Benjamin Compson, also known as Maury or Benjy, is the son of Mrs. Compson and brother of Caddy, Quentin, and Jason. He is also the mute narrator of the first section of TSAF. Although Faulkner views Benjy as a character who “doesn’t feel anything,” he is a character that is “unbelievable” for Faulkner (Faulkner, "Paris Review" 1). The necessity of feeling for belief resonates in Benjy’s character. Because Benjy senses the past within the present, Benjy is not an empty thing. As a castrated, mute, and mentally handicapped character, Benjy reflects Faulkner’s strategy in approaching the subjective experience, along with the theme of entropy within order. Faulkner begins and ends the novel with Benjy, solidifying his character as a sympathetic and therefore, necessary presence in the novel. Because Benjy perceives the past within the present, he embodies the liminality that Quentin, Faulkner, and any human seek to articulate.

From the penultimate sentence of the novel, Benjy’s silent agreement with the notion of order shows sympathy and complexity to Benjy’s persona. For instance, “Queenie moved again, her feet began to clop-clop steadily again, and at once Ben hushed”(320-1). To a static character such as Luster or Jason, Benjy is only a source of chaos, an “agony" that is "eyeless" and "tongueless” (320). But upon further examination, Benjy is a character who gives the reader a unique and authentic perspective into our own longing for order over chaos. Benjy does not seem to have a sense of time, yet his persona requires order. The “clop-clop” signifies time’s sequential “tick-tock” for Benjy. It is Benjy’s furious sounds rising from disorder that makes his character as significant as Quentin’s or Caddy’s. He is bound by some type of order. Although the first part of TSAF is a chaotic mix of past memory and present meditation, Benjy’s association with the linear nature of time can be of use in analyzing his paradoxical character.


Although incapable of deep meditation, his acute observations of his environment through sound, smell and sense resonate with the reader because he says things like they are. This handicap is a relatable sequence of fragmented, sympathetic experiences for the reader, that the critic Stacy Burton describes as something that “operates with a local coherence that readers rely upon, shows the dialogic formation of his identity, demonstrates how his preoccupation with the past affects his present perceptions, and reveals Benjy’s significance”(208). Benjy is central in illuminating not just the caring nature of Dilsey and Caddy, or the hopelessness in Mrs. Compson, but also in giving the reader a poetic and more sympathetic understanding of existence: “I could smell the clothes flapping, and the smoke blowing across the branch” (14). Through his observations on his environment, Benjy presents experience to the reader with a richer understanding of existence as an isolated, subjective thing. Compared to his relatives, he is just as sentient as Quentin, and more profound than other static figures in the novel such as Jason or Mrs. Compson.


For Faulkner, Benjy is “someone capable only of knowing what happened but not why”(Faulkner, "Paris Review" 1). Faulkner’s statement anchor’s Benjy as an objective and thematic symbol of the novel. Because the reader must piece together the events of the novel through Benjy’s chaotic stream of consciousness, it is up to the reader to figure out why he feels so deeply for Caddy or why he insists upon static routine over change. The critic Stacy Burton states, “how they (the readers) interpret him reflects and affects how they understand time and discourse themselves”(Burton 216). Because Benjy lives and thinks in the liminal space between present and past, Benjy’s narrative shifts even the post-modern reader’s linear experience of time. This liminal state for Benjy is signified by his bellows for the monotonous order of time’s “clop, clop” where subjectivity remains as the chaotic order to life. This theme repeats throughout Jason's selfish greed, Quentin's obsession to protect Caddy, the helplessness of Mrs. Compson, etc. Benjy communicates this sense of subjectivity and further highlights Faulkner's ability to tie the novel neatly together all through one character.


Is Benjy more than a mute sponge for existence?

The inability to communicate is a feeling any artist or human encounters. It is this desire to communicate that makes Benjy a sympathetic and pivotal character in TSAF. In an interview, Faulkner is asked how much of his writing is based on his own experience. Faulkner’s answer focuses less on himself and more on the medium through which experience is made “believable.” Faulkner states, "I would say that music is the easiest means in which to express, since it came first in man's experience and history. But since words are my talent, I must try to express clumsily in words what the pure music would have done better. That is, music would express better and simpler, but I prefer to use words, as I prefer to read rather than listen" (Faulkner, "Paris Review" 1). Benjy is Faulkner’s instrument that plays the chaotic tune for existence. Whether it is a love filled moan for Caddy, or the sharp bellows for time’s static, Benjy is instrumental in conveying Faulkner’s art. The last image of Benjy’s bellows resonates with a sound within all readers. It is a sound that signifies meaning in literature, music, and existence. Although Faulkner bases his novel’s title from Macbeth’s entropic monologue, Benjy’s sound does not signify nothing. We all desire to communicate the real, the inbetween, the time before birth and after death. Benjy signifies this desire regardless if he is an idiot or not. Liminality is communicated to the masses, and for Faulkner, “The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said”(Faulkner, "Paris Review" 1). Indeed, Benjy’s furious sounds signify the melodies of life that already exist. Parallel to Macbeth or any major Shakespearean character, it is Benjy's existence that communicates the subjective experience in and of time.


Works Cited

Burton, Stacy. “Benjy, Narrativity, and the Coherence of Compson History.” Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature, 7.2 (1995) 207-228. JSTOR. 31 October

Faulkner, William. "Interview by Jean Stein." The Paris Review. New York: 1956. Online.
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