Analysis: Benjy in the Sound and the Fury

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  • Topic: Absalom, Absalom!, Time, The Sound and the Fury
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  • Published : April 13, 2008
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Born in late 1897, William Faulkner was a famous prolific writer who has been regarded as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. Faulkner came from an old southern family, growing up in Oxford, Mississippi. He joined the Canadian, and later the British Royal Air Force during World War I, and studied for a while at the University of Mississippi. He also temporarily worked for a New York bookstore and a New Orleans newspaper. He is remembered for being both a Southern gentleman and an arrogant alcoholic, perhaps shedding light onto his volatile and unique writing styles. Faulkner had many novels published between the 1920s and the 1940s, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Faulkner is best known for his use of "stream of consciousness" in his writing, a style used in the critically acclaimed Southern Gothic novel The Sound and The Fury.This novel is considered to be his first great work.

Released in 1929, The Sound and The Fury takes place in the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha and is split into four sections, each part told by a different member of the once prominent southern Compson family. These chapters narrate many of the same events, though told from four different perspectives. The first is from Benjy, a mentally retarded thirty-three year old man who has the mental capabilities of a small child. He is an overly emotional person and cannot make sense of the events that unfold during his life. Benjy’s section is characterized by a very rudimentary style of writing, with his stream of consciousness dominating the majority of the storyline. He transitions constantly in time, talking about the past and the present in nonsensical terms. From his narrative, we learn about Caddy, his loving sister, who genuinely cared for him when he was younger and was eventually sent away for disgracing the family name. The second part is written from Quentin’s point of view, the eldest and smartest of the children, while he attends Harvard University. His section takes place during one single day, where the reader learns of his past and recollection of the same events Benjy describes. Quentin suffers from feelings of incest, a crime he never actually committed with his sister, and severe guilt brought on by the way Caddy was treated after she became pregnant with an illegitimate child. At the end of his day, he stuffs his jacket with weights and jumps from a bridge, ending his life. Jason, the third brother, narrates the third part of the novel. After their father’s death, Jason took on the task of looking after the family and subsequently grew up to be a unkind, resentful, and greedy man. He takes in Caddy’s illegitimate daughter, Miss Quentin, after Caddy is sent away for bringing shame to the family. The fourth section is written from an omnipotent standpoint, but tells the story of Dilsey, the black matriarchal servant who spent her life serving the Compsons.

Centering on Benjy Compson, he recalls three important events during his lifetime: the evening of his grandmother’s funeral in 1898, his name change from “Maury” to “Benjy” in 1900, and Caddy’s sexual promiscuity and wedding in 1910. From the beginning, we realize that Benjy is completely dependant on Caddy, who was his sole source of true affection. Although he cannot understand any abstract concepts such as time, morality, and cause and effect, he is able to sense the presence of anything wrong or out of place. He senses Quentin’s suicide, which took place thousands of miles away at Harvard, and senses Caddy’s loss of virginity—something that made him moan and cry for hours.

The use of the simplistic sentence structures and extreme lack of insight serve to present the reader with childlike descriptions of his stories, which both take place when Benjy is a child and a grown man. Benjy’s childlike narration creates a sense of disorder within the reader that parallels his confusion. He writes simplistically: "Luster had some...
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