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Mairin Martin’s Formal Blog Post on The Sound and The Fury

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“I’m afraid to.” Mother said. “With the baby.” Dilsey went up the steps. “You calling that thing a baby.” she said. She took Mother’s arm. “A man big as T.P. Come on, now, if you going.”
-The Sound and the Fury 18.2

“His name’s Benjy now, Caddy said.
How come it is, Dilsey said. He aint wore out the name he was born with yet, is he.
Benjamin came out of the bible, Caddy said. It’s a better name for him than Maury was.
How come it is, Dilsey said.
Mother says it is, Caddy said.”

-The Sound and the Fury 2.9

Through out this section of the narrative, both Benjy and his mother struggle with the absence of an essential language which will allow them to give a proper label to the things in their world. For the mother, this frustration is in the non-existence of a discourse which would help her to define Benjy. In the case of the quote above, she is likening him to the closest thing she can call him that fits within her schema, a baby. However, Dilsey points out how not only inadequate but incorrect this definition is for him (even though she cannot offer an alternative).

Her dependence upon finding a correct definition is so strong that Caroline even renames Benjy. In choosing a new name which is biblical, she is hoping to baptize him and make some kind of amends with God, seeing Benjy’s disability as a judgment upon her. Again, since she cannot understand him, she seeks to redefine him in the only terms which she knows, and the strongest instances of rebirth and redefinition which she knows are those of Baptism.

At this point in time there was no discussion (particularly in the society in which Caroline and her family live) of people with mental disabilities. She struggles for a way in which to define her son because the language literally did not yet exist. The only language available for people like Benjy was the pejorative and inaccurate words used by many of the other characters (idiot, etc).

Benjy himself reflects yet another problem which arises from this lack of discourse community, and additionally, lack of community at all in his absence of voice in a passage written completely from his own point of view which should, ostensibly, give him a voice. The majority of the chapter consists of direct quotations and conversations, other people’s words. When Benjy attempts to reconstruct parts of the narrative in the words of his recollection he struggles. Nothing is concretely named. Quentin’s shadow climbing out the window is only “it”. At Damuddy’s funeral Benjy repeatedly says the door opened and they could hear “it” (the mother sobbing most likely). When he is climbing over the ditch where the carcass was picked clean Benjy’s every other sentence mentions smelling “it”. The people down at the branch are only “they” and so on. In 8.3 Benjy at first describes the Charlie in the same way, “the one in the swing”. The next sentence Caddy calls him “Charlie” to Benjy and from then on he is referred to as Charlie. This is the clearest moment illustrating how completely Benjy’s world is defined for him by others. Like all those in his community of the mentally disabled, Benjy has no voice and struggles to understand a world which must be defined by those around him who are more “competent” and a world in which he is constantly being redefined by those same people so that he can fit into their understanding of life.

Written by Mairin Martin

October 12th, 2010 at 11:05 pm