Plot Summary

A April Seventh, 1928

Set in Mississippi during the early decades of the twentieth century, The Sound and the Fury tells the tumultuous story of the Compson family’s gradual deterioration. The novel is divided into four sections, each told by a different narrator on a different date. The three Compson brothers, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason, each relate one of the first three sections while the fourth is told from an omniscient, third-person perspective. At the center of the novel is the brothers’ sister, Caddy Compson, who, as an adult, becomes a source of obsessive love for two of her brothers, and inspires savage revenge in the third.

The first section is narrated by Benjy, a thirty-three-year-old mentally handicapped man who is unable to speak and doesn’t fully comprehend the world around him. His perceptions in the present are combined with memories of childhood and adolescence and, as a result, his narrative provides a disjointed and incomplete interpretation of events. In the opening scene, Benjy is standing by a fence near a golf course where the regularly heard cry of “here, caddie” is a constant reminder of the sister who has now married and left home. He is accompanied by one of the family’s servants, Luster, who is trying to find the quarter he lost so he can go to the traveling show playing in town that night. As they crawl through a broken place in the fence, Benjy snags himself on a nail and is immediately reminded of a similar experience he had with Caddy. From here, Benjy’s monologue continues to shift back and forth between the present and the past.

Although the significance of many of Benjy’s fragmented memories is not immediately evident, several important incidents are revealed. What is most apparent is Benjy’s strong attachment to Caddy, who smells “like trees.” It has been almost eighteen years since Caddy’s wedding, yet Benjy continues to await her return at the fence. Besides her wedding day, other significant memories include the changing of Benjy’s name from Maury, the image of Caddy’s muddy drawers as she climbs the pear tree, and an incident at the fence involving a young school girl.

B June Second, 1910

The novel’s second section relates Quentin’s final day before he commits suicide. Quentin is a student at Harvard but his obsessive thoughts about his sister’s sexuality and marriage of convenience to Herbert Head far outweigh any academic aspirations. Memories of past events again intrude on the present and, as a result, Quentin’s narration is not unlike Benjy’s. (The technique, where thoughts interrupt each other and move back and forth, is known as “stream-of-consciousness.”) However, Quentin’s intense awareness of time lends his section a more coherent structure. He wakes to the sound of his watch, a gift from his father intended to help him “forget [time] now and then,” twists off its hands and, instead of attending his morning classes, prepares for his death. He packs a trunk, mails a letter to his father, and purchases some flatiron weights.

Quentin makes his way to the train station. Once out of town, Quentin goes for a walk along a river. He recalls his attempt to prevent Caddy from marrying Herbert by proposing that they and Benjy run away someplace where nobody knows them. As he is walking, Quentin encounters a little girl whom he addresses as “sister.” He buys the girl an ice cream and is attempting to help her find her way home when her brother suddenly appears and accuses Quentin of kidnapping his sister. Quentin is eventually cleared of the accusations and drives away with some friends from school. His thoughts, however, remain focused on Caddy. He reflects upon his unsuccessful attempt to confront Dalton Ames, the man who may have impregnated Caddy, and is seemingly unaware of the present moment when he strikes the boasting Gerald Bland in the car. He eventually returns to his room in town and makes the final preparations for his suicide. As he is doing so, he recalls a conversation he had with his father concerning his feelings for Caddy and his desperate attempt to prevent her marriage: ….and he i think you are too serious to give me any cause for alarm you wouldn’t have felt driven to the expedient of telling me you had committed incest otherwise and i i wasnt lying i wasnt lying and he you wanted to sublimate a piece of natural human folly into a horror and then exorcise it with truth and i it was to isolate her out of the loud world so that it would have to flee us of necessity and then the sound of it would be as though it had never been and he did you try to make her do it and i i was afraid to i was afraid she might and then it wouldnt have done any good but if i could tell you we did it would have been so and then the others wouldnt be so and then the world would roar away and he and now this other you are not lying now either but you are still blind to what is in yourself…. you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this now.

Quentin then brushes his teeth, turns out the light, and leaves the room. It is revealed in the following section that he took his own life by drowning himself.

C April Sixth, 1928

The confusion and obsession which characterize the first and second sections, respectively, become anger and brutal sarcasm in the third. Jason’s opening words set the tone: “Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say.” He is referring to Caddy’s daughter, Quentin, who has just received a warning from school concerning her frequent absences. Jason brings her to school himself and then stops by the post office and goes to his job at Earl’s store. As he is going through his mail, he recalls how Quentin was first sent to live with the family after Caddy was cast off by her husband. Caddy has only seen her daughter once since that time. After her father’s funeral, she paid Jason fifty dollars to see Quentin, and he drove by with Quentin in a carriage, allowing Caddy only a glimpse of the girl. The first letter Jason opens is addressed to Mrs. Compson and contains the monthly check Caddy sends to support her daughter. Jason has been keeping this money for himself as compensation for the job he was promised by Herbert but never got. He replaces the checks with fakes that he burns in front of his mother. A second letter, addressed to Quentin, contains a money order for fifty dollars. He later pressures Quentin into signing it over to him without disclosing its true value.

That afternoon, Jason catches Quentin walking past the store with a man from the show. He eventually chases them down a wagon road with his car, but they manage to give him the slip and leave him stranded by deflating one of his tires. When he finally makes his way home, he cruelly teases Luster by burning free tickets to the show that Luster desperately wants to see. He refuses to sit down to dinner until Dilsey, another of the family’s servants, gets the entire family to join him at the table. Quentin and Mrs. Compson come down to dinner and Jason taunts his niece by making up a story about how, earlier that day, he lent his car to one of the show men so that he could pursue his sister’s husband who was out riding with “some town woman.” He interrupts himself and tells his mother that he will continue the story later because he does not “like to talk about such things before Quentin.”

D April Eighth, 1928

It is now Easter Sunday and, as Dilsey is serving breakfast, Jason descends from his room and accuses Luster and Benjy of breaking his bedroom window. It is only when Dilsey goes up to wake Quentin that Jason figures out what has happened. He rushes upstairs and finds Quentin’s room empty and her bed undisturbed. He also discovers that the metal box he keeps hidden in his closet has been broken into. Jason calls the sheriff to report a robbery and leaves the house. A little while later, Dilsey, Luster, and Benjy attend a special Easter service where they hear visiting preacher, Reverend Shegog, deliver a stirring sermon. Meanwhile, Jason has driven to Mottson, the next stop for the traveling show, and attempts to find Quentin and the twice-stolen money. However, his trip is unsuccessful and he is finally obliged to hire a man to bring him back home because he has a severe headache from a scuffle with one of the showmen. Upon his return to town, he crosses Luster and Benjy as they are approaching the town square in the family’s surrey. Luster swings to the “wrong” side of the monument and Benjy begins to shriek in horror. Jason hurls Luster aside, sets the surrey on the “right” side of the monument and sends the two back home. Benjy finally ends his hollering when he sees that “cornice and facade flowed smoothly once more from left to right,” and that “post and tree, window and doorway and signboard [were] each in its ordered place.”

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