Faulkner’s application of specific diction for Benjy, Quentin and Jason in combination with the twentieth-century stream of consciousness approach – sheds light on their character, conflicts and contributes to a better understanding of their complex family relations. The “Benjy” section of the novel is presented using simple diction and figurative language, as anything complicated would be beyond the comprehension of a mentally ill person like Benjy.
Events are presented in an unorganized manner in that recollections of past occurrences arbitrarily interrupt the present – in the order in which Benjy remembers them. For example, upon remembering memories of Caddy, Benjy starts crying. Many of the events occurring in 1928, while Benjy is under Luster’s care – is often associated with a memory of Caddy from the past. For example, when Benjy heard Luster call Caddy’s name during a game of golf, Benjy started moaning.
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In one instance, Versh and Benjy went outside in the cold and waited in front of the gate for Caddy to return from school (p. 6). When Caddy returned, Benjy and Caddy walked outside together, and upon remembering this, Benjy started moaning. It was later learned that the cause of Benjy’s moaning while with Luster was because it was time for Caddy to come home from school, and he wanted to wait for her at the gate. When Luster helped Benjy through the fence in 1928, Benjy is reminded of an earlier period in which he was snagged on a nail while crawling through the fence with Caddy and came upon the presence of rattling flowers.
When Luster and Benjy passed the carriage house in 1928, Benjy’s mind was taken back to an earlier scene that involved commuting with the carriage to the cemetery. Likewise, when Luster and Benjy pass by the barn in 1928, Benjy is reminded of an earlier scene, when he and Caddy went around the barn to deliver a letter to Mrs. Patterson from their Uncle Maury. Once Caddy climbed the fence, Benjy observed the presence of rattling flowers (which he and Caddy came upon after crawling through the fence before), which Caddy had to go through to reach Mrs. Patterson’s residence.
This scene reminded Benjy of another time when he went to deliver a letter to Mrs. Patterson himself, but his attempt was not successful in that the letter fell into the hands of Mr. Patterson. In 1928, when Luster tells Benjy to get into the water and play, Benjy is reminded of an earlier scene when Caddy got her dress wet with water while playing in the branch. Benjy started crying when Caddy abruptly said she would run away from home and never return in fear of getting whipped by her parents because of the mess she had created. In 1928, when Luster tells Benjy to assist him in finding the quarter he had lost, Benjy is reminded of an earlier scene when Jason was walking with his hands in his pockets as if he was protecting his coins — when they all were returning home from the branch.
When Benjy observes Roskus milking the cow in the barn once they return from the branch, Benjy is reminded of an earlier scene of when he and T.P. accidentally became drunk at Caddy’s wedding by consuming champagne in the mistake of sassprilluh. After that, Benjy recalled Quentin taking him to the barn, and he remembered seeing weird cows jumping out of the barn and cows running down the hill. Moreover, Versh carrying Benjy to the top of the hill after his drunken stage at Caddy’s wedding reminded Benjy of Versh carrying him up the hill at the discretion of Caddy, as they were returning home from the branch the day her clothes were wet.
Benjy’s desire to play with the golf ball in 1928 reminded him of the lightning bugs that belonged to T.P. Also, seeing buzzards reminded Benjy of the bones of an animal called Nancy, which the vultures were eating. This memory led to another memory of Caddy asking whether the predators were going to eat their dead grandmother, Damuddy. The events presented in the “Benjy” section of the novel using the stream of consciousness technique revealed Benjy’s relation with his family. It can be seen that Benjy had a better relation with Caddy than any other members of the Compson family.
Benjy did not have a motherly figure in his life, and so he was nurtured mainly by Caddy, whom he obeys and loves dearly. For example, his random moaning is due to his remembering of memories of Caddy, and Caddy can make Benjy stop moaning. In addition, Benjy interacted better with Dilsey, who understood his needs than his mother did. Mrs. Compson was more concerned about the image that Benjy held than his welfare because she felt that Benjy’s actions judged her. Like Quentin and Jason, Benjy also lives in the past because everything he does in the present is always associated with an event in the past with Caddy involved, even after she got married and no longer lived in the Compson family house.
The “Quentin” section of the novel presents much more complex ideas with a moral basis than the “Benjy” section of the novel, although Quentin’s thoughts frequently jump from one idea to another. Quentin’s ideas and concerns centrally revolve around Caddy’s loss of virginity and saving her from shame. For example, when he learned of Caddy’s pregnancy, he thought of both of them running away from home and living on the money set aside for his Harvard University tuition or they could both commit suicide. It is fascinating to see how much Quentin spends most of his life worrying and trying to protect Caddy because she was the motherly figure in his life – it was through her that he learned of women and love and other necessities in life.
It is seen that the values Caddy the most in the Compson household and he considers his relationship with her as the most important relationship in his life that he decides to tell his father that he committed incest with Caddy. But Quentin is left deserted when his father does not take Caddy’s loss of virginity as a serious issue and merely thinks of virginity as a term that men invented and does not need to be paid much attention to. The “Jason” section of the novel is a simple narrative than the “Benjy” and “Quentin” section because he is obsessed with money and revenging other’s deeds that he is not troubled with any weaknesses of life.
For example, as children when the Compson siblings were playing in the branch, Jason sat isolated from everyone else and played with his coins. When they returned home, he told their parents about Caddy getting muddied at the branch. His greed for money can be seen on several occasions. As a child, he was scamming against other children in selling kites that were made of flour. As an adult, he slammed against his mother and sister. For example, the thousand dollars that his mother gave him to buy a share in the hardware store he worked at – he withdrew it without his mother knowing of it.
Like Benjy and Quentin, Jason spends his life regretting the past with the difference being that he always blames someone else for his problems. For instance, throughout the novel, Jason refers to Caddy as the one who cost him the position in the bank that Herbert Head promised him once he and Caddy got married. Along with Herbert Head and Caddy’s divorce, Jason lost his job offer for which he holds Caddy liable his entire life. Not once does he realize that it was because of Caddy that he was even offered that job? So Jason ends up working in a hardware store that was arranged by his mother as she was a friend of the owner of the store.
Caddy sends money in the form of monthly checks supposedly for her daughter, Miss. Quentin and her expenses but Jason manage to cash them first. He then fools his mother into thinking that she was burning Caddy’s check when she was actually burning the checks he had forged, while he deposited the money from Caddy’s check. When Caddy sent a money order one day, Jason was pissed because he needed Quentin to sign it in order for the check to get cashed. It is learned that Jason stole more than forty thousand dollars from Caddy by cheating Miss. Quentin of her money but he still complains about Caddy sending money to Miss Quentin instead of him and continues to resent Caddy.
He also blames Caddy for staining the Compson family name even though he does not care about anyone but himself and is not made of the same material that his ancestors who built the name, were made of. But his resentment does not lie just for Caddy and from his views on people in general, the bad nature of his character can be seen. For example, in terms of his mistress in Memphis, he said, “I never promise a woman anything nor let her know what I’m going to give her. That’s the only way to manage them. Always keep them guessing. If you cant think of any other way to surprise them, give them a bust in the jaw.”
In terms of Jews, he said, “I give every man his due, regardless of religion or anything else. I have nothing against the jews as an individual […] it’s just the race. You’ll admit that they produce nothing.” In terms of the African American people working at the hardware store, he said, “What this country needs is white labour. Let these dam trifling niggers starve for a couple of years, then they’d see what a soft thing they have.” Despite Jason’s awful nature, he is the only person whom his mother, Ms. Compson, loves although he does not desire or cherish her love. On the other hand, Benjy, Quentin and Caddy longed for their mother’s love but they didn’t get it. He did not get along with his siblings either because he never connected with them on a personal level as he was self-absorbed.
Faulkner uses symbolism to emphasize ideas. Water is a recurring symbol of purity in the novel. The Compson siblings playing in the branch and Caddy muddying her drawers while playing in the stream foreshadows Caddy’s promiscuity in the later years to come. Here, Caddy was able to wash the dirt off and purify herself but in the future, she is not able to wash off her sins. When Benjy smells Caddy wearing perfume during her virginal state, he gets mad because she no longer smells like trees. So he forces her to wash the perfume away, which symbolizes water’s cleansing ability as it represents washing away her sin.
After kissing Charlie on the swing in the presence of Benjy, Caddy was able to wash off her sin by washing her mouth with soap. When Caddy lost her virginity, years later, Benjy sensed that something was different about her. So he attempted to push Caddy into the bathroom so she could wash off her sins. But Caddy was not able to look directly at Benjy throughout this situation because she knew that washing herself would not be able to bring herself back to her virginal state. Water can also be a symbol of death because Quentin commits suicide by drowning himself. In this situation, water appears to have a cleansing ability because ending his life by jumping in the water, will relieve him from constantly worrying about Caddy’s loss of virginity.