Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Language and Act: Caddy Compson

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Language and Act: Caddy Compson

Article excerpt

The centrality of Caddy Compson to The Sound and the Fury is one of those critical commonplaces that may become blurred through the years. Every reader respects Caddy's importance; Faulkner himself told us the book was about Caddy. It began with the image of the child in the tree, muddy drawers clearly in view, and grew into his most important and most moving novel. (1) Most of the criticism on The Sound and the Fury, however, has seemed to find Caddy less interesting than Faulkner's characterizations of Quentin, Jason, Benjy, and even Dilsey. There are comparatively few studies that deal primarily with Caddy, and even fewer that suggest Faulkner's actual means of creating this central figure. (2) This essay hopes to discuss the latter area, with special attention to Caddy's role as language-creator and giver.

There is little question that Caddy dominates the novel. She opens the book (in the "caddie" scene and two flashbacks about Caddy and Benjy); she is central to all the Benjy section, much of the Quentin section, and then--in the form of her daughter Quentin, but in her own voice--much of the Jason section and Part IV. Like Addle Bundren in As I Lay Dying, Caddy motivates nearly all the action of the novel. What is most brilliant about Faulkner's methods of fixing her so prominently is that his manner, of characterizing her changes with each section of the novel, and that his narrative method in each section is particularly appropriate both for the brother "narrating" that section and for the role Caddy plays in that brother's life.

In Book I, Caddy is presented aurally and sensually. She is the voice Benjy hears as well as a comforting and loving presence. She is also a pleasant, natural odor and a predominant visual image for Benjy. Caddy's chief importance for Benjy, however, who cannot speak except in bellows of pain, is that of creator and conveyor of language. Caddy attempts to create language for Benjy; she also translates--correctly--his non-verbal communication into meaningful language for the rest of the family, and for himself.

Because the Benjy section appears first, and was written first, the portrait Faulkner gives of Caddy is almost completely positive. With Benjy, Caddy is consistently gentle, loving, and teaching. Unlike Mrs. Compson, the ironic mother of the novel, she never reproves him. Caddy rather attempts to reach Benjy and to give him the means of reaching others. In fact, the first scene Faulkner gives us of Caddy and Benjy illustrates her positive, sympathetic role: "Uncle Maury said not to let anybody see us, so we better stoop over. Stoop over, Benjy. Like this, see?" (3)

Caddy uses repetition so that Benjy will understand that there is a name for the action; but more importantly, she herself participates in the action. She is one with Benjy, instead of giving him commands as her mother and Jason do ("You, Benjamin!"). She also uses his name, a diminutive form, lovingly, both the first and second-given names, with no distinction. In Caddy's speech, all Benjy's names become loving.

Throughout their one-sided dialogue (for Benjy at this point in his life appears to make no sound whatever), Caddy's method remains the same--repetition of key words, repetition of Benjy's name, touch and action to accompany and illustrate language, support. Her patience is remarkable, and Faulkner points out repeatedly that Caddy is only a child herself (seven at one point). "Keep your hands in your pockets. Or they'll get froze. You don't want your hands froze on Christmas, do you." Whenever Caddy talks to Benjy, she moves to his level--stooping, bending over, as when she comes home from school in the next scene:

  Caddy was walking. Then she was running, her book-satchel swinging and
  jouncing behind her.

  "Hello, Benjy." Caddy said. She opened the gate and came in and stooped
  down. Caddy smelled like leaves. "Did you come to meet me." she said. … 
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