The Sound and the Fury Plot Summary
The Sound and the Fury is the story of the fall of the Compson family, a bourgeois Jackson, Mississippi family in the early 1900's. The novel is divided into four sections, each told by a different character. The three Compson sons, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason Compson, and the family's black servant, Dilsey Gibson, each have their own section in which they tell their collective story.
Benjy's section is first. He is severely mentally retarded, thus the narrative is confusing, largely because his memory jumps back and forth in time at a moment's notice. The present date in the book, however, is April Seventh, 1928, his 33rd birthday. On this day, he recalls memories of his beloved sister, Caddy, who, we find out, is no longer a part of the household. Benjy's father and brother, Mr. Jason Compson and Quentin, have both died. The people left in the family are Benjy's mother, brother, and niece, Mrs. Caroline Compson, Jason, and Quentin, who is actually Caddy's daughter. Dilsey, who has worked for the Compsons for years, is still around, managing the entire household, as Mrs. Compson, a hypochondriac, confines herself to bed and complains endlessly about her life and her family. Dilsey's daughter and grandson are also around, helping out with chores in the house. Benjy's memories reveal that Caddy was the only family member that truly cared for him. While Quentin was always good to him, he was usually lost in thought, or trying to grab Caddy's attention. Jason, as a child, was a cranky tattletale. While Caddy always gave him her sisterly affection, as she grew up she got into lots of trouble with young men in town. She had many boyfriends, and Benjy always used to cry whenever he saw her with them. Her promiscuity ended up producing the illegitimate Quentin, a girl named after her dead brother.
Quentin (the male) tells his story on June Second, 1910, while attending Harvard University. The day of his death (he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Charles River) he walks around Cambridge, running errands and mulling over his thoughts. Quentin is a character filled with anxiety. His obsession with his sister, Caddy, largely contributes to his angst. At first, it appeared as though he were sexually interested in her, but as he recalls conversations he had with his father about it, we find that it is her promiscuity and the accompanying shame and disgrace that troubled him so deeply. He wanted to protect his sister from the harshness and judgment of the world. Ensconced in his neuroses, he kills himself, having not yet completed his first year at Harvard.
Jason Compson narrates the third section, which takes place a day earlier than Benjy's birthday. At the time of his telling he is the breadwinner among the Compsons, working at a general store. He spends his time being bitter about his pathetic family, and is thus cruel to everyone, especially his niece, Quentin, from whom he steals the money that her exiled mother sends her every month. Jason tells us that he plans on sending Benjy to a home for the mentally handicapped once his mother passes away. We also find out that his father drank himself to death, just one year after Quentin killed himself. Before Mr. Compson died, Caddy had her daughter, Quentin. Mrs. Compson insists on raising her, for she doesn't want her granddaughter living with a disgraced single woman like Caddy. Jason spends his energy tormenting his niece for her truancy and promiscuity.
Their antagonistic relationship surfaces again during Dilsey's section, the fourth and final part of the novel, which takes place on Easter day, one day after Benjy's birthday. Dilsey is an old woman who still does the bulk of the household work for the Compson. She shows love to Benjy, taking him to her black church for Easter services. She is not only the backbone of the family for whom she works, but also she is highly respected among Jefferson's black community. While Dilsey enjoys church, Jason spends his energy chasing after his niece, who ran away with a man from the visiting circus. When she finds the stash of cash her uncle had been accumulating and had kept from her all her life, she immediately skips town. Jason goes after her in a blind rage. He never finds her, but in the process he gets hurt in a fight, and his car breaks down. He must retreat back to the Compson estate empty-handed. The final image of the novel depicts, Benjy and Jason, slouched in a carriage drawn by one of their black servants--Jason is left defeated and pitiful.