A Psychological View of Benjy's Mental Retardation
Benjamin Compson, a character from The Sound and the Fury, is the youngest child of Jason and Caroline Compson who has round the clock supervision. His keepers say, "he been three years old thirty years" (Faulkner 17). Mental retardation is a condition that is associated with a person who develops slowly. "The label mentally retarded is applied when someone is significantly below average in general intellectual functioning (IQ less than 70) and has significant deficits in adaptive functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 2000)" (qtd. In Huffman 306). Benjy's character matches this definition of mentally retarded perfectly. In order for psychologists to recognize persons' with mental retardation, they use the Standford-Binet Intelligence Scale to test their intelligence level. If an individual score a 70 or below on the IQ test the person is incapable of functioning properly and is referred to as mentally retarded. He is thirty-three years old with the mind of a three year old because he suffers with mental retardation. In the book, The Sound and the Fury, Benjy's mental retardation can be defined through his language development, cognitive development, and family impact. Benjy cannot communicate with others because of his premature language development. Since he is incapable of talking to express himself, others view Benjy as an idiot. Contrary to popular belief, "he know lot more than folks thinks" ( Faulkner 31). According to the stages of language development in psychology, Benjy is at a stand still
in the prelinguistic stage. In the prelinguistic stage, "at about 2 to 5 months babies begin cooing and babbling" (Huffman 295). Even though Benjy has the mind of a three year old, he exhibits the behavior of a five-month-old baby in terms of his language capabilities. He bellows all the time for one reason or another as a way to express himself. Luster, one of his keepers, constantly tries to figure out "what [Benjy is] moaning about now" (Faulkner 16). This seems to be the unanswered question on every characters' mind in the book. The story of the Compson family is told through Benjy's eyes. "He observes scenes that subtly explain many secrets to the reader" (Everett 102). For example, Benjy was there when Caddy got her drawers dirty with mud. The mud stain in Caddy's drawers was a foreshadow of doom she was due to experience in her life. Also, Benjy can see how some of his family members will be as adults just by observing certain details from when they played together as children. Out of the whole Compson family, Faulkner chose Benjy as the one to know all of the family secrets on purpose. The idea of exposing all kinds of things to a mentally retarded person, which in this case is Benjy, made perfect sense. He does not understand the significance of what he sees nor can he talk to someone about it. Therefore, the likelihood of anyone ever knowing all the things that Benjy sees is slim to none. Benjy's sense of smell and hearing is a vital part of his existence. "He does not understand all he hears, but he can comprehend certain things, chiefly names" (Everett 102). Benjy understands Caddy's name whenever he hears it. When she left Jefferson, he did not hear her name spoken in the house anymore. In order to heat his sister's
name, Benjy began to watch golfers because they said caddy quite often which excited him. "But it is with the sense of smell that Benjy discriminates and makes judgements, even though he himself does not understand why he reacts as he does or what he is implying with his reactions" (Everett 103). For example, Benjy knows when Caddy has been being permiscous because he notices that she does not smell like trees but perfume. As a result, he does not want to be around her until she smells like trees again. A psychological way to examine Benjy's senses would be through "Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences"...
Cited: Burack, Jacob A., Robert M. Hodapp, and Edward Zigler, eds. Handbook of Mental Retardation and Development. Rev. ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Everett, Walter K. Faulkner 's Art and Characters. Woodbury: Barron 's Educational Series, Inc., 1969.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage International, 1990.
Huffman, Karen. Psychology in Action. 7th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004.
Tuck, Dorothy. Crowell 's Handbook of Faulkner. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1964.
Wadsworth, Barry J. Piaget 's Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Longman, 1984.
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