Faulkner’s Tragic Focal Point in The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner presents the story of Caddy in The Sound and the Fury in a unique and precise way by showing how her family views her. Caddy’s life becomes the central conflict in the lives of the Compsons, and her story, paralleled with the ultimate demise of the family and its members, is portrayed in the four separate narratives of the novel. While Caddy remains voiceless throughout the entirety of Faulkner’s book, it is her absence that singularizes her importance in the novel and her brothers’ obsession with her purity that reveal her character and her influence upon the decline of the Compson family.
Benjy’s section, consisting mainly of childhood flashbacks, reveals Caddy’s initial innocence. Benjy sees his sister as a living mother figure, and he always turns to her for comfort. He associates her with all the love and goodness that he has ever known. Benjy can “smell” Caddy’s purity, which he associates with the clean, pure smell of trees. He becomes very upset when she seems unclean to him. For example, when Benjy catches Caddy and a boy kissing in the swing, he cries and pulls her away. He remembers, “Caddy took the kitchen soap and washed her mouth at the sink, hard. Caddy smelled like trees”(48). Benjy is comforted when he can again smell her purity. In the same way that Benjy depends on Caddy’s purity for comfort, Caddy also finds comfort from her shameful life in the innocence and faithfulness of Benjy. Benjy remembers Caddy once saying, “‘It’s still raining. I hate rain. I hate everything.’ And then her head came into my lap, and she was crying, holding me, and I began to cry”(57).
When Caddy leaves, Benjy has lost his only real source of love and comfort. T.P. tells Benjy, “You can’t do no good looking through the gate. Miss Caddy done gone long ways away . . . You can’t do no good crying . . . She can’t hear you”(51). Benjy’s life becomes sadder after her departure, and he is often upset, thus increasing the burden he is on the family. Benjy’s section is the only section where Caddy is shown in any kind of innocent light, due to the ironic fact that mentally retarded Benjy is the only one who is able to see her goodness.
Faulkner uses Quentin’s obsession with Caddy’s purity, which ultimately leads to his suicide, to further illustrate her central importance. Quentin, like Benjy, needs his sister’s purity for comfort. He becomes very upset when she begins her promiscuous behavior. In his anger he often asks his college roommates, “Did you ever have a sister? Did you? Did you?”(78) Quentin cannot understand why he is losing his sister. He develops a hatred for all of the men that “take” Caddy away from the family and away from himself. Partially out of wanting to protect the “purity” of the ironically shameful Compson name, Quentin develops the notion that he should have Caddy all to himself. He tells his father, “Father, I have committed incest”(79). When looking off the bridge he thinks of Caddy and wishes, “If it could just be a hell beyond that, then you will have only me, then only me”(116)2E Quentin’s need to save Caddy’s purity evolves into an anxious sate of depression that is only intensified by his father’s philosophical advice. Mr. Compson tells Quentin that life is meaningless and that “time is dead, as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels”(85). Mr. Compson, a doomed alcoholic, repeatedly tells Quentin that nothing is important, that virginity (Caddy’s) is “just a word”(116). Quentin, who refuses to accept the fact that his sister’s purity is unimportant, kills himself in a desperate attempt to prove his father’s theory wrong, and to escape the progression of time that is forcing Caddy, and in turn the entire Compson family, into a meaningless end.
Jason blames Caddy and her promiscuousness for the problems of the Compson household and, more importantly to him, his own troubles. Jason’s contempt for Caddy and the shamefulness of the rest of the family cause him to be a very bitter, self-pitying man. He is embarrassed to even be a part of the Compson household. While walking around town he thinks, “there I was, without any hat, looking like I was crazy too”(233). Furthermore, Jason feels Caddy’s promiscuous behavior directly cost him a job. When his mother reminds him that Caddy’s former husband Herbert was going to give Jason a job before he discovered her pregnancy, he coldly replies, “Well he was probably lying too”(221). Jason, a very greedy man, never forgives Caddy for his financial burden and even resorts to stealing the money she sends her daughter, Quentin. When Quentin asks to see the money, he retorts, “Not after the way you’ve acted. You’ve got to learn . . . when I tell you to do something, you’ve got to do it”(215). Jason vengefully tries to control his niece because of his inability to control his sister. Quentin’s Caddy-like behavior only drives him further along an angry downward spiral, coupled with a gambling problem and a prostitute girlfriend, that leads him to reject all goodness he encounters.
In conclusion, Faulkner reveals different parts of Caddy’s story though each of her brother’s own stories and the way her actions affect each member of the declining Compson family. Though each of the narratives, it is apparent that each brother fails to find happiness because he is unable to hold on to his sister, Caddy. This is how Faulkner reveals her importance: through the tragic demise of the family without Caddy. What proves most interesting, however, is that the focal point of the tragedy is the most tragic character of all.
Caddy, despite her efforts, ends up like Shakespeare’s Macbeth’s sad view of man, utterly alone on center stage, viewed by a critical audience, and part of a story with no happy ending.
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