at one point, he imagines drowning his shadow in the water of the river, just as he will later drown himself: “my shadow leaning flat upon the water, so easily had I tricked it . . . . if I only had something to blot it into the water, holding it until it was drowned, the shadow of the package like two shoes wrapped up lying on the water. Niggers say a drowned man’s shadow was watching for him in the water all the time” (90). Here Quentin imagines his drowned shadow beckoning him from the river, drowned before him and waiting for him to follow suit.
Like his shadow mirroring his motions and emotions, certain aspects of his day’s travels mirror his life and the troubled state of his mind. Most obvious among these is his encounter with the Italian girl he calls “sister” and the reaction of her brother Julio. Calling this little girl “little sister” or “sister” ironically recalls Caddy, whom Quentin at one point calls “Little Sister Death.” But whereas his suicidal mission is caused by the fact that he cannot hold on to Caddy, here he cannot get rid of this “little sister,” who follows him around the town and will not leave him. Then when Julio finds them, he accuses Quentin stealing her, just as Quentin feels Dalton Ames and Herbert Head have stolen Caddy from him.
Julio is not the only character to mirror Quentin, though. As Edmond Volpe points out, Dalton Ames himself is a foil for Quentin, the embodiment of the romantic ideal he has cast for himself:
Quentin’s meeting with Dalton is a disaster. His conception of himself in the traditional role of protector of women collapses, not only because he fails to accomplish his purpose [of beating Dalton up] but because he is forced to recognize his own weakness. Dalton is actually a reflection of Quentin’s vision of himself: calm, courageous, strong, kind. The real Quentin does not measure up to the ideal Quentin, just as reality does not measure up to Quentin’s romantic vision of what life should be (113).
Quentin is in actuality the “obverse reflection” of himself, a man who does not live up to his own ideals, who fails to protect his sister from a villain who turns out to be as chivalrous and Quentin is weak.
Thus at the “infinitesimal instant” of his death, Quentin is a man whose disillusionment with his shattered ideals consumes him. His death, one of the “signs” Roskus sees of the bad luck of the Compson family, is one step in the gradual dissolution of the family, a degeneration that will pick up speed in the sections to come.
Summary of April Sixth, 1928:
Beginning with the statement “once a bitch always a bitch,” this section reads as if Jason is telling the reader the story of his day; it is more chronological and less choppy than Quentin’s or Benjy’s sections, but still unconventional in tone. Jason and his mother in her room waiting for Quentin to finish putting on her makeup and go down to breakfast. Mother is concerned that Quentin often skips school and asks Jason to take care of it. Both Jason and his mother are manipulative and passive-aggressive, mother complaining about the ailments she suffers and the way her children betrayed her, Jason countering with statements like “I never had time to go to Harvard or drink myself into the ground. I had to work. But of course if you want me to follow her around and see what she does, I can quit the store and get a job where I can work at night” (181). Jason goes down to the kitchen, where Quentin is begging Dilsey for another cup of coffee. Dilsey tells her she will be late for school, and Jason says he will fix that, grabbing her by the arm. Her bathrobe comes unfastened and she pulls it closed around her. He begins to take off his belt, but Dilsey stops him from hitting her. Mother comes in, and Jason puts down the belt. Quentin runs out of the house. In the car on the way to town, Quentin and Jason fight about who paid for her schoolbooks – Caddy or Jason. Jason claims that Mother has been burning all of the checks Caddy sends. Quentin tells Jason that she would tear off any dress that he paid for and grabs the neck of her dress as if she will tear it. Jason has to stop the car and grab her wrists to stop her. He tells her that she is a slut and a bad girl, and she replies that she would rather be in hell than in his house. He drops her off at school and drives on to his job at the farm goods store.
At the store, old Job, a black worker, is unloading cultivators, and Jason accuses of him of doing it as slowly as he possibly can. He has mail; he opens a letter with a check from Caddy. The letter asks if Quentin is sick and states that she knows that Jason reads all her letters. He goes out to the front of the store and engages in a conversation with a farmer about the cotton crop. He tells him that cotton is a “speculator’s crop” that “a bunch of damn eastern jews” get farmers to grow so that they can control the stock market (191). He goes to the telegraph office, where a stock report has just come in (Jason has invested in the cotton crop) – the cotton stock is up four points. He tells the telegraph operator to send a collect message to Caddy saying “Q writing today” (193).
He goes back to the store and sits at his desk, reading a letter from his girlfriend Lorraine, who is basically a prostitute he keeps in Memphis. She calls Jason her “daddy.” He burns her letter, commenting “I make it a rule never to keep a scrap of paper bearing a woman’s hand, and I never write them at all” (193). Then he takes out Caddy’s letter to Quentin, but before he can open it some business interrupts him. He recalls the day of his father’s funeral; he remembers saying that Quentin wasted his chance at Harvard, learning only “how to go for a swim at night without knowing how to swim,” Benjy is nothing but a “gelding” that should be rented out as a circus sideshow, Father was a drunk who should have had a “one-armed strait jacket,” and Caddy is a whore (196-197). Uncle Maury patted Mother’s arm with expensive black gloves at the funeral, and Jason noted that the flowers on the grave must have cost fifty dollars. He also remembers the day that Father brought baby Quentin home; Mother would not let her sleep in Caddy’s old room, afraid she will be contaminated by the atmosphere in there. She also declares that nobody in the house must ever say Caddy’s name again. On the day of the funeral, Caddy appeared in the cemetery and begged Jason to let her see the baby for just one minute, and she would pay him fifty dollars; later s
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