Essay on The Strength of Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury
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The Strength of Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury
In The Sound and the Fury, the fated Compson family is a portrayal of both the declining old South and the new South that rose demonically out of its ruins. Through the Compsons, Faulkner personifies at once the mournful self-pity of a fallen gentry, and in Jason, the embittered rage and resentment of those who come after the fall. Throughout the novel, Dilsey is the one quiet fortitude in this irredeemably tragic and fallen family.
One of the first indications of Dilsey's strength in the Compson house is attested to by the fact that she can tell time from the warped clock that hangs in the kitchen. This clock and its skewed rendering corresponds with the…show more content…
In the constant war between Jason and the girl Quentin, Dilsey pits herself tirelessly and thanklessly against Jason and his demonic cruelty. Quentin is for Jason an unbearable symbol of the past that he tries so forcefully to negate, and for the reader the consummate symbol of the decadence of the fallen South. She is therefore equally as resentful and fearful of the present, and violently pushes the protective Dilsey away, calling her "damn old nigger"(168). In pitting herself against Jason however, Dilsey protects more than Quentin; she protects the fragile vestige of the Compson family to which she remains eternally loyal.
The opening of the final chapter is a portrait of Dilsey, a woman weakened and eroded by long hardship and burden, and yet ultimately "indomitable"(236). As Easter Sunday wears on, the reader is allowed a perception of Dilsey that is straight from Faulkner, unmuddied by the parsimonious judgments of the other characters. The source of her strength is revealed in the simplicity and totality of her uncontrived faith. When Dilsey takes Luster, Frony, and Benjy to the "darkies'... special Easter service"(248), she is completely un-self-conscious in her worship. She cries openly on the way home, despite her daughter's worries about "passin white folks soon"(264). Her revealed tenderness toward Benjy in this chapter is moving. Understanding his helpless suffering, she tries to hush his
Lots of families have a bad apple somewhere in its family tree. Cinderella had some nasty stepsisters. King Lear had two evil daughters, Goneril and Regan. The Compsons have Jason.
We wish we could say that Jason had some redeeming qualities. The thing is, he really doesn’t. We’re not even kidding. As a child, Jason was a tattletale. Faulkner makes clear that even as a child, Jason’s telling is really only a measure of his inefficacy. As Caddy points out, if you’ve "already told…There’s not anything else you can tell, now" (1.322). "Telling" is the sort of power that doesn’t build friends or last long. Jason’s not in for long-term relationship building, however – unless that relationship involves looking out for Number One.
Moreover, even as a wee tyke, Jason is obsessed with one thing: money. He scams other little kids into selling kites made from flour paste. (This obsession with the flour barrel sticks with him throughout his life. He’s pretty aware of how much flour the house uses as a grown-up, as well.) As an adult, he spends his time either stealing his niece’s money, convincing his mother that he’s making tons of money or watching the stock market. Given that he actually manages to keep lots of money (at least until the end of the novel, at any rate), things seem to be working out for him.
It’s tempting to think that Jason’s the one who makes out best in the Compson family. For one thing, we all know that nice guys finish last. That should mean that Jason finishes first, right? Well, yes. And no. See, everyone in this novel loses the thing that they care about most. Benjy loses Caddy. Quentin loses Caddy. Quentin Jr. loses Caddy. And Jason? Well, he loses the money that Caddy sent. It’s pretty much the same thing, after all.
Unfortunately, even when Jason has money, he’s ridiculously unhappy. And bitter. And mean. We’ve quoted it before and we’ll quote it again: his opening line, " Once a bitch, always a bitch, I say" (3.1), is a glorious way to show us just how nasty the guy actually is. Like his brothers, Jason spends most of his life regretting the past. The difference between Jason and his brothers is that Jason always manages to find someone to blame for his sorry fate. And let’s face it, his fate actually is honestly pretty sorry. He lives in a run-down house with a self-absorbed mother. He’s got a charity job at a hardware store – and he wouldn’t even have that if his mother wasn’t an old friend of the owner.
At the end of the day, though, Jason manages to pin all his problems on Caddy. It’s Caddy who doesn’t hook him up with a job at a bank. It’s Caddy who sends money to her daughter, not to him. It’s Caddy who took the family name and trampled it into the mud. In other words, it’s really convenient when you have a target to dump all your hate on. Jason even extends his hatred of Caddy to women in general. As he says of his lover:
I never promise a woman anything nor let her know what I’m going to give her. That’s the only way to manage them. Always keep them guessing. If you cant think of any other way to surprise them, give them a bust in the jaw. (3.122)
Hating women doesn’t stop Jason from hating other people, as well; he’s also prejudiced against African-Americans and Jews. Interestingly, even his hate for other races is tied up in his own analysis of economic profit: "I give every man his due, regardless of religion or anything else. I have nothing against the jews as an individual […] it’s just the race. You’ll admit that they produce nothing" (3.102).
And here’s his opinion of black employees at the hardware store: "What this country needs is white labor. Let these dam trifling niggers starve for a couple of years, then they’d see what a soft thing they have" (3.98).
Here’s the thing, though: all of Jason’s hate and bitterness and all-around awfulness make him seem ….well, flat. His character doesn’t really change, does it? He’s crummy as a kid. He’s crummy as an adult. In other words, he just doesn’t keep us guessing. He scams kids as a kid; he scams adults (his mother, as a matter of fact) as an adult. So here’s our question: is Jason a believable character? Is it possible that a human being can be that downright unpleasant all the time? Or does Jason just become a massive foil for the other characters?
OK, that’s a whole pile of questions. But they’re a long-winded way to point out that Jason sometimes seems like the cartoon-character version of himself. He’s as horrible a human being as he imagines Caddy to be. Go figure.