Summary – Chapter One – April seventh 1928
With no exposition, this chapter begins with the first-person narrator (who we later learn is Benjy) watching ‘them hitting’. He goes along the fence as ‘they’ come towards the flag and describes them as hitting again. One of them (who, it transpires, is a golf player) says ‘here, caddie’ and Benjy watches them walk away.
Luster refers to Benjy being 33 and how he has bought him a cake. Luster then asks him to help find his quarter so he can go to the show. He tells Benjy to ‘stop that moaning’ and if he does not hush there will not be a birthday for him and he will eat all the cake and candles. When they reach the garden fence, Luster berates him for catching himself on a nail.
The narrative shifts to the past (as is signified throughout this chapter with the use of italics) and Benjy remembers Caddy when she ‘uncaught’ him from this before.
Still in the past, it gradually becomes apparent now that the narrator’s name is Benjy. He remembers his mother, Versh and Uncle Maury discussing whether he should go outside in the cold and how his mother worried about him. At this time, Caddy appears and she asks Benjy if he has come out to meet her (from school). She also asks him what he is trying to tell her.
Back in the present, Luster asks him what he is moaning about. The narrative returns to Caddy and she asks Versh if ‘they’ sent him outside and Versh explains they could not keep him in. They go inside and Caddy asks if she can take Benjy out again. Their mother insists he (‘that baby’) puts his overshoes back on. Versh does this and Caddy hugs Benjy. In the present, Luster tells him to stop slobbering and moaning.
It shifts back to another time in the past and Benjy is in a carriage with his mother. Dilsey gives him a flower to hold and tells them to get going before Quentin sees them as she will want to come too. His mother asks where she is and Dilsey says she is playing with Luster. They set off and his mother asks to stop and says she knows ‘Dilsey will let something happen to Quentin’ while she is gone. She clutches Benjy and says she is afraid of T. P. turning the carriage. Jason asks what she wants and she tells him they are going to the cemetery and that she knows he will not come but will feel safer with him. He asks from what and says Father and Quentin cannot hurt her. She cries and he tells her to stop: Do you want to get that damn loony to bawling in the middle of the square?’ She says it is a ‘judgement’ on her and adds that she will be gone soon too.
In the present, Luster calls Benjy a ‘cry-baby’. They are in the barn and Luster says how he has not got a ‘spotted pony to ride now’.
Back in the past, Caddy tells Benjy again to keep his hands in his pockets to keep them warm. He is in the barn with her and there are cows and horses. She lets him hold a (secret) letter that she has to take to Mrs Patterson from Uncle Maury. Benjy remembers crying when he sees Mrs Patterson’s eyes and how her husband took the letter.
The narrative comes forward to the present again and Luster tells Benjy to sit down and play with his jimson weed. He does so and sits on the bank of the river watching ‘them’ doing the washing. Luster tells these people about he is going to the show tonight and how he needs to find the quarter. Someone asks what he does when Benjy starts ‘bellering’ and he says he ‘whips’ him.
A golf ball appears and Luster puts it in his pocket. A boy comes over for it and leaves when a man up the hill says ‘caddie’. Benjy starts moaning and Luster says he does not know why. He calls him an ‘old loony’ and asks him if he wants him to whip him.
Benjy gets in the water with Luster’s encouragement and the narrative shifts back as he remembers Caddy doing the same – at the age of seven – and their brothers Quentin (who is older) and Jason were also there. She asks Versh to unbutton her dress so she does not get it wet. When she says she will run away, Benjy cries and she comforts him and says she is not going to. He thinks she smells like trees in the rain. In the present, Luster says Benjy thinks his folks still own this pasture, and back in the past Roskus tells the children to come for supper. Caddy says it is not supper time yet.
It then shifts to another time in the past and Benjy is being told to drink the sasprilla (when he is really drinking alcohol).
In the past with Caddy, she calls him Maury and tells him to come on. Versh says he bets her father will whip her if she walks into the parlour and she says she does not care. Their father appears and Jason tells him that Caddy and Quentin threw water on each other. Father tells them they have company and they are to eat in the kitchen tonight. They hear ‘it’ again and Benjy cries. Caddy asks what the noise was and Quentin replies ‘that was Mother’. They are repeatedly told to be quiet and Versh takes them to his home.
Analysis – Chapter One
The title The Sound and the Fury comes from Act V scene 5 of Macbeth:
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
This first chapter is narrated by Benjy who is 33 at the time in the present (in 1928) but has the mental age of a young child and is unable to communicate via speech. For this reason, he may be understood as ‘an idiot, full of sound and fury’ in terms of how others who are filled with hate, such as Jason and Luster, describe him. However, as this and the final chapter show, he is able to understand events around him even though he is not able to put them in a linear order (as is evident in Chapter Three which is narrated by Jason).
With the use of Benjy as a narrator, the full effect of the modernist technique of the stream of consciousness is felt as his thoughts move by association to what is happening at the time and is not restricted by chronology or order. He is one of four Compson children (Benjy, Caddy, Jason and Quentin) and even at this early stage his affection for Caddy is clear. It is suggested here, and it becomes clearer in the following chapters, that he watches the golfers play on the former Compson land in order to hear them say ‘caddie’ as her name is no longer mentioned in the present because she is presumed to have brought disgrace on the family.
Summary – Chapter One continued
Benjy remembers another time when T. P. squatted in front of the fire and dressed him. T. P. then takes him to the barn and he sees Roskus milking. Roskus complains about his right hand and how there is no luck here (in this place). Benjy also remembers Dilsey putting him to bed and Roskus saying the sign of it is ‘laying right there on the bed’ and has been a sign for folks to see for 15 years (meaning Benjy). He adds that he knew there was no luck when they changed his name.
The narrative shifts again to the time when Benjy is taken to T. P.’s home and Luster and Quentin (female) are playing in the dirt. Frony takes him to the men in the barn and says he is fighting with the babies, and T. P. takes him back to them. Roskus says how there is no luck and how he said so two years ago. Dilsey says this talk of bad luck put notions of Memphis in Versh’s head. Roskus says how there is no luck in a place where one of their own children’s names is not spoken and a child should not be raised not knowing her mother’s name. Dilsey tells him to not bother his head about this as she has raised all of them and can raise one more. They both agree that Benjy knows more than folks think.
It shifts further back to Caddy as a young girl and she tells the others they have to ‘mind’ her (listen to her). Frony asks if the funeral has started yet, and Jason asks what a funeral is. Versh reminds Frony she was asked not to mention it to them. Caddy says ‘that’s niggers. White folks don’t have funerals.’ Frony asks why not, as white folks die too; she then says their grandmother is dead.
The narrative moves forward to an older Frony asking T. P. to take Benjy home and Benjy remembering he ‘could smell it’. It moves back again to Caddy asking if the buzzards will undress Damuddy (Grandmother) and Jason begins to cry. She insists it is a party, rather than a funeral, and wants to look in the parlor window. She climbs a tree to get a better view and Versh warns her that Mr Jason (her father) will whip her and Jason says he will tell on her.
Benjy’s thoughts switch to him seeing Caddy with flowers in her hair and wearing ‘a long veil like shining wind’. They switch again to T. P. telling him not to holler and to drink his sasprilla. He then thinks of Caddy at the age of 14 and he is crying. Their mother, who says she is ill, tells Caddy to give him the box and leave him alone. Later, he is with Caddy and Dilsey tells him that at 13 he is old enough to sleep alone but Caddy gets in with him until he falls asleep.
The narrative moves back once more to Caddy in the tree. Dilsey finds her there, on Jason’s prompting, and she comes down.
In the present, Luster tells Benjy to keep away from Miss Quentin and her beau. Back in the past, Caddy is in the swing with Charlie and he asks why they let him run around loose. Benjy cries louder the closer Charlie gets to Caddy. She says she will take him back to the house and runs with him. At the porch, she says she ‘won’t any more’. She then washes her mouth with soap.
Back in the present, (Miss) Quentin accuses Luster and Benjy of snooping and asks if Grandmother sent them to spy on her. She tells Luster to take Benjy and keep him away and if he does not she will tell Jason to whip him (Luster). Her beau asks about Benjy and Luster says he cannot understand anything as he is deaf and dumb.
Benjy goes to the fence where the schoolgirls pass and the narrative switches to T. P. telling him that Miss Caddy has gone away, married and left him. He also says it is no good holding on to the gate and crying as she cannot hear him. Benjy’s mother asks what the matter is; T. P. explains and she says nonsense’.
The time shifts to back to their father asking how Benjy got out and Jason says it is not his fault. He adds that he reckons they will send Benjy to Jackson now. It moves back further to when Benjy opens the gate, catches ‘her’ and the girl screams.
In the present, Luster asks a golfer if he wants to buy his golf ball. He says he found it and asks for a quarter. The man puts it in his pocket and tells him to find another one. Luster tells Benjy to pick up his jimson weed. He then says that when his (Benjy’s) mother dies he will be sent to Jackson where he belongs. Benjy puts the flower in a bottle with another one and Luster knocks it over. Dilsey appears and tells Luster off for letting Benjy go near Quentin. He replies Quentin has as much time for Benjy as he has, and Benjy is her uncle.
The narrative moves back briefly to Caddy saying about Benjy looking at the fire and mother telling him his new name. It moves forward to the present and Dilsey accuses Luster of tormenting him and of touching his graveyard. Luster blows out the candle on Benjy’s birthday cake (which Dilsey bought the ingredients for and made), and the time moves back to Caddy saying she hates the rain and she and Benjy cry.
In the present, Dilsey tells Luster off again for upsetting him and switches back to her saying she reckons Maury (Benjy) will let her cry on him too. Caddy says his name is Benjy now and Dilsey asks how come. Caddy replies that her mother said it is a better name than Maury and Benjamin is from the Bible.
Analysis – Chapter One continued
Throughout this chapter, the stream of consciousness is used to reflect the way memories connect across time and are not bound by linearity. Benjy is the perfect model for reflecting this as he is not able to communicate with speech, only with his sound and fury.
The treatment of Benjy also reflects much about those who surround him, and this is both the people in his family and the servant Dilsey. Luster, for example, taunts him, his mother pays little or not attention to him and (Miss) Quentin is disparaging. Conversely, Dilsey and Caddy are the only ones to show affection.
Many of the shifting memories that are recorded here have no apparent significance at this early stage, and it is not until later or on re-reading for a second time that it becomes understandable why Benjy insists on standing near the gate – because of the memory of waiting for Caddy to return from school – and how he was punished for getting out and grabbing hold of a girl (we discover he was castrated).
Summary – Chapter One continued
The narrative comes forward to the present and a long wire comes across Benjy’s shoulders and he cries. He burns his hand and cries louder and his mother comes in, reprimands Dilsey and Luster, and says she is sick. She then starts crying too and Dilsey takes her back upstairs. Luster takes Benjy into the library.
In the past, his mother says she is sick and a burden to others. When Benjy is five, Caddy still tries to carry him and mother says he should stand up. Caddy shows that she knows how to quieten him down and her mother says she humors him too much. She also wants her to call him Benjamin rather than Benjy. She tries to stop him crying but cannot and she cries too.
Still in the past but slightly later, Jason and Caddy are fighting and Jason is crying. She is angry that he has cut up Benjy’s dolls. In the present, Jason comes in the library and asks what the matter is now. He tells Luster he will have to take Benjy into the kitchen if he cannot keep him quiet.
Momentarily in the past, Quentin says he wishes it would not rain; in the present, (Miss) Quentin comes in and asks about supper. Luster asks Jason for two bits for the show and says how he lost his quarter. Jason tells him to borrow one from Benjy. He then warns Quentin off from seeing that show fellow’ and she stands up to him.
The narrative moves back to the male Quentin and father notices he has been fighting. It then moves forward to Caddy walking fast. Her eyes fly to Benjy and away and he cries. He pulls at her dress and her eyes ‘ran’. The time shifts again to Versh telling him his name is Benjamin now. It moves again to Benjy in the hall with Caddy. They go upstairs and she shrinks against the wall and looks at him. In the bathroom, she puts her arm across her face and he pushes at her, crying.
In the present, Jason asks Luster what he is doing to Benjy. He says he not done anything and Benjy needs whipping. Quentin says she thinks he should be sent to Jackson and Jason replies, if she does not like it she had better get out.
The times moves back to Versh drying himself and telling Benjy not to bellow as he can still see the fire. He then says he is called Benjamin now because ‘your mamma too proud for you’. In the present, Quentin criticizes Benjy for the way he eats and for being allowed to have a slipper on the table. Jason tells her to not come to the table if she does not like it.
The narrative cuts back to the past, with Caddy feeding Benjy, and then to the present with Quentin threatening to leave. Jason says he would not be surprised at anything she did. Dilsey comforts her and tells him he should be ashamed of himself for throwing things at that are not her fault. Quentin pushes her away, picks up a glass of water and swings her arm back. Dilsey catches her arm, they fight and the glass breaks on the table.
In the past, Caddy says her mother is sick again. She gives Benjy the cushion to look at and he also looks at the mirror and fire (all of these comfort him). Father says they have to be quiet as Quentin (male) is studying and asks Jason what he is doing. He says nothing but Caddy spots he is chewing paper. Father, Caddy, Jason and Benjy sit together in mother’s chair. Quentin and Versh come in and Quentin has his face turned away. Caddy asks why he is crying and Dilsey tells them to get ready for bed.
In the present, Benjy changes for bed and begins to cry. Luster tells him to hush and looks out of the window. He shows Benjy what he has seen – Quentin is climbing out of her window and coming down the tree. Benjy describes her in his thoughts as ‘it’.
This chapter finishes in the past when Quentin, Jason, Caddy and Benjy are all in bed. Caddy tells Benjy to hush and calls him Maury. Father looks in on them and asks Caddy if she is going to take good care of Maury, and the final words describe Benjy falling asleep: ‘Then the dark began to go in smooth, bright shapes, like it always does, even when Caddy says that I have been asleep.’
Analysis – Chapter One continued
As with the previous two analyses, the use of stream of consciousness continues and the characterization of others is formed by seeing how they react to Benjy. His mother’s insistence on saying she is ill, for instance, permeates the whole novel and is seen to be an obsession, or hypochondria, that lasts for the span of it. Her inability to understand Benjy is also tied to this as Caddy as a child knows more about comforting him that she does.