Dilsey is the matriarch of the Gibson family in Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury. She is the wife of Roskus, mother of Versh, Frony and T.P. and grandmother of Luster. The Gibson family works for and lives alongside the Compson family. Dilsey maintains the Compson home and shares the responsibility of Benji's care. While Dilsey is mentioned throughout the novel, she appears most frequently in the first chapter, narrated by Benji, and the last chapter, which features an omniscient third person narrator. In both sections, Dilsey is portrayed as a nurturing and maternal character central to the domestic life of both the Compson and Gibson homes. The last chapter supports these characteristics and simultaneously establishes Dilsey’s connection to faith and her community beyond the Compson home.

The first chapter highlights Dilsey's domestic role as a servant to the Compson family, particularly her interaction with Benji and the other Compson children. Juxtaposed to the distant, selfish and hypochondriacal Caroline Compson, Dilsey is portrayed as a maternal figure, often singing while completing household chores or preparing meals. Benji's narration highlights Dilsey's capacity for kindness, including a cake she makes for his thirty-third birthday, purchased with her own money (57). Dilsey's affection for Benji is carried through to the final chapter where she is described as cradling him in her arms: "Dilsey led Ben to the bed and drew him down beside her and she held him, rocking back and forth, wiping his drooling mouth upon the hem of her skirt" (316).

The last chapter, often referred to as Dilsey's section since she is the focal point of the narrative, is the most chronological section in the book. The first physical description of Dilsey appears in this section and emphasizes the effect of time on her aging body:

"She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage or fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts" (266).

Previous chapters featured a self-centered first person stream of conscious narrative often missing the past and present. However, the narrative structure centered on Dilsey and the metaphors used in her description imply her acceptance of the natural progression of time. The use of words like 'ruin' and 'landmark' are inherently linked to the passing of time and establish Dilsey's stable and central role in both the Gibson and Compson families and the novel as a whole.

Dilsey’s story culminates in her church visit on Easter Sunday with Frony, Luster and Benji. Along the way, Dilsey is addressed by other church-goers, establishing her active role in her community outside the Compson family home. Dilsey is deeply affected by the church sermon delivered by a visiting preacher named Reverend Shegog. She tells Frony: "I seed de beginning, en now I sees de endin" (297). Her reaction further connects her to the progression of time and as Giles Gunn argues, “gives her a perspective beyond time from which to view with equanimity which occurs within time” allowing her “not only to care about but to care for those who must suffer the effects of time” (Gunn 168). Unlike Benji who cannot conceptualize time, or Quentin who strives to escape it, Dilsey, as stated in the appendix, “endures,” which establishes her as a kind of sentimental heroine (343).

Role of the Gibson Family

TSAF focuses on a number of events that directly impact the Compson family, however, the Gibson family plays a key role in the novel as well.

There are a number of differences between the two families, most significant is the generational progression of the Gibson family compared with the death and tragedy in the Compson family. In the first chapter, when Roskus ponders the Compsons’ bad luck, Dilsey emphasizes the health and progression of their own family: “Versh working and Frony married off your hands and T.P. getting big enough to take your place when rheumatism finish getting you" (29). Thadious Davis argues that in TSAF, Faulkner uses the Gibsons to "contribute to the contrapuntal design of the novel, because their voices and actions create a meaningful contrast to the disintegrating Compsons and add greater dimension to the symbolism, themes, and narrative form" (Davis 395). The Gibson’s provide "a sense of fused generations in a closely knit family, and of the flux of individuality bending to a stable historical community" (Davis 396). This is supported by both the communal church scene at the close of the novel as well as the structural shift from first to third person narration.

In the last chapter, three generations of the Gibson family attend church with Benji while Jason unsuccessfully peruses Quentin and his stolen money. The scenes featuring Jason appear desperate and frenetic, while at church, the congregation becomes deeply connected, “their hearts were speaking to one another in chanting measures beyond the need for words” (294). Davis argues that this comparison between the families is an endorsement of the Gibson’s way of life: "Juxtaposed to the various kinds of lunacy demonstrated by the Compsons are the Gibsons--practical, common-sense variety blacks whose individual and collective voices create an eloquent contrast to the white world and form, on a level of emotions and reason, a more viable approach to life" (Davis 395). Davis’ argument establishes the Southern black family as “the South's indigenous symbol,” breaking form stereotypical portrayals of such characters and displacing the traditional aristocratic white family (Davis 396).

–Megan Mitchell

Works Cited

Davis, Thadious M. “Faulkner’s Negro in The Sound and The Fury.” The Sound and the Fury: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. New York, NY [u.a.: Norton, 1994. Print.
Gunn, Giles. "Faulkner’s Heterodoxy: Faith and Family in The Sound and The Fury." Religion & Literature 22.2-3 (1990): 155-172. JSTOR. Web. 24 September 2013.