Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Jason Lycurgus Compson (III)
Jason Lycurgus Compson (III), the grandson of a Mississippi governor, son of a Confederate general, and father to the last of the Compsons. Like his illustrious ancestors, his name suggests his passion, the classics. Unlike his forebears, he is unable to make a living or to fulfill his deepest ambition, the study of the Greek and Latin epigrammatists, but his stoic philosophy, culled from his reading, stands him in good stead. He speaks wisely, does little, drinks much, and is weary of his complaining wife, his wayward daughter, and his bickering sons.
Caroline Bascomb Compson
Caroline Bascomb Compson, his wife, who resents the Compson lineage and feels that hers is more glorious. A neurotic woman with psychosomatic symptoms, she complains constantly of her grievances and ills. Reluctant to face reality and rejoicing that she was not born a Compson, she indulges her fancies and pretends to be an antebellum Southern gentlewoman. Her fortitude in tragedy is even more remarkable for all her complaining, but she victimizes her children and devoted servants to maintain her resentment and illnesses.
Candace Compson, their only daughter, affectionate, loyal, and libido-driven. She is called Caddy, a name that results in great confusion for her idiot brother, whose playground is the pasture sold to a golf course. She is devoted to her dead brother,...
(The entire section is 891 words.)
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The novel's oldest character is Damuddy, the mother of Caroline Compson and grandmother of Benjy, Caddy, Quentin, and Jason. Although she appears only in the children's recollections of her death, there is no doubt she has been an important figure in their lives. Damuddy apparently spoiled Jason, but is remembered fondly. Her death, which is the mystery that the Compson children discover in the fragments of Damuddy's death story, is the earliest part of Faulkner's development of the novel, and one of Benjy's most extensive memories. A grandmother living with her grandchildren can remove a great deal of pressure from parents—pressure that neither of the Compson childrens' parents can cope with after she dies.
Caroline Compson, the wife of Jason Compson and the mother of Quentin, Jason, Caddy, and Benjy, has married above her station in life, and she continually accuses her husband of despising her family, the Bascombs. Yet, the only person Jason really appears to dislike is his brother-in-law, Maury, who uses the children as go-betweens in his affair with a neighbor woman, Mrs. Patterson, and he is constantly borrowing money that will never be paid back. Caroline Compson has named one of her sons after Maury, but when she discovers that the boy is mentally challenged, she renames him Benjamin—Benjy, for short. What is worse, Caroline Compson feigns illnesses to avoid having to care for or love her children. Appearances rather than values are...
(The entire section is 1458 words.)
Benjy is the youngest of the Compson brothers. He had orignally been named after his uncle Maury, but when the Compsons discover that he is retarded, they change his name to Benjamin. The first section of the book, "April Seventh, 1928," is Benjy's monologue. Benjy sees the world in terms of sights and sounds, and his narration reflects this emphasis. At the time of this section, Benjy is thirty-three years old, making him the same age as Jesus was when he was crucified. His brother Jason has despised him since childhood, when he destroyed the paper dolls Benjy and Caddy made. As head of the family, Jason has Benjy castrated when he makes advances to a young girl. After their mother dies, Jason has Benjy put into a mental hospital.
Benjy loves his sister Caddy, and his monologue mainly consists of memories of her. Caddy treats him with love and affection, unlike his mother Caroline, a complaining, dependent woman who treats him as a shameful nuisance. Benjy has never recovered from Caddy's leaving the family after her pregnancy. His thoughts reflect this loss, and his memories focus on Caddy's budding sexuality as if he knows this was the cause of her exile. His positive memories of his sister include her "smelling like trees," and his sad ones relate his bellowing whenever she shows signs of womanhood—putting on perfume or sitting with a boyfriend. At the conclusion of the novel, Benjy hears a golfer call for his "caddie" and bellows his grief once...
(The entire section is 274 words.)
Caddy is the central character of the novel, even though none of the narration is seen through her eyes. In each of the three sections that represent the internal monologues of her brothers, she is of primary concern to them. The reader learns about Caddy through each of her brothers. They are all involved with her, but each in a different way. To a large extent, the brothers' characters are formed around their responses to Caddy. Benjy and Quentin love her in two distinct ways. Jason despises her as he does everything and everyone else. Caddy is the most normal of the Compson children. As the novel progresses and the pieces of her life unfold, she is seen as a young girl. She is loving in her relationships to Benjy and Quentin, but she also matures and has boyfriends. When Caddy becomes pregnant by one of them (perhaps Dalton Ames), she does the socially correct thing and marries another man, Herbert Head, who will be able to provide financially for her and her child. After her husband learns that her daughter is not his child, he turns her out. Caddy leaves her daughter, whom she has named after her dead brother Quentin, with the Compsons. She leaves the Compson home but sends money to support her daughter. In his "Appendix: Compson 1699-1945," Faulkner describes how Caddy travelled to Mexico and Paris after a second divorce and was never heard from again. According to the author, Caddy was "doomed and knew it, accepted the doom without either seeking it or fleeing...
(The entire section is 261 words.)
Jason Compson IV
The middle son of the Compson family. After his brother Quentin's suicide and the death of his father, Jason is the head of the family. Throughout the novel Jason is shown as a cold-blooded person. Mrs. Compson, however, sees him as the only one of her children with any common sense, in his "Appendix: Compson 1699-1945," Faulkner describes him as "the first sane Compson since before Culloden and (a childless bachelor) hence the last." Jason does seem attached to the real world more than his other siblings. He sees the necessity of succeeding in society, which he translates as the need to make money. Because of his rationality, the only person he fears and respects is Dilsey, the family's black housekeeper—"his sworn enemy since birth."
Jason is embittered by whatever seems to get in his way. He resents his parents for sending his brother Quentin to Harvard and seems eaten up by jealousy. He is angry with his sister Caddy because he believes her promiscuity caused her divorce and thus his chances of getting a job in her husband's bank. When Caddy leaves her daughter Quentin with the Compsons after her divorce, he schemes to keep the money Caddy sends for Quentin's support for himself. He further takes revenge by preventing Caddy from seeing her daughter, even briefly, and by treating the girl spitefully and with contempt. When his niece Quentin attempts to assert herself, Jason reacts cruelly and angrily. He finds her behavior a reflection of Caddy's...
(The entire section is 342 words.)
The eldest son of the Compsons. Quentin's monologue, the second section of the book, takes place on June 2,1910, while he is a student at Harvard. It is the day Quentin decides to commit suicide and the whole monologue details the events of this day and the events that led up to his decision to take his life. Faulkner's themes of family pride and the changes wrought on an individual over time are played out in Quentin's character. He cannot stand the changes that have taken place in his relationship with his sister Caddy, for whom he has incestuous feelings. He is devastated when she reaches sexual maturity and obsesses over her relationships with men. But as Faulkner writes in his "Appendix: Compson 1699-1945," Quentin loves "not his sister's body but some concept of Compson honour precariously and (he knew well) only temporarily supported by the minute fragile membrane of her maidenhead."
The notion that Quentin's preoccupation with an outdated ideal of family "honor" has been much commented on by critics. The loss of the innocence that Quentin witnesses in Caddy's "fall" is something that he finds intolerable. He cannot accept his father's reassurances that in time his pain "will no longer hurt like this now," for that would make his pain meaningless. Unable to adjust, seeing no other alternative, Quentin commits suicide. As the child for whom the Compson parents sacrificed so much, his death is a terrible loss to the family. His death is also symbolic...
(The entire section is 271 words.)
The Compson housekeeper, who is seen to be the most positive character in the novel. Dilsey is the person who nurtures the Compson children, since both their mother and father are incapable of displaying love and affection. Her service to the family, even as she suffers from arthritis, is in stark contrast to Mrs. Compson's neglect due to imagined illnesses. She is the only character that is able to embrace the meaning of life and accept a sense of family history. Her section is the fourth and final one and takes place on Easter Sunday, a time of resurrection. An inspiring sermon is an important part of the section and both Dilsey and Benjy, whom Dilsey has brought along to church, are spiritually moved. Dilsey's response, unlike Benjy's, is more than an emotional one. She experiences an epiphany—a sudden perception of truth—and tells her children "I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin." Some critics have interpreted this as a comment on the fall of the Compson family.
Through what is often called the "Dilsey" section of the novel, the author's point of view is expressed. Faulkner handles this by telling her story through the third person. It is through Dilsey's tireless caring for the elder Compsons and their children that the author expresses his belief in the enduring quality of humanity. She is portrayed as a selfless and realistic person. She understands the behavior of all the children and accepts life in all its aspects because of a faith...
(The entire section is 259 words.)
One of Caddy's lovers who may have made her pregnant. In his monologue, Caddy's brother Quentin remembers his failed confrontation with Dalton Ames over Caddy and tries to deny Ames's role in Caddy's life.
Jason tries to get the sheriff to help him catch his niece Quentin after she robs him and runs away from home. The sheriff refuses to help him, saying he figures the money was probably not Jason's to begin with.
Maury L. Bascomb
Mrs. Compson's brother and an uncle to the Compson children. Benjy is named after Uncle Maury when he is born, but Mrs. Compson changes his name to Benjamin when she learns he is retarded. Uncle Maury appears in Benjy's monologue, humoring his sister's complaints. In Jason's story, Uncle Maury is shown borrowing yet another sum of money from his sister in order to pursue a dubious business deal. In his "Appendix: Compson 1699-1945," Faulkner describes Maury as a "handsome flashing swaggering workless bachelor who borrowed money from almost anyone."
One of Quentin's acquaintances at Harvard. He is spoiled by his indulgent mother, who puts on parties for him and allows him a car. When Gerald begins boasting of his success with women, a distracted Quentin tries to punch him. Gerald is a boxer, however, and bloodies Quentin without damage to himself.
One of Caddy's boyfriends. He appears...
(The entire section is 1244 words.)