Caddy Compson: a Foil for Three Brothers

Topics: Absalom, Absalom!, Novel, William Faulkner Pages: 5 (1727 words) Published: April 13, 2011
Caddy Compson: A Foil for Three Brothers

In William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury one character unifies the story, Caddy Compson. She is central to the story and Faulkner himself said that Caddy was what he “wrote the book about” (“Class Conference” 236). However many of the criticism’s of the novel find Caddy less interesting than Faulkner’s other characters: Quentin, Jason, and Benjy, and there are less critical analyses that deal primarily with Caddy because as Eric Sundquist is quoted in Minrose Gwin’s criticism “Hearing Caddy’s Voice” she is a “major character in literature about whom we know so little in proportion to the amount of attention she receives” (407). There is little question however that Caddy is a central character in the novel because her presence is crucial to fulfilling her brother’s roles.

Caddy is vital to each of the brother’s section. She provokes nearly all the action of the novel without ever fully being heard and Faulkner brilliantly shows her through the biased eyes of each brother to make it simple to spot the changes within her character. Therefore, the reader is able to see just how she was a foil for each brother and significant to fulfilling each brother’s respective role in the novel.

In the first section, Caddy is the voice Benjy hears as well as a comforting and loving presence but she also, and possibly more importantly, provides a language for Benjy. She is able to translate his non-verbal communication into meaningful language for the rest of the family. Within the Benjy section Caddy is an almost completely positive image. With Benjy, Caddy is consistently gentle and caring and because of Caddy, Benjy becomes teachable. Unlike Mrs. Compson she never reprimands him but she tries to get through to him. The first scene Faulkner writes of Caddy and Benjy shows her caring nature and desire to teach Benjy: "Uncle Maury said not to let anybody see us, so we better stoop over. Stoop over, Benjy. Like this, see?" (Faulkner 1).

Another important function Caddy plays for Benjy is her attempt to teach him language. She gives him definitions: “‘It's froze.’ Caddy said, ‘Look.’ She broke the top of the water and held a piece of it against my face. ‘Ice. That means how cold it is’” (Faulkner 9). Minrose C. Gwin asserts that the language Caddy teaches Benjy is more than just definitions of words, but a “maternal language” that will last with him even after she’s gone. She states: “Benjy [loses] Caddy but he remains within her maternal discourse…We can envision him at the state mental hospital, still hearing her speak his name still recognizing the sound of her name within language—a maternal language which transverses the chasm between her subjectivity and his” (409).

The Benjy section of The Sound and the Fury is necessary to illustrate how Caddy really made and broke Benjy's life. The first spoken sentence in the novel demonstrates Benjy’s this most of all: “Here, caddie.” With the mention of Caddy's name, Benjy's own sound begins: "`Listen at you, now.' Luster said. `Ain’t you something, thirty-three years old, going on that way'" (Faulkner 3). This scene exemplifies Benjy's greatest grief and the language that Caddy had helped him develop. In most of the flashbacks of Benjy’s section, he is mute, without sound, but as a grown man taught language by Caddy, he is able to express his grief. He is not grieving the downfall of the Compson family but the loss of Caddy and his “life of unrelieved, and…meaningless suffering” (Minter 352).

Unlike Benjy’s section, Quentin rarely refers to Caddy and she barely even appears for the first third of his section. But when Quentin approaches his impending suicide he begins to acknowledge Caddy’s importance in his life and his death but he cannot fully recognize his love for Caddy: “And the good Saint Francis that said Little Sister Death, that never had a...
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